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Washington & Lee offers Adulting 101 -- life skills for grownups

Brandi Jane Graham was hired to teach accounting and financial statement analysis, but from her own experience she felt college students needed so much more to ensure a prosperous personal life. She’s been the CFO at investment companies in New York and Dallas, but as a young accountant there was a lot she didn’t know.

“I did not match my 401K," Graham recalls. "I didn’t understand the employer match, and I wish someone had explained it to me, because it was free money that I left on the table. There were so many little things that I wish I’d learned at 22."

Professor Brandi Jane Graham brings lessons from Wall Street and from life to seniors preparing for adulthood
Brandi Jane Graham
Professor Brandi Jane Graham brings lessons from Wall Street and from life to seniors preparing for adulthood

So this year she taught an intensive course called Adulting 101, sharing the basics of personal finance with 16 college seniors at Washington and Lee.

“I introduced the U.S. tax system. I had them call their grandparents and ask about social security benefits.”

She explained the difference between a traditional IRA and a Roth, why it’s important to pay off a credit card each month and how health savings accounts work, but she also taught life skills that were not about money.

“We did one-sheet cooking so that they could host a dinner party. We talked them through laundry. We talked them through car maintenance: When do you get your oil changed? When do you put air in your tires.”

Students learned how to craft a budget, how to build good habits as they started life as a grown up and how to foster a positive attitude.

“A lot of kids today are like: I want to start journaling. They don’t have time to do that, so even if it was as simple as writing three things a day they were grateful for, it would change their perspective.”

It was, she says, a really rewarding class for the students and their teacher.

"I get so much joy from them walking away with the seeds planted or the knowledge to make their own decisions," Graham says. "I feel like we’ve given them the tools to do that."

Homework and final projects involved crafting a budget and drafting one and five-year personal financial plans.

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief