My Self-Taught Path: How I Became Financially Literate
Becoming educated about finances is no simple feat, but Google has made it much easier.
Moving out on my own for the first time, I thought I knew exactly what it would feel like. I reveled in the idea of going to bed whenever I wanted, eating whatever I wanted and making my own rules. Sure, I knew that there would be bills to pay, but how long could that really take? Nowhere in my mental picture of independence did I envision a world filled with insurance, home repair and homeowners associations.
Yet, as I set up camp in my new home, the startling emptiness of unadorned walls and empty cupboards gave me a creeping sense of panic that I had never expected to feel. I literally did not own a broom. I had a suitcase full of clothes, an old mattress on the floor and an entry-level job. How was I supposed to run my own household when I didn’t know what a gallon of milk cost? I started out feeling clueless, then I became nervous, then worried, then downright scared. Why should thoughts of bankruptcy and foreclosure be entering my mind on the first night in my new house?
My Lack of Financial Knowledge Inspired Me to Educate Myself Online
As I lay on my mattress in the dark listening to the unfamiliar noises of an unfamiliar refrigerator, I realized that I had a choice to make. Either I could live life in fear of the unknown and accept whatever came my way, or I could take charge and learn finance from scratch to become the most knowledgeable adult on the planet.
I decided that the only way to stop being scared was with information, so I developed a personal mantra that could be summed up as “Google everything.” All millennials have heard a “back in my day” story about that strange prehistoric time before Google was founded on September 4, 1998. Yet, I think most of us take for granted that we can learn just about anything we want in under an hour.
Learning Personal Finance Is No Easy Feat
Please note that I didn’t say we could learn anything in 10 seconds. That’s simply not true. Googling is hard work. Simple bits of information are easy to find, but if you want to find the most high-interest savings account in your city, you will have to be willing to dig. Sadly, most people I know are not willing to do the hard work of digging. I see so many others around me stumble through life financially because they don't take charge of their money.
In my state, a semester-long personal finance class is a requirement for high school graduation. I have no problem with that, but the crisis I faced in my newfound independence was not a crisis that could be solved by knowing how to balance a checkbook. I needed to know what kind of insurance would protect me and which would be a waste of money. An insurance broker wasn’t going to give me an honest answer to that question, so I turned to Google.
Spending a couple of evenings watching YouTube videos about insurance was not what I envisioned in my earlier fantasies about financial independence, but I emerged from that experience with solid coverage at an affordable price. Three years and two claims later, I’m so grateful I bought the insurance I did.
Google Can Teach You Everything You Need to Know About Practical Finance
Another thing I learned on Google is how to live on a monthly budget. Nobody likes to talk about budgeting. If you do, you probably don’t have a lot of friends. However, that critical life skill single-handedly melted 90 percent of my financial fears. After all, why should I be afraid of running out of money when I can see on paper where every dollar of my paycheck is going? After Google led me to an intuitive budgeting app, I cut the confusing spreadsheets out of my life, and taking charge of my income became a breeze.
Critics of my “Google everything” approach to personal finance say that I’m putting my financial fate in the hands of Google’s algorithm. As someone who does not trust Big Tech, I can understand that concern. However, if you don’t do your research, you’re essentially surrendering your future to pop-up ads and your broke co-worker with an opinion. Sure, you will find bad financial advice on the internet, too, but I think most people are smart enough to accept the truth when they are willing to dig deep enough to find it.
Personal Financial Literacy Is Achievable—If You Are Willing to Invest Your Time
Before we live on our own, I think all of us envision the transition to adulthood as a graceful swan dive. In reality, that leap can look a lot more like flailing in the deep end of the pool. My story is living proof that anyone with internet access can rise above their own ignorance. Financial illiteracy may be destroying America, but I believe intentionality and the internet are the two ingredients that can save young adults from a life of financial stress and mediocrity.
Over the past few years, I’ve dodged some major financial pitfalls by doing internet research that most people would be too bored to do. The time and money I’ve saved in the long run could never be counted in dollars, but it has far outpaced the hourly rate of my day job. Still, the biggest return I’ve seen on my investment has been the confidence of knowing that all my major decisions have been informed ones. My financial fear is gone, and there could be no better investment than that.