‘I sought out my own education’: Taina empowered herself through financial literacy

So here’s how it all started. I’m a proud Penn State freshman and a nervous wreck. I already knew I did not belong at this institution – thanks to my high school guidance counselor – but I’m here anyway, grabbing all of my books from the university bookstore.

When I got to the register, I learned “that will be $360.” I took a deep breath, and I asked the cashier to put them aside until I could come back to pick them up. As I left the bookstore, a man standing outside the store with a clipboard asked if I needed to pay for my books. I thought, “WOW, I’m saved!” After completing the application and giving him all of my information, he took me back to the bookstore and I walked out with my books. I felt so proud.

See… Unlike other students, the idea of my parents taking care of me in college was not an option.  I had no scholarships, no sponsorship, and no clue what I was getting myself into.

My part-time retail job kept me fed and a roof over my head. I had no other choice but to rely on my credit cards. The overdrafts and late payment fees were consistent, and balance transfers were the only other way out for me.

None of the jobs I had paid enough to cover my financial responsibilities. Every paycheck I would sit there, and like a raffle, I’d ask myself, “which bill gets paid today?” And every paycheck I cried until I had no money left. There were times when I said screw this and treated myself to some retail therapy to help with my depression – the depression that was triggered by my financial insecurity.

The cycle continued, even when I had a “good” job. This time I was able to make the minimum payments. But my balances never went down, and some were actually going up because of the annual fee I did not realize existed.

I graduated with a Masters degree and got a “better” job – but still living paycheck to paycheck, now with a hefty school loan. And any additional income from this “better job” went straight to my school loan. Nothing was adding up.

Every time I had to sit in a pile of bills, I would beat myself up. What is wrong with me? I just can’t get it together, I would think.

20 years after that day at Penn State… I have FINALLY wrapped my head around my finances. I had to let people know I was struggling. I sought out my own financial education, and I was able to focus on my debt. I consolidated my school loans into one federal loan. I cut up my credit cards, and any side hustle I got paid for went directly to my debt.

I can’t help but imagine, if I had the financial knowledge I have today, back then, where would I be now?