P’s and Q’s and Pocketbooks

B picSince 2006, I’ve assigned a theme on a financial topic for the English 101 concept theme. Why not? What good does it do to translate a proudly earned diploma into more income only to wonder where the money went so soon after payday?

Students find pleasure in choosing one of three topics: budgeting, credit card use, or investing. No matter where one is on the financial map, researching a couple of good sources and picking up new knowledge benefit most everybody.

Credit Cards

Credit Cards (Photo credit: 401(K) 2013)

I introduce this unit with a 20-30 minute motivational talk on money management—or rather mismanagement. Students like to hear stories about people digging out of holes, and two always come to mind.

The first goes back to when my wife was mostly a stay-at-home mom who worked 12-15 hours a week for minimum wage, and I made a modest salary at my job. Yet budgeting and creativity kept us out of debt except for the house payment, and life was not luxurious, but it was fun.

Dianne Wilkerson - Past Due

Dianne Wilkerson – Past Due (Photo credit: stevegarfield)

A highly paid relative by marriage surprisingly came to my wife one day years back with a shoebox. In it were not shoes. The bottom layers were opened bills quickly piled into the shoebox, and the top layers were unopened bills. Frustration and fear were written all over his face. He and his wife had become spending machines.

The problem is this: if you make 100K or 200K a year but spend way beyond what is coming in, the result is debt. Our relative asked my wife to help him and his wife get on a budget and establish a plan to retire their non-mortgage related debt. This happened and brought much relief.budget

You’d think that having helped others, we would have continued on too without faltering. Having avoided credit card use except for convenience and quick repayment, we departed from this when a couple of money opportunities looked like sure things. Feeling certain, we made purchases based on these “sure things.” That’s when we learned that money can sprout wings like a bird and fly away. The opportunities fell through, and glaring at us was $7500 on the credit card.

The card had started benignly—0% the first year, but it quickly escalated after that to over 20%, and monthly interest payments were over $200. Our jobs also destabilized at this time, and our kids were almost grown but not quite. We made the commitment to dig out and were fortunate to get a low interest loan so that the card could be retired. That left the slow task of paying off the low interest loan.


Budget (Photo credit: Tax Credits)

Going through this built steel girders in us about the “sure thing.” Unless we hear the jingle of money already in our pockets or see the happy figures already on the bank statement as on deposit, purchases wait.

The displeasure of going through this brought the pleasure of persevering and getting a plan going again. The pleasure for students in hearing the stories is that their instructor has had some tough times and learned some tough lessons. That’s not to say they will avoid their own mistakes, but at least they will have done a little research and thought about how to live financially with a plan.


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