my road to financial literacy

My Bumpy Road to Financial Literacy

Summer 2014 was the hardest time of my life. I like to call it ‘crying-in-cars-2014’ because I spent a lot of time crying in my car. I was anxious and depressed, and for some reason, my car was the place where all that sh*t surfaced. It all stemmed from my money situation at the time, and my total lack of financial literacy. 

At the time, my income was a little over $18,000 a year, and I was carrying $18,000 in student loan debt. My work life consisted of catering for $12 an hour and working as a gym receptionist for $9 an hour. I lived with several wonderful people, none of whom carried any debt.

That made me feel isolated and embarrassed at what my life was. I had a lot of free time and I spent it freaking out, and of course, crying in my car. 

It was crystal clear to me that I needed to step up my financial literacy game big time and ASAP. All my anxiety stemmed from my money situation.  

I felt trapped by my low income and was scared out of my mind that this would be the rest of my life.

How could I break out of the shitty money cycle I was in? I knew that debt was bad, but paying it off felt impossible.

Finding a full-time job seemed impossible since I’d never had one- my lack of experience kept me from getting the chance to earn experience. 

I’m not sure how exactly I decided to do this, but one day I literally Googled ‘how to pay off student loans faster,’ and fell into the personal finance blogosphere. There, I discovered a world where people were talking about money from every angle.

I found stories of people who had paid off hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. Stories of people who retired at 30. Stories of people who increased their incomes and started their own businesses.

Suffice to say, it blew my fucking mind. I didn’t feel so alone with my money issues anymore. There were other people struggling too! There were people who had succeeded!

And they were all writing about it, sharing the tools they used to pay down debt, grow their income, and reach for their audacious money goals.

Just by finding this world, my life changed for the better. My anxiety and depression lessened because I felt less alone. My financial literacy grew almost immediately.

Right away I started implementing some of the strategies I read about online in my own life. I followed the debt avalanche method to pay down my remaining $18,000 worth of student loans.

I ruthlessly cut my budget to free up some funds. Side hustles became my religion, and I increased my monthly income. 

Within ten months of my introduction to the personal finance blogosphere, I had paid off all my student loan debt. Within 16 months, I had doubled my emergency fund and maxed out my IRA.

In January, two and a half years after crying-in-cars-2014, I founded Bravely to help other women take control of their finances. 

Financial literacy did these things for me. It changed literally everything about my life. I paid off my debt, increased my income, started investing, and eventually, started my own business. All from learning more about money and how to use it.

My road to financial literacy was a bumpy one. I was starting from rock bottom. Growing up, there was no financial education in my home.

My mother was single-handedly raising three kids getting her Master’s, and teaching my brothers and me about the power of compound interest just wasn’t high on the to-do list.

The online personal finance world opened me up to money topics I didn’t know existed and gave me the tools to conquer the money problems I had in front of me. My specific questions were answered because there were thousands of other people out there dealing with the same problems.

For example, I was desperate for a way to start beating my student loan interest. I learned that I could reduce my interest rate by .25% by signing up for automatic monthly payments. For someone earning $900 a month, that rate reduction meant a lot.

Taking it further, I also found out that student loan interest accumulates daily. The more often you pay, the less time interest has to grow.

So if I made a payment on Monday, interest started accruing again on Tuesday. If I made a second payment on Friday of the same week (rather than waiting until the next month) I only had to pay interest on four days accumulation instead of 30. That meant more of my payment went to eliminating the principal balance. 

Expanding my financial knowledge with things like that made me feel powerful. It made me realize that I could take control of my money in small and large ways. If I could pay off $25,000 worth of debt never having made more than $30,000 a year, what couldn’t I do?

Of course, I could start investing. Of course, I could start a business. Money was just a language, and I was starting to speak it.

Financial literacy changed everything about my life. It helped me dig myself out of debt and start saving. I was able to start investing and begin to build long-term wealth. It gave me the tools and confidence to start my own business.

10 thoughts on “My Bumpy Road to Financial Literacy”

  1. Oh my goodness, it was a very similar summer that jumpstarted my financial literacy/debt payoff, too. I call it my “sh*tstorm of possibility” summer because I was freelance writing, working temp gigs for $10 and $12 an hour, interviewing for full time marketing gigs, teaching gigs, and administrative gigs, and I was considering leaving the state to start a master’s program in a new field. I was also considering staying in the state but moving two hours away to pursue an associate’s degree in that field. It was definitely an identity crisis. I had already declared bankruptcy, but I still had that $48,000 of student loan debt staring me in the face. I spent a lot of time crying in my car, too. I would be driving, pull up at a red light, and burst into tears. That August, I took the teaching position. That December, I made my first monster payment and started my blog. Crying in cars is cathartic, and it just may be a universal signal that sh*t is about to change. At the time, it doesn’t feel like it, but maybe that’s because we don’t talk about it enough. If you find yourself crying in your car a lot, it might just be an incubation phase. At least, I hope it is.

    1. I’m so glad to hear someone else cries in cars! Yes, it’s a portend of change to come. Sounds like we both got our butts into gear after a few auto sob fests.

  2. This is a wonderful story (except the crying part) – thank you for being so open! I too relate to being a woman adrift. I left graduate school with $60k in student loan debt and $6k in credit card debt. When I finally put all the numbers together it was mesmerizing and mind numbing. I ranted against the institution, cried, and even thought, well if I die they can’t charge me, so ha! That was back in 2012. This year I have $18k left in student loans. I own a beautiful home that is appreciating in value. I have investments, retirement, and an emergency fund. I know how to consider net worth, read about investments, and seek out the financial services and terms that I choose. It really was my own pushing and an article about the snowball method that first got me started, but finding personal finance blogs was the boost I needed to really make strides and take full control. I binge read Mr. Money Mustache over a 3 week period to get it all started.

    It is inspiring to see more women in the personal finance realm writing and podcasting. That was one thing early on that I had trouble with. What about the ladies? What about wanting to buy makeup? What about the occasional cheap wine bender with friends? Where does being a woman fit within the bigger realm of frugality and money management?

    Keep it up – hopefully you can help the many, many others!

    1. Thank you for writing in! If you ever want to share more of your story, bravely would publish it. I agree- women have specific financial needs and problems men don’t have. It’s important to create space for them!

  3. Not feeling alone is a powerful thing. And knowing that other people have been able to arrive at the places you want to go is so important. Thanks for sharing a little piece of your story. I’m excited to see more from your blog!

  4. I’m a new investor. I have picked four stocks based on little else than a scan of how the price has fluctuated in the last 2 years and whether I believe they are durable long term ( I want to hold long term). Not very scientific to say the least. I started looking indicators etc and theare are so many it’s a head melt. What do you use to judge a stock/fund? Have you seen good returns – I’m up about 11% in 9 months. I’m happy with that so far but of course its a very short period.

    1. I personally invest in index funds. I look to personal finance people who focus on investing/ financial independence as a place to start my index fund research. Mr. Money Mustache, Frugalwoods, Investopedia. 11% is great, but keep in mind the market will go down. Just hold on to your stocks for awhile!

  5. Wow! This has me so excited. I’ve felt so limited by a lot of the blogs I’ve read as they all seem to be created by people who “finally decided to quit that corporate world and take life into my own hands.” I’m not in that world, and don’t feel like climbing a ladder I’m not interested in just to jump off and find my own way. So inspired to see you started from a place similar to where I am now and have found such success.

    1. Thank you! I felt that same frustration about the blogosphere. I think it’s important to share different perspectives so that everyone knows they can get a handle on their money.

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