Where did you learn about money?

They don’t teach personal finance in school and I believe most of us have learned about money from a series of trial and error.  We also learn about money from our parents, our friends, the neighborhood we grew up in, what school we went to, etc.

Growing up I didn’t know anything about money. I knew that my parents weren’t rich, but I never felt poor. We went to Disneyland sometimes, there was always food and I had a place to sleep. It wasn’t until I started going to other friend’s houses that I realized that other people lived in actual houses, had bigger places, and had more stuff. It didn’t bother me; it just made me realize what I had (or didn’t have). It’s interesting that you can go along in a bubble for so long and that once you taste the bittersweet acidity of envy, you start comparing yourself to others.

Not until I started comparing myself to others, did I have a faint understanding of money and its power in society. When I was 13, I decided to sell my parents CD’s (unbeknownst to them) to the local music store to make a few extra bucks. Needless to say, my parents weren’t very happy about this. However, this was the moment that started my entrepreneurial, hustlin’ spirit. But I was still pretty clueless and just wanted to be cool and hang out with my friends.

At 17, I got my first job working in an office. It was a great first job, and I learned a lot about my financial life. I set up a checking account and direct deposit for the first time.  Because it was free, I also decided to set up a savings account. At the time, I was in college, living with my parents and frivolously spent my money. I went to Coffee Bean every day, I went out to eat when I wanted and pierced my ears about 10 times and impulsively pierced my eyebrow. I did things that were fun, without much care for the future.

I didn’t learn about money or save my money, because I didn’t have to.

Although I had recently signed my student loan paperwork, I had no idea in reality what that meant. I was so consumed with adjusting to college life and managing my work schedule that it seemed like a distant thought. I had some good times in college, and my bank account reflected that.  Although I was working all throughout college, I didn’t save much until I decided I wanted to study abroad. Studying abroad was the fire that spurred me to action. All of a sudden, going out was less frequent and I was trying to work more hours. My student loans wouldn’t really cover it and it was something that I desperately wanted. I worked for almost a year making minimum wage to save up 5k to study abroad. At the time, it was a big deal. It was the first time in my adult life I wouldn’t be working for a while. It was my first big purchase, my first big risk. And it was totally worth it.

Upon graduating college, I moved out of my parent’s house and moved into an apartment. I grew up and learned the ways of paying rent, putting down a deposit and security.  I learned about credit scores and learned mine was just good enough to snag the apartment, even though I had never had a credit card. Part of my financial ignorance did help me in some ways—I never applied for a credit card and you better believe I was getting those offers in the mail like candy at a candy shop. I used to just rip them up and say, that’s what my savings is for and why buy things I can’t afford?

It wasn’t until I got my first career job, was living on my own and started to pay back my student loans did I have a clue about money. I had reached my scary point (at the time it was less than $200 in checking) and I felt like I was always struggling. I decided that I didn’t want to live like that and I wanted to be in control of my finances. I started saving $600 a month and paying my loans comfortably. In retrospect, I wish I would have saved more for graduate school. It was one of those things that I didn’t think was going to happen, so I never prepared for it.

Note: prepare for the best too, not always the worst!

I feel like now, at 28, I am in a much better financial space, at least intellectually. I have deviated from my financial security, but I have a plan and I am making it work. It has been humbling and I have learned to live with less and deal with lifestyle depreciation. I now have an emergency fund with six months of rent, a paltry retirement account (1k—but at least I started!) and I am paying off my debt.

I see some of my friends who consistently overdraw from their accounts, never seem to have enough money even though they don’t have debt and have a full time job, don’t understand how they got into this situation, have no grasp of what their pay/bills/lifestyle look like. Sometimes I want to hold an intervention, but it’s not really my place. Money is still a rather taboo topic, especially when it comes to income and debt. Also, lifestyle is rather personal and people don’t want to be told what to do or how to spend their money, even if they know there is a better way.

It’s amazing how financially illiterate most people are, but completely understandable. It’s not taught in the schools, my parents didn’t teach me about finances and it’s not a topic to discuss with friends. There is no public forum to discuss, learn and grow. I guess that is why I am attracted to personal finance blogs. I am not an expert by any means and at best, I am a work in-progress. I wish I would’ve learned about money sooner and saved more. But hindsight is 20/20.

I am curious. Where did you learn about money? Did you have a wake-up call or an ‘a-ha’ moment?


24 responses to “Where did you learn about money?

  1. I’d have to say my wake-up call was after I graduated with a mountain of student loan debt and trying live off minimum wage. I definitely wish I would have learned about money in high school. Going to the college I went to was the biggest mistake ever for me. Instead of teaching me about borrowing wisely and finances, everyone was urging me to follow my dreams. My dreams weren’t to be in student loan debt for the rest of my life!

    • Yeah, grad school for me has been a huge wake up call. I knew what I was getting into, it’s just hard to deal with the reality. Sometimes following your dreams doesn’t work out, and that is almost as sucky as the debt!

