This post is part of our month-long series featuring Greatest Women of the Day, in recognition of Women's History Month.
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"Savings has to be a habit, like brushing your teeth."
Those are the words of Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, a woman dedicated to making sure that financial literacy is not merely an afterthought. As the recent recession demonstrated, financial management is a crucial skill -- but not everyone has the knowledge to do so.
As the president of the Charles Schwab Foundation, Carrie's advocacy reaches thousands of people who she believes can accomplish lifelong financial wellbeing. She embarked on these efforts when she took over at the foundation, spearheading a movement to help women gain financial parity. Her research found that men were twice as likely to invest money as women.
"It's always been a personal passion to help women gain economic parity with men. I was able to bring my personal passion to my work," she said. "I could take my personal knowledge and the bandwidth of Schwab and reach out to women and get them more involved in their finances."
The gender differences she noticed start in childhood. Though the study, conducted 10 years ago, found that only one-third of parents talked to their children about money matters at all, it also highlighted a separation between how parents discussed finances with girls and boys.
"Parents were talking to their boys about hard topics -- trusts, wills, stocks," she said. "With girls we were focusing on savings and budgeting. It wasn't thinking more longterm, with investing. Parents in some ways are perpetuating these behaviors among women, who often lack confidence in investing."
But the issue isn't just along the gender divide. Rather, Carrie believes that all children need to learn what money means for them. In 2004, a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club of America led to the creation of "Money Matters: Make It Count", a financial education program.
"We figured with their knowledge and our financial acumen, we could really make a difference in kids lives," she said. Since then, almost 300,000 kids have gone through the program.
"We hone in on the importance of budgeting and how to line item savings," she said. "A lot of kids come from families that dont even have bank accounts, which is the first step to benefiting from our economic system."
Many kids also don't realize that they can play a role in saving for their future educations, she noted. After going through Money Matters, National Ambassador Tamara Johnson saved over $4,000 in two years for her college education. She also received a $5,000 scholarship from the Charles Schwab Foundation.
"A lot of these kids haven't saved any money before taking the program," Carrie said. Make Change Count, a pledge the Foundation created with the Boys and Girls Club, encourages teens to promise to do four things: save money, spend wisely, plan for college, and share what they know.
"Kids are powerful in carrying on positive messages," Carrie said. "And we hope they can do the same with good financial behaviors."
And as a part of the the President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability, Carrie is working to bring financial literacy to the entire country. Recent economic troubles have emphasized just how important it can be for people to take charge of their own finances. But old cultural values often get in the way.
"Money is fraught with lots of emotion, it represents so many different things to individuals, which gets in the way of conversation," she said. "[Financial literacy] has never been taught in schools. We learn about how to sew a button but not how to budget our money. Young people in the workforce dont have the basics and parents dont have the basics to teach their kids."
A mom herself, Carrie tries to practice what she preaches, and gets her kids in on spreading the gospel.
"They opened up savings accounts at the local bank when they were 10 and when they turned 12 they opened up Schwab Accounts. We started teaching them about savings and investments for the longterm, and the importance of diversification," she said. "My 14-year-old went on a field trip where they went on a big, long hike along the beach and she came home and said, 'Mom, you would have been so proud. I was telling my friends how they had to open up an investment account and they needed to start to invest."
Carrie believes that kind of education is possible, and necessary, for everyone.
"My dream scenario is that saving for your future becomes a habit for everybody, just a way of life," she said.