Continuing NJTV News’ focus on Financial Literacy Month, NJTV News Business Correspondent Rhonda Schaffler spoke with Assemblywoman Angela McKnight on the importance of saving and teaching residents of all ages.
Schaffler: It’s great to have you here because you recognized the importance of financial literacy in our state quite some time ago. You are one of the primary sponsors on a bill that mandates financial literacy in middle school. That’s something that will go into effect in New Jersey in the next school year. What were you seeing that made you realize this was such an important issue?
McKnight: During my community canvassing talking to constituents, this was one of the main concerns of having student debt and not being financially savvy. So I’m like what can I do, especially the millennials, like what can I do? They have credit cards, they have student loans. So I decided, you know what, let’s teach financial literacy at a younger age so that they can become sound adults making financial decisions.
Schaffler: It’s a great stepping off point in terms of starting in middle school because kids learn in high school, but younger is better. And I know there were previous efforts to start all the way back in elementary school. That’s not where we are now, but do you think we need to continue looking at this issue in our schools?
McKnight: Yes, so before the bill there is the New Jersey student learning where students had to learn financial literacy by fourth grade, by eighth grade, then by 12th grade. But the legislation that I submitted, A1414, it made it uniform so that children are taught financial literacy in grades 6, 7 and 8. And to answer your question, yes, I believe as soon as a young child says, “mommy or daddy can I …” it’s time that we start teaching them about money.
Schaffler: So you are actually looking at money all this month with financial literacy. You’re doing something called “Money Mondays” and you’ve partnered with a bank and you’re going out to the community and listening to people talk about their concerns with financial literacy. So you’ve had two sessions so far, what are you learning from constituents and interested people?
McKnight: Financial literacy is a must. It’s still needed from young children to wiser adults. So far we had two Money Mondays and we’re looking forward to having the following three. And it’s teaching, we bring in experts, and it’s teaching all our generations about ways to live a better financial life. And I partner with Cross River Bank.
Schaffler: Is it harder in New Jersey? We’re in an expensive state, and that’s acknowledged even by Gov. Phil Murphy, it’s just an expensive state to live in, affordability has been an issue being discussed in Trenton and elsewhere. Is it even tougher here for some people to manage finances given some of the burdens they face?
McKnight: Yes, but since we have financial literacy now at a younger age, teaching our children come September, which I’m so excited about, but also we need to, you know, reach out to our banks and to our financial experts to get that learning. We are adults. As adults we can continue to learn. And yes, New Jersey is, you know, some people say it’s expensive to live here, but you know what, when you learn how to manage your money and when you find ways to save and invest, you can definitely stay here in New Jersey.
Schaffler: What is one little tip you can share that maybe you learned personally or you’ve heard from some of the people you’ve been talking to on saving?
McKnight: You start saving today. Don’t wait until you get a raise, you start saving today. You can download, one app that I use is called Digit where it takes money from your account, it rounds up and you save. So no matter how much you make, whether you’re making $10,000, $5,000, or $150,000, just save. And start saving your change at the end of the night. Pull some change out of your pocket and put it in a box and just save. Just do it.
Schaffler: Where did where did all this passion come from that you have on this topic?
McKnight: I was not taught financial literacy when I was growing up, but also just being in a community and talking to my constituents this is a concern that so many people have, especially our younger adults. So I wanted to be a driving force in making change and bringing a solution to a problem. And why not get some experts and start just making legislation?