Financial Planning 101 for College Students

July 13, 2023 Mimi Torrington

finance students reviewing financial planning 101 material

Education extends beyond the simple acquisition of knowledge. Its core function is to empower individuals, facilitating their journey to reach their full potential and equipping them with the vital tools and skills necessary to capably handle life's challenges. However, there appears to be a gap in this empowerment when we consider financial education, particularly among college students. To assist them in making more informed financial decisions, we invited Stephen Heath onto this episode of CFO Weekly to learn more about financial planning in an exclusive 101 class.

Stephen is a full-time Adjunct Accounting Professor at the College of San Mateo (CSM), teaching Personal Financial Planning and several related accounting courses. He is also a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Accredited in Business Valuation (ABV), and a Certified Financial Forensic Analyst (CFF) with over twenty-five years of career in accounting. Before Stephen started teaching full-time at CSM, he was a director at the Berkeley Research Group for almost a decade.

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Welcome back to CFO Weekly, where we're talking with financial leaders about how to build efficiency in their teams, create time for strategy, and ultimately get results. With your host, Megan Weis, let's jump right in.

Megan - 00:00:31: Today, my guest is Stephen Heath. Stephen hated high school and ended up dropping out his sophomore year. He would have been shocked if you had told him then that he would later graduate from the University of California, Berkeley. He was arrested several times for various issues in his late teens and would have never believed that he would have later gone on to testify in federal and state courts as an expert witness on accounting and finance-related issues. In his 20s, he worked all sorts of blue-collar jobs, from mowing lawns to installing linoleum. He later went on to become an accountant for 25 years and ultimately became an accounting professor. Although he didn't have a dime to his name when he turned 30 he went on to retire from consulting a millionaire. And although he is continuously told he cannot write, his own teenage kids ridicule him for improper use of grammar and text messages. And he often has to ask students how to spell certain words during lectures. However, he went on to become an author. and wrote a book on personal finance. Stephen is an accounting and finance professor, a CPA, an author, a testifying expert, a product of community college, a UC Berkeley graduate, and a high school dropout. Today, he dedicates his time to teaching students how to manage their personal finances. Stephen, thank you very much for joining me on today's episode of CFO Weekly.

Stephen - 00:01:58: Yeah, absolutely. I'm thankful to be here and I appreciate the opportunity to talk with you about personal financial planning.

Megan - 00:02:04: Yeah, today we're gonna be discussing personal financial planning for specifically college students. In my opinion, this is a topic that is not discussed enough, if at all. So I'm looking forward to shedding some light on it today. Stephen let's start with you as always and your story and how it is that you got to where you are today.

Stephen - 00:02:26: That's a long, long story.

Megan - 00:02:31: I love those long and winding paths.

