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June 2009
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The Money Tree

St. Kate's innovative financial literacy program helps undergraduates understand the true value of a dollar.

Illustrations by KATIE PARKE

Not so long ago, Cassandra Bayerl had little idea where her money was going. It wasn't that the St. Catherine senior was living an outlandish life. She was existing like many modern college students: Instead of keeping track of her expenses, Bayerl was piling up credit card debt, socializing with friends and dining out on fast food.

Then she signed up for "Money Doesn't Grow on Trees," St. Kate's innovative money management program designed to help students navigate the choppy waters of personal finance. One of Bayerl's first assignments for the program was to track her personal spending habits.

"Finances are probably the number one reason that students leave school. That's why we felt we needed to develop a program that could help students budget and spend their money more wisely."
"I discovered I was spending over $100 a month at Chipotle," she recalls. "I had no idea." Students like Bayerl are the very reason St. Kate's administrators developed "Money Doesn't Grow on Trees." The college years are a particularly risky time for young people with little background in managing their money. With easy access to credit and a steady stream of opportunities to spend, spend, spend, colleges students are at high risk of developing serious financial problems before they are even old enough to drink. And high school-age females are often given less education about money matters than their male counterparts. In college, when they are on their own for the first time, many make bad financial decisions.

Two years ago, Ellen Richter-Norgel, director of student retention, got the inspiration for "Money Doesn't Grow on Trees" when she was attending a conference sponsored by the American College Personnel Association. A representative from North Texas University discussed a new program on money management that his school was offering students.

"I left so impressed that when I got back to Minnesota, I contacted GE Money to apply for a grant to get a similar program started at St. Catherine," Richter-Norgel says. GE Money and ING Foundation have been generous supporters of the program.


Keeping a tight hold on the purse strings is particularly important to many students at St. Catherine, where 92 percent of baccalaureate day students receive some type of financial aid and 28 percent of incoming first-year students are the first in their families to attend college.

Many students work part time to keep up with college costs. "A large number of our students participate in our Community Work and Learning program that matches students in service-learning positions off campus," Richter-Norgel explains. "Many other students work in our student employment program and are awarded work-study positions."

But even with financial aid and part-time work opportunities, many students couldn't afford to stay in college. "Finances are probably the number one reason that students leave school," Richter-Norgel says. "That's why we felt we needed to develop a program that could help them budget and spend their money more wisely."

The program has brought a whole new level of financial awareness to the students who have participated. They've learned how to organize their lives, how to budget, and how to distinguish between wants and needs.

So far, more than 200 students have participated in the program, which was launched during the 2007–08 school year. "Money Doesn't Grow on Trees" includes a series of workshops that cover everything from personal budgeting to credit cards to ID theft.

St. Catherine is one of the first colleges in the nation to offer this sort of program, and it is beginning to attract attention and inquiries from educational institutions around the country. Richter-Norgel recently was invited to discuss "Money Doesn't Grow on Trees" at the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in San Diego. And last fall the program won the Innovations in Student Development Award from the Minnesota College Personnel Association.

The response from students has been overwhelmingly positive. In a survey of participating students last year, 94 percent said they have become more mindful of their spending, 92 percent are more conscious of living within their means and 89 percent have changed their spending habits.

"It has really been empowering as a woman to be able to take control of my finances instead of having my finances take control of me," says Ann Pappas '08, who participated in the program last year. "Before going through the program, I never felt that I had enough knowledge of financial matters to even look at a spreadsheet. Now I'm no longer intimidated by things like that. If I don't have the answers I need, I know where to go to find them."


Trudy Landgren, assistant professor in the Department of Family, Consumer and Nutritional Sciences, teaches two courses on financial issues: a two-credit class titled "Financial Fitness" and an advanced four-credit course, "Personal and Family Financial Management." She is saddened whenever she hears that a promising student needs to leave school because her finances are falling apart.

"Part of our job as educators is to prepare students to be financially prudent," Landgren says.

Her courses cover consumer decision-making, home financing, risk management, employer benefit packages, estate planning and wills, identity theft and credit reports, among other topics. "We're helping them build a framework," Landgren says. "We do talk about stocks, bonds and mutual funds, but I wouldn't say I teach them how to invest. I just try to get them to that point."

Students are encouraged to change their attitudes toward spending — to separate self-image from the things they own and to view "shopping therapy" for what it is, a short-term fix. "There's never enough money if you spend it the way society expects us to spend it," says Landgren. "And the more you make, the more you spend." Instead, she believes students need to set priorities and make choices. "You can't have everything you want — that's a reality of life. Take cell phones, for instance. Do you really need unlimited texting and Internet access?"

Another point of emphasis is credit card debt. "Credit cards aren't bad," Landgren says, "but they tend to make you think that you have money that you don't really have."

