What are my credentials?
Frugaling is a personal finance website where I regularly talk about financial concerns. I provide advice to save and make money, editorialize social justice issues, and argue in favor of minimalism over consumption.
But you might be wondering what credentials I have to proffer this help. Well, that’s a funny thing: I don’t have any. I didn’t get a business-related degree — there’s no formal finance education or economics indoctrination. My words are informed by something greater, and my hope is that they’re not the rote, memorized drivel that many financial advisors spout.
As a kid, I always thought I’d pursue something in finance. In fact, I want to tell you a little story from high school. It was there that I decided that to pursue a financial career path would leave me deeply unsatisfied, but my passion for personal finance never stopped.
Sam, you’re on the line!
I was giddy, but tempered in my high school science course. In about 10 minutes I’d ask my teacher to step outside and make a phone call.
My battery was fully charged, but I had to find a better signal. There was a field, away from the building, that provided a comfortable amount of strength. I dialed the number; I believe it was somewhere in New Jersey. I stayed on the line for what seemed like an abominable amount of time.
Occasionally, a pre-recorded voice piped up, that encouraged me to stay on the line. Then, I heard Jim Cramer’s — host of Mad Money on CNBC — voice and he shouted in my ear, “Sam from Golden, Colorado…” I melted with nervousness, but miraculously stated a ticker symbol (which I cannot remember) for a stock I was interested in.
Stocks were more important than classes
My latter high school days were filled with these moments. While fellow students studied diligently for their ACTs and applied to elite schools such as Duke and Stanford, my time was spent reading, trading, and watching the stock market. Because I was under 18, I forced my mom to co-sign and create a custodial account on an online trading site. I was hooked, and I loved the adrenaline.
Numbers pulsed through me, and I would binge on stock charts for hours. I hogged library computers and printer time to map them. In hallways and breaks, I drew lines on the charts, and practiced what I saw in books and television.
As an autodidact, the stock market provided an endless supply of data to be analyzed and understood. And the spoils went to the most educated people. I wanted to be one of them.
One form changed my degree, life
College was the path I was expected to follow. While my parents and grandparents never “forced” that path, it was strongly encouraged. The university life was where people went from good to great. I was open to that potential.
I applied to two colleges. The one I wanted to go to, Colorado State University, accepted me, but didn’t directly admit me into business. My less-than-stellar grades and contempt of mathematics meant that I would be an “open-option” business student until I proved my competence via good grades.
Prior to departing for Colorado State, there was an open house session. I attended one event geared specifically towards open-option students. For one hour, an advisor talked about academic success and finding your purpose in college.
I remember rolling my eyes, as the cynic in me dreaded the activity to come. We were split up into groups and then given about 10 minutes to complete a form and talk among the members.
The form asked us some simple questions, but one stuck out; it read, “How would you use your degree?” Despite the stupidly simple question, I had not really thought about this question before. I saw a response, “I want to help others.” Then I thought about my business degree — something wasn’t quite right.
I went to my advisor as soon as school started and asked to switch to psychology. There, I envisioned being able to listen and talk with others through their problems. That would be a degree to “help others.”
The psychology of money, spending, and society
After undergrad, I applied to graduate school and got into a counseling psychology doctoral program at the University of Iowa. I still wanted to follow the goals set forth in that open-option day. But in the back of my mind I recognized that investing and money issues still held great interest.
I still invested and read everything I could get my hands on regarding the stock market and business. I changed career paths, but my intrinsic passion for personal finance lingered.
As my own debt and spending spiralled out of control, I started Frugaling to right my course. It worked. I paid off about $40,000 of debt in about a year. I completely revamped my life — now incompatible with wanton spending and extravagances.
But I also started Frugaling as a perfect combination to meld my converging interests. I found that people’s (me included) monetary issues were closely linked to psychological concerns, distress, and stressors.
Psychology and business weren’t divergent topics. Additionally, I realized that most financial gurus blamed personal responsibility and character flaws on poverty, bankruptcy, and inadequate financial planning. There was room for a different voice — informed by psychological concepts and real counseling work with people suffering.
I’m not a financial-affiliated spokesperson
Over the nearly two years that Frugaling has been around, I have become an increasingly more passionate advocate for the underdogs. Financial markets are deeply unforgiving and unequal. People need to stand up and help others across diverse, multicultural backgrounds.
I ask you not to trust me for my financial degrees and letters after my name. I ask you not to trust me for how much money I’ve made for other people. I ask you not to trust me for being personally wealthy. I ask you not to trust me for my reputation (or lack thereof).
All I ask is that you consider the possibility that financial voices of reason come from those outside that insular world. I’m here to stand up for those who’ve been drowned out for too long. And I’m excited to continue building an audience (you included) that is inspired into action over social justice concerns and reducing consumption.