By Mary Ann Brown, Berkshire Center Student Advisor
As Advisors, one of our focuses is to teach our students banking and budgeting. This is a hard concept for many of them to grasp as they have not had the opportunity of experiencing a cause and effect where money is concerned.
Their monetary needs have been met by their parents and, in most cases, they have not had jobs. They have chosen to attend CIP because of our emphasis on college and career development and they know on some level that if they are to become independent either through taking college courses or pursuing a vocational course, they need to learn to manage their money.
My philosophy regarding the banking portion of our program is two pronged and can be summed up as (1) empowerment and (2) fiscal responsibility. Let me explain.
Most of our students have never been given the opportunity to advocate for themselves and to do what they view as “typical adult” practices. I believe that doing the banking portion of their program where they have to write in a checkbook, pay monthly bills and talk about what monies they need for weekend spending gives them a sense of adulthood which many of them have not experienced. They enjoy writing in the transaction record, making out deposit slips and writing a check. As they receive a monthly check for their expenses, they need to walk to the bank to deposit it.
The women and men at our local bank are very much in tune to our students and will guide them through any number of processes if they need the help. The students feel good about being trusted to do their banking on their own and we advisors feel that it is a good socialization activity for them to interact with the bank tellers. They are encouraged to want to reach a level in their banking practices where they are the receiver of their monthly check (instead of the advisor) and the sole holder of their checkbook and ATM/Debit card. By reaching this level of independence, they feel trusted and empowered in their daily life.
The second prong of the banking program is to teach the students fiscal responsibility through understanding the difference between needs and wants and to learn about delayed gratification. Students receive a set amount of money each month and out of that amount they need to pay their rent, utility bill (heat, electric, cable and internet), bus passes, and food purchases. They also need to budget for their weekend spending if they want to do activities either with CIP staff or with their peers.
Students quickly learn that they have set expenses each month and that they have to make choices on how to spend or save any monthly money which is left over. CIP tries to tie the students’ weekly allowance in with their appointment attendance as if it was a “paycheck” for them attending what is on their schedules. For example: if a student receives $50 and week but misses five appointments, they will (with the parents’ approval) get $25 for that week to spend on personal items. The student soon realizes that it is his or her “choice” to get a smaller amount of money by not attending appointments. This puts the responsibility and accountability on the student and in most cases, they begin to see the wisdom being taught and they attend their classes.
Advisors talk to their Advisees a lot about how important it is for them to budget, pay their bills and control their spending habits. The students are told that one of the real measures of a person’s independence is their ability to handle their finances and to make “healthy” choices with the monies they receive. One of the perks of an Advisor’s job is when a student comes to them and asks to open up a savings account. That is when we know that all the budgeting and talking have come together and the student is truly becoming a mature adult. It feels like a team effort when the hard work of the student and the Advisor come together in an effort towards fiscal independence.