contributed by Rachel Stever
Like many teenage girls, my first job was babysitting. I charged $2.50 an hour and thought I was making big money. Finally I could go to the mall without having to ask my parents for money. Instead, I hopped on my bike and went to the bank. My junior savers account came with my very own deposit book and an ATM card. Have I mentioned that I’m kind of a geek?
I don’t remember my parents ever really talking to me about money. I always had everything I needed and most of what I wanted, and it never occurred to me to look beyond that. In school, I had a practical economics unit where the teacher showed us how to fill out a check and balance a checkbook and gave ominous warnings about credit cards. No mention was made of student loans, mortgages, or credit scores.
When I moved out and began paying my own bills, I started to think more about money. Surely there was more to it than paycheck in, bills out. I began paying attention to financial segments on the news and browsing the business and finance sections at the bookstore. I learned about compound interest, FICO, and that I don’t want to take investment advice from people yelling on TV.
And I discovered personal finance blogs. Not just the money pages on news websites, but daily journals by real people figuring out the same stuff I was trying to figure out. Some of them were paying off debt, some saving for a house, and some were trying to live as frugally as possible. Very few used real names or identifying info (this was the internet after all,) but there was an entire community of people trying to figure it out together.
It’s funny that it took a group of complete strangers from all over the world to really teach me about money. These strangers helped me realize that I didn’t have to stay with the same bank just because the teller was so nice to me when I was 15 if the bank down the street has no fees and a higher interest rate. I moved past the basics of investments and long-term planning once I began working in the field, but my grasp of the basics really came from this group.
My parents ask me for financial advice now; what their retirement accounts should be invested in and if I think something is a good deal. My sister took me with her when she bought her car to look over her financing contract. She also lets me know what babysitters are charging now. I have access to academic papers and experts on all different areas of the markets and economics, but I still loop through the finance section of the bookstore and I still read those blogs. Having that virtual support spread out across the globe has helped me and hopefully I can use that same network to help others in return.