Stephen - 00:02:33: Yes. I currently teach at the College of San Mateo. I teach finance and accounting courses. It's a community college in Northern California. I've been here for about eight years, which is crazy to think that I've been here that long. I feel like I was born to be here. I will talk to people still to this day about teaching accounting at a community college. Everyone's first reaction is that they cringe and they have this horrible story about the accounting class they took years and years ago. It seems weird to say that. I feel like I was born to be a community college finance and accounting professor. Yeah, I think my background is what led me to this and it seems to be one of the coolest jobs I've ever had. So when I was just to back up, when I was 16, 17 I dropped out of high school. So I finished my freshman year and dropped out. moved out of my parent's house when what should have been my junior year of high school. As you can imagine, I got into a ton of trouble and picked up a few bad habits along the way. and did a lot of random things. I worked all sorts of odd jobs, installing linoleum and working as a landscaper, did a lot of traveling, traveled through the South Pacific, and lived in Australia for a while. And when I was 23, I was working as a landscaper, and he wanted me to take a horticulture class at the local community college because he just thought that it would be relevant to what we were doing in the field and he thought it would be a good idea. And so he encouraged me to take this class and sent me to what was Foothill College at the time, which is a community college here in California. And I tried to explain to him that I didn't graduate from high school and that I didn't know that I'd be able to go to the community college. And so he told me to just drive up and see if I could register for the class. So I drove to the college and was so intimidated that I couldn't get out of my car. I just drove around the parking lot a few times and went back to work the next day and said that classes had already started and that I guess I'd have to wait for the next semester to start up. So he sent me to two other community colleges the following days. And by the time I got to the third college, I actually worked up the courage to go into the admissions office and basically told somebody at San Jose City College my background and explained to them that I wanted to take a horticulture class and that I was a high school dropout. And so they asked me to take a placement test and I took the placement test. And to no surprise, I didn't do very well. And so the school recommended that I take like a rudimentary English and a rudimentary math class. to sort of just get my feet wet, to build some prerequisites, to get into, ultimately to get into that horticulture class. And so that first semester, I begrudgingly registered for bonehead English and bonehead math where at night after work, I would learn how to add and subtract fractions and write topic sentences to develop a paragraph. And halfway through the semester, I was thinking, man, this is crazy. I am taking it, I hated school. I still don't really care for it, but I'm now working as a landscaper, which I also don't really care for, and going to school at night. And it's just like, man, this isn't really the path that I saw myself on. And I thought, you know, if I'm gonna go to school at night, I might as well take a class that I find interesting. And I sort of found the math class to be interesting. And I felt like I had some aptitude for it, even though it was the lowest math class that the school had to offer. I still felt like I was doing well enough to maybe proceed in that direction. And so a few semesters into my journey, I finally was able to take an accounting class because I still wasn't, I didn't have the math background to take the first financial accounting class. And so it was probably semester three that I finally made it into that accounting class. And I was still working as a landscaper. And it was in that class that my entire life completely changed. Loved the class. It was a great class, but the instructor, just a very quick conversation after class one night asked me what my plans were and why I was taking the class, and where I envisioned heading after my time at San Jose City College. And I actually had no idea what my plans were and where I was actually headed. And as a lofty goal was to go to the local state school, San Jose State. And I was thinking maybe I would get an accounting degree from San Jose State. And he had recommended I go to Cal. Like he said, why don't you go to Cal. and talk to the admissions office to see what it would take to transfer from San Jose City College to the University of California, Berkeley? And so I proceeded to tell him the same story that I told my boss like maybe a year and a half earlier. which was I was a high school dropout, I didn't really see myself as being a Cal. student. That was where all the smart kids go and I didn't really feel like I belonged. And he was like, look, just go up there and just talk to the admissions office and see what it would take and you never know. And so I remember specifically talking to some friends shortly after that conversation that I dropped out with. And we all started laughing. I was like, yeah, that guy is crazy. Like he was telling me to go to Cal. and think about transferring to Cal.. It was in that conversation that a few of my friends started laughing. I thought, man, maybe that's not so far-fetched. Maybe I should go up to Cal. and just see what it takes. To make a long story short, or at least this long story, to bring it to its logical conclusion was that I went to Cal.. I drove up to Cal. and this was before the Internet. I walked into the admissions office and talked to them about my interest in transferring. We went over the list of courses that I would have to take at San Jose City College in order to be considered for transfer. I set out on a journey to work my way into Cal.. After four years, it took me a long time to get out of the community college system because I had started from essentially scratch. After four years, I got accepted to Cal.. I transferred to Cal. as a junior into their Business Program, and graduated with a degree in business from Cal.. My first job was working for Arthur Anderson in the accounting department for Arthur Anderson, which was a good first step into accounting, but I don't know that I was totally cut out to work in tax. And so I ended up transitioning into an arm of accounting and finance and economics, which was litigation consulting. And I worked in litigation consulting for about 25 years. I valued intellectual property in the context of litigation. And in addition to that, I valued small private companies in the context of international arbitrations. And so I had the opportunity to work on some really high stakes, like billion-dollar patent cases. I worked on international cases that took me to Paris and Brussels and The Hague and worked all over the US and worked on some of the biggest jury awards ever awarded in certain states. And so just, I had this phenomenal career as an accountant, CPA, and it all sort of, in my opinion, it all kind of relates back to the transition and the life-changing experience I had in an accounting class at community college. So about eight years ago, when I was looking to do something a little bit more meaningful, I felt like I'd made enough money. I had my kids' college savings set aside and retirement was set up and I own a nice house in San Mateo and it felt like sort of have all the financial things that I felt are necessary in some sense. And I was wanting to do something a little bit more meaningful. And so being a community college instructor, specifically accounting and finance, was absolutely like what I was born to do. So that is my journey in sort of somewhat abbreviated, somewhat long-winded response.

