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Patricia Roberts, J.D.: Mom, Author, Financial Education Champion

by Team Sammy


Patricia Roberts, J.D, is a life-long learner with a deep appreciation for the many doors higher education can open. She has helped tens of thousands of families prepare for the cost of higher learning through her 20+ years of working with 529 college savings plans.

To reach and inspire even more families, she has written a book called Route 529: A Parent's Guide to Saving for College and Career Training with 529 Plans which quickly became a top new release in Fall 2020.

Patricia is currently Chief Operating Officer at Gift of College, Inc., where innovations are created to engage friends, family and employers to help individuals save for college and pay down student loan debt.

Having financed her own undergraduate and law degrees while working multiple jobs and having repaid sizable student loans as a first-generation college goer, she knows first-hand the difference that even a small amount of advanced planning can make in paying for higher education. In her favorite role of all, as a mom, she made it a priority to save a little at a time for her son’s higher education expenses by directing contributions from her paycheck into 529 college savings accounts. After 18 years of saving, she will be proud to see him graduate debt-free from college in 2021.


Team Sammy: Please share a little bit about yourself.

Patricia Roberts: I live in a quaint, quiet and tree-lined neighborhood called Brooklyn Heights, New York. It is just a four-minute ferry or subway ride away from Wall Street in Lower Manhattan. It has been a really wonderful place to raise my son, Ben. He is now a college senior. In addition to enjoying all that my community and New York City has to offer, I enjoy spending time with friends and family, traveling, mentoring others, and writing.


Team Sammy: What can you share with us about growing up?

Patricia Roberts: I grew up in a small, rural town in eastern Pennsylvania. It was an equal distance from New York City and Philadelphia. As a young girl, I spent a lot of time outdoors riding bikes and playing with friends. As a family of six, we ate dinner together each day (our mom would ring the dinner bell for us to come home). We did a lot together as a family. I sometimes watched tv shows like That Girl and The Mary Tyler Moore Show through which I began dreaming of living in a big city and having a career someday. 

When I was ten, my father unexpectedly left our family. As a result, my mom became a solo head of household overnight. Until this point, rather than having a career outside of our home, my mom had exclusively focused on our household. This was at my father’s request. That meant she did not have current employment skills to help generate immediate income to fill the gap presented by his sudden absence. She also did not have savings, credit in her own name or a thorough understanding of the status of our family’s finances -- which was fairly common at that time for women of her age. Her determination, resourcefulness, and faith helped carry us through a very difficult time. 

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Team Sammy: What was one of your first money memories?

Patricia Roberts: Late at night, I recall peeking out from my bedroom door and seeing my mom sitting quietly at a table with a tiny light on, deep in concentration with a stack of bills, a note pad, pen and pencil, and her checkbook. She was attempting to balance a very tight budget to keep our family of five afloat. I knew it wasn’t easy.


Team Sammy: What was your first saving experience or memory?

Patricia Roberts: I recall my mom taking my siblings and I to our local bank to deposit our coins and bills into our passbook savings accounts. It was so satisfying to see our coins counted and our deposits physically credited along with interest payments in our individual passbooks. It was rewarding to have tangible evidence of what we had saved. We recognized the money we deposited at the bank provided some security for our future, and we felt a sense of accomplishment and peace of mind each time we visited the bank to make a deposit. 

Outside of the bank, I also remember saving a little at a time for more immediate expenditures that didn’t fit into our family’s monthly budget – for special things we wanted to purchase or something we wanted to do that we simply could not otherwise afford. My mom would give us a glass jar and over time, we would each contribute what we could toward whatever goal we collectively agreed upon. It was so rewarding to work together and to watch the money grow.  And when we reached our goal (whether it was to purchase something for our home for us all to enjoy or to purchase tickets to go together to a special event), it was all the more rewarding because we truly appreciated the effort that went into reaching it and the fact that we had accomplished it together meant a lot to each of us.


Team Sammy: What was your first job (formal or informal)? How much did you earn and what you did with the money?

Patricia Roberts: My first job was waitressing. I worked Saturday and Sunday mornings and some weeknights after school. I earned about $50 a day during weekend shifts and about $20 on weeknights. Most of the income was from tips.  All in all, I earned about $120-150/week which was a lot for a junior high school student. I used the money to help with my family’s household expenses, pay for my school clothing, other personal expenses, and a car. I also saved a little bit for future goals like college.


