I’ve been fortunate to build a successful career as a personal finance writer, borne of my experience in financial services marketing, and necessitated by my search for a more flexible and fulfilling career when I had my son in 2009. Ironically, I had no interest in personal finance in my mid twenties. I didn’t understand anything about credit. I made very little income. I was in debt. As I assume most people who feel overwhelmed by money do, I turned a blind eye to the whole idea of financial management.
So why or how did I build a career on providing financial tips? Because I realized that feeling in control of your financial life isn’t about money at all. When you have a sense of financial stability, you start to feel a sense of freedom, and an awareness of options. When you’re financially stable, you can move out of a career you hate. You can choose relationships based on emotion instead of perceived security. You have more confidence to leap into the unknown, professionally or personally. When you have a sense of financial stability, you start to realize that you have the freedom to live on your terms.
It wasn’t until I got older that I realized that my having been raised with any financial stability shaped my passion for personal finance, and why I continue to provide financial tips that I hope other people will also be inspired to use.
I grew up in a family where money was the catalyst behind a number of pivotal life events and emotions. My dad was a small business owner who grew up in poverty. Though armed with only a high school education, he took it upon himself to learn how the rich become wealthy, and provide a better financial life for his children than he experienced. He learned about the stock market, and exchanged phone calls with his broker daily. It worked well for him—until it didn’t. When we celebrated my birthday on October 18, 1987, the Taylor family had no idea that a margin call was to come in less than 12 hours. Black Monday changed our financial life entirely.
I wouldn’t understand the details of what had happened until I was nearly 30 and my dad passed, but the crux of the lesson wasn’t lost on my ten year old self: Money, material items and the sense of security they provide are fleeting. I didn’t need to see bills, bank account or credit card statements to know where my family stood financially throughout the years. Our financial security was palpable based on the amount of stress that was or wasn’t present on any given day.
These experiences likely shaped the reason I am a freelance financial writer today, I didn’t learn about financial health until I was 26. I was educated and business-minded but had no idea that I was expected to live within my means, save money, or manage debt. I didn’t understand how to use credit cards or live on a budget. But it didn’t bother me; I had no aspirations of being financially secure. I figured debt was the American way. My experience was no different than most: 57% of Americans struggle financially, according to the Center for Financial Services Innovation’s data.
It wasn’t until I met a former ex who had his financial act together that I learned you can choose your financial life. That was the start of what would be a five year journey to dig my way out from under $15,000 in credit card debt. I pinched pennies, worked side gigs in addition to my full-time job, said no to almost every non-essential purchase, and cried many tears of frustration. But in that time, I grew emotionally, and intellectually and physically. I learned that commitment to a goal dictates your success or failure. I learned that I had far more options over my financial path and where it could lead than I once believed. One day, after all the years of struggle, I was free of debt. For the first time, I felt financially empowered, capable and free to live on my terms.
Financial health is the ability to choose your path, whatever you want it to be. When you’re ready to achieve financial health, life is yours for the taking.