Megan - 00:11:50: Yeah, well that's awesome. I mean, talk about giving back or paying forward or whatever you wanna call it. Also just goes to show that if you want to change your life, you can. And it starts with a single step.

Stephen - 00:12:03: Absolutely, that's so true and you can do big things. I've heard many people say that every big accomplishment is nothing more than a series of small steps. To get from community college as a student to an instructor over the course of 30 years is definitely, I definitely buy into that idea. big accomplishments are nothing more than a series of small steps.

Megan - 00:12:30: Yeah, that's true. I think some people can get overwhelmed looking at where it is that they have to get to, but it does. It takes just putting one foot in front of the other for many, many days. And that's how people get to where they're going.

Stephen - 00:12:43: Yeah. It's a very common discussion I have with a lot of students. Students tend to struggle with what they want to do when they graduate and where they're heading.

Megan - 00:12:54: It's hard to know when you're that age.

Stephen - 00:12:56: Exactly.

Megan - 00:12:57: I know I didn't know. When you're 18 and graduating from high school, it's hard to know what you want to do with the rest of your life.

Stephen - 00:13:05: It is, it is. And so I tell most of my students that like, I wouldn't bother trying to figure that out. You're like, I know that I never figured it out. Yeah. I'm pretty sure you're not ever gonna figure it out. So like what, shorten the timeframe to maybe the next four to five years? Yeah. You know, at least put yourself in a good position to like have a good first job out of college, and then you can sort of figure it out once you get into the workforce.

Megan - 00:13:30: Yeah. So tell us about your experience with personal financial planning and what fascinates you about it.

Stephen - 00:13:36: Yeah, so when I started teaching at CSM, it was painfully obvious to me that a lot of the white and Asian students were in my classes, and a lot of the black and brown students were not in my classes. And I think it really kind of boils down to, there's a whole host of factors, but like the two that seemed most obvious to me after just looking into the issue as to why there was such a lack of diversity of the student population in the accounting and finance classes. And it gets down to basically two things. A lot of students feel like accounting and finance is heavy in math, and it's super math intensive. And then students also don't fully appreciate the opportunities that are available to them in the accounting profession. And so I set out on this mission to sort of kind of break down those two misconceptions on our campus. And it's difficult to kind of grab people's attention and start talking about accounting and bore people with an overload of information. And I found that creating a personal finance for college students workshop, which was about an hour long, was the perfect way to kind of get to know students in other communities on campus. And it was a nice way for me to bring some of the tools that we learn in the finance and accounting classes and just present them to students that are English majors or they're on the football team or they're majoring in ethnic studies. And so it was really kind of like my introduction to personal finance was sort of through trying to increase the diversity within my own classes. And then it just sort of grew from there. Like, I just found that I was having very calm, like two very common conversations with students that drove me nuts. The first one was, hey, what do you think about investing in Bitcoin? And I want to be a day trader. What are your thoughts on day trading? And that would just drive me nuts that students were interested in investing, however, didn't know the basics about investing and wanted to kind of jump into the super high-risk stuff. And so I would continuously have these conversations about sound investment strategies and diversification and compound interest. And if you're 19 you have the ability or the luxury of taking a more conservative approach to your investment strategy. Not saying that you shouldn't take risks, but you should also do the more traditional sort of lower-risk strategies. And then the other one was most of the students that come through my classes are really looking to, they don't have any money, they're low-income students. And so they base their decision about what school to transfer to based on the cost. And that also kind of got, that can be a very frustrating conversation because a lot of college students, they look, it's easy to look at the cost and base your decision on what school to go to because of cost. And I just didn't feel like my students had the tools necessary to kind of measure a college, not only from a cost perspective but also from a benefit perspective. College is, your education is sort of an investment into your earning capacity and you don't want to just default to the lowest cost option. There could be a more expensive school that makes more sense to go to. Yes, it may cost you a little bit more, but the benefits associated with getting a degree or having the opportunities presented to you at some schools are worth the extra money. And I felt like that was a conversation and a source of information that wasn't easily accessible to my students. And so I sat down to write sort of a treatise that I could just sort of give to students on those two topics, investing and how to choose a college to transfer to from community college that will provide you sound opportunities to get a really good first job. And so that was the main interest in pursuing this. And then after I started writing those two chapters or those two treatises, I was like, you know, I should just write an entire textbook that's sort of dedicated to low-income community college students and cover all of the basic personal finance topics, but do it from a perspective of somebody who's 19, 20 who doesn't have a lot of income and who doesn't have a lot of resources quickly available to them that they can sort of use as a soundboard. I wrote a personal finance textbook that was dedicated to that demographic. And that's kind of, again, a very long way of explaining why I do what I do.

Megan - 00:18:53: So how do you coach your students in that way? Because I think it's hard for people, it's very easy to see the cost of a school and it's harder to put a dollar amount on the benefits associated with a specific school. So how do you coach people to weigh those two things?

Stephen - 00:19:11: Yeah, so there's, it's really hard actually because you're right, there's some low-hanging fruit that you can sort of look at. there's like, what's the average income of a graduate from a particular school? But when you really kind of dive into that information, it can be misleading. And so, What I found is the three things that students really should be focused on in terms of using their education and getting an education in a way that will help them find a real meaningful job straight out of college. There are three things that most students do and it's been widely published. And it's a summer internship, like a foundational school project at some point during their education, and then having mentors. And so when you think about it, that really kind of boils down to the career center for a school, the location of the school, and what companies recruit on campus for summer internships, and more importantly, long-term employment opportunities. And then what schools are providing or making it a requirement to have more out-of-class face-to-face interaction between the instructors and the students. And so while it's not necessarily looking at dollar values associated with the benefits, it's really trying to figure out like, what's the major that's gonna develop a skill? And then what school will, within that major, does a really good job enacting you with summer internships that lead to full-time employment? Like employers, if you ask employers what they're looking for in college students, it's obviously the school and the major can be important, but it's really, do they have substantive work experience? And with work experience, mentoring, and summer internships, students can tend to formulate a much better understanding of the career that they're looking to get into. And so that's sort of where I point most of my students. Like think about the cost and the price tag of the school is much different than the actual cost that you're gonna pay because of financial aid and some schools just do a better job at offering low-income individuals more financial aid. And then look to see what your contact will be at the faculty and what projects are offered within your major and what the summer internships and job stuff look like. So that's usually, in a nutshell, a brief discussion of how I coach students in thinking about how to measure the benefits of a school.

Megan - 00:22:04: Yeah, that's great advice. I mean, the school's gotten so expensive. And I feel like a lot of people go into college not knowing what they want to do. So they default to maybe the path of least resistance and getting a job with a degree in marketing or I don't. some of those easier majors are not the easiest thing at the end of the day.

Stephen - 00:22:30: Yeah. Yeah, you bring up a pet peeve of mine, which is art. So like our school does a great job in so many different ways for our students. But there is one thing that I think we're doing a disservice to students, which is a lot of our students don't really know what they want to do when they graduate. They know they don't like computer science. They know they don't like calculus and some of their math classes. So they sort of default to business administration. That's kind of like a fallback degree. It's very wide. It gives you exposure to a lot of different things within the business. And so we have a ton of students that decide to major in business administration because they just don't know what they want to do when they graduate. And what frustrates me is that like, that is a good path to get somebody through college, but it's not the best path to get somebody a job when they graduate. Just as you say, it's the path of least resistance. You don't develop a skill, which is probably what most employers are looking for from college graduates who can provide value and benefit from day one. And it's gonna be the kids that develop a skill in college. It will be more likely that it'll be a kid that develops a skill in college. And as an accounting instructor, I tell students all the time that have to take my classes because it's a prerequisite or it's an element of their business administration degree. I tell students, you should just major in accounting. If you really don't know what you wanna do and you know it's sort of related to business, just major in accounting. I'm not telling anybody to be an accountant for the rest of their life. But if you do want a really good job straight out of college, it's a skill that's like every company needs. And it's a great way to get your foot in the door to a great company. When you're in the workforce for a few years, you'll really start to understand what it is you find more interesting or you might find something that you're passionate about. And it's easier to transition to something else when you're at a very solid high profile job. It's harder to do that when you're working as a barista at Starbucks because you couldn't find a really good job when you graduated with your business administration degree. And so anyway, you touched on something. That's a big, big thing on our campus, which is skill-based education.

