Last year (2019) I attended the Statement event and was treated to a lot of eye-opening conversations around women, money, feminism, and the topic of financial taboos. While there I enjoyed a riveting conversation about the role privilege plays in personal finance and wealth building. It was at this event I realized I haven't really acknowledged my own privilege in the 8 years I've been writing and blogging about money online.
And I totally meant to write this post an entire year and a half ago. But then I got pregnant, and there was a pandemic, and now a recession, and I'm actually glad I didn't get around to hitting “publish” on this essay I've been tooling around in my head for the last eighteen months. Now, the conversation around privilege is more timely than ever.
It's important to me to write this because I started this blog in 2012 when I was fresh out of school and still reeling from the effects of the last recession in 2008. A lot has changed since then, but sadly, a lot also hasn't changed.
And I feel we can't really educate people on how to “handle money better” until we all understand we're not endowed with the same starting point.
If you're reading this blog top to bottom and wondering how I got from point “A” to point “B”, here are all the ways I had a head start:
- I didn't learn a ton about money from my parents, but they gave me the greatest gift: a loan-free college education. My Dad spent most of his 40’s paying off his loans and both he and my Mom wanted to give me the gift of that freedom.
- I had friends I could live couch surf with in NYC, which allowed me an address to put on employment applications. The job in New York allowed me to pay off credit card debt from college and start saving.
- Because I didn't have student loans, I was able to become a homeowner at age 26 because I could afford a mortgage on my small salary at the time.
- Since I bought a home, I was able to rent out rooms, which allowed me the financial freedom to pursue entrepreneurship at age 28 once the blog took off.
Running the blog full-time helped me to increase my income faster.
- I sold my first home for $150,000 in profit, which I then put into a home with more equity and my retirement and building a new business.
- I have since married a very fiscally savvy man who is well-educated earns a high salary. I now receive tangential privilege by being his partner. A huge benefit is being able to pursue entrepreneurship without having to worry about a roof over my head because his salary covers this.
But really, most of what I have achieved is because my parents provided the single biggest financial boost to someone in my generation: gifting me a life without thousands of dollars in student loan debt. So, I’m publicly thanking my Mom and Dad, just in case I haven’t said it already.
So, there you have it. All the tiny ways I benefitted from others that led me to where I am today. True, there was a lot of self-education and important, strategic choices on my own part, (thanks personal finance community for teaching me how to do even better!) Really, I'm sharing these thoughts because I feel a very important lesson is getting lost in the personal finance community:
No one builds wealth alone. Often, we are successful because of the shoulders we've been allowed to stand on.
There's a callousness out there about wealth: that certain people are successful because they're superior or smarter or have better character or work ethic. Nah, dawg. 9 times out of 10, that person was just incredibly privileged in one way or another.
Take this scattered and messy essay in the spirit in which it is intended: a reminder to keep an open heart and open mind about the haves and the have nots of our world.
If you are lucky enough to be financially secure, take a look at all the people who helped you get there. What advantages did you have? What advantages did you not have? And how can you turn around and use what you have now to help someone else up the ladder?