@MissBeHelpful has over 57k followers on YouTube and is the Education Outreach Director for NextGen Personal Finance. She shares what every leader needs to know about reaching Gen Z, and the pivotal moment that made her decide to devote her career to personal financial education. 

As a child from an immigrant family, financial literacy was not something that was discussed at home, and Yanely struggled with personal finance as she entered adulthood. Conversations about personal finance can be something that starts at an early age, she says, to alleviate societal pressure and achieve confidence. 

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Yanely: I was really struggling myself with my personal finances because I’m first-generation American. I’m a daughter of immigrants. My parents are from the Dominican Republic. And so we grew up in a very traditional household. They pretty much were cash only for everything. And my parents never really had bank accounts, or debit cards, or credit cards, or anything like that.

And so we never talked about money. And when it was time for me to go off to college, I remember my parents being like, “Okay, sweetie, you better go and get some scholarships because we don’t have any money to give you to pay for college tuition.” And being that we’re low income, I did qualify for a lot of grants and I did qualify for PELL and a lot of different programs that did cover a lot of it, but there was still so much that I didn’t know about the cost of college and how to fill out your FAFSA and how to get additional scholarship dollars. And long story short, I got really lucky and I got a full scholarship to Brown University because they had a special program for low-income students, and there was just a pot of money that was meant for some of the neediest families to be able to graduate without student loan debt.

So I was in that program. Shout out to the Sidney Frank scholarship program at Brown. It was a great experience. And what that meant is that I dodged the whole student loan experience because I never really had to take on student loans, and I never had to compare interest rates or understand what it means to take on loans like that. So when I got to college, I wanted to have a laptop and I wanted to have name brand clothes and shoes, and I wanted to get Starbucks and go to the movies with my friends. And so I got my first credit card when I was in college, and that was my first entry point into the world of personal finance. I didn’t know what it even meant to use a credit card. I had no idea. And yet, I was swiping my little credit card up and down campus, buying everything, and it got out of control really quickly.

I went from $1,500 to $20,000 by the time I graduated, and I didn’t have anybody to explain to me how the compounding interest works, and how it was really growing and getting out of control. So I held onto that secret. And when I graduated and once I became a teacher, I realized this doesn’t make sense. My paycheck is not enough to pay all my bills, help out my family, get transportation to my job, pay for lunch, and also pay off these credit cards. So that was when I picked up a book about money and my real kind of education was a self-education, learning about money myself through reading books. And then later I decided, “You know what? I love teaching, but I think I want to teach specifically about financial literacy because it’s something that I never got myself when I was in school.”

Kristin: That’s amazing. It’s interesting, you did Teach for America starting out, right?

Yanely: Yes.

Kristin: Yeah. I did AmeriCorps when I was first starting out out of college, and ended up working in homeless shelters and primarily the immigrant community, doing housing education and health education. And then I became a social worker. And it was amazing and I was really passionate about bringing education into those communities, but then I had zero money, so that’s what made me… I was so broke and just barely making ends meet. And so I started a bunch of side gigs, like a translation company and a lot of different things like that. And that’s what made me really passionate about, how can we make education, about everything from personal finance to starting a business to buying a home, more accessible? Yeah. So I think it changes the game for everyone when you have that education.

Yanely: Absolutely, it does. Yeah, I mean it’s unfortunate that right now it’s still not technically part of our formal education system in most states. The way education works in our country, it’s very highly-localized. So it’s not like the president can just wave a magic wand and say, “Okay, all the states have to do this,” because that’s not how education works. It’s not a federal issue, it’s a state issue. So the only way we can make sure every single student in the country is getting access to financial literacy in school is for each state to have 50 individual different bills that turn into laws, that require their specific state to teach it. So that’s kind of the work that I’m doing now. I shifted over from just general education and teaching to financial literacy advocacy. And so NGPF is actually where I’m at now.

Yanely: Next Gen Personal Finance is a nonprofit that focuses on financial education by offering teachers curriculum materials, training teachers, because it’s one thing to be excited to teach it, but if you never learned it yourself, there might be gaps in your understanding of some of these financial concepts. So we teach the teachers and train them. And then also the advocacy resources, so putting out data and putting out a toolkit so that schools know what they need to do if they want to get this class required in their state. So that’s been just amazing. It’s very meaningful work and it’s clearly mission driven, but also the fact that we can see the impact that it’s making almost immediately is just… Yeah, it’s a breath of fresh air.

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