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Most folks, even those in dire financial straits, probably wouldn’t get super excited about going to a concert that touts financial literacy, but that’s exactly what one band is doing — and doing successfully — and changing lives in the process.

The band, Gooding, is trying to make financial literacy exciting, especially for kids who may not have seen proper money modeling at home. The band’s front man and founder (who also goes by Gooding — just the one name, a la Madonna, Cher, Prince) came up with the idea several years ago that performing for students and talking about ways they can ensure a solid financial future could actually make a difference.

It all started with some conversations with locals while the band was out touring through small towns around the country.

Breaking The Cycle of Debt

“I had heard so many stories … intelligent, hard working people who just could not get out of this cycle with these same-day lenders, with predatory lending,” Gooding said during a recent phone interview. “Situations where I felt like there was no need for the confusing fine print they were having to try to interpret by themselves and signing off on loans that they just never had a shot at successfully paying back from the beginning.”

The debt stories were so widespread, particularly in the smaller towns, that it got him thinking about how he and the band might make a difference. He reflected back on his own teenage years, when his mom would let him and his friends play rock and roll all night, but they weren’t opening the bills, he didn’t know what a credit score was and he left high school knowing more about almost any subject than he did personal finance. He didn’t even know how to balance a checkbook.

“We just felt like, if the kids had some kind of level playing field, a lot of other things would improve,” he said.

It was when he met Rita Pouppirt that a plan to really spread the word came together. They had similar views and she started helping the band set up free shows at schools to spread the financial literacy message.

They started doing a lot of concerts at local schools, playing a set of music to get the kids fired up, and ending with a discussion about what it takes to ensure they have financial freedom in their futures.

Founding the Nonprofit Funding the Future

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Gooding onstage.
Photo courtesy of Gooding Music

“It just kept getting bigger and bigger, so she found some friends that helped us put the paperwork together,” for a 501(c)(3) to fund the effort, Gooding said. Thus was born Funding the Future, a nonprofit focused on educating students across the country on the importance of making smart decisions in order to reach their financial goals.

Roughly 30% to 40% of the band’s tour is dedicated to the Funding the Future presentations at schools, which is funded in part by Raymond James. And other bands are also getting involved.

The shows are a lot like those Gooding would play in a bar or theater or festival, though they start with a video clip of the band meeting all sorts of famous people. After that, though, it’s all the loud, crazy jumping around you’d expect from a rock concert.

“I do everything I can to just whip them into a frenzy. And then the speech is basically popping that balloon of the fame … I tell the kids, if you’ve got $1 in your pocket, you have more money than some of your heroes, so start from there. Start working on what you care about and don’t worry about all the hype you see about all these famous people.

“If I spoke first, we’d probably be in trouble, but the rock and roll let’s them listen a little bit, so we get a teachable moment.”

Gooding touches on a broad range of issues during the presentation, including:

  • Trusting your heart and following your passion
  • The importance of self-reliance
  • The impact of education and finding mentors
  • Financial literacy — pitfalls, plans of action, warnings against predatory lending, etc.
  • Slow and steady wins the race — not believing the hype of overnight success (they give examples of athletes, actors and actresses and music stars who are in severe financial stress)
  • Expenses rising to meet income (the façade of inheritance, lottery, record deals, pro-sports deals, etc., solving one’s long-term problems)
  • Lessons learned from a life in the music business and how these experiences extend to any field

“It’s unbelievable to me that … the deck is stacked against these kids the way it is,” he said. “And they don’t even have the most basic understanding of finance.”

Young people today have low credit scores, struggle with financial stability and often lack the funds to leave their parents’ homes. Top that with little financial education, mounting student loan debt levels and the fact that most people under 30 today make about the same amount of money their parents did in the 1980s, and it’s easy to see why today’s kids are skeptical about the future — and perhaps not prepared for it.

When the Message Gets Personal

He’s been moved to tears after some shows when he talks with the kids and they share with him the financial difficulties of their own families. One in particular sticks with him.

He met a student who had a tattoo across her entire arm that she’d put there as a reminder that she could make something of herself, because her mother had told her so many times she was worthless. (We won’t describe the tattoo’s message to protect the student’s privacy.)

“It just broke me down,” he said. “That really brings it all home how much these kids are fighting to find their own centers, their own selves and sense of purpose in this world.

“When you talk to a kid like that who is really trying to find anything to hold onto, to think it’s going to get better, to think there’s going to be a different life waiting for them down the road — I remember that feeling — and what I try to say to them is if you can figure out a way to embrace that and get up every morning and get some discipline and start pushing, you can succeed.”

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Image: Courtesy of Gooding Music

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