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Financial Empowerment Emotional Literacy (FEEL)

Written by
Samantha Rose
Samantha Rose is a personal finance writer covering financial literacy for OppU. Her work focuses on providing hands-on resources for high school and college-age students in addition to their parents and educators.
Read time: 4 min
Updated on April 16, 2024
woman with short hair smiling because of the philosophy of Financial Empowerment Emotional Literacy
One man started a revolution in how we teach financial literacy.

Is it possible for one man to go from learning how to read and then trading stocks while incarcerated to starting an entire movement dedicated to teaching others about financial literacy?

That is exactly what Curtis Carroll did. A self-taught financial advisor, he is the co-founder of Project Feel. His nonprofit is dedicated to the philosophy of Financial Empowerment Emotional Literacy (FEEL). It not only promotes a set of financial literacy skills, but a complete lifestyle change. The program is designed to teach people how to recognize that their emotional state has a large impact on their financial decisions.

During Carroll’s youth, he didn’t have a formula for going from illiteracy to financial empowerment—just self-reliance, determination, and the hope for security. Through his struggle, he created a financial lifestyle program and ultimately a powerful movement. For Carroll, These two concepts: lifestyle and finances, are linked. To quote Carroll’s TED Talk, “financial stability is the byproduct of a proper lifestyle.”

The man behind the movement

Now known as “Wall Street” by his fellow inmates, Curtis Carroll was sent to jail as an illiterate 17-year-old who grew up in poverty and in a tough environment. Although these circumstances landed him in San Quentin State Prison serving a 54-to-life sentence, he decided to look toward the future.

First, Carroll taught himself how to read. One day, he accidentally picked up the business section of a newspaper. Little did he know this would spark his financial journey. Then, he taught himself how to trade stocks, making a couple of thousand with his first few trades. His smartest stock trading decisions are based on knowledge of different companies, products, and sectors, gathered from reading a diverse array of materials. Eventually, Carroll began teaching his fellow inmates his trading knowledge, which developed into a financial literacy program aimed at the broader incarcerated population. He knew the importance of equipping people with financial knowledge as a way to empower them to take control of all areas of their lives, including their emotional well-being.

What is FEEL?

There are four major tenants of FEEL: saving effectively, borrowing properly, controlling cost of living, and diversification.

Saving Effectively

The first golden rule is to save before all else. Just like you would pay a bill, pay your savings account with each paycheck. Even if it’s a small dollar amount, slowly but surely your savings will grow.

Borrowing Properly

Avoid the cycle of debt by any means necessary. This means creating a budget, sticking to it, and spending within your means. If you can’t afford something, don’t buy it!

Controlling Your Cost of Living

It’s important to control your cost of living by cutting out unnecessary spending. Look at your needs and wants. Stick to the needs, which should be your priority costs. It is recommended to forgo immediate luxuries in exchange for a long-term plan. While it may be hard to start living more mindfully, ultimately the money saved will help you reach your financial goals and lead a more fulfilled life.


Allow your money to work for you by diversifying your investments. Pay attention to things like compound interest, which will help you double your money by working half as hard.

Why is FEEL Important?

FEEL’s methods aim to get to the root of financial woes by targeting emotional spending. According to Project Feel, emotional spending is a direct result of the human need for power, beauty, love, and choice. However, these needs have a negative impact on the way people spend, save, and borrow. Essentially, unchecked feelings can drive someone to spend recklessly and become complacent with self-destructive habits. It’s not until people confront the feelings surrounding these needs that they can make a financially healthy lifestyle change and take control of their money.

Additionally, FEEL is important because it emphasizes overcoming financial illiteracy while being inclusive of some of the most vulnerable populations, namely incarcerated individuals.

Did you know that when inmates leave prison, they are only given up to $200 in cash? This may seem like a decent amount to help get them settled, but in reality, many inmates are nearing retirement age by the time they are released. Considering that they are at an age when many of their peers have accumulated financial skills throughout their lifetime and are preparing for retirement, this is a travesty. Many previously incarcerated individuals must struggle with reentry into the workforce and integration into civilian life with absolutely no financial knowledge. Carroll recognized this fault in the system and knew there was a growing, overlooked need that he could help fill.

As such, Carroll advocates for short-term, high-risk investments with a long-term mindset. His four rules are intended to help incarcerated individuals develop long-term habits to help them get out of debt and build financial stability for their new lives. In addition, he advises incarcerated people to learn as much as they can. His journey started by amassing financial information through reading, proving that knowledge is power.

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