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Phoenix Forward magazine

University alumna is a financial role model

Kim Murphy, financial services community manager, PhoenixConnect

Kim Murphy is a University of Phoenix graduate four times over: She holds bachelor’s degrees in business and criminal justice, and master’s degrees in adult education and management.

Now the financial services community manager for the PhoenixConnect® academic social network, Murphy also runs a separate tips blog for prospective and current students. But this seasoned money expert notes that she wasn’t always good at handling her own finances.

Murphy took time off after high school graduation with plans to eventually start college, but soon found herself married with a newborn daughter and a job that didn’t pay the bills.

“I worked nights at a gas station while trying to take care of my daughter and go to community college part time during the day,” Murphy says. “Then I worked nights in a factory assembling semiconductors for Motorola. I was basically half asleep 24/7, and it just didn’t work.”

She also got in over her head with credit cards while trying to juggle all of her responsibilities. “I picked up my first credit card application on campus [at my community college],” she says. “I thought, ‘Oh, I can’t afford to buy everything I need in cash, but now I can charge it and just pay $20 a month — no problem!’ Boy, was I wrong about that.”

After running up large balances, Murphy found that she was unable to keep up with the required payments, and racked up late fees on top of what she’d already borrowed. Then her marriage fell apart, cutting her income in half. “It got to the point where I had a choice,” she says. “I could either move in with my parents so I could save money and pay off those bills, or move into a cardboard box with my kid.”

[Students] listen because they see how I’ve been through exactly what they’re going through.

Fortunately, Murphy’s parents were able to help her, and she moved back in with them at age 25 — “a real self-esteem blow,” she notes. “I lived with them for two years [rent-free], and during that time, I was able to save money and pay off my credit card bills.”

While getting her financial house in order, Murphy discovered a role model for going back to college: her father.

“My dad was in a situation where he had to change careers in his early 50s, and a college degree was the only way he could advance in his new field,” she explains. “He turned me on to University of Phoenix because he could pursue his education while taking care of his responsibilities.”

Murphy began her University studies in 1999. “I chose to study e-business, which was very new at that time, and that intrigued me,” she explains, noting that she attended classes around her work schedule and family obligations.

Courses in e-commerce, budget management and other business concepts also helped Murphy improve her own finances. “I became more mindful of where my money was going,” she says, and she began to set personal spending limits for herself at the grocery store and for entertainment, eating out and other areas where she tended to overspend.

When she was close to finishing her first bachelor’s — in business — Murphy decided that she had benefited so much from the University that she wanted to work there.

“I got a job in the financial aid department,” she says. “I understood firsthand how complex financial aid can be, and I wanted to help other students get a better grasp on it based on my own experiences.” During that time, Murphy increased her income and improved her credit rating enough to buy her first home.

She also developed other strategies to boost her savings and reduce personal spending, such as creating spreadsheets that track all her expenditures — “right down to sticks of gum,” she says — and help keep her finances on track. She uses a debit card to avoid unnecessary debt, and she banks at a credit union to escape high account fees and get better interest rates on loans.

Murphy also familiarized herself with federal financial aid regulations, combining her own personal struggles with that knowledge to become a financial advocate for University students, eventually working her way up to management.

When talking to students one-on-one about sensitive financial topics, Murphy uses herself as an example. “Students can get very emotional about money,” she says. “I tell them my story and stress the importance of paying your bills on time and not borrowing more than you have to. They listen because they see how I’ve been through exactly what they’re going through.”

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