The Teenager that Taught Me the Meaning of Financial Freedom

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of speaking in front of 650 low-income high school students in Boston. This group of talented, ambitious teenagers were part of the John Hancock Foundation’s MLK Summer Scholars; each student had a paid internship at a local nonprofit, and each Friday the group came together to hear from a motivational speaker, participate in a workshop and talk about personal development.

It was an incredible group to speak to and I was so proud to be able to kick off their day and help inspire them to take control of their money. I spoke about my journey into debt and my struggle to survive on minimum wage. I closed my speech by sharing three simple steps they could take today to make sure they had a financially stable future. (Video of my speech will be coming soon!)

After the day was over, we asked students to tell us what financial stability meant to them.

And that’s when I was almost brought to tears.

One girl in the front of the room raised her hand and was handed the microphone. “Financial stability means being able to cook a four-course meal at 4 o’clock in the morning,” she said. A few laughs rippled throughout the crowd, and I asked her to explain.

She explained that she was tired of having no food in the house. She said she was tired of looking into an empty refrigerator. For her, financial stability meant the ability to cook and eat whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted. For her, money was a burden, holding her back from happiness and the life she wanted. But she also realized that she had the power to do something about it today. She explained that if she stopped spending on the things that didn’t matter and saved her money for the future, she could figure out a way to get that power back. She could cook a feast in the middle of the night.

I still tear up thinking about that moment.

Money means so many different things to so many different people. It can mean power, safety, comfort, luxury. But at the core of it all, everyone wants the same thing: to control our own lives and not let money control it for us.

I’m going to remember what that girl said for the rest of my life. And now more than ever, I’m going to continue to help others find the path toward financial freedom.

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