The Road to Financial Wellness
The following blog post is part of the The Road to Financial Wellness Blog Tour. Over a period of 30 days, the Phroogal team will go to 30 locations to raise awareness about financial empowerment. Today they will be in Philadelphia! Our goal is to help people learn about money by starting the conversation. We understand that local conversations can help bring about national awareness.
To support this national event, I wanted to share my story about my financial illiteracy.
A few years ago, I knew nothing about money. I didn’t even know what interest really was, I just had heard it was bad.
Saving was stupid, retirement was 100 years away, and money was evil.
When I look back on it, I still believe I was trying to spend every penny I brought in.
I never allowed myself to stop and think about money, my future or how I could start changing my situation. I just did what I knew how to do, spend money like I was playing Monopoly, and thought this was how life was supposed to be.
Always a Spender
During my first few years of college, I worked at a very touristy restaurant that raked in the dollars during the summer months. It was a lot of tough work, but it was easy for me to walk out of the restaurant with over $300 each night in the summer months.
$300! Even now that’s a ton of money!
Yet, what would I do with it? I did what anyone with a seemingly bleak career outlook and no financial knowledge and would do – I went out after work with coworkers and drank until the bars closed. Then we’d go back to friends houses to continue the party. Late night food trips, morning/lunch outings the next day until we had to go back into work – it never ended.
I spent a lot of money on my days off too. I remember putting about half of my earnings each night in a box under my bed and allowing myself to spend the rest.
Sounds pretty good, right? I was saving 50% of my income. That’s what many financial people will tell you is a good benchmark for savings.
What I wasn’t taking into account was that it was only 4 months out of the year that my income was this heavy. Not to mention, when you have $72,000 in student loans waiting for you when you graduate, it’s not really the best of ideas to be blowing through money that rapidly.
The worst part is that I even took extra student loan money to cover my living expenses. I was spending around $3,000 a month, not including housing. These days, I don’t think I could spend that much money if I tried!
What on earth was I doing?!
I graduated college in 2009, just as everyone was still feelings the effects of the market crash. Around graduation time, everyone kept saying that the job market was so bad and the economy was terrible. People were really depressed about money.
I never really understood what it all meant or how much had really happened. I saw the news and heard about it, but college had kind of shielded me from the reality of what was going on during the crash.
Once I graduated is when I unknowingly felt the effects of the crash. I had applied for like 150 jobs and heard nothing. I’m still not sure if I realized that this was due to the bad economy, or if I just thought it was this hard to get a job.
I kept working as a waitress, waiting for that call to come that I had gotten the job. It seemed like eternity because I knew my student loans would soon be in repayment.
That call finally came and I was hired in January of 2010.
What Was I Thinking?
As a fresh graduate with a new job, I spent money like I had a million dollars in my account. I wasn’t very materialistic, but spent a lot of money on food and drinks with friends.
A lot of money.
I kept spending similar to what I was in college, yet I had many more bills to pay attention to. It wasn’t until I started getting into a little bit of credit card trouble that I finally came to terms with the fact that something was wrong.
I finally understood that I was only making $35k a year and couldn’t really afford to be spending like this. That’s when I buckled down a little and tried to find cheaper options, like Ramen, macaroni and cheese and cheaper beer. Clearly not a healthy diet, but it was my way of starting to wiggle out of financial struggle.
Unbeknownst to me, spending less on those things was kind of like my experimental introduction to finance. It slowly got a little better over time – I was saving some money, not going out as much and not buying lunch at work. I learned what a 401k was, and didn’t stop the automatic 3% deduction my job had set up. I was starting to pay attention to my spending, but still had trouble understanding everything.
I really buckled down in March of 2014 and started this blog to keep me accountable in paying off my debt. I read book after book, listened to tons of podcasts, and actually started talking to people about my debt.
Why Did This Happen?
I had never gone through any financial courses, learned from peers about money, or taught about smart decisions to make. It was never presented in a way that seemed important to me.
People may have talked about student loans being bad, but I didn’t understand why they were bad or what I was really in for.
It took me about 5 years to get to a really low point, but now I’m bouncing back with a vengeance. I’ve paid off almost $20k in the last 14 months. I’m extremely proud of where I am at this point, but can’t help but think about the people who are still spending like I used to, and digging themselves into a deeper hole.
I know how depressing and scary it can be to be alone with your finances. That’s why I love what Jason Vitug from Phroogal.com is up to this month.
Jason and his team are road-tripping around the U.S. stopping in 30 cities along the way to get people talking about money.
Start Talking About Money!
There is no need to silently struggle and feel uncomfortable about money. Millions, yes millions, of people are going through the exact same thing you are. Money is one of those things we just don’t talk about enough – it’s a touchy subject for a lot of people, but it doesn’t have to be. Talk to your neighbors about your 401k contributions, or the new mutual fund you heard about.
Even if you found a dollar on the road today, make that your intro into this conversation. I promise you, you’ll be surprised at what you learn from people you’d never expect. Money doesn’t have to be scary, or some deep dark secret.
We all have money in common – let’s start talking about it.
For more information about the Road to Financial Wellness: