Excelling academically was never a problem for me. But I scored very low when it came to street smarts. When I was younger I fell for a handful of money scams.
Being street-smart is probably a concept we’ve all heard of at one time or another. For me, it means being observant of your surroundings, not putting your drink down and walking away from it—just in case, and being mindful of the company you keep.
Looking back, I am not sure I should have moved out of my parent’s house at 18 and gone to college on my own, though I survived.
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But there was another kind of street smarts that I was not told about, and that seems as critical to my well-being as anything else now – money smarts.
It was equally important for me to learn about budgeting, saving, and spotting harmful money scams as it was to learn about the birds and the bees or how to drive on the expressway for the first time. But no one near me taught young adults financial street smarts, let alone financial literacy.
Real-Life Lesson Number One: Before I Turned 18, My Credit Was Shot
When I was 17, I went to a local bank with a guy I was dating at the time. He helped me open a checking account by depositing a check for $150. I withdrew the money, shortly thereafter, not thinking much of it. I moved a few months later and left my account open since I was under the impression that the balance was at zero. Let's just say I was wrong.
Months later, I realized I was responsible for repaying the bank. My account was in collections since they couldn’t reach me after I moved. I paid the bank as soon as I realized the issue, but my credit was shot. There were no new card offers for me when I turned 18.
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Even the most “generous” credit card companies wouldn’t accept me. So I had to sign up with a second-chance bank account for two years to rebuild my credit.
Real-Life Lesson Number Two: One of My First “Jobs” Almost Landed Me in Jail
Craigslist is a great resource if you know how to use it properly. For a young adult with literally no financial savvy, it should be scrupulously avoided. Years ago, I was looking through Craigslist for a job. I became obsessed with working as a personal assistant. It would be fun, I thought, to help people run their businesses.
I ended up landing a client who wanted me to send money orders to random, unknown people while cashing others to pay myself. When I received the assignment, something didn’t sit right. I started researching. This was way before loud warnings over these scams were issued, but I still got a strong feeling it was trouble.
When I got to the currency exchange, I explained to the clerk that I was afraid the money orders were fake. They took them behind the counter for a few minutes and confirmed my suspicions. Had I tried to use those money orders, I would have been in big trouble.
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Real-Life Lesson Number Three: I Almost Fell for a Nigerian Scam
While trying to help my friend sell their old PSP game system online, I received an inquiry from a Nigerian man overseas who claimed he wanted to buy the game system for his niece, who was studying at a boarding school.
The man said he wanted to pay via PayPal to make a “safe” transaction. I was not familiar with PayPal at the time, but I received an email from them saying that I had to first ship the item, then type in the confirmation code in order to receive payment.
When I went to the post office, the woman behind the desk asked several questions about what I was mailing. She told me that Nigeria was on their watch list because so many international scams originated from that country. She urged me to go back to my house and call PayPal to see if they actually sent me the email. It was unusual for them to withhold payment while waiting for a tracking number.
I went home and called PayPal. To my surprise, the email I received was a phishing scam and not from PayPal at all.
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Real-Life Lesson Number Four: To Teens — Be Willing to Learn From Your Parents
As a young person, I was full of myself. I knew it all, like most young people anywhere.
If only I were a little more humble and learned more, I wouldn't have made the financial mistakes that I made as a teen and, later, as a young adult.
I’m still learning to this day. My advice for teens is to go to your parents (or someone you trust) before making any significant decisions with your money or with a job.
It’s great to be independent. But it’s even better to seek out financial wisdom from people with experience. Learn about basic money scams and how to avoid them. Remember to research anything that doesn't feel right, and always ask someone who knows more than you. It can make all the difference.