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Foundational Financial Literacy Tips and New Middle Class Adults

Alison Logtin wrote an insightful article for Business Insider titled I worked in financial literacy for years, and there are 3 things I learned about money that many adults don’t know and I found to be useful in two ways. The first is that she provided some good foundational tips on handling money. The second is that her stories illustrate a contrast between those who grew up middle class and first generation middle class members. Let’s examine her background story as well as her three points. 

In the first few paragraphs, Alison describes her upbringing. She’s a well educated person, and a large portion of that can be traced back to her parents. They started an education fund for her when she was a baby, that allowed her to attend graduate school with little debt. This allowed her to be able to pay for her master’s degree on her own. As an undergraduate whose parents could not afford to pay even a small percentage of my college education, I am compelled to point out that while this is an amazing feat, a significant portion of Americans will not be so lucky. According to a survey from Bankrate.com, just 39% of Americans can comfortably afford a $1000 unexpected expense. 

We have a large percentage of Americans living paycheck to paycheck, that simply would not be able to contribute enough for a savings for their children’s education. Plus tuition continues to skyrocket. I believe that it is important to acknowledge that a sizable portion of college graduates have a high amount of student debt, and that is going to impact their ability to save and live a stable middle class life. This gap becomes larger when examining BIPOC graduates. Here is a quote from Brooking.edu.

“But a college degree does not eliminate the income gaps between white and Black workers. Black students finance their education through debt, and thus college degrees actually further contribute to the fragility of the upwardly mobile Black middle class. And because education does not achieve income parity for Black workers, the disproportionate debt Black students are taking to finance their education is reinforcing the racial wealth gap. Today, the average white family has roughly 10 times the amount of wealth as the average Black family, while white college graduates have over seven times more wealth than Black college graduates.”

Alison’s first point is that money is an emotional, taboo subject. I definitely agree with this point. In my highschool, I did have an accounting class that taught me the basics of assets vs liabilities, but there was not much taught on personal finance. Money management is learned the hard way, but I would also like to offer another perspective. I always hear about how taboo it is to discuss money, but I have found the topic is less taboo for lower income families and those who used to live in lower income households. At first I thought my experience was unique, but an article from The Atlantic seems to agree. A sociologist found that the working class families she interviewed were a lot more open about finances. Honestly it makes sense. When you are working with fewer resources, you don’t really have a choice to not think about finances. You don’t have the choice to not budget. I will say that once I started earning an income that financially put me in the “middle class,” I made a lot of mistakes the first year or two because I was still living with a “break even” mentality. 

Alison’s second point discusses the difference between good and bad debt. The tip about paying down your credit cards every month is really sound. It is very easy to get caught up in credit card debt, and even carrying balances as small as a thousand dollars can easily get you. Thinking back on the beginning of her post, I wonder if she views student loan debt as good or bad debt. 

 Alison’s final point is my favorite, paying yourself first. It is an idea I first read in Rich Dad Poor Dad, and struggled with implementing in my life at first. I recommend starting with small amounts of money and working your way up. Maybe you will even start implementing automatic IRA investments. Adding on to that sentiment, do whatever you can to not take away from your savings unplanned. Life is full of surprises and surprise expenses, do all you can to avoid constantly dipping into your savings. 

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