"Shape-Up" Your Finances

08/10/2010 03:29 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Ryan Mack Financial Expert and Economic Commentator

On August 7, 2010, the Optimum Institute of Economic Empowerment took to the streets to conduct the most fun program that we have ever done. We conducted the "Shape Up Your Finances" Economic Empowerment tour which consisted of visiting barbershops and beauty salons throughout Brooklyn, NY with the intent of igniting conversations about one of the most infrequently talked about topics that you hear in the barbershop: fiscal responsibility.

Sure you might hear about how much money other people are making, such as that famous athlete who signed that multimillion dollar contract. You might hear about how much money that famous celebrity spent on his/her wedding. However, why is there hardly ever a conversation about the importance of building personal wealth and how to go about doing it? This is what this tour addressed but this also leads to a larger issue...why are we so timid to talk about money?

The economy crashed in 2007 because of many factors, but one of the largest factors that lead to the demise of U.S. markets and global markets was fiscal irresponsibility on multiple levels. The government was spending money frivolously, corporations were taking excessive uncovered risk (well...not covered by them but certainly covered by the taxpayer), and too many people were spending tomorrow's money while racking up debt today. Our control over the government and corporations is limited. We can have our voices heard in the voting booth and lobby for change which may or may not work immediately, or ever. However, we certainly have control over our own personal finances and how we manage them. The problem is too few know how, or choose not to listen to conventional wisdom, when it comes to managing money. One of the best ways to fix this problem is to incorporate this into a regular topic of conversation for the sake of providing more exposure to this problem.

What would have happened if that person who planned to purchase a home who had a 550 FICO score, no money in the bank, and an income that is inconsistent at best had overheard a conversation about the most responsible way to purchase a home? What would have happened if that 35-year-old man who was living at home with his mother, between jobs, and still wanted to figure out a way to lease a new Range Rover because it was cool, overheard a conversation about the dangers of consumption and how to start a new business? What would have happened if that mother who lived in public housing with a room full of furniture from Rent-A-Center overheard a conversation about financial predators and how much money we waste on interest that we could have saved? What would have happened to these people...better yet, what would have happened to our country? We yell and scream at the television screen for change but turn right around and throw our change in the garbage.

More than in the barbershop, we need to talk about our personal finances around the dinner table. We need to talk about our personal finances with our friends and family members. If you are going to a great personal finance workshop, have a financial planner who really takes the time to teach you about money, or finish reading a great book by an author like Suze Orman, tell somebody about it! Blast the information on Facebook, send it to your group on Linkedin, call a friend and let them know what you have learned. It is no longer acceptable for any of us to have this mindset that we are going to grow by ourselves. Sharing information is paramount if we are going to start a movement of social change as it relates to our finances.

On the other side, if you hear someone talking about money, pay attention. What are they saying? Are they correct? Take the information and go home and read a few books to see if what they are saying is correct. It is great to take information from people, but your knowledge base should be the best defense against being led astray. You don't have to be a financial expert, but you should know at least the basics about money before you see a financial advisory, mortgage broker, accountant, or any other advisor who can have an impact on your finances. If I know that by stealing a car I will go to prison if I get caught, that doesn't make me as smart as an attorney...that only means that I have enough knowledge of law to keep myself out of trouble. The same principle applies to your personal finances.

The Optimum Institute of Economic Empowerment is a nonprofit that is trying its best to participate in a grass roots effort to change the way we think, feel, and act with our money!

To see a video clip of the "Shape Up Your Finances" Empowerment Tour click here...