Thursday, August 31, 2006

What Are These "Finances" You Speak Of?

I just consolidated my federal student loans today. Let me tell ya, that was a big step for me. I did it all by myself, too. I did call my mom to let her know what I was doing because at age 24 and three quarters, I still feel like I should be running my financial decisions by my parents.

So I got a call from a financial specialist, and she told me all about her particular company's student loan consolidation plan. It sounded good. But was it? I immediately told my co-worker about it. She said not to do it; it sounded like a scam. This was not an unusual sentiment. I hear that a lot, actually. My mom and second oldest sister think it's best to stay with the federal government because they are easier to deal with if you're in a bind and can't make some payments, I guess?

I decided to take charge of my financial life. I learned a lot (well, a lot for me) about investments earlier this summer, and I wanted to learn more. So I asked the financial specialist a lot of questions. I called Sallie Mae to see what kind of options they had, and even when they didn't look like the company I needed, I still asked the guy all kinds of things. I checked the company out on the Better Business Bureau Web site (interesting organization and site, by the way). I called the girl I had talked to again and asked more questions. Finally, I decided that, yes, I was going to consolidate with this particular company. I did call my mom to let her know what I was doing, but I had made up my mind that I was going to do it, regardless of her response.

This whole thing may not be a big deal to you readers, but for me, it's kind of life-changing. I thought about why signing my name on that e-document was as life-changing as it was. Why did I study that company? Why did I ask tons of questions about all of it? Why was I slightly wary of this financial endeavor? I don't get wary about where my toothbrush is coming from, I don't question my purchases at Target, I don't check the score of the restaurant I'm about to dine in, and I don't check to see whether or not Borders is a member of the Better Business Bureau. Why?

I have to recognize that no one in my family really knows THAT much about money. My parents didn't teach me about investing in stocks or planning for retirement when social security isn't enough. My dad plays it safe with money, and my mom knows enough to be dangerous, but not enough to make money work for her.

I've realized, though, that a lot of people don't know what to do when it comes to their finances. They get up each morning, go to work, receive their paychecks, and pay their bills. Every day is the same. I don't [think] I know anyone who really knows how the stock exchange works and how to effectively make money by buying and selling. At least, no one I know has the guts to actually do that. Why?

I wonder if it has to do with seeing and feeling. I can see the canned olives I'm about to buy from Sam's, and I can go to an actual store called Wal-Mart. But I can't see this mysterious thing called "finances." Even though there's an entire semester dedicated to economics in high school, we don't really learn about personal economy; we just know we're supposed to be good at that when we graduate. Finances, economics, investing, the stock exchange, inflation -- these are all words and phrases that don't have meaning to a lot of people. But somehow, we're supposed to find out how it all works when we're on our own. It's rather frightening.

So I think it's not so much about seeing and feeling, but about understanding -- understanding this ambiguous "thing" that probably only a small number of people get. (Whoa, I think I'm getting onto shaky Foucauldian ground right now.) That loan consolidation company was fishy because I didn't understand the terminology or loan consolidation protocol. The world of money is so big; we can't understand it all.

But I "got" a small piece of it today. It made me feel really good. It almost made me want to go back to school to do something in finance. Nah.

Thing I'm thankful for: anybody who's reading my blog right now. I haven't posted anything in about 2 weeks, and if you're here anyway, I thank you. From the very bottom of my blogging heart.


Blogger Lexia said...

Read "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" by Robert Kiyosaki. It's a sakilicious book about changing one's perspective on money, investing, owning your own company, etc. I still have your copy, Sara. I'll bring it when I come home again.

12:12 PM  
Anonymous ian said...

I haven't had the energy to read blogs for a couple weeks now. And suddenly on the day I decide to read one, it's yours and you actually post.

We never had a finance course in High School. I guess because of where we were they thought it was more important to learn about condoms and transexuals and gang signs. Seeing as how I'm already a magical thinker by nature, a course in finances might've been especially useful.

2:09 PM  

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