Amelia “Mills” Bender is the creator of the personal finance YouTube channel and platform Mills Knows Bills.
Mills shares how her first “a ha” moment in college started her on her path towards financial self-improvement, and why she believes that personal finance is a journey, and not a destination. Connect with her platform here:
ILV: [00:00:00] Good afternoon Mills! Welcome to Money Memories.
Mills: [00:00:04] I’m fabulous. How are you?
ILV: [00:00:06] I’m so much better now that I’m interviewing you.
Mills: [00:00:08] Oh my gosh. I love it!
ILV: [00:00:11] I’m super excited to chat with you today. It’s not often that no this podcast, I get to interview people who are also in a similar financial literacy, personal finance space. So, I’m really excited, for our listeners to hear your journey and to hear your story.
So before we get started, do you want to tell the listeners a little bit more about how you grew up, where you grew up? Just set some background for us.
Mills: [00:00:35] Sure. So, I am one of six kids. I am number five, Italian family. So I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that movie, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” but that’s my family – Italian style.
So everyone’s in each other’s business. We all know what’s going on. But born and raised in Miami, went to Orlando – UCF – for my degree in finance. Hopped around in a couple of different financial industries and moved back down to Miami about a year and a half ago now. And haven’t really looked back since. So that’s a little bit about me.
ILV: [00:01:10] Awesome. And so with that context, can you please share your earliest or most impactful money memory?
Mills: [00:01:18] So I would say they’re two different ones. So my earliest would be, I remember my dad would come home from work some days and he’d have a handful of coins that he would see either in the parking lot or change from when he went to the store and he used cash and he would always give me the coins.
You know, it’d be a quarter here and there and he would always say, “Save it for a house one day!” and he’d walk me over to my little piggy bank. I was like three or four and I put it in my piggy bank. So that was probably my earliest memory, but I’d say my most impactful was my “oh no” moment with money.
When I was in college, I was a freshman, fall semester. So I’d only been there maybe six weeks at this point and some friends and I wanted to go get some dinner. Like clockwork. I checked my bank account just to see what I could afford. Couldn’t afford anything. I had a dollar 50 cents in my account, nothing else.
And that, that truly was my most impactful moment because that really started my entire financial literacy journey. Cause I realized, yeah, I was good at, you know, saving money. I knew how to balance a checkbook, but I didn’t really know how to make it work for me. So I kind of took both, moments in my life and realized I need to kind of merge them and improve upon them so I can improve my overall financial journey.
ILV: [00:02:41] Wow. I’m just curious. So take us back to this day in college, where you’re trying to go to dinner and you realize. You can’t, you can’t afford the dinner. What did you do in that moment?
Mills: [00:02:53] Oh God. Oh gosh. So there were a lot of thoughts running through my head. Many of which were, how did this happen? I know money, right? Obviously not. Where do I get started? How do I know where to get started? What else don’t I know? And it was, it really boiled down to this moment, feeling entirely overwhelmed because I realized number one, I didn’t know what I didn’t know about money. And that was my scariest thought, because at that point it was if I don’t know, but I don’t know, how can I get started then?
Where do I get started? And I, you know, I eventually just had a meal plan. So I went to the cafeteria for dinner that night, or ate a granola bar or something, but it really put a ton of things into perspective for me because, that night was my, “I need to figure something out and I need to figure it out quick.”
ILV: [00:03:46] Wow, what kind of plan did you put in place for yourself to kind of dig yourself out of that conundrum?
Mills: [00:03:53] So like many others. I felt like I was the only person in this situation, I was the only person that felt lost. And I almost felt ashamed by that notion because I thought everyone else knows this. Why don’t I know it? What, what day in life class did I miss? Right Surely it was my fault. So at that point I decided just to start researching and talking to people, right. As much as my pride or ego were bruised by it in the moment, you know, I talked to people that I trusted, I talked to my parents, I talked to professors, I talked to friends that were doing well, and I really just started asking basic questions such as: How do I open a credit card? How do I leverage money without going into debt? Do I need to open student loans? Where can I go to apply for scholarships? And it got to this point where it was a lot of just trial and error and. It got to the point where I just waited for my next paycheck and then I did the opposite, right, I didn’t spend any of it. And I realized, you know, that’s not necessarily financially healthy either. Honestly I just, I stopped caring about asking questions and feeling, you know, embarrassed about asking the questions. And as I went throughout college, I noticed that a lot of my other friends and family members, even, they didn’t know the answers to half of it either.
