#FinHealthMatters: His & Her Money

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

By Talaat & Tai McNeely

What does financial health mean to me? If only I were presented with that question eighteen years ago when I was a young man entering the United States Army, maybe I wouldn’t have made some of the mistakes I have made in the area of my finances. Hopefully, someone would have stopped me dead in my tracks and informed me that I was all wrong. The man that you see today is not the same man who was entering adulthood over eighteen years ago. Picture this: fresh out of high school with a one-way ticket to serve our country and handed a hefty salary along with a full ride to college. What would you have done with all of that money as a 17-year old? Well, I thought I had hit the jackpot.

Twice a month, the United States Government would direct deposit my pay into my bank account; and all I knew how to do was to spend, spend, and spend. Nobody ever sat me down and taught me the ins and outs of how to handle such a large amount of money. I thought I was good and knew all I needed to know when it came to money. Aren’t we taught to finish high school, go to college to get a full-time job, and then retire? The only important financial decision that had to be figured out, so I thought at the time, was how was I going to pay for college. So, I signed on the dotted line and started my journey as a soldier for our country.

The final result was that I ended up in over 30k of debt with zero savings! I incurred so many overdraft fees in my bank account that it led me to take out payday loans to pay other payday loans. It was very common to find payday loan facilities on every corner around the military base. It was as if they intentionally sought us out because they knew that our paychecks were guaranteed to come in on the 15th and 30th of every month. The cycle never ended. Now, stop and think about it. Why was I in so much debt? I didn’t have any children or a family to take care of. I was given a reasonable salary for my time serving our country. I was also given an extra incentive, called hazard duty pay, and I didn’t have to pay taxes on my salary for my tour over in Iraq.

“Underserved consumers in the US spent $138 billion across 26 financial products in 2014.”(Source: Underserved Market Size: Financial Health Opportunity in Dollars and Cents.)

It doesn’t make any sense when I reflect back on my terrible money habits. I only wish that someone would have sat me down and educated me on how to make better financial decisions. This is why Tai and I do our very best to get a financial education out to the community. Financial health is very important. It is so important that it can be the difference literally of life or death. Yes…you heard me right, death.

After finishing my tour in Iraq, I came home and heard numerous stories of how soldiers would take their own lives over being financially stressed, amongst other things. Just recently my uncle passed away. As I was sitting with the rest of the family going over the next steps for his burial, the question came up about the monthly paycheck he receives from the government. One of my family members responded with this answer, “His check is sitting at the currency exchange.” My uncle was over 80 years old and did not have a bank account. I can only imagine how much money over his lifetime he spent just to retrieve what was rightfully his: his money.

That incident really disturbed me because I then realized that there is a disconnect about what financial health really is, which according to Financial Health Network, occurs when your day-to-day financial activities help you build resilience and pursue opportunity.

Now, if you ask me today what financial health means to me, I would say that it’s living a life based on passion instead of payments. Financial health means that your life decisions are based on the level of passion you have for the decision in question instead of whether it will jeopardize your ability to cover all of your debt payments. Financial health is being in a position to control your money instead of having your money control you.

I am more in control over my financial decisions now than I have ever been in my life. Over the past 9 years, my wife and I have totally turned our financial situation around. Our debt is completely paid off, with the exception of our mortgage, in which we have knocked off over 13 years with just $130! We manage our money by using a system that involves 13 bank accounts…yikes! Trust me, it has totally revolutionized our finances and we don’t pay a single fee to have them. Now, I have one final question to ask. What does financial health mean to you?

This blog post originally appeared June 29, 2016 on His & Her Money. It was one of the winners of a national #FinHealthMatters Day essay contest created by Financial Health Network. MetLife Foundation is a major sponsor of Financial Health Network’s ongoing consumer financial health work. To learn more about FinHealthMatters from Financial Health Network, sign up here.

By Financial Health Network on September 13, 2016.

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