I recently spoke with Michelle Singletary, who is the author of The 21-Day Financial Fast: Your Path to Financial Peace and Freedom. Singletary is a nationally syndicated columnist for The Washington Post. Her column, “The Color of Money” is an award-winning column, which is now carried in about 100 newspapers across the country including the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Miami Herald, Boston Globe, Tampa Tribune and Philadelphia Inquirer. Her previous books include Spend Well, Live Rich and Your Money and Your Man. In January 2006, Singletary launched her first national television program “Singletary Says” on TV One, owned Radio One and Comcast.
In this interview, she talks about the importance of personal finance in our education system, how to handle your financial limitations, why being rich doesn’t always mean happiness, why we should have a paperless society, and her best career advice.
Untitled-1 copyDan Schawbel: Why is personal finance not taught in our school system? When do people usually learn how managing their finances?
Michelle Singletary: Personal finance hasn’t been a priority in our schools because administrators are overwhelmed with teaching to test to measure their effectiveness. But in an ideal world children would learn how to handle their money from their parents or guardians. The schools can’t cover all the values that go along with how you handle your money. For example, a financial literacy class might not teach me to hate debt the way my grandmother, Big Mama did. Schools wouldn’t teach about tithing. The sad thing is many people learn how to manage money after they’ve made a lot of financial mistakes, some that take decades to fix.
Schawbel: How do you figure out what your financial limitations are?
Singletary: I use my financial values to set my limitations. I have three children I want to put through college debt free. So that means I can’t spend wildly or with disregard. I can’t live above my means. Using those values, I then construct a budget and build in the things I really want to do with my money like putting money in their college fund or saving for retirement or tithing to my church. Those things come first and then I can spend on housing, transportation, my other needs and wants.
Schawbel: Is being “rich enough” in our society? Why are some of the richest people the most depressed?
Singletary: We have to truly understand what it means to be rich and that may not mean having a lot of money. We know intellectually that money can’t buy happiness yet we spend and go into debt as if it does. The rich are depressed because they realize their money can’t buy them out of their issues. You are rich if you have enough to meet your most basic needs. You are rich if you have access to clean water, food, shelter, love, a roof over your head (that doesn’t leak) people who love you, a job….You have to count your blessings to see that you are richer than you think.
Schawbel: What are you feelings about a paperless society? Will it make money management more complicated or easier?
Singletary: I like the idea of having a paperless society. My husband and I conduct most of our financial business electronically. But to be paperless means you have to be so careful with your identity. Recent major data breaches have shown how vulnerable we still are because thieves who are so creative in getting to our personal information.
Schawbel: What are your top three pieces of career advice?
Singletary: My first piece of career advice is find your gifting. Find the thing that you are skilled at and figure out if you can make a living doing it. I love teaching people how to handle their money and I’ve built a brand on that skill.
Don’t let people scare you from a career that may not net you a six figure salary. If you want to be a teacher, teach. But knowing that your salary may only reach a certain level, do all that you can to become the best money manager you can be.
There’s nothing wrong with having a 9-to-5 job, but figure out a way to have another stream of income. In this economy, most of us can’t count on a life-time job or the job security our parents may have had. So figure out a side gig that will supplement your income.
Michelle Singletary: How To Gain Financial Freedom