This interview is part of Magma Math’s Risk Takers Series, where we explore the stories of people who have leveraged math in unique ways to unfold bold career paths.
"People see me as a trusted source of information about making smart choices."
Katherine Bazley: You have a very successful YouTube channel called MissBeHelpful that was inspired by your experience with personal finance. Where does this story start?
Yanely Espinal: I didn't know how to manage money and I didn't have anybody to help me figure it out. I had no mentors. My parents didn't really talk about money. In school, we don't really learn about money. So I didn't have an understanding of how money works and how to be smart with it.
I started the channel in 2015. That was the summer that I had made the last payment towards my debt that I owed, which was $20,000 of credit card debt. I had this personal money journey and I wanted to share with other people.
KB: How did you go from being $20,000 in debt to learning how to make smart moves with money?
YE: I was in a store buying things like lotion and shampoo. I was checking out, standing next to the rack where they have candy and magazines to buy on your way out. That's where I saw a book on the rack called Women and Money by Suze Orman, who is a very well known financial expert.
Her face was on the cover and it resonated with me that there was a woman who wrote a book for other women about money. I was going through my own problems with owing a lot of money. So, I picked up the book and I just started reading it. I ended up buying the book. I think it costs me $9.
I read that book in about two days. I finished it so fast because I was so interested in the topic. After I finished her book, that's when I started implementing all the things that she talked about, like the strategies and the tactics. I started to budget and opened a savings account.
I wanted to read more books like Your Money, Your Life by Vicki Robin, The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley, and The Simple Path to Wealth by J. L. Collins. I would call them classic, traditional money books, but the lessons in them are timeless. It doesn't matter that they are classics, you can always apply the lesson, no matter what time period it is or what generation you are.
KB: How has your platform changed since you started helping people with their finances?
YE: When I first started, a lot of people, including my family, didn’t understand this risk I was taking. People questioned why I was posting my personal stuff about money on the internet for everybody to see. It wasn't as acceptable in 2015 as it is today.
Money is seen as something that you don't talk about. You don't ask people how much money they make, because that's considered rude. There are invisible rules about money. I think when I first started talking openly about it, a lot of people were nervous, but now it's definitely more of an embrace and it's a big part of my life.
Now, everybody knows me as the person who knows about money and who's confident talking about money.
So things are different now because I'll get phone calls or text messages or emails from people that I haven't seen for years. And yet they'll say, I have to ask you something about money. People see me as a trusted source of information about making smart choices.
KB: How do you feel things would have been different if you had learned those lessons about personal finance in school?
YE: It's really interesting because now the work that I do is promoting personal finance and financial literacy in school as a full class, because I wish I had had it.
I think if I did sit in a class like that, when I was 16 or 17, I would have been a lot smarter about my use of credit cards. I would have had an understanding of how loans work. A lot of people think it's free money, but it's not free. You have to pay interest fees every time you borrow, whether you're borrowing to buy a car or to buy a house or to pay for college. You either have to work for it, or you have to pay interest fees to borrow it.
It could have helped me save a lot of headaches because when I was doing things wrong with my credit cards, it had a negative impact on my credit score.
It really would have helped me to have a class like that. Just to explain to me, how the systems around money work, how does a credit score work? What are the things to look for in a good bank account?
Or how does investing in the stock market work? What does that even mean? And just to understand the systems around money.
When you think about it, in high school, that's when you get your first job. That's when you're looking at colleges and you're probably going to have to take out a loan for that. It really does students a huge disservice, especially at that age, to not learn financial literacy.
KB: What would you say to a student that doesn't really know what they want to study in college?
YE: Don't worry too much about what you want to do. And instead focus on the type of skills that you want to have and the kind of person you want to become. Because as a person, as a human being, your life is not all about what you do for work. That's just one aspect of your life as a human.
Our responsibility is to be the best human that we can possibly be. Which means that when you think about your characteristics, your qualities, your personality and your skills that you are building yourself up to be as awesome as you can. And for me, I think that if I could go back to high school, I wouldn't focus so much on the job that I want. I would actually focus on the skills that I want to develop. I think students should try to build themselves up first, and then put themselves into the career fields that would fit that kind of person.
KB: Do you have any advice or parting words that you would like to share with students?
YE: The important thing to remember is that math is a really big part of money. When you're learning math in school, it can feel like it won’t help you in the future sometimes. Students don’t understand why they have to memorize formulas, for example. Try and push yourself to think about how it might connect to money. Math is such an important skill to have, so that you can be good at managing money in real life.
For example, when I was in middle school, I remember learning about exponents. Instead of saying two times five equals ten, I would write two to the power of five.
Two to the power of five! When you use five as the exponent, it's 32! You get way more when you use an exponent versus when you multiply. And that's the same thing with money. When you put money in an account that grows exponentially, like the stock market or a savings account, your money grows much faster than if you were to just keep it in cash in your home.
Especially for a kid that doesn't really like math, to think about it in terms of money could be great.
Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
About the Author
Katherine Bazley (@katherinebazley) is a K-12 EdTech teacher ambassador at Magma Math where she contributes Special Education expertise and 7 years of and classroom experience. Reach her on LinkedIn or at firstname.lastname@example.org