Sam Feudo is a long-term planner. He enjoys it. And, as a senior at Ohio State, one key aspect of his future has become financial planning.
After all, he’s eyeing paying off student loans, planning how to pay for medical school and starting to budget for his future once his career starts rolling.
But Feudo says he’s better prepared for what’s coming, and stressing less, following workshops through the Scarlet and Gray Financial program, which he participated in to help plan his STEP (Second-Year Transformational Experience Program) internship.
“As a student, I’m not only thinking about academics, but also building financial stability in the long term,” says Feudo, a public policy analysis major. “Sessions with Scarlet and Gray Financial were really helpful not only in helping to plan for the near term with my STEP project, but they also taught those crucial long-term financial skills for life.”
Scarlet and Gray Financial is a free, nationally recognized program that promotes financial literacy on Ohio State’s campus. It’s offered through Ohio State’s Office of Student Life Student Wellness Center in collaboration with the College of Education and Human Ecology.
Since it began in 2006, the program has a proven track record of helping thousands of Ohio State students each year by improving their financial literacy and helping them take control of their wallets.
“When students come to us, they may feel overwhelmed or have no idea what to do,” says Ben Raines ’12, ’22 MBA, the Scarlet and Gray Financial program coordinator. “But you break it down for them, give them a third-party perspective and you actually see them leave a little bit lighter.”
Through one-on-one coaching, workshops and even self-paced online courses through iGrad, Scarlet and Gray participants gain practical skills to handle budgets, student loans, credit cards, interest rates and more, empowering them to not only address their present circumstances but their future financial wellness.
“The value of it is you’re sitting down with somebody who knows what they’re talking about who understands your scenario,” Raines says. “We’re not lecturing anyone, we’re simply helping students understand their options and work through problems in a nonjudgmental, helpful environment.”
A critical aspect of the program is that the coaching is done by trained Ohio State students.
Claire Hartlage, a 2022 graduate who majored in accounting, was a coach who worked with students on a one-on-one basis and through group workshops. The experience helped her gain an internship at Ernst & Young in Chicago where she now works full-time in the assurance department.
“The peer aspect really helps,” she says. “Students are more likely to listen to you because you’ve literally gone through the same exact things they are going through, you just have more training. You can empathize with them, understand them and help them navigate it better.
“Once you start to work with them, show them tools they can use, break it down so they see it’s doable, they really start to relax.”
Abby Kuper, a junior neuroscience major, participated in workshops and used iGrad to help plan her STEP trip to Paris, while giving her skills for moving off campus.
“It was definitely helpful because their advice met me where I was,” Kuper says. “They’re very familiar with a lot of the costs I encounter as a student and they were really good at making things flexible on a low budget while also planning for the future.
“It was nice, definitely, they could relate to me. Because of their help, I’m in a better place.”
History and research
The peer aspect has always been a crucial piece of the plan since the program’s inception. Not only does it help participants relax, it helps the program.
Catherine P. Montalto, associate professor emeritus of Consumer Sciences in the Department of Human Sciences, helped start Scarlet and Gray Financial in 2006 largely to help students navigate credit card debt before the Credit Card Act of 2009 tightened restrictions on new cards for those under 21 years old. Since then, the program has evolved to help students in numerous ways, especially with student loans.
“We’ve always been very intentional about responding to what student concerns and student needs are,” Montalto says.
As a complement to the program, she also has led national multi-institutional research. The Study on Collegiate Financial Wellness examines the financial attitudes, practices and knowledge of students across the United States.
A few of the areas the study has touched on include why students pursue their degrees, the time it takes to earn them, students’ overall financial understanding and the financial stress that comes with college.
“It’s been interesting to analyze because among a lot of people when you say ‘financial stress’ the immediate thought is that’s a bad thing and we want to get rid of it for our students,” Montalto says. “But we’ve learned to really look at financial stress along a continuum and that stress also reflects caring — I care about my finances and I want to be able to manage them well.”
So even though 70% of respondents to the study felt financial stress, about that same number, 65%, are optimistic about their financial futures.
“So stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” she says.
Feudo, meanwhile, says any stress related to financial concerns is vastly improved once you are able to take control of your situation as a student.
“Stress stemming from the financial aspect of education has only risen in recent years, and programs like Scarlet and Gray Financial alleviate that stress,” Feudo says. “Plus, you build crucial lifelong financial skills.”