Like many Baruch students, Alan Chen (’17) had a lucrative, full-time job offer at graduation. But there was one significant problem: He had no idea how to properly invest his first paycheck.
“My starting salary was more money than my parents had made over years,” says Mr. Chen, who had found employment as a software engineer at Rent the Runway, a popular online designer clothing rental service. Chen’s parents, who immigrated to the U.S. from China in their twenties and never graduated high school, “did a great job of shielding me from the fact that we were part of the low-income bracket,” he explains. “If you needed food, it was there.
But we had no savings, which is not a healthy financial outlook.” Chen set out to improve his financial literacy and spent months scouring the Internet for every useful tip and tutorial he could find. Soon he had become something of an armchair expert on everything from high-yield savings accounts, to Roth IRAs, to mutual funds. To share his knowledge, he created a blog—TomoonFund.com—and began hosting free seminars and webinars for Baruch students and recent graduates through the Starr Career Development Center and the Office of Alumni Relations and Volunteer Engagement.
Chen hopes that his blog and workshops will help fill the financial-literacy knowledge gap that he believes is far too prevalent in U.S. education, especially for individuals from low-income families. He cites recent data from the Council for Economic Education, which indicate that only 21 states have financial literacy requirements in high school.
“But even teaching it in high school is ineffective, since you don’t make serious money; this needs to be taught in a just-in-time manner, because that’s when people are most receptive to it.”
In addition to working his day job at Rent the Runway and hosting Baruch webinars, Chen is busy developing a financial-literacy software tool that can provide users with immediate financial knowledge and answer tax questions. “It’s sort of like Clippy—the little paper clip character who used to offer editorial advice in Microsoft Word—except better,” he says.
And what is Chen’s top financial tip for Baruch alumni? Communicating about finances is key, he says. “A lot of people think it’s taboo to discuss money, but you should be talking to your coworkers about salary and talking to your friends about 401(k) plans. Share research and tips—that’s very important.”
Chen will be hosting more free webinars for Baruch alumni during the spring and summer of 2021—check alumni.baruch.cuny.edu for full event details.