Megan - 00:25:07: so many things you can do with an accounting degree. It surprises me every year to find fewer and fewer people going into accounting.

Stephen - 00:25:15: Yeah, and honestly, I think it's, I mean, there's a lot of different reasons for it, but, and we can have an entire conversation dedicated to just that, but I was asked to value the artwork associated with Snoop Dogg's first album. So his, a family member drew the artwork for that album, and the album cover is a super iconic album cover, and the family member who drew that picture wanted to be compensated for it, so my firm was hired to come up with an estimate of how valuable the artwork associated with Snoop Dogg's first album was. And so when you think of accounting, that's gonna be the last thing you would ever think of as it relates to the profession, but it's just one of many different things you can do with a degree in accounting.

Megan - 00:26:06: Yeah. And your book, it's called Community College to Fuck You Money. I love the name of it. It's not often I get an opportunity to swear on this show. So.

Stephen - 00:26:21: So yeah, the title was, there was a lot of discussion and debate about whether or not I should use the full fuck you or should I use an asterisk or should I say F you? And it was the source, like I said, of a lot of debate. And I finally said, you know what? Like I'm writing the book. I spent a year and a half to two years writing it. I'm self-publishing it so that I can give it away for free. I paid somebody to like have it professionally edited. And I was like, you know what? I'm going all in on this. Yeah. My students really like the fact that it's not abbreviated and it's not hiding from it. And so students who wouldn't otherwise think about reading a personal finance textbook are inclined to at least open it because of the advice.

Megan - 00:27:17: I don't know. And within that book, you talk about students making significant, uninformed, and poor financial decisions early in life that lock them into a path for the rest of their life that is below their true potential. So talk to us about that.

Stephen - 00:27:35: We've sort of been talking about it in some of the previous questions you've asked. I mean, I think we've kind of touched on it a little bit. But a lot of students will take out a credit card or they'll apply for a credit card and they'll start using their credit card in a way that's very harmful to them. It's one thing to rack up a big balance and then pay interest for years and years and years. But in addition to that, it's really easy to miss a payment when you're young and you don't really fully appreciate the consequences of paying or even paying late. And so these credit cards, they provide some value to students, obviously. but they also come with a lot of risk. And if you use a credit card in the wrong ways, you can rack up a huge... balance, you can lower your credit score because you're consistently missing payments or paying late. And just that one aspect is one of the things that will lock somebody into a path far below what they're capable of. To pay $60 to $100 every month to a credit card and credit card interest as opposed to investing in your own retirement or your own financial goals, whatever they may be. That's a huge loss straight off the bat. And so that's just one thing that I feel obligated to convey to students. But then the more important, the bigger issues are what we were talking about previously, which is why are, if you think college is going to get you a first job and you're going to school because you want a good first job, then you really need to do it the right way. You can't afford to go through the process and take the path of least resistance because it's easy now because you're going to incur a ton of student debt. And it could be the case that you get a degree and you went through the college experience in a way that doesn't lead itself to a first job. And students can very easily graduate with no employment opportunities and a ton of student debt in addition to the credit card debt they have. And then you factor into students that are wanting to day trade and invest in Bitcoin and GameStop and everybody's going to find that to be an attractive way to invest when the stock market is going up, but when, which was the case a few years ago, but now that the stock market is flat or going down, it's a difficult space to be in and students are actually losing the money that they've put in the market. And so when you start thinking about students making all of those mistakes, the number of years that it will take students to recuperate just from those three specific issues could be 10 to 15 years.

