By Kara I. Stevens
You did everything that you were supposed to do. College degree. Good job. Benefits. Yet it is still difficult for you to get a handle on your finances. Lately, you might have found yourself asking, “What is at the root my money problems?” and “What can solve them?” Luckily, the answer to both questions is “You!”
The impulse buys, lack of saving, frequent trips to the ATM, unwise loans, late payments, postponed meetings with your financial advisor, and other financial mishaps can directly be attributed to your underlying and subconscious values, understanding, and beliefs about money. The good news is that you can redefine your money mindset through these good old-fashioned soul-searching guidelines and wealth accumulation tips.
1. Figure out why you spend. The survival of a capitalist economy relies on high levels of consumption. Big business relies on the media to assist in achieving this end. Newspapers, magazines, television, radio bombard consumers with images of products, services, and goods in an effort to convince them that they would be happier, more interesting, smarter, and sexier once they purchase, invest, and consume. Essentially, the media attempt to reprogram the average consumer to believe that material items will make them complete and at peace.
So before you go on your next shopping spree, here are some questions to ask yourself about your sense of worth as it related to the acquisition of material items:
1. Am I just as good as (person’s name) because he/she can (or seems) like she/he can afford (material item)
2. Do I shop because I think things (clothes/electronics/music) will make the people that I want to attract like me more?
3. Do I feel empty when I can’t buy something new or expensive?
4. Does buying expensive things make me feel better than others that can’t afford to buy those things?
2. Make it a group effort. Tell your closest friends about your financial recovery plans and get them involved. You are probably not the only one going through this transition and the support of like-minded people will optimize your chances of successfully attaining your goals.
3. Live at home for as long as you can. Are you eager to move out to show (or convince) your friends that you have made it by getting your own place? Instead of paying rent or splitting it in thirds with roommates, stay at home until you have enough saved to afford to purchase your own residence. Those eager to move out without a clear financial plan, often end up moving back home.
This concept is not new to the black community. It is part of our history. Throughout the Caribbean and the Americas, newly-freed enslaved Africans formed communities, collectives, and extended living kinships as a way to pool resources, reduce expenses, share advice, and protect one another from external threats. This is a timeless system and approach.
4. Rethink the big wedding celebration for your 5th anniversary, not your first. This is not to say that being newly married is not something to celebrate, because it is. However, what is greater than being happily married for one year is being married for five years and even better, 10 or 20 years. Too many young couples go into debt preparing themselves for one day and do not plan for the everyday financial trials of martial partnership. At least with this approach, there is something to look forward to every 5 years and you’ll be more in a financial position to pay for it.
5. Prioritize your debt. Open up the bills and get a reality check. See how much you really owe. It may seem overwhelming, but this is the first and most important step in getting you toward financial freedom.
After that, start paying. The two most popular strategies for tackling debt are the “high-interest” approach and the “smallest balance” approach. One is no better than the other. Use whichever makes you feel as if you are making the most progress toward your $0-balance dream. With the former, you pay your bills with the highest interest first. With the latter, you pay the bills with the smallest balance first. Some prefer to pay off the highest balance first to get the most financially draining bill out of the way. Others chose to pay with the “smallest balance” approach because there is an immediate sense of accomplishment when one bill is completely accounted for.
6. Figure out how much you are spending and create a monthly saving plan. There is no way to get around it. Without a financial blueprint, that is, your financial plan, you will make little headway in securing your financial freedom. A basic budget begins with dividing your expenses into two broad categories: fixed expenditure (i.e. housing, transportation, food, insurance, tuition) and variable expenditure (i.e. standing nail/salon appointments, gym memberships, entertainment,). Determine which variable expenditures can be eliminated either temporarily or permanently until you have made some headway with paying off your outstanding debt.
7. Create a FFF (Financial Freedom Fund) bucket. It is your choice. It could be an old vase, an old wastepaper basket, or a mini-trash can. Label it “My Financial Freedom Fund” Decorate it. Start by throwing all of your loose change in there at the end of each day. If you live in a big house, have a few these FFFs around high-traffic areas. (kitchens, bedrooms). When necessary, combine all of the money into the central FFF. After it has reached its capacity, redeem your coins for cash. You may not think so, but those pennies add up. This extra money could be used to pay off some debt or money that could be airmarked for a stock, bond, or mutual fund purchase.
8. Get a hustle (or maybe even two or three). Use your creativity to increase your income. If you are good at organizing, place an ad to clean-out garages, run errands, and organize closets and yard sales throughout the neighborhood. If you have a computer and can type pretty quickly, solicit editing/typing/revising gigs. Clean out your closets and put those items up for sale at a garage sale, E-bay, or on consignment at a local second-hand store. Good with pets and plants? Walk and water them for a fee!
9. Go shopping in your closets before you make your way to the mall. If you have a problem with shopping and are thinking that you need a new black pair of slacks or a 2-inch pump, check your closets. You’ve probably bought them. (maybe even twice.) If not, check in your best friend’s closet.
10. Pick up a book and empower yourself about money (or borrow it from the library). Read and internalize straightforward, practical advice from African-American personal finance experts like Michele Singletary, Lynette Khalfani, and Glenda Bridgforth. These women are present-day pioneers in counseling and educating the black community about their financial hygiene.
By Kara I. Stevens