So then it kind of gave me more confidence that I’m not the only one.
ILV: [00:05:23] Yeah, absolutely. What was something that surprised you the most in those early conversations?
Mills: [00:05:30] I think what surprised me the most was how gracious people were.
They didn’t make me feel incompetent for asking the questions even. Even as I thought my questions were stupid, right? Like at one point I remember asking, my now husband, how do I even apply for a credit card? And you know, it was this moment of, “No one ever showed you, no one ever taught you? Let me walk you through it.”
And that was kind of the experience that I had with mostly everyone else, because I think they realized that I was just trying to learn because I truly had no idea where to start. And whenever you come to someone and you feel that’s that type of vulnerability and they receive you with that type of grace, I think that was probably the most surprising, cause it gave me a lot more confidence and it, it helps me keep moving forward and, and provide the same grace to others.
ILV: [00:06:24] Yeah. And would you say that’s part of the reason, that’s one of the reasons that motivated you to start your own personal finance platform?
Mills: [00:06:31] Absolutely. A lot of it is the language that’s used in the financial industry, that there’s these barriers to entry, simply because you don’t understand what a, what a word might mean when in reality it could be as simple as – a savings account, or an interest rate or, you know, part ownership. Right. And they use these terms to make it more difficult to understand. But, you know, I think by, by breaking that down and explaining it in a way for others to understand and show that same grace, that’s what honestly motivated me because.
People are more than able to make these financial decisions on their own. They just need to be empowered and educated to make these decisions themselves.
ILV: [00:07:23] At what moment or was it, did you realize that, “Hey, it’s actually like, the language, and not really so much the concepts.” When did that kind of resonate with you?
Mills: [00:07:32] I actually vividly remember that I was, I was taking a personal finance class in college, and I remember sitting down and reading about mortgages and escrow. And up until that point, like I had seen TV shows. I don’t know if, if you’ve ever watched “Gilmore Girls,” but there’s this one episode where one of the characters comes into Luke’s diner and he’s saying, “I’m in escrow! I’m in escrow!”
And the whole joke is – that they all believed that he didn’t know what he was talking about when it came to escrow. And I remember watching that episode, I’m like, I don’t know what escrow is. What does that even mean? And you know, a couple of weeks later, I ended up studying it in that class. And I was sitting at my kitchen table, it was end of my junior, beginning of my senior year of college. And I looked into my kitchen and I looked at my roommate and I said, Hey, do you guys know what escrow means? We said, no, what is that? I’ve heard about it. I know it’s something with houses. And I was able to explain it to them because I had just learned it like so easy. And that totally makes sense. Why do they have to name it something complicated? And, that was kind of the moment where by taking it and turning it into layman’s terms. You know, it was a lot more easily understood,
ILV: [00:08:47] That’s hilarious. I love that “Gilmore Girls” like was like the “aha” moment. So shifting our focus a little bit to Mills Knows Bills, can you tell the listeners a little bit more about, what your platform is trying to do?
Mills: [00:09:00] Sure. So “Mills,” that’s my nickname. Everyone calls me that and, “Knows Bills,” I know about dollar bills.
So I teach people about budgeting and overall financial literacy. So on my platform, I provide numerous videos, free personal financial, budget tools. So that way you can get started. And it’s really just a place and hub for individuals to start their financial journey and get the answers to the questions that we all have had at one point or another. And again, it’s not in a demeaning way. It’s purely, this is what it is. Let’s, let’s understand it together. So that way you can make those decisions for yourself.
ILV: [00:09:44] That’s awesome. and how long have you been running this enterprise for?
Mills: [00:09:50] I have been helping my friends and family with their own budgets and answering their questions for quite a while now. But it got to a point, November of 2019, where I had more people that wanted me to sit down with them one-on-one and help them set their budget and answer their financial literacy questions than I actually had time for, so realized that there was this huge need. And at that point I decided that I was going to just, record myself explaining certain terms or showing people how to set budgets and post them on YouTube. And I started that process formally toward the end of January of 2020. So I posted a video a week on average, they’re all on different topics and it, it really just covers a breadth of financial industry so people can get started.
ILV: [00:10:42] What has been, I guess the most surprising thing, on this entrepreneurial journey so far for you?
Mills: Ooh, that’s a tough one. I guess I’d probably say the, the range of age demographic. Right? And how the questions just completely vary. So just to give you a couple of examples, a few months ago, I had a 22 year-old who wants to buy a car. That’s her goal say, yeah, this is my goal. And I ask, well, what’s your credit score? What’s a credit score. She had never heard of it before. And that was an interesting thing, but she knew. She knew how to invest in other things like that. So it was just, there’s a disconnect. And then a few, few weeks after that I had a gentleman who’s 45 working full time, you know, gets his W2 income every two weeks, asks me, well, how do income taxes work?
So. I think it’s just how, you know, it’s all ages, it’s all topics. And honestly, again, reiterating you’re not the only one who feels like you don’t have all the answers.
ILV: [00:11:59] Do you have any advice for people like our age whose parents are approaching retirement and we want to help them a little bit but we don’t know how, like where do we start?
Mills: [00:12:08] I would first start with helping your parents set up budget for what their expenses are going to look like in retirement.
And one of the key things to take into consideration is that a long-term care or health insurance might be a higher expense than they’re normally used to having. So speak with professionals in both of those industries to see what that coverage can look like and how you can mitigate that risk and those expenses.
But setting a budget is really a good place to start because then you’re able to notice that there’s a deficit. And if there’s a deficit, you have time in income to cover your expenses. And then if you’re able to do that in advance, even if it’s just a couple of years in advance, you’re able to plan accordingly for it to see what you need to do. Whether it’s decrease your expenses or find a way to increase the income, whether it’s through different investment vehicles or just honestly speaking to a professional that can help with retirement savings as well.
ILV: [00:13:10] Awesome. That’s really valuable advice. Thank you. Well, mills, before I let you go, I’ve been subjecting my subjects. Subjecting my guests, I should say, to a series of four quick questions that’s meant to kind of let our listeners click with you a little bit more. So are you ready to play along shortly?
Mills: [00:13:28] Let’s do it.
ILV: [00:13:29] Question one. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Mills: [00:13:32] Hiking.
I don’t know if that’s the answer you’re looking for, but I love hiking and I love the feeling when I’ve gotten to the peak and I can look out over everything below. It’s just so powerful and serene for me.
ILV: [00:13:46] Beautiful. And there’s no right or wrong answers. So don’t worry. What is your greatest extravagance?
Mills: [00:13:55] This is funny because I’m the saver in my household. My husband’s the spender. I would probably say, my laptop.
ILV: [00:14:02] That’s a good one. That’s a good one. Yeah. Question three, which talent would you most like to have?
Mills: [00:14:07] Maybe can I say like a superpower? Is that fine?
ILV: [00:14:11] I am merely the question giver. I cannot guide you. You will simply say your talent.
Mills [00:14:17] if I could fly. I think that’d be really cool.
ILV: [00:14:20] I agree. Yeah. I go back and forth between flying and being invisible.
Mills: [00:14:24] Yes. Invisibility is cool or teleportation a hundred percent.
ILV: [00:14:28] That too. The fourth and final question is what is your most treasured possession?
Mills: [00:14:34] I have a book called “The One Minute Manager” by Dr. Kenneth Blanchard that my mentor gave me in high school. That is probably my most treasured possession. Cause he wrote like a little note in it. And honestly he has inspired me to do a lot of Mills Knows Bills things than he actually realizes with the empowerment and encouragement. So that’s amazing.
ILV: [00:14:58] Well Mills, thank you so much for playing along and for our listeners who want to get to know you want to connect with you, where can they go to find your content?
Mills: [00:15:07] Website www.millsknowsbills.com. Instagram Mills knows Bills. I’m also on LinkedIn, under my full name, Amelia Bender. Twitter is bender mills and a couple of other platforms, but website and Instagram are probably the easiest ways to get in contact with me.
ILV: [00:15:26] Awesome. I’ll include that in my episode notes. So be sure to check out Mills Knows Bills on all the platforms that she’s available. Well, Mills, thank you so much for knowing your bills and sharing your time with us. It’s
Mills: It’s been a pleasure. Likewise, you have a wonderful day.