Colin Ryan talks money issues with a packed room


Briana Morin

Colin Ryan

Debt, saving money, and other financial topics continue to be a major point of interest for college students across the country. So why don’t many students don’t know how to pay off debt and save money?
Colin Ryan has been asked to come back to JSC again to address these issues and teach students how to overcome them.

Ryan began his career as a stand-up comedian. He now travels across the country teaching financial literacy to students and adults alike, and has been named one of the country’s top 10 youth presenters by the National Youth Involvement Board.

The audience overflowed and dozens of people had to sit on the floor next to the rows of chairs.
According to Greg Eckman, JSC senior financial aid officer, the packed room was no surprise; this is the third year Ryan has spoken at JSC, and it’s always a highly attended event.

Ryan began by asking the audience about dreams they have, also informing them of his own dream from when we was 11 years old: to live in the movie “Braveheart.”

“I had it all mapped out,” Ryan said. “I was gonna be a Scottish freedom fighter from the 11th century. Yeah, I ran into problems right away.”

Ryan explained that he got closer to achieving his dream than he expected by moving to Scotland for six months and working in a mailroom in the basement of the Royal Bank of Scotland, where he found people who were not at all happy with their careers.

“It was not their passion,” Ryan said. “They were very good at showing me, by complaining, that they hated their jobs. I had a coworker, his name was John, and I sat next to him. And every day, when somebody irritated or annoyed him, he would stand up and announce how many days he had left until he could retire.”

What prevents people around the world from being able to pursue the careers they really want? According to Ryan, it’s a lack of financial literacy, which leads to a lack of money.

“You can actually be a prisoner in your own life, your job can feel like a jail, if you do not have a plan for how you’re going to make your dream come true,” Ryan said. “And instead you settle for complaining about your life instead of changing your life.”

A slew of sobering statistics followed, such as the fact that over 55 percent of Americans didn’t even save a penny last year.

“We live in a country where financial education is almost completely absent,” Ryan said. “Did you know that only 17 states in America require any form of personal finance in order to graduate high school? Vermont is not one of these states… While financial education is missing, financial mis-education is everywhere.”

According to Ryan, people can see up to 5,000 advertisements a day, less than 2 percent of which we actually register as advertisements.

“We are constantly being told, ‘Buy this, and then you’ll be enough,’” Ryan said. “It’s a very powerful message, and it plays into the wrong part of us, because the reality is we are enough. And if we weren’t, maybe they wouldn’t have to try so hard to convince us otherwise 5,000 times a day.”

To help make up for the amount of financial mis-education we’ve been given in our lives, Ryan focused his presentation on three skills to help people achieve the life they want to have.

The first skill was all about credit cards, loans, and debt, a subject pertinent to almost every college student.

“The message of credit cards is this: Do you want something that you can’t afford to have? Take this, and you can have it right now… you see, that’s the trick right there. It’s all about that thing you want right now, and not about what it’s going to cost you to deal with it later.”

He then talked about minimum payments and interest rates on credit cards, and how, more often than not, a credit card owner ends up paying more in interest rates than they do on the actual item they bought. He used a $1,000 pool as an example.

“To pay off that pool using only minimum payments will take you 14 years,” Ryan said. “And at the end of 14 years, when you think, ‘thank God I’m finally done paying for this,’ you add up how much you’ve paid, and you have paid $2,100 for that $1,000 pool.”

He stated that feelings of fear and dread when thinking about your debt would ultimately stop you from paying off that debt.

“Your financial aid office is filled with people who just want you to come and ask for advice,” Ryan said. “Now, why does this feel unnatural? Because this is the great taboo. We don’t talk about debt, and we definitely don’t admit what we don’t know. So what I’m really challenging you to do is to be authentic enough to admit that you may not have all the answers.”

Ryan moved on to his second skill, which was to work hard and get to where you want to be in life. To introduce this skill, he showed the audience a PowerAde commercial about working hard to chase your dreams.

According to him, the commercial had a great message, but contained a few flaws, including defining success as being rich and famous, as well as implying that you have to take the journey alone.
Ryan cited a study that found that a person needs an average of $65-75,000 a year in order to be at their ideal happiness level.

“Above that level, your happiness does not increase,” Ryan said. “So, this message that you need to sign for millions of dollars, or else you haven’t really made it, is denying the fact that so many people love their lives who make much more attainable amounts of money.”
The subject of simply asking for help rather than trying to attain success on your own was also addressed.

“A much more likely version of success is to embrace the idea that your coaches are everywhere,” Ryan said. “All around you are people who would love to help you, would love to answer your questions… there are people in your life who care. The trick is, you have to figure out how to charm and impress them into helping you.”

This led into the third skill Ryan discussed, which was making and saving money. He talked about his grandmother, who constantly talked to random people on the street and asked them personal questions.

“She’d be like, ‘Are you happy in your life? How much money do you make? And do you have a discount for an old woman?”…What my grandmother demonstrated by going and talking to people is this idea of creating opportunities. What she showed me is that there are no strangers, there are just other humans that I haven’t had a conversation with yet.”

He also talked about a band he knew, whose secret to success was that they took every gig they were offered, because you never know who could be at that gig, who would offer you your next opportunity. They called this “gigonomics.”

“If you see someone who you are curious to know more about, the best skill you can develop is just to go up and talk,” Ryan said. “Say hello, introduce yourself. At your core, we are just people.”
The key to success, according to Ryan, is to talk to as many people as possible and create opportunities for yourself.

To reiterate this point, Ryan showed the audience a video of an experiment where children were given a marshmallow. The adult was to leave the room. The kids were told that if they waited to eat the marshmallow until the adult came back, they would be given a second marshmallow.

“They studied these kids who were able to wait, and over the course of their life, they discovered some really wild things,” Ryan said. “For example, they were better at maintaining friendships, they were better at handling stress, they had on average a higher SAT score by over 200 points, they struggled less with their weight, and they struggled less with actual substance abuse temptations. All that out of whether or not you would eat a marshmallow.”

He compared this experiment to budgeting your money, saying that it is better to control your impulses and not spend your money now, and instead wait for something bigger and better to come along.
“When it comes to spending money, there are really only two categories of people, “Ryan said. “Either you control your spending, or your spending controls you.”

This is obviously no easy task for most people, as temptations to buy things are everywhere we go. Because of this, Ryan gave the audience some tips on how to control their buying impulses. One trick that the video highlights is called, “choice architecture.”

“Basically what it means is that you make the right choice more attractive,” Ryan said. “Think of techniques and habits you can use that will make the right choice of saving money more attractive.”
A few of Ryan’s suggested tricks include looking away from the object, changing the subject, leaving the room, and not going out shopping as often. If you do go out shopping, don’t shop when you are bored, sad, or hungry.

He also gave the audience tips to save money, the most important of which would be to surround yourself with people whom you want to be like, people who will encourage you to save money rather than spend it.
The audience was invited to give suggestions as well, which included not buying cigarettes and asking your bartender to close your tab after a certain amount of money. All of the tips provided easy ways for college students to realistically begin saving their money.

“I thought the presentation was very fun and educational at the same time,” said JSC junior Nathaniel Garland. “I’ve been trying to save money for the past two years and I believe that the points and tips he brought up will really help me in the future.”

Towards the end of the presentation, Ryan invited students to his website to download a free eight-page e-book on managing finances.

“Your life may be a lot bigger than you can imagine,” Ryan concluded. “I am not somebody special. I’m just somebody who said, ‘I’m willing to stand up for what matters more.’ I hope that that feels possible to you, I hope you feel psyched to do something cool going forward. Do not back down. Stand up. It is possible.”