Seniors James (Alex) George, Siyu Serena Ding, and Tyler McLean have a simple message for young adults: “Spend money you don’t have, live in your mother’s basement. Read the fine print.”

Such were the closing lines of a video they created for Share the Wealth, a financial-literacy competition sponsored by the Richmond Federal Reserve. The hapless fictional protagonist in their video found himself consigned to years of living in his mother’s basement after burdening himself with exorbitant credit-card debt.

Students from four area colleges—University of Richmond, Virginia Union University, Virginia State University, and Virginia Commonwealth University—participated in the competition by creating 60-second videos for a target audience of 19- to 25-year-olds.

The videos covered a range of topics, including student loans, credit-card debt, compound interest, and 401(k) plans. Ultimately, the clever stick-figure animation and humorous storyline of their video propelled the team of three UR students to a first-place finish.

When the Richmond Fed contacted economics professor Dean Croushore about the Share the Wealth competition this summer, he decided to incorporate it into the curriculum of his fall-semester senior economics capstone seminar. He divided students into 11 teams charged with creating brief videos on financial literacy.  

Terry Dolson, community-based learning manager of the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement, served as the point of contact between the Federal Reserve and the University.

“Economics students spend a lot of time focusing on national issues such as the inheritance tax,” Dolson said. “This project challenged our students to reach young adults in a medium that appeals to them in an effort to educate them about economic policy that affects their everyday lives.”

George recognized the importance of this type of educational outreach. “If we all make better financial decisions,” he said, “then on an aggregate level we’re better off as a country.”

Croushore accepted the first-place award on behalf of George, Ding, and McLean at a video screening and awards ceremony held at the historic Byrd Theatre on Dec. 13.

“They, like many of you, were affected by this current financial crisis,” Croushore told the audience. “They learned to fear credit-card debt.”

Now their video will warn other young people of the perils of credit-card debt. The Richmond Fed has posted George, Ding, and McLean’s video on its home page. In addition, the Richmond Fed plans to run the video on local cable TV stations and distribute it to high schools and colleges throughout Virginia.

But good publicity is not the only plus when considering the cost-benefit analysis of this project. This spring, the Richmond Fed will treat George, Ding, McLean, and Croushore to a trip to New York City, complete with a guided tour of the New York Fed. Now that’s a good return on investment.