Megan - 00:30:42: Yeah, if not more.

Stephen - 00:30:43: Yeah, again, I feel obligated to communicate these things to the students that I come in contact with. And then I wrote the book and I hold these personal financial workshops to sort of try to reach out to all the legions of students that don't take an accounting or finance course, but could very much benefit from just the personal finance topics that are surface-level stuff.

Megan - 00:31:10: And I feel like community college is very undersold. It seems like a lot of people just want to go to four-year universities and they never really stop to think about spending their first couple of years at community college. So do you have an opinion on like is community college right for everyone or a certain population of students?

Stephen - 00:31:37: That's a very personal question to answer. everybody's kind of, everybody's sort of on their own path. So community college, just like a credit card, I guess, could be really, really good, and it could be really, really bad. You don't wanna go into community college without a plan, right? So it's very easy to sort of get lost in the institution of community college and the success rate and the transfer rate isn't where I think anybody wishes it was. And so there's a risk of going to a community college and then sort of getting lost in the process and never transferring off to a four-year degree and then never getting a degree altogether. So there is a risk of going to community college. And then obviously it's a different experience than the traditional four-year experience like living in the dorm and having that like moving away from home. So for those reasons, it's not the ideal decision. However, it is really like CSM is offering free tuition at the moment to students next semester. It's free education, which is pretty nice if it works for you. And again, it's a lot easier to transfer into some of the prestigious public schools. So the University of Berkeley, it's difficult to get into as a Business Major transferring out of community college. But UC Santa Barbara is a much easier transfer. Right. And you can even guarantee your transfer if you take CSM a lot of other community colleges have agreements with the four-year public universities in California, where if students take all of the prerequisites within a major and get a minimum GPA of like a three-point two, depending on what major it is and what school it is, the requirements will be slightly different. But you can guarantee your admission into schools that are virtually impossible to get into for a lot of students coming out of high school. And that's like really valuable. That's super. And so it's just sort of a, again, it's a personal decision for everybody, but it is a low-cost option that does provide a lot of value if you take advantage of the opportunity the right way. As I said, coming in with a plan and understanding where you wanna be in two to three years and what school you wanna transfer to, it's a great opportunity. And it's like, look, we're leading community colleges in California are leading the way on the diversity issues. I mean, I can't think of a more diverse population than the student body on a community campus. I mean, it's diverse in so many ways. And so just not only from a student perspective, but from a recruiting or an employer perspective, if you really wanted to tap into high quality, a very diverse community, the community college system is where all of those students are. And all of those students would benefit so much from having them. established employers reach into their community, in their own backyard, and provide internships and opportunities to inspire students to just continue on their journeys to a four-year and ultimately to a degree. And we've got companies, real high-profile companies, that do that now. We could always use more.

Megan - 00:35:16: And talk to me about your teaching approach and how you incorporate real-world examples into your classes to help students apply theoretical knowledge to practical situations.

Stephen - 00:35:27: Yeah, so I use my own personal story quite a bit. My first day of every semester is always dedicated to the kind of like my life story and establishing the fact that I probably started at a much lower level than most of my students. I think that goes a long way.

Megan - 00:35:47: Yeah.

