My Personal Finance Journey

Everyone’s journey to responsible personal finance starts somewhere. I started mine by being born into a frugal Midwestern family. My dad was an engineer, my mom a saleswoman and later a homemaker. They taught me many of my first lessons in saving money. My younger years are filled with memories of carefully depositing my $0.25 weekly allowance into the recycled cool-whip container in my sock drawer.

So much better than those fancy piggy banks, don’t you think?

As I got a little older, I continued to “sock” away the $20 from Grandma for my birthday, or $1 my dad gave me for trimming the grass (minimum wage was quite the upgrade for me). Eventually the cool whip container evolved into a real savings account, and started saving for bigger goals. Instead of the latest Pokemon Gameboy game, things like cars and college came onto my radar. By the time I was 14, I was itching for my first job. That summer, I worked at the pool concessions stand and volunteered at my dad’s lab. The next summer, I was able to leave the wet hot dog buns behind and work at the lab for pay, which I did every summer through my freshman year of college.

Personal finance started becoming a big topic in my family during the summer before I started college. I think my parents were hit by sticker shock when we got back the financial aid letters from colleges. They sat down with me one evening and said, “Hey, this is how much we’ve saved for you, and we now realize it won’t nearly cover everything.”

The applications sure seemed daunting at the time, but graduating without debt was worth it!

So began my stint as Scholarship Essay Writer Extraordinaire. I applied to so many scholarships that I literally lost count. That whole summer, when I wasn’t working my 8-5 job at the lab, I was up writing essays and filling in applications. I managed to win a few, too! However, they didn’t cover anything, so I used $10,000 of my own savings toward my public university tuition.

Throughout my freshman and sophomore years, I worked about 15 hours a week in my college town to cover my living expenses. I also kept applying for scholarships every chance I got, spending every break searching and applying for more. I kept getting lucky throughout my college career, and by the time junior and senior year rolled around I had covered my entire tuition piecemeal in scholarships. With my parents’ help and my own hard work, I graduated with no debt and a great degree after four years.

I interviewed like crazy my senior year, trying to put myself in the best possible position after graduation. I was fortunate enough to find my current job, located in Texas, in the Fall of my senior year. Come the next summer, I was ready to move on down south and start out in the “real world.”

The other fantastic thing to come out of my college years was my wonderful boyfriend-now-husband, who thankfully shares many of my inclinations for saving money and passionately discussing the finer points of personal finance. I firmly believe that the partner you choose can make or break your financial future, so having him by my side has made all the difference.

Everything I owned packed into one little car, ready to be driven across the US!
Everything I owned packed into my little car, ready to be driven across the US!

Moving out on my own after college was a fun but overwhelming experience. You don’t realize how much stuff you have until you try to pack it all into your tiny little car. I started my job, and it was then that I realized just how complicated finances can get for a young engineer. 401-what? RSUs, ESPPs, and FSAs? …oh my.

In my quest for knowledge, I stumbled across the likes of Mr. Money Mustache and other radical personal finance bloggers who inspired me to live frugally and think carefully about where every dollar was going. Through several lively discussions with my fellow new graduate coworkers, I soon discovered that they were all just as confused as I was, which inspired me to write the blog that you are now reading.

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