There’s the monthly payment to [school name here], also a minimum balance payable to [credit card name here], and don’t forget that great finance package you received through [car dealership name here]. Millions of young adults are in debt. Are you one of them? Carmen Wong Ulrich, author and personal finance expert, founded Wong Ulrich, LLC in 2005 after meeting so many adults lacking access to personal financial counseling and spiraling downward when it came to money matters. Coming from a family where such issues were discussed regularly, Carmen knew she could offer digestible information while motivating people to take charge of their fiscal futures. Her business successes are evident through a never-ending list of speaking engagements, magazine features, regularly printed columns, and of course her book Generation Debt. Read on in this week’s Young and Professional Profile for more information on Carmen and how she’ll be able to lead you toward financial freedom.
Self-employed: Wong Ulrich, LLC
Carmen Wong Ulrich
Manhattan, New York
Amherst, New Hampshire
Brooklyn, New York
Columbia University Teachers College
M.A. in Psychology
Personal Finance Expert, former special projects
About your work and book
I’m an author and personal finance expert. As a former editor at Money magazine, I contribute regularly and have written for Essence, Latina, Men’s Health, Real Simple, CNNMoney, Health magazine, among others. I have been featured in the Recommended Reading List of the Wall St. Journal and have appeared on The Rachael Ray Show, CNN, CNN Headline News, Weekend TODAY, FOX News and Oprah’s XM Radio Network. I have also been a featured expert in Redbook, The Washington Post, Glamour, New York Post, MSNBC, BusinessWeek.com, LIFE and many others.
My book, Generation Debt grew out of my interest in bringing personal finance skills and information to young adults. As a young editor I realized that I belonged to two groups who did not get much instruction in managing their money—young adults and minority youth. I made it my mission to be a relatable, expert resource for anyone who doesn’t read personal finance publications.
What are your day-to-day responsibilities?
I’ve got writing deadlines, press interviews, news to keep up on (financial and general), and a seven-month-old to keep happy! Every day is a surprise—that’s why I love it!
Most notable milestones
The publication of my book last year (January 2006) and appearing on The Rachael Ray Show in March 2007. Young adults (18-35), though I get great feedback from readers and viewers from adults in their 40s who say that my book has helped them as well. It’s not so much age as where you are in your personal-finance-life – have you started tackling your debt? Are you in control of your own money?
What’s the niche?
Young adults (18-35), though I get great feedback from readers and viewers from adults in their 40s who say that my book has helped them as well.
What’s the biggest challenge?
Working through the clutter of information out there. There is a lot of personal finance information presented in print, on the web, on TV, and not all of it is good or correct advice. This confuses people.
What’s in store for the future?
How we handle our money is going to have even more of an influence on our lives. We didn’t even have access to our own credit reports until the 1990s and now it can determine everything from being able to own or rent a home, to getting a job or a car.
Who is “Generation Debt”?
The Debt Generation started with young Gen-X’ers who were the first generation to graduate college with piles of student loans, leading to today’s college graduates (and tomorrow’s) who are now graduating with an average of over $25,000 in student loans and $2,500+ in credit card debt. For many young adults between the ages of 18 and 35, debt has become a norm.
If you could leave our readers with one piece of financial advice, what would it be?
There are a lot of people out there making money off of your money (stores, banks, etc.), the sooner you take control of your money, the more of it lands in your pocket, instead of someone else’s.
Best way to keep a competitive edge
Stay informed! Read whatever you can get your hands on—that’s web, books, newspapers, magazines and watch relevant television. But not only with regard to your line of work. These days, many seemingly disparate things cross over into what you do – and innovation and ideas come from bringing together popular needs with products or services.
Guiding principle in life
From my mother: “Everything you do is a reflection of who you are.” From how you treat people at every social and professional level to how you present your work to your personal style. Also, the only person you need to compete with is yourself—you have to be the best you can be. This keeps you from chasing success based on someone else and plants the responsibility of success or failure on only yourself. This also means that you are in control!
Yardstick of success
Happiness. To me, happiness and fulfillment in what you do is true success—not how much money you have. I’ve seen and met many people who are wealthy, but miserable. If you strive for personal happiness in life, other good things follow.
Goal yet to be achieved
I don’t necessarily set specific goals—I just do the best I can do at what I do and take on opportunities as they arise.
Best practical advice
Learn from every experience and never stop trying to become a better person.
Two great mentors and dear friends to me are my former boss at Money magazine, Sheryl Tucker and my former undergraduate professor, Kathy Schwab. Sheryl believed in me from day one—we met almost 10 years ago when I started at the magazine as an assistant and when many people wrote me off as too young (and maybe too brown) to advance up the ranks, Sheryl stuck her neck out and offered me a position that has brought me to where I am today. Her belief in me (most especially, in my ability to write) and continued friendship I treasure deeply and am forever grateful for.
Kathy Schwab came into my life at a transformative time—as a freshman in college. I was different from most in my east-coast elite class and she too believed in my abilities and intelligence from day one. Her friendship, guidance and support formed the foundation of who I am professionally today. I am forever grateful to her and hold her as an example of what early mentorship can do.
What motivated you to get started?
Knowing that though millions of people read and follow personal finance, millions more do not and don’t necessarily have access to the information and guidance, though it’s more important than ever to be aware of personal finance. Also, I realized that I’ve been exposed to this field since I could read (by my dad) and have the ability to ‘translate’ the finance world into relatable, helpful language and can get people motivated to do something about their money.
Like best about what you do?
Helping others. I’ve always wanted to find a vocation where I could help others in some way. Since I can remember books, newspapers and magazines were my windows into the world and to think that I’ve become a part of that for someone else, just blows my mind!
Like least about what you do?
At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I considered becoming a doctor or a therapist, but in the end all I knew was that I wanted to be good at whatever I ended up doing. I enjoyed exploring the possibilities. I always assumed that I would have more than one career. The only reason I didn’t think I could become a writer at first was because in our family (an immigrant one), success was about becoming a doctor, lawyer or business-person. Becoming a writer was not an option—it took me a while to prove that wrong, but I’m grateful for the round-about way I ended up where I am today!
What was your first job?
Taking care of the neighbor’s kids one summer. As the oldest of five girls, babysitting was a very easy first job for me!
Biggest pastime outside of work
Reading, reading, reading. And I wish I had more time to read!
Person most interested in meeting?
Madeleine Albright – the first female U.S. Secretary of State, she became a powerful leader not only in this country, but worldwide. I’d love to learn more about how she juggled caring for three children (including premature twin girls) while learning fluent Russian and getting her Ph.D.!
Three interesting facts about yourself
- I found out who my real father was when I was 31 years old.
- I wrote about it in, “Border-Line Personalities: Latinas Dish on Sex, Sass and Cultural Shifting.”
- I think that covers the three!
Three characteristics that describe you
- Real… (4. Fun!)
Three greatest passions
- My family, (especially baby daughter, Bianca Luz, and my fantastic husband, Lawrence)
- …and por supuesto, dancing!
Too many to mention. But I’ll start with:
“Bel Canto” by Ann Patchett
“Caucasia” by Danzy Senna
“Man Against Himself” by Karl A. Menninger
“The Count of Monte Cristo” (It built my appetite for drama) by Alexandre Dumas
“The Wind-up Bird Chronicle” by Haruki Murakami
“The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman” by Louis De Bernieres
Personal finance education in schools. It needs to happen more, and fast.
Who would you like to be contacted by?
Anyone interested in sharing their experience with managing their money; organizations who would like me to speak to their members or the public; or, if you’re looking for some quick advice about your money.