Before I became a stay-at-home, homeschooling, earning-income-from-home mom, I held a variety of jobs.
I worked at Burger King, waitressed at an ice cream shop (and a bar in a small town, but that’s a whole other post), earned my cosmetologist’s license, worked retail at department stores, and did accounting for an electronics store.
But my main “career” before my current career was in personal banking and mortgage.
I started out as a teller, then moved to Teller Supervisor, went on to Personal Banker, both in the bank branch and in the phone center, and from there I transitioned into the position of sales assistant for a highly successful mortgage rep, before being laid off in a mass layoff at the end of 2003 as the mortgage bubble started to deflate.
All of my jobs taught me things about life, but I have to say that it was my career in banking that taught me the most about people and how they deal with money (I know: duh!).
Yes, it took me nearly 10 years AFTER being laid off to really put what I learned into action for our family, but that too is a whole other post for another day.
So I thought I’d share with ya’ll today some of the things I learned from the people I worked with in those 15 years.
Most people have no clue about the true difference between a need and a want
Probably the greatest thing about being a personal banker in a phone center opposed to in the actual bank is that we could wear jeans and sit around making “you’re KIDDING me” faces at customers who never had a clue that we were dissing them.
I remember a guy calling in for a loan for furniture one time that caused me to make such a face.
He had just purchased a new construction house, and when we finished the loan app and credit check (you truly can have your answer within 2 minutes of completing the application), we denied him his furniture loan because of a high DTI and scattered late payments.
The late 20-something man was truly distraught. “What am I gonna do now?” he yelled into the phone. “We just bought this big house, and we NEED furniture for it! We can’t just keep our old stuff!”
Umm, yes, you can keep your old stuff. Really, you can. The world won’t end because you don’t have new furniture, and honestly, no one really gives a crap how cool your furniture is.
It is absolutely amazing the way we have become accustomed to new and shiny stuff. No judging here: I’ve been there, done that. That’s how we got ourselves into over $60k of consumer debt at one point.
But now that we’re free from the hamster wheel of life and I’m on the outside looking in, I get seriously amazed at how we are duped into thinking we NEED to have the biggest and best of everything.
Older doesn’t necessarily mean wiser
One of the last couples I worked with before I was laid off was a couple in their mid-50’s who had decided (finally) that they had probably better start thinking about a plan for retirement.
This couple had a house worth about $450k, income in the range of $150k, credit card debt of roughly $100k, and a $300k balance on their home mortgage.
We eventually did work out a plan for them to refinance and tap some of the equity in their home to pay off at least some of the CC debt, but I often wonder if they ever were able to retire.
The percentage of those “who get it” regarding debt is extremely low
I’d say regarding the thousands of consumers I worked with, probably 90% of them were in a complete financial mess, similar to what we are today. It was rare for us to see a credit score over 700.
Most credit reports that we handled were scattered with late payments and high credit card balances, and savings accounts were largely non-existent. And we know by today’s numbers that this trend to live for today is only getting bigger.
Financial irresponsibility stretches across all races, income classes, and any other boundary you can think of
The financially-messed-up people that called in for loans and/or mortgages were from all walks of life. Working at a call-in phone center for a major bank in a major metropolitan area, we served everyone, from the middle-class, to the gangsta who hadn’t worked a day in his life but thought that we should give him money anyway, to local and national celebrities.
There really wasn’t much difference in the ratio of the financially irresponsible/responsible no matter what their income and/or living situation was.
Appearances mean nothing
People have this illusion that those living in fancy houses, driving expensive cars, taking costly vacations, etc., have a great financial situation. But like Tom Stanley proves in The Millionaire Next Door (affiliate link), that’s not often the case.
In our former house in a spendy suburb, we would walk the neighborhoods and my husband would often feel like a failure as a provider because he couldn’t afford a bigger McMansion, a large boat in the driveway or a $50k SUV.
He figured that all of the houses we walked by with those toys were owned by people with lots of cash.
But what I learned in my 15 years of working with them is that they’re likely in huge debt and on the verge of an emotional breakdown due to trying to manage their debt.
The percentage of those I came across who really understood the value of mananging money correctly was likely less than 1%. There’s one guy in particular who I’ll never forget. His name was Mike, and he was 40 years old, making 500k a year.
He and his wife (along with their kids – 4 of them if I remember correctly) had recently built their dream cabin, and were now calling in to get a mortgage for their dream home. I don’t remember exactly how much they were spending on the house, but it was a lot. Somewhere between $500k and a million.
But the difference was that they had paid off the cabin in a couple of years, were going to pay off the house in 5, had absolutely no other debt and an abundance of savings.
I remember asking him “Do you have to be away from your family a lot to make that kind of money? (He was in sales). “I did at first” he said, “but I managed my career in a way so that now I pretty much work just my 40 hours a week so I can be with my family” (he had worked in sales, and had hired a good sales team under him that he now managed).
I don’t think I’ll ever forget that guy. He was one of the only people I encountered who truly understood the importance of spending your money on things that are of the utmost value to you.
We are only 4 months into our journey to debt free. The road is S-L-O-W going, and by the numbers, we’ve hardly paid off any of our debt at all. But I think that what people often don’t understand is that you don’t have to reach debt free to start experiencing that financial peace.
Financial peace begins when you make a decision to manage your money in a way that fits in with what’s most important to you and your family.
It begins when you choose to stop wasting your money on stupid crap and make a plan to achieve a better financial life – a plan that fits in with what you truly desire in life instead of what feels good at the moment.
Why not make today the day that you start on your road to financial peace?