Kirby Williams Champion of Financial Literacy
by Team Sammy
Sammy Rabbit is pleased to Spotlight financial literacy champion Kirby Williams.
Read Kirby's story in her own words. She shares her journey starting in childhood, transitioning through college, personal debt, a first and life transforming job, to becoming owner and president of Advantage Publications.
Growing up, I had all you could want – loving parents who taught me how to work hard for what I wanted and were excellent role models.
My parents were my first employers: I was a kid who loved the American Girl dolls and their expensive clothes.
My mom would hire me to clean the bathrooms and scrub the kitchen cabinets. She had high standards. I was sent back to work if the job wasn’t done well and completely. I learned to ask for work to earn money to buy the things I wanted. And, I learned to do my best at each job.
My dad hired me to file hundreds of grant proposals and paperwork in huge filing cabinets in our basement. It was through this work I discovered, literally from A to Z, a whole world of non-profits, charitable organizations, and individuals who needed financial help. My father’s example was the foundation of everything I learned about work and money. He worked so hard to make life better for us and for people he didn’t know.
Dad's Advice on Credit Cards
My father spoke with me several times throughout my teen years about credit cards. He told me they could ruin your chances to buy a house or a car if you didn’t pay on time. He told me to never spend more than I had. The first lesson stuck – I have never paid a bill late. Unfortunately, the second lesson didn’t.
A Key College Lesson
I had an excellent education, graduating from Deerfield Academy in 2002 and Amherst College in 2006. I had no student debt, supportive parents, a reliable car, student jobs where the whole paycheck was just for fun stuff. Here’s the thing, though: I was too focused on those who had more, and didn’t learn from those who had less. I wanted bags and shoes and cashmere. I wanted stuff and I didn’t want to wait to have it. I got several credit cards. I got a few in just one day. It was so easy, filling out the applications, handing them in, then shopping and walking out of stores with big bags. It was easy and it was fun. I rationalized it. I thought, someday, I’ll have a job and I’ll pay this debt off and it will be fine. It will be better than fine, because I’ll have had these shoes and bags and jeans now, and I’ll pay later.
An Alluring and Life Transforming Job Ad
I found an ad for Advantage Publications online and applied for the job. I didn’t know what they published, but I liked the way the job was described: doing something different each day, marketing and sales. If I had known that financial education was the subject matter, I’m not sure I would have applied. I had almost $20,000 of debt. Who was I to help people learn how to save money?
Advantage publishes slide calculators, pieces of cardboard that help a person figure out how to make smart money decisions. And there I was, with all of this debt, with no retirement savings, and no savings at all. When I stuffed sample packets and talked up the calculators, titles such as “Where to Find the Money You Need,” and “Credit Card Smarts,” I felt like an imposter.
I had spent months building relationships over the phone with financial educators calling to order our calculators for their classes, for those who they were counseling, to use as handouts. They were passionate about what they taught and they felt Advantage calculators gave people the “aha!” moments they needed. Part of me didn’t want my “aha!” moment. Not yet. But these people got to me – their clients couldn’t afford housing, or enough food, or extras for their kids. And they were doing the work to make things better, with so much less. It was time for me to change.
Our “Credit Card Smarts” calculator didn’t even have a debt number high enough to match mine. I learned if you increase the amount you pay each month, even by a little, you can take literal years off of your payments. I added up the money I spent on lunches at the café across the street from the office, daily trips to Starbucks each morning for a huge coffee and a muffin, and the magazines I bought for the train ride home. I added in some of my impulse purchases. I was spending an average of $14.00 a day, $5,110. a year. In five years, I could save $25,550. In ten years, $51,100. Now I was seeing numbers that could make the difference. Now it felt possible, because it was. I had my coffee at work, I brought in lunch and carried a book for train rides. I didn’t feel like an imposter anymore.
My Legally Blonde Moment
Over the next year, I created and pitched a calculator to the FDIC. They bought in, and I went to the FDIC headquarters in Washington D.C. to attend a “Train the Trainer” event with the new calculators. There I was, posing for a photo in the lobby of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Talking about having created a tool to help people save. If you’ve seen my favorite movie, Legally Blonde, you might say that this moment in my life was like when Elle Woods got into Harvard Law.
The Feeling Is Always With Me
I have paid down my debt, and seen it rise again, and paid it down again. The lessons I’ve learned and the knowledge of what it feels like to be buried in debt are always with me.
I get to spend each day with the tools that helped me so much. Each time we consider a new Advantage calculator, I ask myself, “Would this have educated me and motivated me to take action?”
In the last 12 years I have worked with my team to design and publish new calculators for the Social Security Administration, for major state retirement systems, for the Department of Defense, and added new titles and a digital slide calculator to our products.
A New Role
Last year, I gathered up my and my husband’s resources, refinanced our house, and with the help of an angel investor, I purchased Advantage Publications.
Through my new role as President and Publishing Director of Advantage I have expanded our vision as one that creates our products while additionally actively seeking partnerships and collaborations with others in the field.
Through my various experiences I have concluded, we need to work together to advocate for financial education for all ages and to provide it in ways that are accessible and wide reaching.
A Pet Peeve
The largest financial pet peeve I have today is how easy it is for an 18 year old to get credit cards, and how much credit one can get.
My spending was 100% my fault. But I had no way of paying the bills in full when I filled out the applications. How could I successfully use the card? There are just too many people who get a loan, whether it be a payday loan, a credit card, or something else, that they don’t fully understand and have no means to pay off.
Financial Literacy Education
Education is the first, and most important way to help. I believe that financial literacy should be taught in schools, and I believe it should be taught all along the way – as a critical knowledge base one should be building on with both technical lessons and experiential activities that put the lessons into practice.
My mission is to give people educational tools that help them as they helped me – to see by playing with the slide calculator that saving, or paying down debt, or changing one’s habits, don’t have to start with a big, usually impossible first step. I want to help people create a moment of “I can do this one small thing, and it will be a start.” Student debt, or credit card debt, or saving for a big dream can feel hopeless, and asking for help can come with unnecessary, or in my case, well earned, shame. I don’t want people to put down Advantage’s tools and feel they have received a lecture. I want them to feel empowered to take that first step, to know what that step is and to have it be possible.
About Kirby Williams
Kirby worked for Advantage Publications for 11 years before purchasing the company in September 2019. Kirby lives west of Boston, MA with her husband David, an elementary school teacher, their 4 year son Marshall, and 3 cats. Kirby is also an award-winning artist, who paints for community art installations and for the local “Kindness Rocks” group. She is happiest playing outside with Marshall or watching Parks and Recreation with David.
To discover more about Kirby, visit AdvantagePublications.com
ALERT! We are pleased to announce Sammy Rabbit and Advantage Publications will be collaborating beginning with this year's Sammy and Santa's Advice financial literacy campaign. Woohoo!
Click here to discover more!
Sammy Rabbit loves championing and raising awareness on the importance of early age, youth and family financial literacy education.
One of his favorite methods to raise awareness is to share the stories of people and enterprises who want to make a difference in the lives of others.
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