Alaska CPAs Promote Financial Literacy at Summer Bear Paw Festival

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By Deanna C. White

It’s probably safe to say few CPAs have heard the slogan "get your spurs sharpened" as a call to action for financial literacy. But that's exactly the rallying cry volunteers from the Alaska Society of CPAs (AKCPA) will follow, metaphorically at least, July 12 through July 14 when they turn out to promote financial literacy at the 2013 Bear Paw Festival  Roundup at the Bear Paw Corral, in Eagle River, Alaska.  

This is the second year the AKCPA will promote financial literacy at the annual festival, a traditional, family-oriented summer carnival featuring food, fun, and entertainment in the small town of Eagle River, a bedroom community just north of Anchorage.

The festival features some distinctly Alaskan activities, such as the Slippery Salmon Contest, where contestants try to juggle a salmon and a tray of drinks while negotiating an obstacle course; a horse-drawn carriage ride; and the Dog & Owner look-alike contest.

But nestled in between the requisite jewelry vendors and funnel cakes, Alaskan CPAs will use some inventive promotions to provide financial literacy and money management lessons to the summer festival crowd.

"We like to participate in community events and give back to the community, and this event is perfect for that", said Jacque Briskey, CPA, AKCPA member and Bear Paw financial literacy volunteer. "There are a lot of people picking up information at the festival, and we feel if we can reach out and touch these people at some point during the festival, we can use it as an opportunity to get them to thinking about saving money."

Josh McIntyre, CPA, chair of the AKCPA Financial Literacy Committee, said AKCPA volunteers want to give festival goers a "gentle nudge" in the right direction to begin thinking about solid money management and the tools they need to get there.

"We just want to get parents to begin talking to their children about money and to get it on their own personal horizon", McIntrye said. 

McIntyre said he's well aware talking about financial literacy "doesn't come naturally to everybody", but he hopes the financial literacy tools AKCPA volunteers will provide will help families jumpstart that conversation.

"It takes a conscious effort to plan ahead and make sure you're aware of what's financially prudent and what's not", McIntrye said. "The earlier we can approach children with those lessons the better. It's like learning a foreign language. The younger you are when you start learning, the easier you pick it up and incorporate it. A child's brain just absorbs it better."

To help members of that youngest audience incorporate financial literacy lessons, AKCPA members follow the same approach they've used in past appearances at the Bear Paw Festival – using materials from the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy program and its trademark Feed the Pig "spokesperson", Benjamin Bankes, to teach children smart money management skills.

The last time they were at Bear Paw, AKCPA organizers say they spoke with hundreds of people interested in saving money and gave away 500 "20 Ways to Feed the Pig" reminders from the AICPA program.

"The 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy materials provide a good framework for drawing out this conversation", McIntyre said. "They're good materials from an organization people can trust. They're a great tool to plant the financial literacy seed in people's minds."

In addition to the Feed the Pig materials, volunteers will encourage children to sketch pictures of what they'd like to save for and give away clear plastic piggy banks that allow children to literally see how their pennies add up over time. Organizers also will distribute cards with money-saving apps and magnets with twenty money-saving tips for adults.

"We're offering the full gamut of financial literacy", Briskey said.

But despite the fact that lessons about financial literacy are nestled among lighthearted festival activities, including the Odor Eaters Smelly Sneaker Contest (Alaska has had several former national champions, according to Briskey), the impact of those lessons is critical for many families who are living in a financial fog.

Briskey said she finds it's "truly unbelievable how many teenagers and adults don't have a good sense of financial responsibility."

"We have so many people coming through our doors who are under water in their finances and don't have a sense of what needs to be done to get out of that situation", Briskey said. "In divorce work especially, I see so many spouses who are now on their own and don't have a clue about finances. We've got to start teaching these lessons early, and we need to teach them often to give people a better financial future."

And providing the key to that better financial future, McIntrye said, can be as simple as providing parents the right tools to jumpstart conversations about financial literacy with their children. 

"If parents feel they don't have a good command of financial literacy themselves, they may be reluctant to talk to their kids about it, just like parents may be reluctant to help their child with their homework if they feel they aren't good with math", McIntyre said. "But when they have the right materials and the right tools, they can begin that conversation. We're here to tell them that even they're not financial experts, the tools are there to help them talk to their kids."

The 2013 Bear Paw Festival, which runs from July 10-14, is sponsored by the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce. Visit the festival website to learn more. And, for more information on AKCPA and its financial literacy efforts, visit the society's website.

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