Seminar Focuses on Bills, Budgets, and Bookkeeping

As part of a growing trend that includes Harvey Mudd College, Occidental
College, and Colgate University, Pomona College has been
offering its seniors a Personal Finance Decision-Making Seminar for the past several years to help them
get ready to leave the Claremont bubble and go out into the real world of
insurance, leases, and bills.

Developed in conjunction with the Career Development Office (CDO) in
spring 2005, the no-credit, three-class seminar, which had its final
session for the year Nov. 18, is taught by Pomona economics professor Michael
Steinberger. About one-fourth of the senior class enrolled in the class this

The class was started by the economics department in response
to student demand for a class on personal finances. 

“Students were graduating and wanted to know about all these
things you need to know when you graduate, and they asked the econ department,
‘Will you teach a course in everything we should know?’” Steinberger

Merryann Bishop of the CDO has
been Steinberger’s partner on the project for the past seven years.

“I do
all the logistics, so I’ll do the advertising, market it to students, get it
out to Chirps, Facebook, Twitter,” Bishop said. “I work with Emma [Wolfarth PO ’14], the senior class president,
to help get it out to her class.”

As for the content of the course,
“the idea is we try to present the things you wish you would have known
earlier,” Steinberger said. The first session of the class looks at
career salaries, budgets, and taxes. Steinberger emphasized how important this
first day is for getting across the basic tenets of the course.

As part of the homework assignment for the first day,
students have to complete a budgeting exercise for a projected career and new residence.

“It’s a funny project because some
students will forget to have in their budget food,” Steinberger said. “Some students will forget to
have in their budget public transportation costs or gas and fuel costs.”

there, that’s a win,” he said. “If we can
help the students realize earlier, ‘Hey, maybe I need to have an extra roommate,’ or, ‘Maybe I need to not buy a car and do public transportation,’ it allows them
to follow their passions in a way that, if they just went in without a budget,
they might have made some mistakes.”

On the second day, Steinberger covers how to save for items such as a house and a car, and he also addresses topics such as 401(k)s, 403(b)s, stock funds, and mutual funds. On the third day,
the class focuses on how to actually find an apartment as well as stay connected
to the Pomona alumni community.

“I do believe that the information
that professor Steinberger gives out to the seniors is very valuable,” Bishop said. “It’s the
nuts and bolts. I think it’s wonderful that he spends his own free
time doing this.”

“Professor Steinberger put together a dynamic presentation, using real examples from his life and making extremely helpful financial recommendations,” Marisa Weisberger PO ’14 said in an e-mail to TSL. “Since the lectures, I have created a hypothetical budget for post-Claremont life and have checked my credit reports. I have even considered opening an Individual Retirement Account within the next few months.”

Steinberger mentioned that even staff and faculty members have shown interest in the seminars.

“A few weeks ago, I
taught part of it just for Pomona faculty and staff at a lunch talk,” he said. “I taught
only the retirement planning part and the insurance part. I was really excited
because the benefits officers for the five colleges came, and I think half a
dozen people changed the amount they were saving for retirement at that
meeting, and about a dozen more scheduled one-on-one meetings with the benefits
consultants to make decisions for their future. And that’s awesome.”

Steinberger emphasized that the
ultimate aim of the seminar is to empower students, not to make them concerned
about finances.

“Money is not the most important
thing,” he said. “The most important thing is having a fulfilling life, and money can help
you do that. Get a job you believe in. If that means you have some roommates,
that’s better to know going in than to get in massive debt and then change your
decisions. So follow your passions and make sure the finances are available to
help you do that.”

“I appreciated that Professor Steinberger ended his presentation by putting financial decisions into perspective,” Weisberger wrote. “What it comes down to it, money is just an object. We should not sacrifice job satisfaction or sabotage our relationships in order to maximize monetary gain.”

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