Beginning my financial education

One of my favorite things about having graduated from college? Lifelong learning has a chance to flourish. Outside of the confines of syllabi and lesson plans, I’ve reveled in the opportunity to learn my own lessons. At the top of my current course load? Personal finance.

I was raised in a family that has always had a bit of trouble making ends meet. My parents worked harder than I could imagine to provide us with amazing opportunities and experiences, sacrificing their own finances to do so. I’ve seen the difference between financial anxiety and empowerment, and I knew I’d have to work hard to gain the skills and understanding necessary to reach the empowerment I sought.

Thus far, this has meant a few different changes in behavior and attitude:

  • Meeting or exceeding the company match for my retirement accounts.
  • Contributing $1 to my primary savings account with each debit card transaction.
  • Maintaining “untouchable” savings accounts in Minnesota.
  • Creating goal-specific savings accounts for big ticket items with Smarty Pig (1.35% APY on hundreds or thousands of dollars makes a difference).
  • Consolidating my student loan debt and automating my payments for a 0.25% interest rate reduction.
  • Opening a new credit card (with a terrible interest rate) that I pay off (on time) each month to build my FICO score.
  • Using Mint.com to track trends in spending habits and to ensure my spending matches my budgeting.
  • And, my favorite: Calculating my net worth on a monthly basis to watch that number climb. I’ve gained almost $2,300 in five months, and that number is going to skyrocket once I begin paying back my student loans next month.

Individually, these behaviors are small, even inconsequential. But together, I’ve watched them make a difference month after month. My financial education is by no means complete – investing is still a murky topic for me, despite my forthcoming investment in AAPL, and beginning to pay my 2010 taxes and my student loan payments simultaneously is not the ideal situation. But I’m proud that I’ve learned, on my own, what it means to consolidate a loan, how to diversify my retirement plan selections, and the best options for savings. And six months ago, I never could have predicted that I’d look forward to the close of each month to see how much I’d gained in net worth. Class may still be in session, but I think I’m earning an A.

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