Chris Carlson has a message for other college students: make careful plans.
He’s not talking about what subject to major in, the kind of job to get or where to live. He means financial plans.
“I’d say with every day passing, it’s kind of a missed opportunity,” he said. “Money doesn’t do anything just sitting there. It’s a long game.”
The 21-year-old senior, who grew up at St. Andrews United Methodist Church in Brandon, said financial planning is a lesson his parents instilled in him.
“My parents always gave me positive messaging about saving money,” Carlson said.
But he’s still learning, and that’s one reason he was one of 30 University of Central Florida students who attended a financial planning seminar Sept. 13 sponsored by Wesley at UCF, the United Methodist student ministry on the Orlando campus.
The Rev. Mark Becker said the turnout exceeded his expectations. Becker, president of the Florida United Methodist Foundation, led the session.
“I had spoken with a few other campus groups in the past, and the engagement I felt at UCF was greater than anything I had experienced before,” he said. “This particular evening was very uplifting.”
One factor explaining the level of interest from students is the enthusiasm of the Rev. Erwin Lopez, the campus ministry’s director. Lopez is committed to financial stewardship as one pillar of what he describes as “a holistic, all-encompassing Christianity.”
Lopez uses the acronym FRESH — finances, relationships, emotions, spirit, health — to support the idea that, “as individuals we are made up of different essences: heart and mind and soul and strength.”
In today’s uncertain financial climate, he says, well-planned stewardship is a critical element of a student’s spiritual health.
“‘F’ represents not just your finances but vocation, too,” Lopez said. “I am constantly encouraging students to see it from a biblical perspective. The previous week, I had preached on finances. I want to equip my students with the best resources available, so they have a good and great impact in the world and be wise.”
Becoming wise is one reason Carlson attended the session.
“I want to equip my students with the best resources available, so they have a good and great impact in the world.” — Rev. Erwin Lopez
“I thought, here’s someone who knows more than I do,” he said. “I do a fair amount of investing on my own — I started in high school — so I find it important to understand finances and be comfortable with it.”
Looking into the future, which means earning both his commercial and multi-engine pilot’s license, joining the Coast Guard, and then hopefully flying weather airplanes for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Carlson draws a direct connection between effective financial planning and achieving his goals.
“Mark Becker helped me understand that looking at my options means leveraging whatever resources I have,” he said. “Thinking even of loans as an investment in myself.”
He’s also thinking about the impact he could have on future generations.
“Tithing and giving back (one day) to my kids and grandkids … if I’m not stable myself, I would find it difficult to justify giving money away,” he said.
In addition to cautioning the students about educational debt, Becker said he wanted to instill the importance of starting sound financial habits early on, “even when you don’t have much income.”
Lopez says he is impressed with the knowledge his students already bring with them to college.
“Our students are more advanced in financial knowledge than I was,” he said. “Many are already investing, learning as they go, because most who go to college have money in their family.”
Because of their advantages, Lopez reminds his students they need to take ownership of the planning process going forward. Quoting comedian Jerry Seinfeld, he said, “It’s like Seinfeld said to his kids: ‘You’re not rich, I’m rich!’”
Matthew Emerick, a senior, says he has been managing his budget for several years.
“My parents raised me to be aware and understand the value of money,” he said. “And I’ve always worked. Most of my close friends are strong financial planners. We invest, we do stocks. We all have a good handle on money.”
Emerick said Becker created a learning environment that was open to questions.
“Mark did a great job making it interesting, and I liked the accessibility,” he said. “I asked about the rumors that the Social Security fund would not be available. He was able to reassure us. He went into the background and explained.”
With so many college graduates trying to manage crippling debt burdens, Becker says it’s encouraging to see students taking ownership early on.
Emerick also has hope for his peers. “Our generation has a good head on our shoulders,” he said.