Ricardo Redd is a senior at Barry University in Florida, set to graduate next December with a Bachelor’s Degree in Theatre and a solid 3.0 GPA. He’s come a long way in the years we’ve known him, as he’s learned to excel at school and in his chosen craft while handling the responsibilities of independent adulthood. Recently, he wrote to us about how he learned to manage his money, and it’s a story every student can learn from. Well done, Ricardo!
Graduating from high school and getting into a good college was the ticket for me. I knew that as a foster kid, I had to do whatever it took to “win the prize,” so to speak. For me, winning the prize meant walking across that stage, getting my high school diploma, and moving far away from my home town and into a big city. College was the ticket to my dreams. I did not know however, that my personal finances would be “the” battle of my life.
I don’t know how it works for most independent ex-foster children, but I came to college loaded. I’m talking about dozens of scholarships, grants, refund checks, credit cards; the works. I moved from South Carolina to Miami, FL and I lived it up. I took cabs everywhere; I went to the clubs, ate at the restaurants, bought my friends’ dinners, went to the beach and just had the time of my life. I blew my money like it was nothing and because of that, I ended up with nothing. I was trying to live like my peers but my peers had parents. My peers had family to go home to during the winter holidays and during the summers. But guess who had to take care of himself during these school breaks? You guessed it, me. I had not grasped the concept that I would now be completely on my own. In foster care I didn’t have to worry about rent and buying groceries, etc…Now you’re telling me that as an 18 year old and beyond I would be responsible for this stuff? This was going to be an ultimate test of my independence.
I was fortunate the past few years to save up enough money and get a place of my own during the summers, and my school allowed me to live on campus during the winter holidays as well. But I still barely got by. I never budgeted and I always ended up with more “month at the end of the money.” Why couldn’t I get this right? What was hindering me from true financial independence? Though my finances seemed to never make sense, my career always has been stable and advancing. The summer of 2012 I was given a contract to perform in a musical tour. This tour was the job of my life. I got paid to perform for two months and I toured…professionally! This was very exciting and it was a magical experience. My rent was paid, I had food to eat, and I blew my cash (how exciting). The issue was however, that I quickly blew through my money again. I couldn’t believe that I was having more financial problems. My cast mates ate out every night, they went to Disney World, and clubbed without me, because I was too broke to hang with them. I had to use whatever money I had to pay rent the next month. It was difficult to explain to my peers that I couldn’t do what they did, even though we all made the same amount of money. While this job was very fun and exciting, it was a hassle just trying to survive.
Fast-forward to September 2012 and my financial life was completely falling apart. I had managed to have a $0 balance in my checking account and I was miserable. How could I have allowed this to happen once again? What is wrong with me? Then something clicked inside. I realized that I was allowing my past to hinder my financial future. I had a difficult family life, filled with many mental, emotional, and physical “lacks,” and I was using money as a coping mechanism to give myself whatever I wanted. After all, I deserved it right? I equate this with athletes or lottery winners who suddenly receive fortunes. When someone without proper financial and emotional skills gets exposed to new found freedom and wealth, they lose it (literally). I was beginning to see a pattern between myself and those people in the media who gain much but suddenly lose everything. I decided that month I would make a change and never allow this to happen again. First I wrote a five-page letter to my family, addressing all the pain and emotions I held in for so long. I then locked myself away from the world and into my room for an entire month. I didn’t buy anything, I only ate on campus (free), and I stayed in complete solitude. I got rid of the people in my life who were bad financial influences as well. During this time, I watched countless videos on personal finance, I read multiple articles on budgeting, and I finally wrote a budget. Out of all these things, I made a promise to myself that if I couldn’t truly afford something, I would simply say “No.” The ability for us to say no is challenging. We feel that saying no means losing friends, being judged, living without excitement, etc…but the ability to say no is a beautiful thing and it is OKAY. If everyone learned to say no, I believe the world would be a better place (think about it).
So here I am, almost six months later. I have savings in my account, I budget religiously, and I have a new perspective on life itself. I tell my friends and peers “no” when I can’t or shouldn’t buy things, I live with comfort in knowing I’m officially taking care of my finances like an adult, and I truly “get” that I can’t live like my fellow peers. I understand that though we seem to have the same lifestyle, we do not, and that is okay. I have mentally conditioned myself to be the most disciplined financial steward I can be and I am glad I figured it all out while in college.
During these trying times mentioned above, I’ve had so many lifelines from Foster Care to Success (FC2S). This organization has been there for me in so many ways and I am so grateful to have them in my life. Though my real family may be off in the distance, I know that this wonderful organization will always be my family as well as countless other foster youth and foster youth in transition. No matter what I thought or what other people think, we cannot do this “life thing” alone. How can young adults be thrown into the wilderness and magically know everything there is to know about being adults and being prepared financially? It’s organizations like FC2S that give people like me room to grow and a lifeline when we need it.
Ricardo is a dreamer and an entrepreneur, and with stars in his eyes but the know-how and skill to achieve his goals. Here is a link to his website, which showcases his talents and interests. Click on the “publishing” link to visit other websites he maintains.
Well done, Ricardo!