Why Give Philanthropically? A Personal, Heartfelt Viewpoint from Sharon Epperson

Why Give Philanthropically? A Personal, Heartfelt Viewpoint from Sharon Epperson

Giving is the fourth pillar of Arianna Huffington's Third Metric. It provides numerous advantages in terms of health and well being. For U. S. citizens, it also provides significant fiscal advantages for individuals - including those who are nearing retirement. CNBC's Senior Personal Finance Correspondent, Sharon Epperson, recently granted me an in-depth podcast interview about the practical, financial aspects of philanthropic giving, as well as her personal, heartfelt view on the topic. In this part of the interview, she discusses why charitable giving is important to her and how it contributes to her personal and professional legacy.

Sharon Epperson

CNBC Senior Personal Finance Correspondent

MYW: Why is giving back is important to you personally?

SE: Giving back is important to me personally because I just don't know any other way to be!

I was raised as someone who always thought about reaching back and teaching someone. I had a mentor years ago who told me "When you get where you want to go, always reach back and teach someone."

My parents were educators. My father is now passed away and my mother is retired, but both of them were educators and worked in the community in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where I grew up. And so whether it was giving back in church on Sunday or in a civic organization locally or a national or international organization, my parents have always been extremely strong supporters of charitable organizations, often in the areas of social justice and education. I've just followed in their footsteps as I've pursued my career. As a journalist with a specialty in personal finance, I continue to give back to journalistic organizations, as well as to organizations that I think are important in terms of advancing financial education.

MYW: Can you talk a little bit about organizations that advance financial education?

SE: I am a former board member of the Council for Economic Education, which is an organization that has been around for over 60 years; based in New York, but working nationally and, at times, internationally to develop educational materials and curriculum for children from kindergarten to 12th grade around the areas of economic principles and personal finance topics. The curriculum that is developed is then delivered to teachers in training sessions.

So CEE, the Council for Economic Education, delivers hands-on training sessions and provides support to state organizations of economic education that also provide these teacher training sessions. They are able to then educate tens of thousands of children every year in financial education, whether it is a stand-alone course or a part of a social studies or a math or a history curriculum.

Every two years, the organization also does a survey of the number of states that provide financial education; either an economics course or a personal finance course as a requirement for graduation. It is abysmal - less than 20 states in the U. S. require this. And some don't offer it at all. So, the idea is to try to make it mandatory. Making financial education part of the core curriculum is one the things that the organization has been trying to get some of the states to believe in.

MYW: I think that would be very important; particularly when it's so much less certain for young people today what's going to happen to them when they graduate from high school and college. Whether they should even go to college is a legitimate question! I think that part of what we need to be teaching young people is how to look at the economic aspects of that very decision: what you're going to do when you leave high school and how much money you're going to potentially invest in a college education versus perhaps going the entrepreneurial route straight out of school. I don't know what your feelings are about that, but I think that there needs to be much more of an ROI perspective - "Return on Investment" perspective - introduced early on these days. It's not like when we were in school and the belief was: if you go to college, everything is going to be okay.

SE: That is so true. I think the problem is that many parents still have that perspective of "When I was growing up, you just had to go to college." And many who are first generation and are going to college also have that perspective of "I want to be the one in my family to go; I want to be the first one to go to college or the first one to go to an elite college," without really thinking about the return on investment.

ROI is a term that we know. But many people, young people, have never heard that before. It's not something that they're taught in school. And it's something that you can be taught even as a kindergartener or a first grader.

I remember visiting a school that the Council for Economic Education had worked with in Memphis, Tennessee. A group of six-year-olds was learning the importance of opportunity costs and dollar cost averaging, but they were doing it in a way that applies to a six-year-old: "If I get that bike today, what am I going to miss out on? What am I not going to get over the next six months as opposed to if I got the hand-me-down bike from my brother and then six months later, I'm able to get an even better bike. What does that mean?" So, they were looking at different, real-life things, but they were learning those terms at the age of six.

MYW: Oh my goodness!

SE: That's so very important. I guess I'm hyper-focused on it because of what I do, but also because of what I see. And I talk to my children about money and the return on investment and the cost of things all of the time so that they're aware of "Why is this person able to do this and I'm not?"

I think that applies to education as well. You want to make sure that your children have everything that you didn't have and then some. Well, the reality is you made it because you had to fight for it and you had to work for it. And so young people need to understand the importance of that; the importance of being able to work hard for what you want to achieve and realize that you have to be able to see a return on the investment that you put in ... the time that you put in, the money that you put in.

And that comes with thinking about where you want to attend college, what you want to study while you're in college, how far away you want to go and if you want to be able to come back and what the costs are there; a lot of those factors. And it's interesting ... practically, families and those who are pragmatists understand that they should be thinking that way, but when it comes to their child, they say, "Well, that's where he wanted to go."

And then you have the situation where sometimes they're majoring in something that ultimately isn't going to have necessarily the greatest return on investment because the jobs aren't there or they're at a school that the return on investment is just not going to be there because the cost of education is just so high.

MYW: You talked about being a board member for CEE. Are you still on the board or is that past?

SE: I'm no longer on the board, but I am a champion for the cause for financial literacy. And I think it's so important to start young. Perhaps that's because I have a nine-year-old and a twelve-year-old, so I see it firsthand, but I really strongly believe that you need to start building those financial skills early just like you do your language skills and your math skills and everything else, because it's something that takes time. And if you're growing with it as you are growing, you just have a greater understanding and aptitude and interest and ability to make smart financial decisions.

MYW: Let's talk a little bit about legacy. I think that people generally associate the word "legacy" with finance in some way. I like to bring in the concept of personal impact with regard to legacy. I think that what you're doing right now is a two-pronged legacy.

SE: Well, I'm so glad to hear you say that legacy is a very important part of what you believe in because to me, the most important part of building your financial future is to leave a legacy of financial strength.

And I talk about this in my book, The Big Payoff: 8 Steps Couples Can Take to Make the Most of Their Money - and Live Richly Ever After. It's the eighth step that I talk about, but it's the most important, not just because of what you're able to do and the do-good or the feeling that you have of what you're able to do. The legacy that you leave others is so very important.

I'll tell you a very personal story.

Four years ago, my father passed away very suddenly and it was devastating. My mother and sister and I were completely caught off guard. At such a time, many families are faced with the financial repercussions of a death, whether it's planning the funeral or the longer term financial debt issues that they have to deal with in terms of the home.

In our case, my parents - both of them - had a very sound estate plan. My father had life insurance. He had actually planned for his funeral expenses, picked out where he wanted to be laid to rest; all of that. And it made that time, which was a very difficult time emotionally, so much easier to deal with because I didn't have those financial issues to think about.

The other thing that he had thought about was the type of legacy he wanted to leave. He had already established a scholarship fund at the University of Pittsburgh in his name and in my mother's name and that continues today. Because education has always been such a very important part of our family, he created that scholarship fund. So, there was that legacy as well.

And I must say, my parents were educators; they were not business people. They were smart about planning, but they weren't and they are not super wealthy people. So, this is not something that you have to be super affluent to do.

Anyone can think through how they can make sure that they leave a legacy that is not one of debt and bills and issues and problems and things that other people are going to have to take care of for them.

And I think that should be a goal for everyone. No matter how much money you have and no matter if you are not able to leave a significant amount of money or to pay for everything, at least let people know where you stand and what they may have to take care of for you. It's so very important.

MYW: Certainly in times of severe stress and emotional upset, that's a blessing. You can't really appreciate it until it happens to you.

SE: You absolutely can't. My father had a plan. You can't get to where you want to go if you don't have a plan to get there. You really can't. And it makes it so much easier when you have a plan that other people can benefit from as well.


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