National Edition

Family Matters: Making personal finance fun

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

"We are working really hard to get out of debt," Sasha Wilcox says, "but we haven't really created any savings yet. We are trying to prioritize our finances in our life."

"We want to find a financial adviser," Steve Wilcox adds, "but we didn't have the time."

The TIAA-CREF survey found one-third of Americans feel the same way — they just don't have the time to look at their finances, yet 46 percent want a trusted place to get advice.

"We heard on the radio about this event," Steve Wilcox says, "and thought let's go take a listen and get some free financial advice out of it."

The seats are, as McCool predicted, filling up fast.

Patty Harte, managing director of institutional relationships at TIAA-CREF, makes a quick welcoming speech and the show begins.

Guinea pigs

NPR's David Green calls the crowd "guinea pigs" for NPR's initial foray into live events. Smith with "Planet Money" joins him on the stage. "If you look at our bank accounts," he jokes, "you wouldn't want to take financial advice from us."

Reading from an audience poll, Smith says 70 percent in attendance have less than $10,000 in student loans, 16 percent owed from $26,000 to $100,000 and 3 percent owe more than $100,000. About three-quarters of the audience own their own home. Sixty-six percent are 10 to 25 years from retirement.

They introduce their two experts, Singletary and Louis, and are soon quoting questions from the audience cards and asking the person who asked the question to come to a microphone.

A woman who identifies herself as Catherine and who has three children wrote on her card she was worried about paying for college, retirement, travel, future health, kids' weddings.

"It's not that any one thing keeps me up at night," she says, "it is the overwhelming 'Is it all going to fall into place?'"

But she says she started putting away money for her daughter's college expenses the day she was born and, in general, everything is in place that needs to be in place, she says. "I knew we had to start saving (from) day one."

Singletary tries to assure Catherine she is in a good place.

"If you are still stressed and worried," Singletary tells her, "and people around you do not have as much as you have, imagine what they feel like."

Barajas says he would love to have 100 clients like her.

Managing expectations

Another audience member, Patrick Frasier, says his financial savings are not as good as Catherine's for his 11-, 14- and 15-year-old children.

Singletary recommends that, like she does with her own children, he tries managing expectations based on what he has available for them.

"From very small," Singletary says about her kids, "when they had a sense that they could go to college, we're going to say — and we're going to say like crazy people: 'This (money) is all we have. If you want to go to a school that is more expensive, then you've got to find free money.'"

Singletary says she doesn't think people should get into debt to go to college and should do just about anything to avoid it. "I don't want you to start your life in bondage," she says.

Barajas says it is important for children to have skin in the game when they go to college.

Two students, Jane and Whitney, are next to the microphone and tell about their student debt. Jane says her $25,000 student loan feels like a normal amount of debt. "I don't feel like I'm drowning, yet," she says.