As is the case for many, I received a quality education that prepared me for the academic rigors of high school and college. I was armed with organizational skills, effective study skills and a plan for my life’s professional direction. While those skills were critical to my success, there remained topics such as personal money management that I had to figure out on my own or learn the hard way. April is Financial Literacy Month and provides an opportunity to reflect on our experiences in personal finances, some of which we may want to forget.
I will always remember how easily I was introduced to the world of credit cards in college. “Sign here and get a free mug, sweatshirt, T-shirt or umbrella.” It was too difficult to resist and by October of my freshman year, I had already received three credit cards in the mail, even though I had only submitted two applications. (I wondered whether the local pizza and Chinese restaurants were in on the conspiracy, since they seemed to reap most of the benefits of my ignorance.)
Sure we had covered compound interest in high school, but I don’t recall learning enough about long-term financial goals, distinguishing between needs and wants and sticking to a personal budget. I had even overheard conversations about credit reports and credit histories, but I had no idea that an electronic database was keeping a log of each time I casually paid my minimum balance late.
Possessing credit cards gave me a false sense of power and invincibility, which diminished regularly each month when the bill came. Eventually I learned that the dining hall, ham sandwiches and canned goods may not have been as tasty, but filled me up all the same.
But in all fairness, my credit cards also served as a financial safety net when I needed repairs or a last minute flight home. Back then, I did not have the benefit of a Boys & Girls Club or the Money Matters: Make It Count.SM program. Yet today’s Club members can learn about how to save money, put together a realistic budget, make smart financial decisions, and stay out of debt.
Fortunately, I was able to learn from my mistakes and recover financially. It took me a while to get things back on track, but it is a great feeling when others can benefit from your experiences.
Johnny DiBartolo is BGCA's assistant director, Program and Youth Development Services