Some people might think making an impact in the area of financial literacy by writing a fictional book about the money management habits of two golden retrievers is a little far-fetched – however, Dr. Melissa Griswold, ’96, made just such a connection in her new book Smart Bitch Dumb Dog
released earlier this year. Griswold, who received her Ph.D. in business administration specializing in finance from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, returned to the College of Business this November to speak to both college and high school students at two events sponsored by the Nebraska Council on Economic Education. You might say, she came to teach some young dogs some old tricks about managing their finances.
“You’re not born understanding money management, particularly if your parents aren’t good at it, and don’t know how to teach it,” said Griswold, an associate professor of finance at Maryville University in St. Louis. “The more exposure young people have to financial concepts, the better chance they have to grasp those issues. We’re on the verge of a real crisis with college student loan debt, and the most rewarding thing is having students come up to me after my talks and say they learned a lot and need to know more.”
Griswold learned about finance firsthand, growing up in a family that did not have a lot of money. It inspired her to choose finance as an area of study while earning her bachelor and master’s degrees at Western Illinois University.
“Even though they didn’t have a lot of money, my parents did have good common sense about money, and didn’t have much debt. They were disciplined about money. It gave me an affinity for figuring this money thing out.”
Arriving in Lincoln, Nebraska, in the early ’90’s to pursue her Ph.D., Griswold, made immediate and life changing connections with the faculty at Nebraska Business. She found a down-to-earth and supportive foundation in the Department of Finance that helped her build trust in herself while cultivating her primary research interests, which include money and banking, financial institutions and corporate finance.
“To this day I still feel comfortable reaching out to any the finance faculty,” Griswold said. “I’ve stayed in contact with Gordie Karels (professor emeritus) throughout my career, and every time I’ve made a career change Gordie is the person I call to see what he thinks. I’ve been lucky to have that lifelong mentor, and can’t imagine what my professional career would look like without those meaningful connections you get at Nebraska.”
She even reached out to Karels for advice before publishing her new book. She knew it could make a big an impact, even though it did not conform to the rigid academic standards of a textbook.
“I was looking for a way to create something that looked fun and was a little bit risky. I wanted to package the finance information differently so people wouldn’t be intimidated. Over the years when I would bring up financial concepts in class, students would generally agree it’s an important topic, but when I’d follow up with how many had done research on their own financial management habits they would say finance books are dull or too complicated. I wanted to find a way to convey important financial material in a concise manner. The book has 100 pages, and it’s also filled with pictures and graphics so the reader can get through it pretty quick.”
Her book fills a unique niche of being entertaining while instilling important concepts of financial responsibility. It also gives her a chance to express her love for her dogs in her prose.
“I remember the moment it came together. We were on an airplane to pick up the red dog in the book named Sherman. I was talking to my daughter about financial concepts and started thinking about how much I enjoy dogs. I thought using dogs in a story would be a funny way to tell the story because there’s a lot of dog puns and humor in the book.”
Karels believes her new book represents the type of important service work faculty can contribute to society. He lauded Griswold for her unique perspective.
“Melissa produced interesting studies in her collegiate work at Nebraska examining lending differences between minority and non-minority owned commercial banks,” said Karels. “She went on from here and established a noteworthy career in both administration and teaching. Her recent consumer finance primer is a clever way to introduce students to much needed financial literacy issues for both business and non-business students.”
Griswold wants to help kids who grew up in a similar financial environment to hers. She believes high school students in particular need to be educated about what their student debt will look like after graduating from college.
“This is my service project and way to give back,” she said. “I’ve been lucky enough to get a great education that has set me up to understand these concepts, and I feel very fortunate to share that with other people. Hopefully my work will release some of the emotional burden that comes living paycheck to paycheck.”
Griswold already has plans to do a follow-up book with a colleague on retirement planning called The Golden Years
. She wants to create a practical approach for dealing with Social Security, Medicare and passing along wealth to the next generation.