My name is Leslie Girone. And this my journey in financial education!

I am the daughter of a loan collector and an accountant. I was raised in a financially savvy environment. It made it possible for me to start my financial education early. I soaked up knowledge and great money lessons starting from the time I was a child! Arguably, the most important money lessons my parents taught me were to save and earn money. I loved doing both. Those early money habits built my esteem and confidence. They gave me a feeling of power and independence. I thrived on having control and decision making power.  But, as great as it felt, I did not fully understand how valuable my financial education skills were until I lost my first job in my twenties! That is when my savings really first paid off for me. It gave me the mental strength and freedom to find the right job, instead of settling for a paycheck.

My first job was in marketing. I lost it only a few months after starting work in 2008. The financial institution that employed me went bankrupt. In 2011, I found myself unemployed for a second time. The main client of the marketing firm I worked for decided to outsource our work to India. This time I faced a different challenge. It seemed everyone who was laid off with me interviewed and competed for the same job openings. Unfortunately, there were more candidates than jobs. Luckily, this turned out positive for me. It forced me to think outside the box. I got entrepreneurial. So, while I searched for jobs, I pursued some of my personal goals. One of those goals was starting a community newsletter. It was something I could do between job searches and possibly earn a little cash. Initially, I planned to do three issues to test the waters. But to my surprise, I pumped out issues for three years. I then sold the newsletter to another individual who has since expanded it! That was a terrific lesson. I realized if you like what you do, you have a much better chance at success.

There is no question, running the newsletter sharpened my business skills. It taught me to network and honed my writing skills. I have always been better with numbers than words. It provided me with experiences and job opportunities I would not have found otherwise. I went from desperately searching online job boards to having local business owners practically begging me to work for them. Which is something I  did as a part-time local marketing consultant.

My perspective on work and life broadened. I began to see I had value beyond a list of skills on a resume. My work ethic, character and attitude earned employers respect and inspired their confidence. The newsletter and consulting jobs were fun and provided extra cash. But neither were my real passion. My real passion was teaching other about money management. I saw so many of my peers struggling to make ends meet. For the longest time, I saw many of them baffled by straightforward financial choices. More friends than I care to count were drowning in student loan and/or personal credit card debt. Unfortunately, they had no idea how to create a spending plan or budget. Considering how important money is to all of our lives, it is perplexing to me how little time people invest learning about it. It dumbfounds me schools do not teach more on personal finance. If a young person does not learn how to properly manage money from their parents, they are almost preordained to financial hardship, much of it self inflicted. For example, I had a roommate that despite a lucrative career and impeccable work ethic, was constantly in money trouble. It did not make sense to me. I would think to myself, how is this possible? I know her bills are not to crazy and she makes more money than most people our age.  Yet, at the same time she is unable to afford presents for family during the holidays and once asked me to borrow money for gas to get to work. It was funny in a sad but human way. The girl who was making in excess of $70,000 was asking the girl who was unemployed for gas money to get to work. While there were times I wanted to shake my head or just shake her, I realized she had never learned or been taught how to manage her money.

Growing up, we lived below our means. We budgeted and saved for the future. We practiced the basics. And although they are not everything a person needs to know about personal finance, mastering the basics will take a person a long ways down the road to financial security and independence. My roommate may have had more designer clothes than me, but I had a savings account and more peace of mind. I saw how quickly and easily credit card debt can pile up, especially if trying to keep up with the Joneses. Thankfully, I never had to experience paying high interest rates and unreasonable bank fees on borrowed money. If I had, starting a business and discovering my true calling may have been impossible.

Those experiences inspired and informed my thinking. They led me to my job today as a financial educator, teaching young students the fundamentals of money management through my financial wellness program, Money Smart 101.

Not all kids have the same opportunities, but teaching and motivating them to learn more about money management opens them up to a world of opportunity. I know this first hand. Their money habits affect their future and the future of our global economy. I feel fortunate to discover an occupation I love. I feel privileged to spend my days doing something I am passionate about and in the process empowering others to live more fulfilling and less stressed lives. My motto is “it’s not all about how much you make, but what you do with it that counts!” I look forward to the rest of my journey in financial education. I look forward to teaching children and adults to dream big and practice great money habits.

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