Joe Coco is the first to admit his path to financial security hasn’t been smooth.
Even though he has worked steadily ever since his first grass-cutting job at age 11, and even though he has been a “saver” all his life, Coco acknowledges he has made plenty of costly mistakes.
In college, he blew through four years of room and board money in about six weeks. He and his wife, Linda, found themselves buried in debt after they “found the convenience of credit cards” shortly after marrying in 1985.
But through careful budgeting, hard work and incorporating their Christian beliefs into their financial attitudes, the Cocos climbed out of debt. They began sharing their tips with others in 2005 through WealthMASTERS, the financial ministry they developed. Hundreds have taken the class in the last six years, Joe Coco said.
The most recent class is geared toward people who might not have thought much about money beyond allowances and part-time job wages. Coco is teaching WealthMASTERS Money Management for College Bound Kids on Wednesday evenings all month long.
“Primarily what we’re trying to do is light that spark with these kids that in America, if they just handle their finances wisely, there’s absolutely no excuse not to retire as millionaires,” he said in an interview last week.
The primary reason students drop out of college is a lack of money, he said. Many leave for college without knowing how to budget for their monthly expenses or find less expensive ways to eat than constantly dining out.
The WealthMASTERS course will give students skills “so before they go to college, they’ll know how to master their money,” Coco said.
His first class took place this week at Whitefish Church of the Nazarene. About 30 youths, many of them members of the church’s youth group, listened to Coco’s presentation about the WealthMASTERS program and money attitudes.
“We give money way more power than we ought to,” he told the group. “Money is emotionally powerful.”
To prove his point, he handed one audience member a hundred dollar bill.
“Do you feel anxious?” Coco asked.
“Yes!” The boy said with a nod.
Coco went on to say that money is neither good nor evil. Rather, he said, “money tends to be a magnifier. Money tends to make you more of what you already are.”
Coco told the students that the purpose of his class wasn’t to make them rich, but to teach them sound financial principles and how to be good stewards of the resources they have. Money really belongs to God, he said, and God wants people to use that resource wisely.
Many Americans aren’t using their money wisely, he said. According to Coco, the average college graduate leaves school with $25,000 in debt. Fourteen percent of those students default on their loans within three years.
Older Americans aren’t doing much better. Ninety-six percent of Americans will retire financially dependent on the government, their families or charity, Coco said.
Part of the problem is the trouble many people have on focusing on their goals, he said.
“What keeps people from acquiring $25,000?” he asked. “Every time they get $100, they spend that.”
Financial decisions often are driven by fear or greed, Coco said. He advocated practicing generosity instead, in a principle he called “the great paradox.”
“Those who give more tend to get more,” he said.
He suggested the students give 10 percent of their money to their house of worship, but also encouraged them to give things such as time and encouragement. And Coco cautioned against giving to get something in return.
“Your source of giving can’t be selfishness or fear,” he said.
Above all, Coco urged students to serve God with their money.
“When Jesus Christ is your master, money will serve you. If money is your master, you will become its slave,” he said.
The next WealthMASTERS class in Coco’s college-bound kids series starts at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Whitefish Church of the Nazarene. All classes are free. For additional information, call 862-9400.
Reporter Kristi Albertson may be reached at 758-4438 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joe Coco goes over WealthMASTERS Milestones on Wednesday evening at the Whitefish Church of the Nazarene. The course is designed for students preparing for college and will run Wednesday evenings at 7 p.m. during July.