After I graduated from the Coast Guard Academy in 1996, I went to work on a ship just west of Seattle in Port Angeles, Washington.
Sometime in 1997, two well-dressed women came by to talk about a financial product called Assurance.
I had never heard of Assurance. I was 22 years old and hadn't had any exposure to finance before that. Neither did most of the other people who listened to these ladies' pitch in the crew mess.
Assurance was this financial product that supposedly grew your money at an exponential rate. They told us that if we could save just $50 a paycheck, over time that money could grow by several thousands of dollars… with their product, of course.
They were slick, fast talkers. I don't think anyone on that mess deck understood what they were talking about.
They didn't talk about the mechanism behind the way it worked. My attitude at the time was that I wasn't going to put my money into something I didn't understand.
Unfortunately, some of my colleagues did.
A couple of months later, we found out the whole thing was a giant Ponzi scheme. Everyone who invested lost money.
The good news is that no one on our ship lost too much money because they visited us at the tail end of their scheme.
But all told, these women made about $3 million going to military bases and stealing money from people who were unsophisticated about money matters.
As I was watching everything unfold, I felt completely crippled by my lack of knowledge.
There was no way for me to tell beforehand whether Assurance was legit.
Now I know that anyone who promises big returns risk-free is a fraud.
If I were there for that lecture today, it would have been easy to poke holes in their pitch. Starting with the fact that they specifically sought out people who didn't know what questions to ask.
This was what made me decide to take responsibility for my own financial education.
I never wanted to be in a position again where somebody was trying to sell me a financial product I didn't understand or that wasn't even legitimate.
So, I started buying all the financial books that I could just to learn about this stuff. I've been doing that ever since.
I'll tell you what I wish I could have explained to my colleagues then…
You should have a low level of trust when it comes to your money. If you can't evaluate what someone is selling you, don't buy it.
To be clear, I'm not telling you to trust nobody. What I am saying is that you alone are responsible for your financial education.
A lot of people are in the same boat. That's why a lot of them give their money to established firms like Morgan Stanley (MS) and JPMorgan (JPM). They've established 100 years' worth of trust.
There are other reputable companies out there that can help you. Make them tell you exactly how a product works and how your money will be invested.
If anyone gives you a bunch of nonsense, walk away.
When you're not financially educated, you will always be dependent on someone else when it comes to deciding what's best for your money.
The same goes for when one spouse handles all the financial decisions. One person will almost always be in the dark.
That's not financial independence. That's still dependence.
Here are three quick ways you can begin, or continue, to further your financial education today:
Call my radio show at 1-888-DILLIAN (1-888-345-5426) to ask your finance- and investing-related questions.
Read my How Do I Start Investing? report. It's designed for everyone from beginners to those who are looking to fill in some knowledge gaps.
Supplement this with your own reading. Investopedia is a great resource. There are many others.
Bottom line: The more questions you ask, the more you'll know… and the less likely you'll get caught up in some crazy scheme.