Denise Blanken recently completed a debt management plan with MMI, paying off over $52,000 worth of debt in about four years. While every individual’s path to success is unique, many of the factors that brought Denise to MMI in the first place are all too common.
“I've never been very good at managing my finances,” admits Denise. “This was something that wasn't taught as I was growing up.”
According to a 2016 study conducted by the Council for Economic Education, only 17 states currently require high school students to take a course in personal finance. For whatever reason, personal finance – the art of wisely spending, saving, and borrowing money – has never been seen as an essential piece of a child’s education. And while this isn’t meant as a denigration of other important subjects, it’s hard to ignore the fact that today’s graduates are exponentially more likely to one day own a credit card, than they are to, for example, autopsy frogs professionally.
When schools don’t teach personal finance that means parents have to pick up the slack. Most of us learn what to do with money by watching our parents. But what if our parents just aren’t all that good at managing money? Or what if they simply refuse to talk about it at all? Without a clear sense of the consequences of our choices, it’s easy to see how so many people fall into the trap of living beyond their means.
No Plan = Bad Plan
“As I grew up and became independent, I began to apply for credit cards, spending money on purchases and then paying the minimum amount due,” says Denise. “I've always been blessed with decent paying jobs, but never in my life actually put a budget into action.”
Denise and her husband misused credit cards. Despite both having steady income, they found themselves living paycheck to paycheck. “Often times I would use credit cards to buy groceries and necessities and fell further and further into debt.”
Denise and her family found themselves walking a very common financial tightrope. They were doing just well enough to keep pushing forward. It was dangerous, but they made due…until Denise’s husband lost his job. That was the stiff breeze that finally pushed them off the tightrope.
Digging a deeper hole
To make ends meet, they dipped into Denise’s husband’s 401(k). He eventually got a new job, but the damage had been done. “Still no budget,” says Denise. “We just blew through his 401(k).” There were penalties to pay for the early withdrawals. The new job was consultant work, with no taxes withheld, which left the family with a sizable tax bill come the spring. Denise began to feel like they were never going to get out of debt.
Denise’s brother told her about Money Management International. She started her debt management plan in 2012. At the same time she switched jobs, a positive change that gave her more time to think about her finances – specifically all the little mistakes she’d made over the years that had contributed to her debt problems.
“I managed the finances and did a horrible job communicating where we stood financially,” says Denise. In truth, she was afraid of her debt. “I never want to go back to being afraid to look at where I stand financially. Ignoring it only makes the situation ten times worse.”
Finally debt-free, Denise feels the experience has drastically changed her approach to personal finance. Her fear is gone, replaced by optimism and watchfulness. “I want to be financially responsible and retire with sufficient income to survive,” she says.
Nowadays, Denise likes to keep herself in check by recording her spending on a daily basis and reviewing it against her budget at the end of the month. “I love the fact that I know where my money goes. This doesn't mean that I hit my budget goals on a monthly basis, but I always know where the money is being spent.”
It remains troubling that where personal finance is concerned, we continue to leave consumers to figure it out for themselves. Until that gap in our curriculum is addressed, however, it’s important to remember that help is available for those who need it. No matter how deep the hole might seem, there’s always a way out.
“Even though I sometimes wonder why I didn't enter the program sooner, I believe that God put it on my heart to take the steps at the time that I did for a reason,” says Denise. “I only wish that more people that are in my situation knew that there are options out there.”
If you or someone you know is in need of assistance with their personal finances, please don’t hesitate to give us a call at 866.889.9347 and speak with a certified debt and budget counselor.