  2. We grew up similarly – my best friend lived in a gorgeous house with her own room, and I used to borrow her formal dresses for Winter Formal or Prom the year after. I do think money should be taught both at home and at school, which I’m definitely doing once I have kids. For the school part, though, seniors (I don’t know if this is everywhere, but it’s in SD) now have to do a senior exhibit where they make a presentation in front of community members. My friends are teachers at the school so I’m always volunteering to be a community member, and I noticed in their senior exhibit folders, that they have to do worksheets on what credit and FICO scores are, and how to budget. So, I think that’s a step in the right direction!

  3. I learned about saving and frugality from my mom, investing in a Roth IRA from my middle school teacher, and everything else from personal finance blogs and news. Still have to learn about taxes….!

  4. My a-ha moment was when I was 24, $38K in CC debt, owned a house that I shouldn’t have bought and my company was downsizing. After living in a state of panic for 18 months I sold the house for a loss, debt went up to $50K and I started over in a new state with a new job.

    • Wow, now that’s a story! I love hearing what everyone has to say and about their own journey into personal finance. Sounds like you had a pretty good wake up call. Luckily you answered the phone and were able to start over!

  5. I’ve had several wake up calls. I think the biggest (and hopefully last) was when I was laid off in 2008, but blew through most of my savings (not retirement though) and had no budget while I’ve been self-empolyed. I’m not going to know everything there is to know. There is always room to grow, but hopefully all the big mistakes are out of the way.

    • That’s great you were able to keep your retirement! Hopefully all the big mistakes are out of the way– it sounds like you have come a long way. Congrats!

  6. Great story. My parents didn’t ever talk to us kids about money either. We grew up fairly poor, and so when I first started making my own money (and for many years after that) I bought to my heart’s content. It took me YEARS to learn that happiness is not found in stuff. Now that I’m there, I’m learning to work my way out of the debt I accumulated because of that. I agree too, that personal finance should be taught furiously both at home and at school. We need to set our kids up for financial success, not financial mess!

    • Thanks for reading, Laurie. Sometimes I wonder if people who grew up poor compensate later? It’s understandable, but I agree we aren’t taught the tools to succeed.

  7. Like you I didn’t have any financial education growing up. My mom was looking after herself and her retirement goals. She would tell me to always pay off my credit card but would never offer advice. I didn’t know what the heck to do about money until i graduated with my second degree, was now married and looking at houses that I realized, the situation I was in. Even then I sort of laughed at it. I was so dumbfounded about what to do I was lost. It wasn’t until last year when I got pregnant that hubby and I looked at our debt and financial situation head on. Me getting pregnant and going on Mat Leave for a year (and subsequently losing more than 1/2 of my income while on leave) was the best thing that ever happened to us. If we didn’t have these turn of events we would probably still be living life with our heads in the sand.

    • That is such a great story. I love that you say it’s the best thing that happened to you guys! Sometimes when you feel at rock bottom is when you can really start to make some changes.

  8. My wake up call was meeting J and realizing that most responsible adults don’t just shop whenever they feel like it 😛 Debt was no longer something I was going to pay off “one day” but something that had to be dealt with now…

    • Tee hee….you can still shop, in moderation. And yes debt will be paid off sooner rather than later, and not just “one day” in the not-foreseeable-future

  9. Like you I did not get much in terms of financial education growing up. My moment was graduating with over $20k in credit card debt and a mountain of student loan debt. It took near bankruptcy to shock me out of it and learn how to manage my finances.

    • Wow, that will get you in to shape. I don’t envy anyone who has gone through bankruptcy or come close to it. Not a fun place! Sounds like you are on a better path now.

  10. I learned most of what I know from my parents. Then I conveniently forgot all of the great information that they taught me in my early 20’s, then I remembered how smart they were again in my late 20’s. =)

  11. I learned most of what I know from my parents. Then I conveniently forgot all of the great information that they taught me in my early 20’s, then I remembered how smart they were again in my late 20’s. =)

  12. Good post. I can relate a lot to your struggles. I didn’t start taking control of finances until I graduated from college. My parents never taught me anything about money and watching my mother struggle with debt made me realize that getting out of debt was a priority. I am glad though I am taking control of my financial life.

  13. I just found your blog and love it so far! My last and final wake up call was in 2009 when I had $55K and no one else to help me dig out of it. Like many, I never really had a firm grasp on money or finances while growing up. My mother tried to instill her values of only buying something with cash/when you can afford it but apparently I was selectively deaf when she was speaking to me. After a prior divorce and I had broken off an engagement to someone who contributed a lot to that $55K debt load, I knew that I needed to do something or else I would never make it. To make a long story short, I paid it all off in 3 1/2 years (my Debt Freedom day was Dec 21 2012) and I have zero interest in having debt again.

    • OMG you are my inspiration! I am going to check out your blog….I am trying to pay mine off in 4 and I am hoping/wishing/needing a better job to do it. I can’t wait for that day….That’s an amazing accomplishment. It’s nice to know people can make it to the other side.

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