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For millennials trying to save and invest, these Wharton MBAs show the way

Even Wharton MBAs need help getting started on personal finance - and they're showing fellow millennials the way to get started on saving, investing, budgeting and retirement.

Millennials struggle to save for retirement and learn about personal finance, so Wharton MBAs set up a club to help their own students. Here Selena Chang (Wharton Common Cents treasurer), Swati Patel, and Sorina Codrea at a club meeting.
Millennials struggle to save for retirement and learn about personal finance, so Wharton MBAs set up a club to help their own students. Here Selena Chang (Wharton Common Cents treasurer), Swati Patel, and Sorina Codrea at a club meeting.Read moreWharton Common Cents

Millennials are way behind previous generations on retirement preparedness. Entering the labor market in tough times, millennials earn lower wages and have fewer fringe benefits than gen-Xers and late baby boomers did as young adults.

So what are some local Wharton MBAs who are also millennials doing to change that?

First, the data: Millennials — those born in the last 20 years before 2000 — carry substantial student debt, began their careers following the Great Recession, and operate in a labor market where a declining share of jobs provide pension and health benefits. These factors have delayed major life milestones such as getting married, owning a home, and saving for retirement. "In short, millennials are behind," concluded Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College and Wenliang Hou, senior research adviser at the center.

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Millennials started out on a strong note. A much larger percentage of both men and women have a college degree than was the case for earlier cohorts in America. And a college education continues to have significant economic value: A 2014 Pew Study reported that, for millennials, median income was 63 percent higher for college graduates than for high school graduates; their unemployment rate was 8 percent lower; and they reported more job satisfaction.

However, working millennials with an education are also less likely than previous Generation X-ers and baby boomers to receive important fringe benefits, such as retirement and health insurance through their employer. And the big anchor on finances? College loans: Almost half of millennial households age 25-35 are burdened by student debt and, among those households with debt, the outstanding loan balance amounts to more than one-third of earnings, the Boston College research found.

So how are millennials successfully bucking this trend? Swati Patel and other MBA students at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School also needed help learning to save, invest, and budget — even though they're in business school.

So they founded Wharton Common Cents, a graduate club for MBAs who want to learn about personal finance outside the classroom, in 2016.

The first-ever graduate personal finance club at a business school is now open to MBAs and all graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania.

"We started Common Cents because a lot of MBA students had questions about personal finance that weren't answered in an academic setting. We're investing so much time in securing promising careers, so we should also plan for the future when it comes to our own finances," said Patel, 32, who founded the club.

Members such as Anuj Khandelwal, 27, said they first learned about budgeting through the club.

"The thing about a budget is it's just about keeping track of what I spend so I can observe my behavior," and he uses an app called Mint.

Sorina Codrea, 29, is originally from Eastern Europe, so as an international student "I had to learn quickly about credit cards, 401(k)s, to the point that it's a habit. What I'm learning is there are agents out there — accountants, lawyers, professionals — acting in their best interest. But no one will act in my best interest like myself. So, for me, this club is very important," she said. Codrea is now the Wharton Common Cents club vice president.

Patel agrees that budgeting was the first step for her, and now it's become routine.

"I use an Excel sheet and also use my credit card for purchases for travel, food, other needs, and I bank with Chase. I love their breakdown of how you're spending your money. Every morning, I wake up and check my credit card — it's habitual now," she said.

Wharton Common Cents has hosted sessions such as "Playing the Credit Card Points Game," a working lunch session in which a fellow Wharton student shared his knowledge around optimizing credit card points. "Tax Seminar with Visor" was a seminar cohosted by the Wharton Graduate Association and Common Cents on MBA tax strategies.

For Valentine's Day, the club hosted "Money & Relationships" with Entrust Financial that explored couples and money through the different stages of dating and relationships.

On Monday, March 19, they will host "The Points Guy" again, and on Tuesday, March 27, "Financial Innovation Event with Vanguard," the club's sponsor.

Events are posted on their website: Students can also contact the club directly in the Wharton Common Cents Facebook page.

For those who aren't Wharton or Penn graduate students, you can still access information about personal finance. Knowledge@Wharton has 400 lesson plans for high school teachers or students to download free and learn: