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'We've got to learn this stuff': Charlotte teacher hits it big with financial literacy course

Brian Li says knowing how to manage your money can be life-changing. And there's something else. Building wealth isn't exclusive to already wealthy people.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A Charlotte teacher was leading a financial literacy class when he realized he and others like him could benefit from the same thing: The idea that building a nest egg isn't just for the wealthy. 

Brian Li says knowing how to manage your money can be life-changing, regardless of your income level. 

Talk about a light bulb moment. Li, who teaches at Providence Day School in south Charlotte, was asked to speak at a teachers' conference about managing money when you don't have a ton of it. That's when he realized it was a topic many people could benefit from. Now, he's doing something about it so his students aren't asking, "Where's the money?"

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Li's a popular guy at Providence Day but he didn't expect to be so popular with his fellow teachers when he spoke at a conference for Black and brown teachers last year. 

"I was humbled and blown away by the response," he said. "The fire marshal had to come block the doors, it was so well attended."

His message was simple. Financial literacy and the idea that it doesn't have to be just the rich getting richer. 

"I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that you have to be wealthy to start," Li explained. "As long as you start early — often and early — that's what's important."

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Li teaches a financial literacy class at Providence Day but realized he needed to educate himself on some of the basics for his own family. 

"Teaching, it's such hard work. No one's coming to save us," he said. "There's no legislation coming down, the teacher pay gap, racial pay game, gender pay gap ... We've got to learn this stuff. I gotta get in this investing gig. 

"There's a reason wealthy people are wealthy."

Now he's trying to share the wealth with 1-on-1 financial counseling. 

"It really focuses around financial literacy, maximizing retirement accounts," he said. "Fundamentals, savings versus investing, net worth, credit and credit score." 

One of Li's first clients is a 30-year-old teaching fellow who admits he assumed he couldn't afford to have investments. 

"No, not at all," the teacher said. "I knew the importance of it but I didn't think it was accessible to me as somebody who didn't come from money, who doesn't have a lot now. I always look at trading as something for stock brokers."

After working with Li, he's completely changed that thought process. 

"Especially considering I have a baby on the way that's at the forefront of my mind," he explained. "Beginning to build generational wealth because I have somebody to pass it down to now."

WCNC Charlotte is always asking "where's the money?" If you need help, reach out to WCNC Charlotte by emailing money@wcnc.com.

Li says the lessons are even more important for Black and brown people, who traditionally don't invest in the stock market. 

"The stats are just shocking," Li said. "The net worth of people of color is far below the average of white Americans.

"I've gotta teach this to the kids, share this knowledge with fellow educators — women, people of color —that became my passion. It's available to everyone. Generational wealth is not exclusive to the wealthy."

Li says he wants everyone to understand the concept of working smarter, not harder, and how to make their money work for them. Click here to contact Brian Li about financial planning and financial literacy

Six tips for increasing your financial literacy to accumulate wealth

1. Live within your means

A common misconception people have is that you simply just have to earn more and that will solve your problems, Li says. It's actually not how much you earn, but more critical how much you save and invest. There are plenty of rich-looking people that are not financially healthy. Switching your mental mindset from consumer to wealth building is a total game-changer once you see your money working for you. 

2. Lifestyle creep

Even if you make more money, if you increase your spending you aren't any better off. Save and invest, increasing your income while lowering your expenses is absolutely fundamental to creating wealth. 

3. Pay your future self first

Invest often and early. Compound interest (interest on top of interest) is the most powerful force in mathematics. However, the most critical ingredient in building wealth is time. The earlier you start saving and investing for yourself and your children, the more powerful the compounding becomes. 

4. Avoid high-interest debt

Credit card debt is so detrimental. One of the biggest misconceptions people have is the concept of making minimum payments. While it does not hurt your credit and builds your credit score, making minimum payments is such a barrier to building wealth for so many people. With interest rates at or around 20%, the best investors cannot make gains that rival the absurdity of credit card interest rates. 

5. Don't give up, no matter what

One of the biggest mistakes I see is when people simply give up and say, "I'm not a finance person," or "I wish I learned about this stuff." We must take the initiative to educate ourselves (despite how inaccessible and difficult the finance industry has made it for Americans). No one is coming to help or rescue us, we have to take the initiative into our own hands and seek out this knowledge. Generational wealth and financial wellness are for everyone, not just the wealthy and privileged. 

6. Take your employer's help on retirement

If your employer offers a 401(k) match, take it. Not taking the full match is literally like turning down free money. I have encountered too many people dragging their feet in signing up and they're leaving cash on the table. One of the most common responses is that they do not know if they are staying at their current place of employment for very long. This is still a bad reason for turning down a 401(k) match as the money you get and contribute to a retirement plan stays with you, even if you do leave. Huge mistake. 

Contact Michelle Boudin at mboudin@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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