Personal finance

25 years in schools, part 1

This fall semester marks the start of my 25th academic year in middle, high and middle schools giving presentations on financial literacy. Regular readers know that I do frequently and often refer to these CARE presentations. In fact, in the school year before the pandemic closed, I made over 250 presentations in 56 different schools.

What I want to do in this two-part series is present the history of my work in financial literacy, and then talk about my recent experiences at Canandaigua Academy with the students of Tammy’s first semester courses. Franz on careers and financial management, as well as some of my experiences there and with Kimberly Connal in college.

It all started in 1997, five years after I was sworn in as the Federal Bankruptcy Judge for the Western District of New York. Although I sat in Rochester, my jurisdiction included Canandaigua and all of Monroe and Ontario counties. During those five years, I found myself dealing with individual debtors on a daily basis. It was something I hadn’t done much in my 18 years in commercial practice prior to taking office, during which I represented 11 different banks at one time or another.

I was absolutely shocked at what I saw. People of all demographics, age groups, income levels, education levels and geographies were making the same financial mistakes they couldn’t and wouldn’t committed in the 1960s and early 1970s when I was young. Of course, that was before credit cards, home equity loans, and the 7-year auto loans. They had no budget to track their spending, so they could make the right choices about their spending, and they had no savings for emergencies or anticipated expenses, let alone for a retirement with dignity. . They didn’t know the difference between a need, on the one hand, and a desire, wish, luxury, or convenience on the other, and they were willing to go into deep credit card debt for those non-needs. . Also, they didn’t really understand how they were being exploited on a daily basis by the financial industry, as with those seven year auto loans.

So in 1997 I concluded that we had a national epidemic of financial illiteracy and that financial institutions were no longer bound by the same laws, rules and regulations that once often protected consumers. I felt that I could no longer just sit there cleaning up everyone’s mess every day, and not reach out and try to help the young people in my community. It was then that I started going to schools to share with students the unique financial knowledge, experiences and stories that bankruptcy court teaches you every day.

In 2002, when my court was so busy that I couldn’t get into all the schools I wanted, I went to the Monroe County Bankruptcy Bar Association and asked the members to join. to me in my crusade. They agreed and the Credit Abuse Resistance Education (CARE) program was born. We called it CARE, because we care about young people. At the request of many in the bankruptcy community, I went to the national media, wrote articles and spoke at conferences to spread the word, and in 2009 CARE was in the 50’s. States and the District of Columbia. To learn more about CARE today, visit

So this is my story and that of CARE as we try to end our national financial illiteracy epidemic.

As I entered my 25th year this fall semester, I recently went to present Tammy Franz’s Career Management and Financial Management courses at Canandaigua Academy, one of my favorite teachers and schools to visit. Students are always respectful, attentive, eager to learn, and they always have good questions and comments. But this is also true for Kim Connal’s students in middle school. Canandaigua is definitely doing something right, and I am honored to write this weekly column for this community.

In Part II, I’ll include the ten best lessons I teach in high schools and a few more in middle schools, so that readers who have children can review them with their children. For now, here are some comments from the Academy.

Molly Urlacher: “Think twice before buying food or drink under $ 20 with a card. “

Makenna Crouse: “Don’t pay anything with a credit card you couldn’t afford with cash.

Grace Corbett: “The use of digital payments like credit cards and phones turns money into a concept, money is like an object. “” I have learned to always save 20% of the money I receive. “

Ms. Tammy Franz: “I feel like having Judge Ninfo to speak to my personal finance classes gives my students a real sense of authenticity on this topic. This new perspective comes from someone who saw the real consequences of mismanaging their money in their bankruptcy courtroom. “

Leiana Baker: “I learned that I should never have more than one credit card. “

George Spinelli: “I have learned that savings, good spending habits, hard work and knowing the real value of money can make you the successful version of yourself. “

Grace Davis: “I learned that credit cards are the number one cause of bankruptcy.

Sarah Yoder, pictured with me and Tammy Franz, took more notes during a presentation than any student I can remember. She was kind enough to share them with me. Here are a few. “Learn as much as you can about finances. You need a lot of financial IQ. You have to review your budget all the time. Be frugal not cheap. MONEY = HARD WORK. Whatever you get – keep some of it !!! Credit card debt = the worst debt. Avoid impulse buying by using more money – CASH ON THE BARREL.

She got it!

John Ninfo is a retired bankruptcy judge and the founder of the National CARE Financial Literacy Program. Find his previous weekly columns at

John Ninfo

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