Stephen - 00:35:48: Especially when you're teaching accounting, like everybody comes into my classes paranoid about accounting. The horror stories seem to be never-ending about the accounting classes. And so I think it's really, really helpful to students to hear, at least in my classes, my experience. And then in addition to my own experience, my next topic is, look, I came back to community college not to teach accounting and finance. Like I came back to really help students manage this part of their journey. And so my whole focus is to make sure every student that takes my class takes it successfully. And so like, I definitely share my own experience. And then I do that throughout the rest of the year. I talk about like how I would sit at home and do homework on the weekends at times when my friends would go out and just provide context on what a good student with good habits looks like. goes a long way. And then I talk about my own professional experience quite often. And again, it's being an accountant is a lot like being a, it's not like being a doctor. But there are parallels between the medical profession and the accounting profession, where you could be a brain surgeon and know nothing about repairing somebody's broken ankle. And accounting is very similar. Like, I know nothing about taxes. Yeah, me too. My dad, for years, would ask me tax questions. And I would have to tell my dad, Dad, I don't know anything about taxes. But I do know a lot about valuing intellectual property. And so the point is that it's super broad. And so I try to bring as much of my own professional experience into the classroom to just help students appreciate, yeah, we're talking about the time value of money. And we're talking about trying to determine the present value of a bond. But we could just as easily take this concept and turn it into like, what's the value of a really good restaurant in the neighborhood? Or what's the value of a uranium mine in Mongolia? or what's the value of a Lithuanian wine manufacturer, which are all examples of things that I've valued as being an accountant or a CPA in the context of litigation. And so, yeah, I feel like I spend a lot of time bringing in real-world examples, and I think it helps sort of lower the anxiety and increase the exposure to some of the benefits of the profession.

Megan - 00:38:30: I feel sometimes like accounting is a different language and it clicks for some people and it doesn't click for others. Do you see that with your students? Or do you feel like it's something anybody can do? It seems like certain people have a knack for it, I'll say.

Stephen - 00:38:46: Yeah, so there is, so everybody has the ability to survive in a few of the accounting classes, the introductory financial managerial accounting classes. Like everybody on the face of the planet. and very easily understand everything about accounting in those classes, like the whole debits and credits, the double entry stuff, and the income statement and balance sheet. All of that stuff is so simple. It's not even funny how simple it is, but it's not based on common sense. What a lot of students will do is they'll employ the bad habits that they've survived off of in their English classes and their history classes where they're just sort of BS their way through some of the first projects and you cannot do that in accounting. especially at the beginning, because none of it's based on common sense and it's all terminology that nobody's ever heard of. And so all of the success associated with accounting is all upfront. Like if you put the time and energy in upfront and understand the basic mechanics of what the language is, everything else is so much easier after that, but you just can't BS your way through it. And unfortunately, a lot of students will try to BS their way through it. And once you get past, if you're behind after like week three or four, you're never gonna get caught up.

Megan - 00:40:17: Yeah, that's a great perspective. Very true.

Stephen - 00:40:20: And yeah, I mean, it's like debits and, like I could guarantee you when I say debits and credits and anybody who's taken an accounting class, the vast majority of people will cringe and whore from those two words. And literally debit means nothing more than left and credit means nothing more than right. So like all I'm talking about are left and rights. And so anyway, the point is, is that it's actually debits are nothing more than the left side of something and credits are the right side of something. And once you go the next step, it's equally as easy, but it's just a matter of I think breaking down the anxiety upfront and demonstrating the benefits and then appreciating the fact that it's just about putting the time into the process. And that goes with most of the introductory finance classes as well.

Megan - 00:41:14: So last question, what resources do you recommend for college students to further develop their personal financial planning skills outside the classroom? Kind of just let off into the world with very little financial practice. Our parents take care of us till we're 18 and then we're like let loose into the world.

Stephen - 00:41:33: So I would think that so obviously I have a website that's sort of dedicated. There are like 11 things that students can do like straight off the bat. They can build sound financial habits.

Megan - 00:41:45: Sure, what's the website?

Stephen - 00:41:47: It's And it's like the secret to personal finance is like it's not about unlocking some like secret magical idea that nobody knows. It's more about just having the self-discipline to stick to like sort of boring tried and true rules of thumb. And so it's like, it's actually way easier than everybody thinks it is. It's just a matter of having the discipline to stick to the right plan. The trick is to get the right plan and the right simple plan. Obviously, it's all over the place and you can get it at and you can find it anywhere on the Internet. I'm not trying to sell. Yeah. That's the first step. The second step is going beyond the basic habits and really specific to somebody in college or thinking about going to college. I would really recommend partnering and identifying people who have been through the process and who have been successful and are in a successful position and getting your advice from those individuals, just as much as you would get advice from your college counselor or your instructor. Because there's ill intent or anybody's got bad motives, but you wanna avoid taking professional advice from somebody at school or at within the school, it's better to get that advice from somebody who's in the profession and then vice versa. You want to get school advice from somebody in the school and not from somebody already in the profession. And so I think it's just. really incumbent upon people to like to reach out and talk to others who have sort of been through the process already and have gotten to the other side successfully. Meaning they didn't incur a ton of debt and they got a great first job and they picked up some other really helpful work.

