I was not always an expert in personal financial management. Years ago, like many other 18-year-olds, I stumbled into the credit card trap and fell…hard. I was finishing up my freshman year in college when I maxed out my first credit card, which was soon followed by my second and third. It seemed every time I entered a new grade, another line of credit reached its limit. I recognized my 25 hours a week at on-campus and retail jobs was not cutting it, but I didn’t yet know the road I was barreling down.
Getting to graduation day was my main focus. I was convinced that once I entered the workforce full-time, everything in my life would magically fall into place. Graduation day came and I got that coveted little piece of paper, my diploma. Six months later, I got another little piece of paper, my first student loan bill.
By this time I had started to play the nerve-wracking game of “grocery store checkout line roulette” regularly. For those that are unfamiliar, this is where you’re at the grocery store checkout line fumbling through all of your credit cards trying to remember how much available credit is on each and if it’s going to be enough to cover your purchase. Soon, I began playing this “game” every time I had to pay any sort of bill. It only took a few years for everything to catch up with me. I applied for a new line of credit and was denied by 5 different financial institutions. There I was, 24 years old, $25,000 in debt, and out of available credit and games to play.
One of the most debilitating things about financial stress is that it is all-encompassing. Each unpaid bill can feel like a cloud hanging over you, casting a shadow on even the happiest moments in life. Over time, all of these clouds ban together to form a thick fog that is disorienting, scary, and feels impossible to find your way out of. The sleepless nights, the constant worry, the overarching feelings of uneasiness, hopelessness, and despair create a blanket of fog that covers the path towards the light. You don’t even know which way to turn.
The way out for me came in the form of one small step – a phone call. “Thank you for calling BALANCE, how can I help you?” “Um, yes, hi, my name is Meaghan and I would like to talk to someone about my finances.” The counselor I spoke with helped identify my financial goals, build a realistic budget, make adjustments to my spending habits, and set me up on a Debt Management Plan (DMP) that saved me tens of thousands of dollars and years in paying off my debt. That conversation marked the moment where I started to dissolve the fog, allowing a ray of sun to shine through.
Financial counseling done the right way is extremely powerful. When you’re in the middle of the fog, you need to speak to someone empathetic, non-judgmental, and whose only goal is to help you achieve yours. I was so profoundly impacted by the power of financial counseling that I’ve dedicated my professional life to learning and sharing as much as I can about the discipline. I shudder to think where I would be today had I not made the phone call so many years ago to the right person, at the right time, who gave me the right guidance.
Upon celebrating my 10th anniversary as an employee with BALANCE, I’ve been reflecting upon the importance of the moment that changed the trajectory of my financial life for the better. I’ve wondered how we as an organization can find people who are in their fog, how BALANCE can connect with those experiencing financial stress at the moment they need it most.
Stress manifests in physical ways including increased blood pressure, weight gain or loss, and heartburn in addition to anxiety and depression. What if a doctor could identify these physical and mental health indicators and refer the patient to a financial counselor? How many lives could be changed for the better by recognizing the correlation between financial health and physical well-being?
I’ve been part of a team at BALANCE that is exploring this synergy as an opportunity to impact real, positive change for those experiencing financial stress. I invite you to join us on this journey and become part of our movement to empower more people in taking charge of their financial situations.
It only takes a moment.