The Office of Financial Aid has recently created a new program called CommonCents. The peer-to-peer advising initiative guides students to financial wellness. (Photo Illustration by Kate Morrell/B&W Staff)

CommonCents fosters peer-to-peer financial education

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A Lehigh student receives a refund check for $6,000 as part of a financial aid package. In a rush of excitement, the student goes out to a nice dinner and purchases new clothes using some of the money.

A week later, the $6,000 has dwindled and the student has to skip meals to pay for rent, textbooks and other fees.

This type of situation might present itself to some students who don’t know how to budget their money. They might even feel intimidated by financial concepts such as credit management and loan repayment.

In an effort to help students better manage their money, the Financial Aid Office created CommonCents, an interactive plan to improve students’ financial fluency. The program aims to teach students how to be financially successful during and after college.

Danika Clevenstine, an assistant director of financial aid and the manager of CommonCents, said she looks forward to promoting financial wellness on campus through a program that helps students prioritize their values through budgeting.

“We want to focus on money management,” Clevenstine said. “’Adulting,’ as they say, can be intimidating as a college student. We want to help prepare students for it.”

The program has hired ten peer financial advisers who are students themselves and train participants in focus areas such as credit, budgeting and financial goal setting. Each adviser meets with students individually to maintain the CommonCents philosophy that students in need of financial advising can better relate to other students, rather than faculty or staff.

Clevenstine said students have different levels of financial literacy, but any student can benefit from the program. She said she is enthusiastic about the diverse group of advisers she hired.

“Financial wellness isn’t a sexy topic,” Clevenstine said. “It’s not something that’s always talked about at home. CommonCents gears students toward talking about their finances and developing the skills to manage them properly.”

CommonCents Lead Peer Advisers Conor O’Grady, 20, and Abby Miller, 19, each manage five peer advisers in the program. O’Grady and Miller settle problems and help advisers in addition to helping students who participate in the program.

Miller said she wants to help students become more aware of their finances as they prepare for life after graduation.

O’Grady said financial wellness is important to students because college is likely the first time they are independent.

He said the peer-to-peer sessions are a key element of the program. As a peer, he wants to provide his advisees guidance, but avoid making the advice strictly about what is ‘right versus wrong.’

“I’m not trying to say I can fix all of (the advisees’) problems,” O’Grady said, “but as long as I can offer them something positive to take away – that’s the point of the program.”

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