Financial education for me as I was growing up consisted of two things. The first was learning how to balance a checkbook register in sixth grade. But that had everything to do with addition and subtraction. There was no discussion of what a checking account was or how it should be used. The second was about credit, and it came from my parents. In my mother’s view, credit was a gift from God. My father’s perspective was that credit is evil. In time, I learned that neither view is financially healthy — or true.
I wish I had been taught that credit — when used properly — is a financial tool, that debt is a financial problem, and that you can have one without the other. Instead, I graduated from college with $25,000 in student loan debt, which is about average now. But that was 26 years ago, so I guess it made me above average then.
“Credit is a financial tool, and debt is a financial problem.”
I also got a credit card for each T-shirt I signed up for and every drawing I entered to win a prize. That led to the pay-one-balance-with-another-card strategy, until I couldn’t make it work. I finally had the epiphany: The way to fix the credit problem was to quit spending.
I proudly managed to pay all my debts on the salary of a small-town newspaper reporter — a whopping $13,000 a year at the time. But it was a long, slow process with a steep learning curve. Apparently, I was a pioneer in the gig economy, finding odd jobs outside of work to make a bit more money, which helped pay my debts a bit faster. If anyone wants to learn the Texas two-step, let me know!
“True financial health is making your money work for you, not you working for your money.”
Eventually, I discovered that true financial health is making your money work for you, not you working for your money, no matter how little or much of it you have. Even on a reporter’s salary, I could have a steak dinner once a month — granted, it was at a restaurant where you got the steak, potato, salad bar and drink for $7.50.
For many things in life, learning from your mistakes makes sense. Financial health is not one of them. That’s why financial education and financial inclusion are so important to me and my work at Experian. Giving people the knowledge they need to make financially healthy choices before they make mistakes ensures they have a much brighter financial future and a much healthier relationship with money and credit.
Financial health matters. That’s why we’re joining the Center for Financial Services Innovation and the nation’s leading banks, financial services providers and nonprofits in supporting #FinHealthMatters Day on June 27, 2017.
Tell us, how is your financial health?