Team Sammy: Did your parents talk to you and/or teach you about money / personal finance growing up? What do you remember? What, if anything stuck?

Patricia Roberts: My mom taught us a lot about money and personal finance. A lot of what she taught us, I’ve passed on to my own son. 

My mom taught us about living within our means. She used an envelope system for keeping track of the money we had available to spend on food and other weekly necessities. 

She also taught us about saving a little at a time for both long and short term goals. We never put anything on credit. We saved in advance for what we needed or wanted. 

She also taught us about the importance of giving to the less fortunate and contributing to our church. One of the most important things she taught us is about the importance of always having money and credit in our own names regardless of our relationship status.


Team Sammy: Who was your primary or one your main money mentors as a child or teen?

Patricia Roberts: My mom was one of my main money mentors.

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Team Sammy: At what age and how did you come to realize money had a value?

Patricia Roberts: When my family’s circumstances abruptly changed when I was ten, I quickly realized the value of money. I learned how much it cost to keep our family afloat and realized how hard my mom had to work to cover our monthly household expenses. I also realized how important it was to stick to our monthly budget.


Team Sammy: Did you work as a teen and/or in college?

Patricia Roberts: Yes -- I worked as a teen while in high school and I worked multiple jobs through college. I also worked full time while attending law school at night.   


Team Sammy: What was one mistake and one smart money choice you made as a kid or teen?

Patricia Roberts: One money mistake I made was to overspend on the car I bought as a teenager. A car was a necessity where we lived. In retrospect, I could have gotten a much less expensive and easier to maintain automobile. 

One smart money choice I made was to go to college despite having a guidance counselor recommend that I refrain from going because of my family’s situation. Higher education opened many doors from a career perspective and helped empower me to be able to provide more meaningful financial support to my mom and family than I would have otherwise been able to if I did not pursue education after high school. In fact, I was even able to buy my mom a home as a result of obtaining my various degrees and by working hard in my career. Pursuing higher education was a very smart money choice!


Team Sammy: What piqued your interest in personal finance?

Patricia Roberts: The challenges my mom experienced as a result of not being financially independent from my father prompted my interest in learning as much as I could about financial matters in order to help her and myself.


Team Sammy: One question, I ask everyone is: If you could only teach a child one money habit, what would it be and why?

Patricia Roberts: The one money habit I would teach a child is to stop and think carefully about purchases before making them.  

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Team Sammy: If you have any thoughts on the following, feel free to share your thinking:

Is important to teach kids about money? Why? At what age should parents start?

Patricia: Yes. It’s essential to teach children about money as financial health is part of their overall wellbeing. One of the best ways to teach children of all ages about money is to model healthy financial behavior as a parent. The planning and discipline parents demonstrate with regard to money are more valuable than anything their children could learn in a classroom. What children learn at home about money will be carried with them throughout their life. Children watch how the adults in their lives handle financial matters.

Should personal finance be taught in schools?

Patricia: Absolutely!  We teach students about a wide range of topics to keep them healthy and safe – yet schools often omit one of the most important topics – personal finance.

What are your thoughts on student debt?

Patricia: By planning ahead for the cost of higher education, student loan debt can be avoided or minimized. Every dollar saved is that much less that needs to be borrowed and repaid with interest.

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Is there anything else you would like to share?

Patricia: I am proud to have saved a little at a time for my son’s higher education expenses and to be able to see him graduate from college debt-free in 2021.  

My son wrote the foreword to my book, Route 529: A Parent’s Guide to Saving for College and Career Training with 529 Plans, and in it he says:

From an early age, I learned that my parents were taking money out of each of their paychecks to save for college. The way they approached saving for me with small, consistent steps over many years helped me to learn about the value of breaking big goals into smaller, more manageable steps. I also learned how cutting back on things we really didn’t need or avoiding expenses that were unnecessary could make a big difference. Spending less helped us save more. Through my family’s experience of saving for college, I learned the value of planning ahead and setting priorities. I’m grateful for that.”

This reminds me of the priceless impact that we as parents can have on our children’s lives.


To discover more about Patricia Roberts, check out her LinkedIn and Instagram profiles.

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