This article was originally published in the Summer 2017 NEFE Digest.
As a junior at Miami Jackson High School in 1997, Michele Godfrey’s thoughts were those of a typical teenager — buying a car, preparing for college, and spending time with her boyfriend. Like many teenagers, she didn’t know what she didn’t know about money.
Although her dad taught her the importance of paying bills and showed her how to manage payments, Godfrey’s introduction to personal finance came when her teacher passed around workbooks in her business and finance class entitled: High School Financial Planning Program — It’s never too early to plan for success!
“I still remember my green workbook,” Godfrey says. “The HSFPP taught us about budgeting and making our spending plans. We were all getting ready for internships that summer and it taught us how to understand our paychecks.”
The car-buying lessons particularly stood out. “Of course, at that age, everybody wants a car,” Godfrey says. “There was a module about what goes into financing a car, having insurance and registration.”
The HSFPP helped the students understand broader concepts like credit, protecting their purchases and consumer rights and responsibilities. Lessons like these not only gave Godfrey and her classmates the knowledge they needed to tackle their financial lives, but it sparked Godfrey’s interest in a financial career.
She went to college in Florida and majored in finance, but rather than concentrating on the world of investing, she decided to focus on helping others understand the basics. Now she works with the United States military, where she helps service members and their families as a personal finance counselor.
“I see everyone from those who have just finished basic training all the way to those preparing to retire,” Godfrey says. “I just had someone this morning who was retiring today. I had a client yesterday who had never seen a budget before. I literally sometimes want to get out the HSFPP modules and say, ‘OK, let’s start with understanding what cash flow is.’”
For many of the people Godfrey sees, the biggest revelation is that they can manage their money, rather than their money managing them. She encourages them to see the power they have over their cash flow. “That’s one of the biggest a-ha moments,” she says, “when they realize that they can be in control of their own finances.”
Cash flow is something that Godfrey and her family think about often. She married her high school sweetheart, Jerry Godfrey, who also took the HSFPP program, and they have two children — a 10-year-old son and an eight-year-old daughter. They live in northern Virginia, where Jerry is finishing up his military career.
“We are starting to teach our children about money. Both of them have savings accounts. Recently, my son announced that he needs to find another ‘income stream,’ because right now his only income streams are his birthday and Christmas.”
Because both she and her husband took the HSFPP program, they understand the importance of making financial decisions together. As they consider Jerry’s retirement from the military, they are looking at starting a business or a second career.
“We keep tossing around the idea of ‘what’s our number?’ There’s so much talk about retirement these days, so we want to sit down and determine what we would need to retire, as well as how we can continue to build wealth, donate to organizations we believe in, and save money to help our kids with college tuition.”
Some of the most powerful lessons she learned from the HSFPP are about purchasing power, earning potential, and spending and credit principles. Having the HSFPP as a foundation has helped her and her family “remain grounded.”
In 2011 while stationed in North Carolina, Godfrey had the chance to teach a few modules of the current HSFPP program to youth at a community organization. She and her husband looked over the current HSFPP booklets to see how much had changed, and how much had stayed the same.
“It was very exciting, not only to have the opportunity to take the course, but also to have the opportunity now to teach the course to high school students,” she says. When asked what advice she gives to people her own age who never had a program like the HSFPP, Godfrey’s message is clear: It’s never too late.
“We talk about the time value of money, but I like to tell people, don’t think that it’s too late to start. As soon as you get the information, start implementing it and using it. Don’t give up hope,” she says. “Start with the basics; educate yourself; look toward using your employee benefits like your retirement plan if you have one.” “And then always teach the next generation. Just because you didn’t get it doesn’t mean you can’t encourage your children, your nieces and nephews and your neighbors to learn how to manage their money.”