Sep 012011

Autumn 2011
Vermont Life Magazine
Profile: Q & A


Every Vermonter Has a Story

 John Pelletier: Financial Literacy Educator


JOHN PELLETIER, a Duke law graduate with 20 years in the asset management industry, had long marveled at the lack of personal finance education in America. For years, he swore to family and friends that if he ever had more time, he would do something about it.

Today, two years after he moved to Vermont from the Boston area, Pelletier, 47, is the founding director of the Center for Financial Literacy at Champlain College in Burlington. He also provides strategic consulting services to large asset management firms through his company Sterling Valley Consulting LLC.

VL: What first brought you to Vermont?

JP: It was the skiing and Stowe, but frankly, it was the people. The people in this state are just wonderful, open folks, very different from other communities. Every time we came here, we were always sad to leave and wished we had more time.

VL: What led you to move to Vermont permanently?

JP: I was at a transition point … and my wife kept saying, “Can’t we just move to Vermont?” … So, we decided that if we were willing to change our lifestyle, we could move to Vermont to raise [our three] boys. It is a great place to raise kids. They just love it here.

VL: What inspired you to start the Center for Financial Literacy?

JP: The world we live in is so different than the world our parents lived in. It’s much more financially complex. The quality of someone’s life and retirement depends on two very important things: the ability to save — you’ve got to do it — and the [ability] to figure out how to manage your money. And where do we give you those skills? If anything, less and less of it is being taught in our schools and communities.

VL: How did you get connected with Champlain College?

JP: When I came to Vermont, I put together a PowerPoint and started to go around to people saying, “Vermont ought to have a center for financial literacy.” And, as I spoke to folks, over and over again people said, “Go talk to David Finney,” who is the president of Champlain College. He has been a great partner. I met with Dave at the end of January [2010] and we went live the end of July.
VL: What was the worst financial blunder you made as a young person?

JP: When I got out of law school, I got a job in Washington, D.C., and I thought I had so much money. So what did I do? I went out and bought a sports car and got a high-end apartment. And at the end of that first year, I wasn’t home much and I didn’t drive the car much. I was just shocked. I assumed I’d be able to save money, and I was really living paycheck to paycheck.

VL: What was the best financial advice you’ve gotten?

JP: There was an older partner who pulled me aside shortly after I started [my first job], and the advice he gave me was, “Every time you get a pay raise, before you are used to it, allocate 50 percent, or at least a third, to your 401K plan, and before you know it and much quicker than you think, you’ll get close to the maximum amount.

VL: You have often associated personal finance education today with sex education in the 1960s. Why is personal finance such a taboo subject?

JP: There was a study that came out recently [about how] children and parents are more comfortable talking about sex than money. We teach our kids to look both ways before crossing the street, to buckle their seat belts, to avoid talking to strangers, which is all fantastic advice. We need to do the same thing when it comes to the financial dangers they are going to face. And, for whatever reason, whether it is a lack of knowledge, a lack of comfort talking about the subject or a lack of time, it is not being done very well.

VL: If you could impart one nugget of wisdom to young people about personal finance, what would it be?

JP: Don’t live beyond your means and always figure out a way to save something. Life is about choices, and to choose to buy something is a choice not to save, and to choose not to save may be a choice you regret when you are older.