Monthly Archives: October 2014

Volunteer Spotlight: Mike May

Master Financial Education Volunteer Mike May

Master Financial Education Volunteer Mike May

Each month Extension’s financial education program is profiling an outstanding volunteer. To nominate someone, please email Megan Kuhn at

Name: Mike May
Lives: Reston
Works: Financial Advisor for more than 30 years
Mike May has volunteered as a Master Financial Education Volunteer since 2012. This summer he developed a new Extension presentation about the best time to claim social security benefits.

Q. What would people be surprised to learn about you?
A. I spent the first 13 years of my life overseas because my father was in the State Department. I had to learn how to adapt to a bunch of cultures. It was a great, liberal education.

Q. Where was the most interesting place you lived?
A: Pretoria, South Africa. There was a game preserve, and we spent a lot of time going through listening to the roaring lions. It was an experience I’ll never forget.

The main thing I learned from living overseas was how to deal with different types of people. After South Africa I moved to Fiji, Hawaii and Sydney, Australia. If you don’t learn to adapt you won’t do so well.

Q. Why is financial education important?
A. It’s life changing. I’ve had people say to me, “I’ve never had a budget before, but now I feel I’m in control of my finances rather than my finances in control of me.” It was simply because I’d taught them how to set up a budget.

Q: What prompted you to create a new class for us?
A: In the past I directed people to the Social Security Administration’s website because their website is straightforward. But my financial advising clients who are baby boomers kept asking about social security. When I took a class titled Savvy Social Security Planning Strategies for Baby Boomers, I realized there was a lot more to know about social security. I initially went to the class for my work clients, but I want to get this information out to everyone.

Q. Why do you volunteer?
A. I want to get out the information. I teach 10 Baby Steps to Financial Freedom at my church. It’s usually attended by folks in their 20s and 30s who are just getting started in life financially. I just wish when I was that young that I had been told some of the things I’ve been able to tell young people.

The same thing is true for my volunteering with Extension. Folks are looking for help and don t necessarily have the money to pay for a financial advisor. They’re looking for objective, good counsel.

Q. We trained new volunteers in August and September. What advice would you give to our new volunteers?
A: Really pay attention to the instructor and the materials given out. Then do additional research to add to and enhance what the basic materials are. Google budgeting and do some independent study so you feel more confident.

The Beauty of Emergency Funds

By Kate Nixon, Master Financial Education Volunteer

Kate Nixon, Master Financial Education Volunteer

Kate Nixon, Master Financial Education Volunteer

I was interning at a marine biology lab when I first realized I desperately needed an emergency savings fund.

I was having a blast, eating free seafood. But I was just squeaking by financially. I had saved only enough to pay for application fees for graduate school.

Then I had unexpected medical bills. I had no health insurance and no extra savings. Thankfully I was able to save enough to cover the medical costs by the time the bills were due.

The medical tests came back negative, but the health-related relief was soon replaced with money-related worries. In the next few months I had to: pay for the cross-country drive to my new school, set up a new apartment and fix the air conditioning in my car.

After the internship ended, instead of spending my free time with family before leaving for graduate school, I picked up a temp job doing data entry. Typing numbers for 8 hours a day was awful. That summer taught me an important lesson — emergencies are going to happen. I can go into debt to fix them. I can spend a beautiful summer typing numbers in a cubicle all day. Or, I can prepare so I can handle emergencies when they come.

When I finished graduate school I landed a great year-long fellowship. I knew I had an end date to my employment, and I didn’t want to be desperate for money when job hunting. Even though I wasn’t making a lot, my top priority for the year was building an emergency fund.

Because I had a federal fellowship, I was able to put my federal student loan payments on hold for the year while I built up my savings. I channeled the money that would have gone to student loans into a savings account. I was aggressive about saving. I automated the system so that every time I got a paycheck, I automatically put a chunk into my savings. I never looked at it as “spendable” money.

Things were still tight, but I stuck to a budget and managed to save a fair amount — and good thing I did! During that year a few emergencies came up, and I was able to pay for the expenses with my savings rather than put them on my credit card. When my fellowship ended, I was able to pay the bills and take some of the stress off while I was looking for jobs. When I found a new job, I went right back to building up my emergency fund.

I should have 3 months of expenses saved by this December. It will have taken me almost 2 years to save that amount, but it actually wasn’t that bad. By automating my savings and choosing a generous but realistic amount to save each month, I have managed to build an emergency fund without eating ramen.

I have already needed to use my emergency fund. I am grateful to have that money socked away for emergencies, and more importantly, for peace of mind. I used Mint to track my progress, and it is great to get a visual reminder of how I am working toward my goals.

I am looking forward to checking the box of having a completed emergency fund. I know that as unexpected expenses arise, I will have to keep replenishing the account. I will probably have to adjust the amount I save as my expenses and family grow. For now, I am thankful I have a cushion in case I need it. Emergencies happen, but it is a wonderful feeling knowing that I can afford to fix them — a feeling that was well worth saving up 2 years for.

Kate Nixon became a Master Financial Education Volunteer in September 2014. She also writes the Twenties in Your Pocket blog.