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Mike Cote's Business Editor's Notebook: Students a handy resource (and focus group) for St. Anselm professor's new book on finance

By MIKE COTE
September 01. 2018 6:50PM
Mike McGuinness, author of a "A Young Adult's Guide to Personal Finance," teaches a class at St. Anselm College in Goffstown on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018. Students in his personal finance classes have been a source of material and feedback for the book. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

Back when I was a freshman at the University of New Hampshire, I was terrible with money - so much so that I nearly ran out of cash after only a month on campus. I had been piddling away my meager savings and wages from a work-study job on sub sandwiches from the late-night food truck and vinyl rock albums from the corner store on Main Street.

My solution: I closed my checking account and opened up a savings one instead, which in those pre-ATM days forced me to walk to a bank downtown when I needed cash rather than being able to buy whatever I wanted whenever I felt like it by simply writing a check.

I could have used some guidance from someone like Mike McGuinness. The St. Anselm College professor recently published a book aimed at college-aged kids and millennials who might be lacking in financial acumen.

In a "A Young Adult's Guide to Personal Finance," the corporate business veteran addresses the basics of budgeting, banking, mortgages, car buying, insurance, investing and other number-crunching subjects. McGuinness presents the material in an easy-going question-and-answer format.

"It's a general foundational book designed for 19- to 25-year-olds," McGuinness said in a recent interview a few days before classes resumed.

The St. Anselm alumnus, a CPA whose resume includes stints with Arthur Anderson & Co., Congoleum and Converse, has served as an assistant professor since 2002, about a year after his long tenure with Converse ended.

"What happened was Converse eventually went bankrupt for the second time. We made it out the first time. We didn't make it out the second time," McGuinness said. "Then I went to work doing overseas audits for a year."

McGuinness quickly grew tired of the hectic schedule - two weeks overseas, one week home - and decided to find another opportunity.

"I told the guys I was working with, 'OK, I'll do this until the end of August, but I've got to find something.' Lo and behold the position at St. A's opened up that week. I was able to get that, so it worked out well."

McGuinness teaches accounting and spent four years teaching international business. But he's particularly fond of the personal finance class, which is designed for students who aren't business majors.

"Teaching the personal finance class is a lot of fun. It really is, because it's all new to many of the students," he said. "It's stuff that I know, and it's stuff I can elaborate on well beyond the textbook."

The textbook McGuinness uses in class lacks some of the material he has included in "A Young Adult's Guide to Personal Finance," such as information on insurance policies.

While McGuinness has no plans to make his book a required text for his classes, his personal finance students had a hand in helping him complete it.

"A good chunk of the questions come from questions I've heard over the years," said McGuinness, who wrote most of the book while he was on a sabbatical. "I've been teaching it on and off since 2005."

Last semester, while McGuinness was still working on the book, he assigned chapters to his students.

"I would ask them to read the chapters, and then I would go through them in detail and go through the illustrations in detail. It was actually a good format because it was funny," he said. "We got to the end of the semester, and we were going through an employee benefit plan. I put the St. A's employee benefit plan summary in there."

Knowing how to measure the value of an employer's benefit package - which represents 30 to 40 percent of overall compensation - is an important tool for students entering the professional workforce for the first time. What's the 401(k) match? How much is the deductible on the health care plan?

"If you're looking at two jobs that are equal in pay and status but one has a much better benefit plan, you've got to go with that one," McGuinness said.

Among the colleagues McGuinness turned to for help with editing was Joe Latona at Goldfinch Financial in Manchester, who was a student in the first class McGuinness taught.

"I said, 'OK, Joe, here's the sections on stocks, bonds and mutual funds. Take a look through it, and tell me if you think there's anything amiss in it in there.' He was more than happy to do that," McGuinness said. "The people that went through the different sections were all pumped up about it, (saying) 'This is what students need. We want students asking these questions when they come in to review a policy.'"

The book's subtitle is "It's Time to Move Out of Your Parents' Basement." McGuinness concedes that's something of a ruse - and actually goes against his advice.

"In the book, my recommendation is to stay in your parents' basement for a couple of years and put the money away. Why throw it away on rent? Tuck it away. You want to be in a position to buy a house."

Contact Business Editor Mike Cote at 206-7724 or mcote@unionleader.com.


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