When I was growing up, finances were deemed an unacceptable topic of conversation. Sort of like the rule that you never discuss religion or politics in public, in my house that rule was amended to add finances to the list of verboten topics for public discussion. It was seen as the height of rudeness to ask people about finances or for financial advice. In middle school I vaguely remember having a personal finance course which was supposed to cover all things financial that you would need to function as a adult in the real world. Keep in mind this was in 7th grade…and all I remember out of it was how to perform the necessary math to balance a checkbook and how to calculate how much a coupon would save you on a product.
Fast forward to college, and I can tell you for sure that I was woefully unprepared for the financial demands of adulthood, even though I would hardly call college life true adulthood. I was smart enough to know that you needed to bring in more money than you paid out for things like rent and books and food, but achieving that task took enormous effort. With loans paying for tuition and books, my rent and living expenses were on me. Because I had a scholarship which paid for 12 credits per year as long as I maintained a full time schedule, finding a job that actually paid enough to pay the bills was an enormous task. I wound up working night shift in a bakery because the night shift premium of $8/hour was better than daytime hours which paid only minimum wage (then $5.15/hour) and because night time was the only time I could find a free eight-hour block of time to work. I learned a lot about balancing an account, how to stretch every penny by eating for free at work as much as possible, and about the joys and evils of credit cards and student loans.
During my early career I was in a state of almost constant frustration over finances. I knew that I had a lot to learn, but I didn’t really know where to start. It was enough of a struggle just keeping myself above water financially-speaking, and thinking about finances were almost guaranteed to induce an anxiety attack. So what did I do? I decided to take a job in a Financial Technology firm.
Not only was I making a complete pivot into Technology by going to work for a software company, the firm I was working with provides financial technology to banks. I was hired on the Lending operations side of the business. Anyone who works in the financial world will testify that if you do not have much financial knowledge, starting in Lending is a bit like jumping off the Empire State Building straight into the Marianas Trench. Lending is deep, complex, has lots of moving parts and is highly regulated because of the damage it can cause (Case in Point: The Great Recession).
But a funny thing started to happen after I had worked at the company for about two years and I finally felt like I had started to get my legs underneath me when it came to finance…my friends and friends of friends started contacting me for financial advice. The idea was that because I worked in Financial Technology, I could surely answer their questions about all things money-related. Of course I was happy to help, but as the questions came in I was struck by the same theme: this was all stuff that we should have learned long before we were in our late 20’s and heading into our 30’s. Apparently my own lack of education on all matters financial had not been a fluke, because my friends were suffering from it too.
That was what inspired me to create my Dealing with Student Loan Debt video, after several of my friends approached me with questions about student loans. We need better information and education on the ins and outs of financial life, and right now it’s not scandalous to observe that our public schools are failing in this area.
As Sarah Landrum observed recently in Forbes, in some ways technology is a big part of the answer to this problem. Apps like Acorns and Digit make it easy to save money by allowing you to round up purchases and throwing the rounded-up portion into a savings or investment account. Websites like Nerdwallet make it easy to shop for credit cards and get great information on using credit wisely. And if podcasts are your thing, there are more podcasts than you can listen to in a lifetime that give you some solid advice on all things financial. Check out Money Girl for a good start, although some of her advice is a bit basic and she does hawk some services on it so do your research before signing up for anything.
Another great place to go is your financial institution. Many of the best ones now run classes on things like saving for retirement or getting a mortgage. We benefited from a First Time Homebuyers class through our Realtor when we purchased our house, and I know that our financial institutions have classes as well. If your financial institution doesn’t offer any education on their products…it may be time to find a better financial institution!