Megan - 00:43:53: It's been a pleasure speaking with you today, and thank you for taking the time to be on today's episode.

Stephen - 00:44:00: Absolutely. Yeah, no, again, I very much appreciate the opportunity and have enjoyed the conversation.

Megan - 00:44:07: And yeah, I love what you're doing.

Stephen - 00:44:09: Thank you.

Megan - 00:44:10: And I know that I've personally gained knowledge that will help me guide my own children as they plan for college and life beyond in the next few years.

Stephen - 00:44:18: Nice. Well, yeah. And to you and anybody else, like to the extent that you have fun with questions, feel free to reach out to me through my website or through LinkedIn, through school, whatever. I'm happy to continue these conversations.

Megan - 00:44:33: Thank you. I appreciate that. And to all of our listeners, please tune in next week, and until then, take care.

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In this episode, we discuss:

  • The importance of financial empowerment among college students

  • How can college students build pathways to meaningful careers?

  • Making informed financial choices

  • What resources can students use to further develop their personal financial planning skills outside the classroom?

Key Takeaways:

Promoting Diversity and Financial Empowerment

Quote promoting diversity and financial empowerment

When Stephen started teaching at the College of San Mateo, he noticed a lack of diversity in his classes. To address this, he aimed to debunk two misconceptions: the belief that accounting and finance are overly math-intensive and the unawareness of opportunities in the accounting profession. To engage students from various backgrounds, Stephen organized a personal finance workshop tailored to college students. This led him to write a comprehensive textbook exclusively for low-income community college students, covering essential personal finance topics.

“Creating a personal finance for college students workshop was the perfect way to get to know students and other communities on campus, and it was a nice way for me to bring some of the tools we have learned in the finance and accounting classes,” Heath said. - 13:30 - 18:53

Building Pathways to Meaningful Careers

Quote Stephen Heath, Accounting Professor at the College of San Mateo (CSM)

To enhance their chances of finding meaningful employment after college, students should focus on three key aspects: work experience, mentorship, and summer internships. In this way, students can better understand their desired careers and develop valuable skills that directly contribute to their employability straight out of college.

“It's really trying to figure out what's the major that's gonna develop a skill. And then what school within that major does a good job enacting you with summer internships that lead to full-time employment.” Heath said. - 18:53 - 22:04

Navigating and Planning for Financial Success From College

Quote financial planning 101

Stephen's book, Community College to Fuck You Money, exposes the detrimental impact of uninformed financial decisions made by students. It emphasizes how imprudent credit card usage and a lack of foresight can lead to long-term consequences such as debt and lowered credit scores. Additionally, the book highlights the importance of approaching college with a focus on obtaining viable employment opportunities rather than taking the path of least resistance. It also warns against the temptation of risky investments like day trading and emphasizes the need for careful financial planning.

“When you start thinking about students making all those mistakes, the number of years it will take students to recuperate from those three specific issues could be ten to fifteen years,” Heath said. - 26:07 - 31:10

Practical Steps and Tools for Improving Financial Literacy - Financial Planning 101

Quote financial literacy and planning 101

Building sound financial habits lie in self-discipline rather than searching for secret solutions. Students should focus on establishing tried and true financial rules of thumb to guide their decisions. Additionally, seeking advice from successful individuals who have navigated college and achieved financial stability is crucial. These mentors offer valuable perspectives alongside college counselors and instructors.

“The secret to personal finance is not about unlocking some secret magical idea nobody knows. It's more about having the self-discipline to stick to boring, tried, and true rules of thumb.” Heath said. - 41:14 - 43:53

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