This fall semester is the beginning of my 25th school year in middle schools, high schools and colleges making financial literacy presentations. Regular readers know that I frequently make, and often refer to, these CARE presentations. In fact, in the school year before the pandemic shutdowns, I made over 250 presentations in 56 different schools.
What I want to do in this two-part series is set out a history of my work in financial literacy, and then talk about my recent experiences at Canandaigua Academy with the students in Tammy Franz’s Career and Financial Management first-semester classes, as well as some of my past experiences both there and with Kimberly Connal in the Middle School.
Pictured from left are John Ninfo, Canandaigua Academy student Sarah Yoder, and teacher Tammy Franz. Ninfo was presenting to Yoder’s Career and Financial Management class.
It all started in 1997, five years after I was sworn in as a Federal Bankruptcy Judge for the Western District of New York. Although I sat in Rochester, my jurisdiction included Canandaigua and all of Monroe and Ontario counties. In those five years, I found myself every day dealing with individual debtors. It was something that I had not done much of in my 18-year commercial practice before taking the bench, during which I represented 11 different banks at one time or another.
I was absolutely shocked by what I saw. People from every demographic, every age group, income level, educational level and geographic area, were making the same financial mistakes that they could not have, and would not have, made in the 1960s and early 1970s when I was growing up. Of course those were the days before credit cards, home equity loans, and 7 seven-year car loans. They didn’t have budgets to track their spending, so that they could make good choices about their spending, and they didn’t have savings for emergencies or anticipated expenses, let alone for a retirement with dignity. They didn’t know the difference between a need, on the one hand, and a want, wish, luxury, or convenience on the other hand, and they were willing to go deeply into unaffordable credit card debt for those non-needs. Furthermore, they didn’t really understand how they were being taken advantage of by the financial industry every day, like with those seven-year car loans.
So, by 1997, I had concluded that we had a National Epidemic of Financial Illiteracy, and that financial institutions were no longer bound by the same laws, rules and regulations that once often protected consumers. I felt that I could no longer just sit there cleaning up …….