A retired executive helps high school and college students learn to manage their money

Richard Yaffa ’54 was challenged by his friends to “do something” about financial illiteracy.
Richard Yaffa ’54 was challenged by his friends to “do something” about financial illiteracy.
Michael Falco/Black Star

Several years ago, Richard Yaffa ’54 overheard some adolescents in his Westchester, N.Y., neighborhood commiserating about the fact that they didn’t have enough money to go to a concert. A former economics major, Yaffa figured they never had been taught about budgeting. When he discussed the issue with friends over dinner, they challenged him to “do something about it” — and he did. 

In 2009, Yaffa, who has an MBA from Harvard Business School and helped run a household-products company for 40 years, founded My Money Workshop, a nonprofit that offers free classes on money management to high school and college students in the greater New York area. He first offered the workshop at Sarah Lawrence College, his wife’s alma mater; since then, more than 5,000 students at 40 schools and two correctional facilities have taken part, including Princeton undergraduates during intersession. The aim is to help students “get started in the world without doing things that are going to hurt them for many years,” Yaffa says.

Yaffa’s seminars use the imagined paycheck of a fictional entry-level worker to teach budgeting and explain how a credit score impacts one’s future. For example, a student’s parents might give him a cellphone and insist he pay the bill. Not understanding the repercussions, the student may frequently pay late, leading to a low credit score, which hinders the ability to rent an apartment or buy a car. The need for this basic financial training does not correlate with a student’s socioeconomic or educational background, Yaffa says.

My Money Workshop (mymoneyworkshop.com) is funded by donations; Yaffa hopes to find a corporate sponsor to expand.