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Recognizing educators who help colleagues make sense of their financial situation

1014 story"Pay yourself first. You can’t afford not to.” 
Lewis and Shari Gunderson, School District of Cadott Community
2014 Financial Mentor Award winners

Thirty years ago Shari and Lewis Gunderson received—and took—financial advice from a colleague that had a significant impact on their financial security. Now they are passing along the same advice to others in and out of the classroom.

The best advice ever!

“After my first year of teaching,” Shari said, “I had a colleague come into my room during my prep period and ask, ‘How are you doing? Are you able to financially cover everything that comes your way?’ I told him yes, but thought it was a strange way to start a conversation. Then he asked, ‘So, this next year when you get a pay raise, could you still live on what you lived on last year?’ I thought about it and answered that we could. ‘Ok,’ he said, ‘So take the money from your raise and put it into a 403(b) and start building for retirement.’ Lewis and I took his advice and because we didn’t see the money in our paycheck, we didn’t feel like we were losing or missing it,” she said. “That was when I was 22 years old and I’ll never forget it. It was the best financial advice we were given.”

Paying it forward

Shari and Lewis Gunderson are great examples of financial mentors. Both are strong advocates for financial literacy and promote the importance of starting to save early. It’s something they promote in and out of the classroom.

Both teach in the Cadott School District. Shari is a business and informational technology teacher for grades 7–12 and Lewis teaches fourth grade. “We’ve had a lot of new teachers coming on board because of the high number of retirements in the district. I make a point of having a discussion with all of them and explain the Jack and Jill concept, which shows them why they need to get started as soon as they can,” Shari says. Shari is referring to the Jack and Jill brochure Member Benefits has been distributing since 2001 that illustrates the concept of compound interest. Download a copy at

Shari and Lewis also take every opportunity to encourage their students to be good savers and stress the importance of planning for the future. “As educators, we are preparing them for the real world. Being financially literate is part of that.”

There are no do-overs

“Thirty years have gone by faster than I would ever have imagined,” Shari imparts. “And, I know so many say I have student loans, or I want a new car, or I want a house. But, time will fly by and all of that will be consumed, so when the time comes and you want to retire, what are you going to have to show for it? You have to start early. Pay yourself first, even with a small amount. It pays off in the end.”

Lewis adds, “There’s an old saying that sums it up pretty well: You can’t afford not to start saving.

“Teaching is a hard job and if you are going to make a career of it, you should be able to enjoy your retirement, but you have to plan ahead and invest in your future.”

Want to nominate your financial mentor?

Use the quick and easy 2015 nomination form at

 1014 portrait


 PHOTO: Lewis and Shari Gunderson with their son, Mitchell