The Carr Report: ‘Money doesn’t come with instructions…’

by Damon Carr, For New Pittsburgh Courier

Thought leader and personal financial expert extraordinaire Ric Elderman coined the expression, “Money doesn’t come with instructions.” It’s the absolute truth. Most of what we know about money we learn one of three ways.

  1. Trial and Error: We do something stupid that costs us money—oftentimes, TONS OF MONEY. After much heartache, regret, a bruised ego, broken pride, and either debt or an empty wallet, money lesson learned.
  2. Biased advice: Most of the financial advice we receive comes from financial professionals trying to sell us various financial products. Too often the advice given is based on the limited menu of products and services offered by the advisor. If that’s not the case, the advice given is based on which financial product offers the financial advisor the biggest fee or commission. You’d think what’s in the client’s best interest is at the heart of the financial advice given by financial advisors. Sad to say, that’s not always the case. Some people say this is why they call them “Brokers.” They’re making themselves rich while making their clients “broker.”
  3. Advice from family, friends, and co-workers: Family, friends, and coworkers tend to have good intentions when doling out financial advice. However, their advice is layman advice at best. They don’t know what they don’t know. What they do know, they more than likely learned from trial and error, advice given to them by their “Broker” or advice given to them from their respective family, friends, and co-workers.

Many of us enter adult life with high school diplomas and college degrees never being taught how to properly manage money.

I was recently the Master of Ceremonies at my 30-year high school class reunion. As the Master of Ceremonies, I made a point to share a story or joke about each of the presenters. One of the presenters is a good friend of mine whose name is Nicole. Nicole recited a poem she wrote titled “The Rayen School.” The poem was beautiful. It took us on a walk down memory lane sharing highlights of various moments of our high school years. There was one line in her poem that peaked my interest as a money coach. In attendance at our class reunion was the local mayor, Tito Brown who is also a graduate of The Rayen High School.  I took an opportunity to make a joke of this.

Nicole said, “We were young and fearless and had limitless ideals. And that is because we were kids and barely had to pay any bills. Those bills are a Mother!! We couldn’t wait to become adults. We thought being an adult was about being able to cuss, drink and have relations whenever we wanted to. Somebody should have told us about those bills. Mayor Tito Brown, I need you to call President Joe Biden and tell him to forgive us our student loans, car loans, mortgages and credit cards! We want to get back to having limitless ideals!” The joke was a hit. Everyone laughed because we all can relate.

On the day of this writing, I had a financial planning session with a client. She’s a single mom who’s looking to get a grip on her money. She shared a story with me regarding her and her father’s relationship. They were very close. She admitted that he spoiled her. She said he taught her everything from how to cook to how to do basic upkeep on a car like checking/changing oil and changing tires. He advised her that when she got a job to save a minimum of $25 each paycheck. She said her and her dad had candid conversations about everything but he never explained personal finances to her in detail. In fact, he shielded it from her. When he was living, he literally paid her bills. She was able to do whatever she wanted with her money. Upon his death is when life got serious. She had to pay her own bills while trying to maintain the lifestyle she lived before she was responsible to pay any bills. She’s been learning the intricate details of how to manage her money as she goes. She’s been having a hard time making ends meet since his death. I told her, right now we’re not living in normal times. Money is tight for everyone these days due to inflation and the overall status of the economy. Then I said as you come to learn, money doesn’t come with instructions. I laid out a clear plan and action steps for her to take that will help her in her goal to feel more financially stable.

If I were to lay out some basic money instructions for all to heed, it would be this:

Free yourself first—You will not prosper financially if you’re living paycheck to paycheck. You need wiggle room in the budget for a number of things including saving, investing, aggressively paying off debt, and dealing with minor emergencies. Thus avoiding liquidating the emergency fund or worse, digging a deeper hole by borrowing more and more money every time something unexpected comes up. My first recommendation is to have a minimum of 10 percent of your gross income FREE so that you can systematically build a solid financial foundation.

Use credit only when absolutely necessary—The idea of using credit wisely is way too compromising. People will creatively justify their misuse of credit as something noble and smart. When you take on the mindset of use credit only when absolutely necessary, it forces you to consider other options that are generally neglected such as do without, pay cash, and save until you have enough money to make the purchase.

Live below your means with a purpose—The idea of living below your means simply does not appeal to most people. When presented with the idea of living below your means, most people conjure up images of boring, lonely, unfashionable people that sit in the house all day reading books and doing crossword puzzles—wrong! People who’ve decided to live below their means are people who recognize that money is finite. Despite the fact there’s a limited amount of money flowing through our hands, we all have many responsibilities, goals, and desires that have a price tag attached to them. When you choose to live below your means with a purpose, you begin to prioritize your responsibilities, goals and desires. You identify what’s most important to you and spend your money accordingly.

(Damon Carr, Money Coach can be reached at 412-216-1013 or visit his website @

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