How one library tech’s medical debt led him to seek financial freedom
Jerry Brown is a writer and self-taught personal finance expert. “But my full-time job is actually as a library tech,” Jerry told me, his southern drawl making an already-sweet statement sound even sweeter. “That’s how I got into all this personal finance stuff.”
I e-met Jerry via Twitter a few months ago after I noticed his intriguing reply to a thread about taxes: “I’m maxing out my HSA for the tax benefits,” his response read. Naturally, I messaged him not long after.
And when we hopped on the phone a few weeks ago, I dug right in with questions about Jerry’s history—how he became so knowledgeable in the personal finance field, what his life looked like before he began living and breathing money hacks, and more.
Becoming a personal finance expert
Originally from Baton Rouge, LA, Jerry Brown, now 34, graduated from the University of New Orleans in 2009 in the midst of the Great Recession.
“Even with a double major in Business Management and Business Administration, it was hard to find a job. Never mind a job that had anything to do with my degree.”
“The debt came on fast… and I wanted to get out from under it at the same speed.”
Like many folks during that time, Jerry found himself in debt.
“Not long after I graduated from college, I ended up needing a medical procedure. I knew off the bat that I didn’t have the money on hand.” As a result, Jerry took out a healthcare credit card [specifically for medical expenses].
“I was at a point in my life, though, where I could only afford the minimum payments, and my debt ballooned to over $10,000.”
Jerry and I talked at length about how many folks, ourselves included, believe mightily that health comes first. But there’s an undeniable dichotomy that exists between health needs and health expenses. And oftentimes, getting the healthcare we need costs more than we can afford. As was the case for Jerry.
“The debt came on fast,” he told me, “and I wanted to get out from under it at the same speed.”
Evening the score
Jerry began studying personal finance tactics while working at the library. “I have a lot of downtime there,” he laughed. “I read any financial book I could find. I looked into refinancing, personal loans, you name it. I absorbed as much information as I could and applied it to my own life.”
Jerry even went as far as to reach out to finance folks like J. Money, a well-known professional blogger who rose to fame thanks to his inspirational, insightful personal finance blog Budgets Are Sexy (now All-Star Money). Jerry cold-messaged J., whose blog he’d been learning from, for advice about starting his own blog.
“Just start writing,” J. said. And so Jerry did. His first piece called From Broke Phi to Financially Woke was featured on Rockstar Finance, one of J.’s projects, soon thereafter.
Not long after he began his blogging journey, Jerry received a grant to FinCon, a conference that connects content creators and brands to create better content (and, of course, make more money). In the past few years alone, Jerry’s landed bylines in big names like Forbes Advisor, Time partner Next Advisor, and Rocket Mortgage, to name a few.
An HSA maximizer in training
In the same way that Jerry became acquainted with the general scope of personal finance, he became fascinated by HSAs as he encountered them again and again.
“I got into HSAs by reading, of course,” Jerry laughed. “I kept seeing them mentioned on these finance blogs I love as ways to save more. I was blown away to find that an account for health could have a triple tax benefit. So I thought to myself, well, that’d be a good way to save for the future.”
Jerry didn’t want to end up in a situation like the one he did before–in financial debt due to his physical health–and an HSA seemed like the perfect way to make sure that didn’t happen. He signed up with the account offered by his employer at the library and started contributing.
“The goal is to not use any of the money in my HSA. I’d rather invest it and see those tax savings grow my funds,” he told me. But Jerry was quick to admit that not even a financial guru’s plans always go to plan.
“Last year I ended up needing a medical procedure and dried up most of the year’s contributions. I was bummed not to roll over some of it to investing, but glad not to take on any debt.”
Planning for the future
Even though he’s an old pro now, Jerry still likes to use his downtime at the library to learn more about the personal finance world… and to further plan his own future.
“I’m back to focusing on maxing out my HSA again now because I’m determined to get it back up to its maximum. I’m looking forward to the tax break, and I can’t wait to see how that money grows over time.”