Also, students tend to make only the minimum payment on their monthly credit card bills. "If you pay only the minimum, you'll never get the card paid off and the things you charge will end up costing you twice as much as their original price," Landgren says.

Among the sessions offered during the most recent "Money Doesn't Grow on Trees" series were: "Renting versus Owning a Home," "Financial Aid: What You Need to Know About the Basics," "Understanding the Basics of a Benefit Package," "Everything You Want (and Need) to Know About Retirement Planning" and "Incorporating a Simple-Living Lifestyle."

"Credit cards aren't bad, but they tend to make you think you have money that you don't really have."
This past year the College also enlisted the help of financial planners, who visited the St. Paul campus twice a week to meet with students and help them with budgeting, credit issues and financial management.

An internal website has been developed for current students to supplement the program. The site offers resources on money management and details about "Money Doesn't Grow on Trees."


St. Kate's focus on finance is paying big benefits for many of the students who have participated in the classes and workshops.

"I used to love to shop," says sophomore Mai Xiong. "Now I buy what I need — not what I want. I don't have the same interest in shopping."

Since taking Landgren's "Financial Fitness" course, Xiong has cut her credit card debt almost in half. "I'm much more focused on paying off my credit cards and saving for tuition," says Xiong, who works a job on campus.

Pappas didn't rack up any credit card debt during her college years, but the workshop she attended on "The Seduction of Credit Cards" opened her eyes to the problems they can create. "I was surprised at how many students had maxed out two, three or even four credit cards," she says.

Pappas changed her spending habits after taking the "Personal and Family Financial Management" class and attending some of the workshops. "Keeping track of the things I was spending my money on definitely had an effect," she says. "Now when I'm shopping, I always ask myself, 'Is this a want or a need?' — and I make sure I stick with the needs. It has had an impact on my spending."

"It has been empowering to take control of my finances instead of having my finances take control of me."
Another assignment asked students to request a copy of their credit reports. Bayerl was amazed at the level of detail the report provided. "It had everything on there," she says, "the whole history of my spending since I was 18 years old, all my loans and all of the credit cards I'd opened."

The power of saving provided another strong lesson, albeit a more positive one. "We learned that if we start saving right now, we'll always have more money than someone who starts saving at 30 or 40," Bayerl explains. "I saw how much I could save and have later in life if I stop spending so much now."

"The program really helped my confidence and my mindset regarding financial issues," Pappas adds. "It helped me take control of my finances. Now I recognize that it's my money, and ultimately it's up to me to make my own decisions on how to use it."

Twin Cities–based writer GENE WALDEN is the author of more than 20 books on business and investing, including The 100 Best Stocks to Own in America.

Visit St. Kate's Money Management website for upcoming seminar information.




At the kick-off presentation of the "Money Doesn't Grow on Trees" winter semester series, keynote speaker Ruth Hayden, a nationally respected financial educator and author, delivered a serious message about women and money to an audience of students, alumnae and staff.

A self-described "feisty and opinionated" woman, and an entrepreneur who has succeeded in business by "challenging the way things are," Hayden urged her mostly female audience to pay special attention to their finances.

"We women live longer, we earn less money and we aren't putting away money for our future. Money is a gender issue," she said, which is why it is so important for a women's college to educate women about how to manage money.

Hayden laid out a four-step plan to help women take charge of their finances:

Step 1: Change your belief that you can't or shouldn't have to be responsible for your own financial future. You are not too busy, and yes, you are smart enough to learn.

Step 2: Build a career, don't just find a job. Develop a sustaining profession that will engage your passions and your intellect, one that will pay well and provide retirement income.

Step 3: Analyze your decisions and actions, and be willing to push ahead even when others don't understand. Women tend to judge themselves first according to what others think. Instead, learn to trust yourself.

Step 4: Once you have disciplined yourself to save money and to learn about investments — especially real estate and the stock market, which tend to hold their value over time — share what you know with other women.

Learn more about author and financial educator Ruth Hayden at ruthhayden.com.


  • Women, on average, earn 77 cents to every dollar a man earns. Women of color typically earn less.
  • A woman with identical qualifications to a man's earns 89 cents to his dollar for the same job.
  • Two-thirds of women who work outside the home earn less than $30,000 per year.
  • Divorced women's net worth is 40 percent less than that of women who never married.
  • After a divorce, the average woman's family income goes down by 40 percent.
  • Women are in the workforce almost 12 fewer years than men.
  • Ninety percent of women will be solely responsible for their financial welfare sometime in their lives.
  • The average age of widowhood is 56.
  • Nearly half of all women have no retirement program.
  • The median income of women over 65 is $12,000 per year.
  • One-third of women have more credit card debt than money in their retirement account.
  • Women spend 36 percent more on dining out than they invest for their retirement.

Source: Twin Cities-based author and financial educator Ruth Hayden, speaking last February at the College of St. Catherine.