Clark Discusses His Background And Motivation

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We have new listeners all the time to The Clark Howard Show. I realized just recently during a guest appearance on another radio show that I have failed to adequately explain who I am and why I do what I do.

I come at what I do with a serious passion because of what happened to me when I was a teenager. I grew up on what I like to call the “silver spoon plan” in Atlanta. It seemed our family wanted for nothing. When I was a teen, I went to American University in Washington, D.C., and my parents were footing the bill.

One Thanksgiving, I came home from college and there was, for lack of a better term, an air of death around our house. We had a solemn dinner and everyone was quiet. I kept thinking something’s wrong. Sure enough, we finished dinner and my dad asked me to wait at the table and says, “I’ve got something to tell you.”

I thought for sure he’s going to tell me he’s dying. Then he looks at me with this pained face and says, “I lost my job.” Suddenly, I started smiling from ear to ear. “Why are you smiling?,” he asked me. I had to explain how relieved I was with his news because I thought he was dying! He relaxed at that point because he probably saw that things could be a lot worse than a job loss.

But the next thing out of his mouth was a stunner. “There’s no money to pay for your next semester at college.” Now, I thought my folks were loaded with dough. But they lived a high voltage lifestyle, where everything they earned they also spent.

I was 18 or 19 at this point. So I went back to school and started looking around for work. I wound up working during the day full-time and went to school at night. After I finished my bachelor’s in urban government, I got a job with IBM as a bill collector because I knew they would pay for my master’s degree.

The deal was I just had to pay for my own books and I had to get a B or better in a course or I’d get no reimbursement. I hate to say it, but I was never the best student. But you better believe I got a 3.9 GPA in my first quarter in grad school. I never got less than a B during the rest of the time there because I wanted the tuition paid for my master’s in business management. Thanks, IBM!

I spent the first part of my 20s working as a social worker for almost 4 years out of grad school. But at 25, I decided I wanted my own business. The airline industry had just deregulated and I thought the free market would help travel explode in popularity. This was before the Internet. Turns out I was right; every 18 months I would open a new office.

In 1987, I got a buyout offer for my chain of travel agencies. The buyers wanted my locations and my employees, but not me. So I moved to the beach and had a grand old time living the retired life at 31.

For some complicated family reasons, I soon had to leave the beach and go to my birth home. I was doing nothing, just watching reruns on TV and training for biathlons. Out of the blue, I got a call from a local radio station that had a Sunday travel show and they asked me to be a guest.


From that one appearance, everything else in my career happened. Over time, I went from an occasional guest to a regular guest to host on a travel show. I ultimately ended up as host of a weekday call-in advice show about money called Cover Your Assets in 1989.

Ever since then, I have been giving advice on the air. The show morphed over time into The Clark Howard Show. I became a newspaper columnist in 1990 and started doing TV work in 1991. In 1993, we started taking questions off the air with the Consumer Action Center.

In 1997, we launched The following year my radio show went into syndication. I’ve written 10 books over the years, including 3 New York Times  bestsellers.

The other things in my life are my entrepreneurial efforts. I’ve been in real estate since 22. I’ve been investing since I was very young. My dad worked on the floor of the NYSE as a young man, and he taught me in elementary school how to read stock tables. I’ve always had a fascination with it, based on his enthusiasm. I also had an investment company with my dad, which invested in everything from privately held to publicly traded companies of all sizes.

So I have an eclectic, entrepreneurial, investment kind of background, with real estate thrown in too. My passion is for you being in control. Because of what happened to my family when I was a teen, I learned a lesson that it’s not about appearances, but about whether you owe money or you have money.

My folks eventually recovered in a few years after my dad lost his job. But the lesson I learned never faded from me. So when you hear my passion in speaking against government spending money that we don’t have, it comes from a deep-seated psychological place in me.

For me, what happened as a teen was great. It made a huge difference in my life by getting me to work at a very young age. That meant I missed a lot of fun that people had in college. But the result of it and the benefit in my lifetime was great. So when you hear me talk about how to save, that’s not a theory. That’s the truth, it’s the reality of my life.

I don’t want you to be or feel powerless, where you feel like you don’t have options. Sometimes things happen that are out of our control. Most of the time, though, it’s the choices we make, both little and big choices, that make the difference in what control we have over our lives and over our future.

My new book, Clark Howard’s Living Large for the Long Haul, is really centered around that concept. It offers little, midsized and big things you can do so you truly can take charge and take control. I know that life is more than just about money. But when there are money problems in a couple, for example, what follows will be problems for the couple. You don’t want that kind of tension in any of your relationships.

I want you to take charge and take control. One dime at a time, one dollar at a time and one day at a time.   

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