National Financial Literacy Month brings virtual financial awareness to Metro-East residents

The East St. Louis Learning Resource Center, Metro East Lending Group and Money Smart St. Louis are presenting a free, virtual Money Smart Month Series through the LRC.

According to Money Smart St. Louis’s website, they will hold over 75 events and classes for children and adults. These classes will assist with money management, goal setting, buying a first home and more.

The first class, held on April 14, began with the basics of banking, how to manage bills and some tax information. Ali Vlahos, LRC program coordinator, said it has had a successful turnout. Classes can be attended individually, but more information is better, she said.

“It's really a series that builds on each other. So the first coursework was really around the basics of banking and budgeting. Then the next course will be more in-depth budgeting, how to pay down debt [and] creating a savings plan … Week three [is about] credit and credit scores and the mystique that is credit scores,” Vlahos said. “The last class is really about nontraditional lending products, not just check cashing and title loans, but also rent-to-own and buy here, pay here car lots, things like that.”

Nikki Woelfel, vice president of community development for Carrollton Bank, is facilitating the series through the LRC and said Carrollton Bank has worked with the LRC for four or five years to help educate the public. In April, Carrollton Bank operates within the Metro East Lending Group, where banks join forces to work on financial education. Woelfel said not every bit of information is important for everyone right now, but there is something for everyone.

“I know that I've taught similar classes to high school students … I've even said, ‘This may not be something that you need at this moment, but in five years, you're going to remember that Nikki Woelfel told you this when you were sitting in your high school class, and it's going to click.’ I think that's the case for someone who's 16 and that somebody that’s 65,” Woelfel said.

Woelfel said shebelieves both professionally and personally that students need to learn about credit scores and debt, so they don’t have to learn the hard way while digging themselves out of debt.

Vlahos said some families do not discuss finances, or a student might be shy and not know who to ask. They come to college not understanding how to handle post-college income and debt ratios, especially when paying back student aid.

“I think that's part of what we are trying to do with [Money Smart Series] is just trying to get that information out there. Before [COVID-19], every Tuesday we had an open kind of afternoon session of financial literacy,” Vlahos said. “People could drop in and speak with [not] necessarily a financial advisor, but something similar to that. Making those first connections for people is a big part of what we're trying to do with [financial sessions]. Not only Money Smart, but then also what we do with financial literacy classes afterward.”

Woelfel said while there are many resources for college students, there is a lack of education about financial literacy. Sometimes students will have to seek out the answers. The best place to start is by creating a banking or credit union relationship to help guide financial decisions to not rely on buy here, pay here places, Woelfel said.

“[People] get a very high-interest rate loan because they [don’t] have that banking relationship established. So that's why we feel like that's a really the critical first step,” Woelfel said. “[Banks are] also this repository of information and resources for you, as you make those next steps in life of purchasing a car, saving for a home, buying a home, and then planning your retirement and planning your future.”

Woelfel said two of the most important things students can do are create a budgeting plan and have a firm understanding of how credit works and how credit scores impact them. They should especially understand how their everyday spending affects their budget.

“Almost 100 percent of the time when I speak with someone that creates a budget … when they look at what their income is and look at what their expenses [are], almost every single person says, ‘Well if I have this much leftover, why am I broke all the time?’” Woelfel said.  “It's because [they] are not really looking at their daily spending, and those things that really add up that are not true expenses, but things you're still spending money on.”

Vlahos said people need to track their everyday spending and consider the price of daily purchases on a larger scale. People should identify how many hours they have to work for those purchases, if the trade-off is worth it and find ways to cut back.

“Look at where you can cut; if you spend $5 a day on coffee, that's 30 days a week, that's $150 a month. Looking at it on a singular basis, it doesn't seem like … that much, but at the end of the month, that adds up,” Vlahos said. “So equating it with also, ‘How many hours do I have to work to afford this and [does] that end up being worth my time?’”

Money Smart Week presenter Jenny Abel, Financial Security Outreach Program Manager of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Division of Extension said there are three strategies to help cut back on spending: Do it less often, buy it cheaper and cut it out all together. She also said to manage your money by tracking your income and expenses in the “Tips for Managing Money Ups and Downs” presentation.

“Use the months of your lowest income as a guide to help ensure that you’ll have enough to meet priority expenses like housing, food, utilities and transportation,” Abel said. “Try as best you can to project future income and expenses, create a bill payment calendar and change your billing due dates if possible to better align with when you get paid.”

Vlahos said they look forward to bringing back their regular financial literacy one-on-one Tuesday programs at the LRC, but until then, people can and should reach out when they need assistance. If they cannot provide the answers, they can provide resources.

Woelfel, whose focus at Carrollton Bank is providing resources for low to moderate income people said groups or organizations can reach out to the Metro East Lenders Group to host a class on any financial topic with a minimum of three people.

According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, individuals can access their Money Smart computer-based instruction free of charge. They offer specific training for adults over 21 and young adults ages 13-21, available at any time.

For a limited time, students access previously recorded presentations at

The LRC is hosting the last two parts in their free series from noon-1 p.m. on Wednesdays April 27 and May 5. Email the LRC at or call 874-8719 for more information.

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