Free Enterprise Staff  | March 23, 2016

The startup fighting to build a better financial future for millennials

For many millennials saving money is a big concern, but paying for a financial planner isn’t always in their budget. Meanwhile, seventy percent of college students are graduating with a large amount of debt – in fact, the current national student loan debt has reached a staggering $1.3 trillion. For adults under the age of 35, the average savings rate is negative two percent, meaning adults actually spend two percent more than they make.

Thirty-two year old Wall Street veteran Emily Keating is already familiar with the challenges that lie ahead for young workers. Not too long ago she began fielding questions from her friends about managing debt and realized there was a need for financial planning services for millennials that have finances in the red.

In 2015, she co-founded Spari, which means “saving” in Esperanto, a financial planning service geared toward helping people build financial plans to get the life they want.

“People would come to me because they wanted to save for a house and they had no idea how to do it; they wanted to go on vacation, but they didn’t know how to do it,” Keating explains. “I realized my friends had no help and no guidance when it came to their future plans. They had all these things they wanted to do with their money, but they were just so tied down with existing responsibilities from credit card debt and student loan debt.”

Spari’s paid services include a two-month “Financial Kickstart” consultation program and small group coaching sessions. The firm’s clients include everyone from young parents trying to afford a new home to newly employed graduates trying to navigate saving for retirement while paying off debt, all of whom are looking for clear, relevant advice.

Keating — who has both a degree in finance and experience on Wall Street where she spent almost a decade advising companies including Goldman Sachs — believes financial skills are necessary for members of Gen X and Gen Y to get ahead.

Her company offers both paid and free services, starting with a three- to five-minute free financial quiz specifically built for young people and young families. The company also offers a free three-hour training webinar every quarter that includes a nine-step checklist to getting financially healthy.

“We give away the farm,” Keating says. “We basically give everyone three hours of training as if viewers were to meet with a financial planner anyway – totally free.”

Another piece of free advice Spari offers is a webinar called “How to Find $500 in 5 Days,” which shares tips and financial wisdom to help viewers find money in unexpected places. From choosing the right car insurance plan to investing in a Roth IRA, Keating espouses a range of money-saving ideas. To find the right car insurance, she actually recommends paying for the $1,000 deductible, rather than the $500 deductible. With the cheaper plan, filing any damage below $1,000 raises insurance premiums, so springing for the $1,000 plan to decrease premiums saves money in the long run.

“There is money hiding in every one of our lives that we don’t even know exists,” Keating says.

Her overarching approach to finance is simple: play defense. She explains that over the last 20 years stocks have had a return of 9.9 percent, but average investors earned a return of just 2.5 percent. Picking stocks, in other words, doesn’t always achieve better results than simply buying a broad, low-fee index. Keating argues that staying in the market, focusing on long-term savings, and acting defensively can add up to larger savings and getting out of debt faster.

“Ultimately we’re trying to help people be happier, and I truly believe that by helping out the young adults we’re also improving America,” Keating adds.