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Have you ever been lying in bed, unable to sleep soundly over financial worries? Or had a disagreement with your partner over money? Do you have a plan to save for retirement or invest in the future?

Financial fitness is one piece of the Wellness Wheel — seven separate but interrelated categories that make up your true health and wellness. The other pieces are spiritual, environmental, social, intellectual, emotional and physical. Too often, financial fitness is overlooked as a component of good health. Ainsley Sikora, human resources specialist at Finger Lakes Community College, wants to change that.

“Most people associate wellness with physical activity or nutrition, but if you are financially stable you will be less stressed and sleep better,” Sikora says. “It also ties directly to your social wellness. These are necessities for overall good health.”

‘Tis the season

Sikora, who started working at FLCC in 2016, noticed that opportunities to improve financial fitness for staff only occurred a couple times a year during the occasional Lunch and Learn. These were sessions at which staff could have one-on-one consultations with State University of New York investors that were part of the SUNY optional retirement (403)b plan, a tax deferred annuity plan.

With a large portion of FLCC employee demographics retiring in the next five to 10 years, Sikora wanted to do more. She found an opportunity in National Retirement Security Week: The first congressionally-endorsed, national event to promote the benefits of saving for retirement. The inaugural week was scheduled to run Oct. 15 through Oct. 21, 2017.

The timing could not have been better. To draw more attention to portions of the Wellness Wheel, Ainsley and the Wellness Committee dedicated autumn 2017 to promoting social and financial wellness. Returning to school and the holidays naturally emphasized relationships and money management. Ainsley developed a week-long seminar for NRSW called “Your Whole Story,” which focused on long-term financial planning for retirement and the resources required to do so.

Financial workouts of the day

Sessions ran Monday through Thursday during NRSW week. Shorter sessions were scheduled during the lunch hour, while the one-on-one topics were held by appointment throughout the day. Sikora kicked the week off by providing a complimentary lunch to grab employees’ attention and encourage attendance. However, she discovered that every seminar was well-attended with 20-25 people, even without a lunch incentive.

The week’s schedule and seminar offerings were the following:

Opening Day

"Within Reach: Transitioning from Career to Retirement" provided a general retirement overview. Attendees learned about the effect of time on money, retirement planning, finding additional ways to save and preparing a personal retirement balance sheet. The emotional aspect of retirement was also covered.

“The real question was to ask if you had things lined up to transition into that next phase and pursue another passion outside of your life-long career,” Sikora says. “That passion may or may not include work.”

Tuesday

Savvy Social Security Planning was an information seminar that covered Social Security basics along with innovative strategies for maximizing benefits. One-on-one financial planning sessions were led by a TIAA representative who helped participants develop a personal financial plan.

Wednesday

How to Enroll or Change Your SUNY 403(b) allowed Sikora to meet with staff members individually and walk them through setting up an account to enroll in automatic retirement savings or increase their contribution.

Thursday

A Social Security Administration presentation provided Social Security representatives who explained how to understand a complex Social Security statement and talked about how to maximize benefits. Participants were encouraged to create an online Social Security account and bring their statements to the seminar.

Sikora also prepared an eight-page retirement planning pamphlet to distribute to anyone who asks for one. The pamphlet contains resources, contact information, things to consider and quotes of encouragement form past FLCC retirees.

Participant feedback was exceptionally positive. Attendees reported that the focus on saving money and being self-aware was a reality check. It was especially beneficial before the holidays.

Next year, Sikora looks forward to planning another seminar to coincide with the NRSW. To avoid repetition, she’s considering some focused topics such as women in the workplace or preparing emotionally for retirement.

“Financial fitness is more about how you feel financially and your behavior toward it,” she says. “I want people to be financially self-aware. It’s part of your total well-being.”

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