National Edition

Family Matters: Making personal finance fun

Published: Monday, Nov. 25 2013 9:50 a.m. MST

Michelle Singletary, the popular personal finance columnist from The Washington Post, laughs while answering a question from the audience. David Greene, NPR's "Morning Edition" host is to her right and financial adviser and author Louis Barajas is on her left.

Chris Keth, NPR

SALT LAKE CITY — John McCool, director of media relations at TIAA-CREF financial services organization, flew in from New York and is excited about the financial planning event the company is sponsoring.

"It's going to be a full house," he says, "They have 250 people signed up."

Water bottles, cheeses, crackers and bite-sized fruits are on a table. National Public Radio volunteers stand ready in pre-faded NPR t-shirts. Indira Etwaroo, executive producer and director of branded events at NPR in New York, one of a few NPR representatives who came to Salt Lake City to shepherd the show on Nov. 12, is busy running sound checks in that nervous, focused and confident way event planners act when they know the crowd is coming at any minute.

McCool loves the setting at the Natural History Museum of Utah's canyon atrium — a cavern-sized cathedral of concrete with glass displays of butterflies, bones and rock art.

"This is amazing," he says.

The room is bright lights and echoes. The rest of the museum is dark and off-limits for the event — dinosaurs, including the museum's newly installed "King of Gore" Tyranosaurus, hide in shadows like unsecured debt.

Chris Keth, a freelance photographer taking pictures for the event, is jumping around the room, scoping out angles.

Then the doors open and people come streaming in.

The sponsor for the event, TIAA-CREF, recently conducted a survey that found 48 percent of Americans say it is difficult to know which sources of financial advice they can trust. Thirty-seven percent don't want to talk with anyone about their finances.

The crowds coming in to fill every seat, however, seem full of trust at this event — and want to talk about their finances in front of an audience. They each clutch 8 1/2-by-5 1/2 cards that were handed out when they came in. The cards identify the event as NPR's "Family Matters: Your Financial Lifetime" and have a prompt for a question: "We want to know what financial concerns keep you up at night."

Everyone is busily scribbling a question.

Dennis Barrett, 67, is originally from Houston, but now lives in Ogden. He sits near the stage that has four empty stools and four microphones, and writes his concern down on the card.

"I just have a new grandbaby," Barrett says, "and I'm just looking to see what the best place is to put some money into for her college education."

Experts assemble

Stacey Foxwell is with the NPR event team and director of content administration. She says NPR is expanding into events. Usually, the national organization has left local affiliates such as KUER in Salt Lake City to run various local events. This "Family Matters" event is being run by the national organization, however, and bringing in some big names in the NPR listening world and in the personal finance world.

The team has just finished a similar event in St. Louis, and for the event at the museum have flown in David Greene, NPR's "Morning Edition" host. They also have NPR's "Planet Money" correspondent, Robert Smith, on board. Smith is originally from Utah, and his mother is in the crowd. He is even giving some of the guests a ride to and from the event.

Michelle Singletary, the popular personal finance columnist from The Washington Post, and financial adviser and author Louis Barajas round out the celebrity panel of financial gurus.

Sasha and Steve Wilcox are in their mid-30s and holding Axel, a bright-eyed 5-month-old baby boy. They say they are making a lot of financial decisions right now and looking for good advice on "everything."