Someone recently asked this of me: “You write about personal finance. What makes YOU an expert?” Let’s forget about how ridiculously rude that question is and focus on the answer.
The quick answer: Nothing. There is nothing that legitimately qualifies me as a personal finance expert. I don’t have a degree in business, finance, accounting or anything of that nature. I’ve never been a business owner. I don’t have any certificates, licenses or fancy letters after my name. I’ve never run a company. Hell, I’ve never even been a supervisor. So really, nothing formally qualifies me as an expert.
I continued in my rambling by saying that I rarely give how-tos and I even more rarely dispense information on topics such as IRAs, life insurance, mortgages, etc. I leave that to other bloggers who are legitimately qualified to discuss them. I am not an authority or an expert on those topics and I don’t pretend to be. I even mentioned that I have a disclaimer telling my readers that I’m not an expert and that the information shared is based solely on my experience, opinions and mistakes. This person seemed satisfied with the answer and moved on.
But here’s the problem: I don’t really believe that answer. I do think I’m an expert. I’m not an expert in the global sense or in the manner of Dave Ramsey or Suze Orman, and I’m certainly not qualified to dispense professional advice. But I am an expert on me and my finances. I’m an expert on my life. I know what I did, what I didn’t do and what I should have done. I’m an expert on my stories, experiences and opinions. I’m an expert on what I’ve learned works and doesn’t work for me. I’m an expert on what I wish I had learned. I learned enough to be able to articulately and authoritatively discuss personal finance as it relates to me.
The core of this whole discussion, for me, is the term “personal finance”. The word personal is what I’m choosing to focus on. Yes, there are basic concepts of general finance. But personal means that each person can take those concepts and apply them as needed to her own situation. That is what I claim to be an expert in–my personal finance and how my experiences with my finances have affected my perspective.
And that’s what makes me an expert. While I knew about credit, budgeting, saving, investing, insurance and all of the other components of personal finance in it’s abstract concepts, I didn’t really get my education until I had to. If I wanted to eat and pay my bills, I didn’t have a choice but to learn. I took it upon myself to learn how to budget and get out of debt. I read and talked to people and then read some more. I took that information and applied it to my situation. By getting into and out of debt, I’ve learned more about the practical application of personal finance than I would have had I had a degree or license or certificate.
Let me be clear. This is not to say that I believe that a basic, school based education is not important. I think that all kids should be taught the basics of personal finance, especially since so many kids do not get that education at home. I didn’t. But I learned about it in school. That basic education made it possible for me to write checks, manage a bank account and pay bills when I was in college. But I didn’t get the real, hardcore education I needed until I found myself deep in debt. That’s when I started reading, learning and practicing the fundamental concepts of personal finance. That’s when I learned how to take those abstract concepts, make them concrete, and use them in my life.
I hope that as I tell my stories and share my perspective, people can learn from them. I hope that some of my stories are a cautionary tale, some are inspirational and some are just entertaining. What’s important to remember is that those experiences made me a smarter, more knowledgeable person who is now equipped to share that firsthand knowledge with others. My hope is that others can learn from my experiences. If one person can get on her own path towards being debt free or if I prevent one person from going down the same road I traveled, then I did a good thing.
So the next time someone asks me what qualifies me to be an expert, I have my answer. That answer? Life. Life made me an expert.
How would you have responded to that question?