Financial literacy equates to social freedom and independence from consumerism that stunt our upward mobility. We are bombarded with these images of status and unrealistic comparison of what life could be like if we had things. In contrast we see in real life the consequences to over spending, lack of debt management, and the fall out of financial ignorance.

In my family, like many others, we didn’t talk about money mainly because we had none. When there was money, it was spent on wants instead of needs like rent or groceries. When my mother was in between jobs, my brother and I were often homeless, till eventually we were taken by the state in my early teens.

Growing up exceedingly poor and surrounded by those that made poor choices or had limited social mobility, whether due to institutional limitations or as a product of their own making, gave me sense of anxiety about having nothing. Seeing the effects of severe addiction, poverty, and prostitution on people’s behaviors scarred me. Not that as a young man I would tell anybody, but I thought there was a frightening desperation in their eyes.

Luckily, the group home where we were sent allowed and encouraged job skills. I had a mentor named Gorge Ortega who was a positive influence on me and talked about the power of social mobility. As a result, I thought about money a lot in my teens and worked an average of 30 hours a week during high school.

Unfortunately, due to spending half my life at that point sporadically going to school, I was a year behind. I knew that I wanted to go to college for something that helped people. At first, I thought nursing, then psychology. I wasn’t set on one thing, but I knew I wanted to make a positive difference in the world. Mr. Ortega help me direct my focus on counseling and helping others. I was accepted to the University of South Carolina where I received my undergrad in Psychology. I graduated with only $5,000.00 in debt.

Eventually, I accepted an education and training position with the Marine Corps in Okinawa, Japan where I found my love of teaching and working one-on-one with clients. Ultimately, I decided to get my MBA from University of Maryland University College in order to pursue a position as a Personal Financial Management Specialist with the Navy. In 2018, I accepted a job in Rota Spain to work with Fleet and Family Support doing a job, I feel, I was always meant to do.

Looking back at the dirty ten-year-old stealing ramen noodles to eat or sleeping in sheds, I feel a sense of awe. I think you cannot see where your path is going to take you, and if you try, it only limits the possibilities.

To me, financial literacy is not just about understanding how to manage your finances, it’s how to direct your life with your own hands. This is something that I take with me every time I sit down with a client. When I help others find that “ah-ha!” moment, where they know they can make changes or get control, I feel great and can’t wait to do it again.

~Thomas Saunders

#MyFinLitStory #FLM19

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