As a senior at UAB, Khari Riles has been so intent on the future that she sometimes forgets about the here and now.

“I was so focused on getting a job after graduation that I wasn’t worried about savings,” said Riles, a marketing major from Huntsville, Alabama. “I’ve always heard that you can make money work for you, but never knew how until today.”

So on a Friday in January, Riles, her sister Kennedy, and fellow students from the UAB Collat School of Business and Samford University Brock School of Business spent a morning at the Regions Center in Birmingham learning from financial literacy coach Eric Smith. A banker for 28 years, Smith founded the EKS Group and teaches money management skills to a wide range of people, including rookies in the NFL and NBA. He also collaborates with Regions to provide common-sense financial education to college student-athletes thanks to the company’s role as the official bank of the Southeastern Conference.

In blunt language, Smith told the students where financial good health begins.

“Saving is the first step toward winning the money game,” Smith said.

Smith advises some of the following steps:

  • Pay yourself first. Put aside savings before you begin paying bills. Make yourself the priority
  • Use your pocket more than plastic. People paying with cash spend, on average, 20 percent less than those using credit cards, Smith said.
  • Use apps to help manage money. Savings apps are widely available and can be accessed from smartphones.
  • Put spare change in a jar. It adds up quickly and can add hundreds of dollars to annual savings when deposited.
  • Follow the 80-10-10 rule. Spend 80 percent on living expenses, save 10 percent and give 10 percent away.

“Warren Buffet says spends what you have after saving, don’t save what you have after spending,” Smith said.

Kennedy Riles, Khari’s sister, said she came away motivated.

“He gave us a starting point and showed us how easy it is,” said the UAB sophomore in management.

Smith also talked about career choices, telling the students not to chase money when they can take simple steps to ensure stability on their own.

“Find the field you love and the passion, and don’t worry about money,” Smith said.

Smith also covered credit and budgeting, but his focus on savings instantly resonated with the students.

Khari Riles said she had already started considering a long-term financial plan, thanks to her financial education classes at UAB with Dr. Stephanie Yates, the Regions Institute for Financial Education Endowed Professor at the Collat School of Business.

“This took it a step further,” she added. “I can’t think, ‘Well, when I’m 30 it’ll be time to get responsible.’ The time is now.”

Smith’s presentation was recorded by Regions for a three-part video series that Regions will soon make available to more colleges and universities. The free videos are designed to help more students learn steps they can follow immediately to begin building long-term financial strength.

Regions also makes consistently updated financial education available online for free. The Next Step section of offers content for people at various stages of life. All material is free and accessible to anyone, regardless of whether the recipient is a Regions customer.