Personal Finance Interview with Ray Jamali for Mint.com



If there's one thing that frustrates personal finance enthusiast Ray Jamali, it's the failure of our society's education systems to teach people about financial responsibility while simultaneously flooding us with images of immediate gratification. To his knowledge, personal finance isn't taught in high school or in college -- unless you want to pay for courses.

"How many free educational programs existed a decade ago? How many existed five years ago?" Ray asks. "None that was truly unbiased and truly tried to educate consumers about personal finance."

He and the team behind Financial Highway aim to fill some of the learning gaps. The blog is dedicated to helping readers understand everyday financial matters and put them on a path toward financial health by talking about everything from credit cards and debt elimination to savings and investing.

We caught up with Jamali recently to find out why he's so passionate about finance. Here's what he had to say:

Tell us about yourself ... what's your professional background?

I'm currently working as an analyst for one of Canada's largest banks, where our team is responsible for ensuring regulatory compliance for our proprietary trading of the bank.

What is Financial Highway? Why did you create the site?

I hope to help educate the public on personal finance matters and help them improve their finances. We do not tell how you to become rich or anything, just offer simple tips on getting your finances on track and achieving your goals. After working as a financial advisor for a while I realized that there is a big gap in financial literacy among the public.

Most of my clients were misinformed about many aspects of personal finance including how registered retirement accounts worked, why life insurance is important, the big impact 0.5 percent higher MER would make, etc. Although part of my job was educating clients on some aspects of finances, I did not have sufficient time to provide enough information for clients to make a truly informed decision. As a financial advisor your best interest often does not align with the clients as you depend on their commission fees often. So I decided to start a blog to help consumers.

In your bio you describe yourself as "a personal finance enthusiast." Why do you love personal finance so much?

When I was younger I witnessed my parents make many horrible financial decisions, accumulate excessive debt, forego insurance, not save for an emergency, etc. When I started college I followed in their footsteps because that is all I knew about money. After defaulting on several credit cards, I decided it was time for a change, only to realize there wasn't an easy way to learn about personal finance. My banker kept trying to sign me up for more credit cards "for emergencies," he would sidestep my questions and so on. After a while I became obsessed with reading books and sharing my knowledge with friends and family.

What's the first thing you think anyone who wants to get a handle on his or her finances should do?

Get rid of their credit cards. I'm a big fan of responsible credit card usage, however most people are simply unable to use the credit cards responsibly and end up loading on debt.
1. Get rid of credit cards.
2. Establish a small savings account ($1,000 or even $500 if you really cannot do more).
3. Pay off your cards as fast as possible and stop using them.

What do you think is the biggest mistake people make when it comes to money?

People think it will always be better and always get better. Like most things in life money will not always be there, most people don't save and spend recklessly. Well when our government spends as freely as they do, what can we expect from its citizens?

If you could give our society an attitude makeover in regards to personal finance, what would you change?

Focus on the small things. Often people are focused on big goals and forget that small things matter. If you have a $50,000 consumer debt and your goal is to clear it all up, focus on small milestones. Maybe set a target for reducing it by $1,000 in couple of months, etc. This will keep you motivated as you reach each small milestone and they all will add up. Want to increase savings? Start by reducing the lattes and save the few dollars, instead of trying to make big cuts that you may not be able to sustain.

What do you think are some common misconceptions about frugal living?

That frugal means not spending money. Frugal doesn't mean you cut spending, it just means spending wisely. Can you get that $300 purse on eBay for $200? Can you make that broken laptop work another few months and wait for a sale? Can you find a coupon for whatever you are looking to buy? We make a good living and like good things just like anyone else, but I hardly ever pay full price for anything.

What are a few of your favorite money-saving tips?

1. Make sure you save a part of your pay (5 percent, 10 percent, 50 percent -- whatever is realistic and sustainable).
2. Donate part of your pay. $1, $20, $50? Whatever you can sustain. We have so much to be thankful for while other around the world don't know if they'll have food today. Spread your donations across causes that are important to you if you can.
3. Have an emergency fund.
4. Don't put your family's financial stability at risk.
5. Enjoy what you buy.

I rarely feel guilty when spending money, even on big items. As long as I save a set amount, make sure my family is no put in jeopardy in the long run and donate generously, I enjoy what I spend money on.

How do you think our attitude toward money has changed since the recession?

It hasn't changed drastically, only made me realize more that nothing is for certain. I can have a job paying me very well today and in a month my house might be foreclosed.

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