Financial Discovery For All

Melvin Carrington Smith Sr. is opening eyes to financial empowerment

With a bright smile, a hearty handshake, and the enthusiasm of 10 people, Melvin Carrington Smith imparts his signature phrase, “Have a super-fantastic day!” to everyone he meets. Smith, a certified financial planner at First Financial Group in Birmingham, Alabama, has a super-fantastic goal as well: to teach the essentials of money management–investing, estate planning, and wealth building–to those who otherwise might not have access to expert advice. For several years, Smith has been teaching financial planning principles in and around Birmingham. In 1997, he founded Financial Discovery Forum (FDF), an organization dedicated to educating African Americans about securing their financial future.

Smith’s goal in founding the FDF underscores DOFE Principle No. 5: to engage in sound budget, credit, and tax management practices. “There is a desperate need in our communities for us to take responsibility,” he says. “We can improve our financial situation and can’t go around blaming others for our plight.”

While Smith, 55, is content to simply share his knowledge, he knows most people fail to act on what they learn. This has inspired him to lead financial seminars twice a month at local churches and community centers.

The FDF has allowed Smith to communicate more effectively with members of his community, while simultaneously galvanizing them to action. Under Smith, FDF holds an annual half-day Financial Wealth Empowerment Symposium, with workshops that focus on specific issues such as retirement planning or predatory lending. FDF is made up of 10 professionals who are knowledgeable in financial matters and who offer services ranging from financial planning to insurance brokering. Seminar attendees can take advantage of a free consultation with any of the members and can also join the forum’s e-mail list for additional tips.

On average, between 25 and 50 people attend FDF seminars; participants range in age from 35 to 55. Birmingham veterinarian Lavell Galloway, 40, attended FDF’s 2002 symposium and participated in an estate-planning workshop with his wife, Cathy, 33. “When you’re single, you really don’t do much financial planning,” he says, “but now that I have a family, I need to get things on track.” The Galloways have subsequently become diligent about paying off credit card debt and have started savings and investment accounts. They also made a will and are considering starting a trust.

Smith believes everyone can benefit from a little extra guidance on how to handle finances. His aim, however, is to reach those in their teens–years when many are forming what will become lifelong budgeting and spending habits. FDF also reaches out to college students, teaching them about credit, since credit card companies often bombard them with offers on campus. “We show these students that savings can actually grow over time if they put away 50 cents a day rather than buying that candy bar or soft drink,” says Smith.

Smith has been budgeting, saving, and investing steadily throughout his adult life. In 1990 he hired a financial planner to make sure he was doing everything required to retire comfortably and meet his family’s financial needs. “As

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