Personal Finance Correspondent, Yahoo Finance
I write about money, income inequality, retirement, college and more for Yahoo Finance. I am also launching a new podcast “Brown Ambition” this September.
Hi there, I’m Mandi Woodruff. You may know me from my 9-to-5 serving up personal finance news for one of the biggest financial news sites in the world, Yahoo Finance. I grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia and studied journalism at UGA’s Grady School of Journalism and Mass Communications (Um, going to a state school? Best money decision ever!). I’ve worked in newsrooms for more than seven years and there’s no place I’d rather be (during working hours, anyway).
Here’s what you probably don’t know: I spent more than 20 years of my life terrified of anything and everything that had to do with dollars and cents. The third youngest of four children raised by a single mom, I grew up in a household where the subject of finance nearly always either brought someone to tears or sent them into a fit of rage.
Other kids feared the boogeyman snoozing under their bed and the monsters rattling in their closets. Money was my boogeyman. The stacks of bills that haunted my mother every day were the monsters that kept me up at night.
Over time, I would eventually realize that this fear, ingrained in my DNA basically from birth, was more damaging to my finances than any credit card or student loan bill ever could be.
Here’s my story:
I graduated college in 2009 with negative dollars in my bank account and dreams of traveling the world. I spent about five months bouncing from one country to the next, cobbling together cash from a slew of odd jobs, before time (and my student debt bill) finally caught up to me.
Suddenly, I found myself back at home, scrambling to find a job in my small hometown and start my career almost a year behind the rest of my peers. After a couple of lucky breaks, I found myself working for a magazine in New York City. I was 22 and exactly where I wanted to be in life.
Then I was laid off. Less than three months after landing my dream job, I was hardly making rent and collecting unemployment benefits. At the same time, I had a shiny new smartphone, a classy new wardrobe and no savings to speak of. As a young woman who prided herself on having at least a few brain cells to rub together, the whole situation was pretty embarrassing.
I couldn’t figure out HOW I had managed to paint myself into such a dark corner.
Other jobs came, and new responsibilities led to promotions and promotions led to a few much-needed raises. But even as my paychecks grew fatter, I still found myself missing credit card payments and living hand-to-mouth. Just the thought of money made me gag and yet all I could do was try to make more of it. The boogeyman was back.
The turning point
Desperate to figure out where I was going wrong, I read every money self-help book I could. I tried spreadsheets and Mint.com and I stuffed weekly cash allowances into envelopes. I stopped paying for transportation and rode my bike to work instead. But I couldn’t help but think that there was something the money gurus weren’t telling me.
It wasn’t until a prospective landlord turned me down for an apartment rental that I found the root of my money woes.
I had never checked my credit report before. Like my daily bank balance, I just tried not to think about it all that much. While my head was stuck in the sand, some clever crook stole my identity and racked up a $12,000 credit bill in my name. If that landlord hadn’t run a credit check on me, I never would have had a clue.
All along, I thought what I needed was money, and the more the better. But money was never my issue. It was all in my head. All of the fear, all of the guilt, all of the hatred I had for money since a kid had been keeping me back all along.
I wasn’t stupid or lazy or somehow inadequate. After so many years feeling as if I had no say-so in my financial future, I was still just a little kid too afraid to take control.
If I wanted to get my financial train wreck of a life back on track, I had to get over it. It was far from easy. I made a lot of mistakes over the last few years, some of which I’ve already written about, but I’ve never felt more positive about my future than now. For the first time in my life, I can say that I don’t fear money anymore. I’ve learned to respect it, to even love it.
At my own expense, I’m opening up here about what it took to get myself together. I hope it will help others out there who may be struggling with their own personal money boogeyman.