As a trailblazer in personal finance, Naseema McElroy has dedicated her career to helping others break the cycle of living paycheck-to-paycheck and to building greater wealth – without living in deprivation.
Yet along the way, she’s felt the struggle, and learned a lot about how to rise above. With such an inspiring story of her own, we wanted to sit down with her and get her insights into the role that race and gender have played in her financial life, as well as her advice for overcoming poverty and finding trustworthy financial products.
Here’s what Naseema had to say...
Historically, the average black family has a fraction of the net worth of white families, stemming from institutionalized racism that dates back to slavery. Many families, mine included, aren’t in the financial position to help with paying for college, weddings, home down payments or to leave inheritances.
Without any financial support and without having much financial knowledge, I just did what I was told to do to be successful in life. It was stressed that I get into the best college by any means necessary, which would lead to a lucrative career. That for me meant taking out students loans, so by the time I finished school in 2012 I owed almost $200,000.
In 2015 when I set off on my journey to pay off my debt, I saw I was not alone. So many of my friends, who were also higher earning, professional black women were facing similar levels of debt. Oftentimes, we are the first in our families to attain higher levels of education and land those six-figure plus jobs. Going through school and pursuing our career paths we thought we were doing everything right.
When the dust settled, I realized that in the pursuit of my dreams and what the norms of society told me I should have, I was broke. Though this is common throughout the country, this is especially impactful in the black community because of the wealth gap I mentioned earlier.
I feel like it’s a great time to be a woman. Women in higher education are equal or surpass that of men. At the same time, being a woman has its own unique set of challenges.
Being a single mom (in the past), I have had to spend a significant portion of my income on childcare and I have lost earnings and opportunities to invest from being out of the job market during my delivery and recovery periods.
Start by understanding that building wealth isn’t hard. There are very simple steps to follow. What’s hard is coming to the understanding that being wealthy is possible, for you.
Start by finding ways to invest early and often. If you have debt, know that paying off debt is the best way to get immediate returns.
The key is to surround yourself with people who you aspire to be or are on the same path. Expand your knowledge, read personal finance books, listen to podcasts, and become a member of an online community. Be ok with getting uncomfortable and doing things differently than what you are used to. Stop looking for “get rich quick” schemes. It will take some time, so get started as soon as possible.
Credit unions are great places as they have a more personal touch. They have programs to help establish solid financial foundations. Being unbanked comes with a lot of extra fees and inconveniences.
Turn to people who you trust. This is where online communities come in handy. Ask questions, hear other people’s experiences. Make an informed decision. Do your own research. Ultimately, you have to do what’s right for you.
We need to continue to educate people that it exists and what we can do to protect ourselves against it. We have to stop starting over. We need to focus on ways to build generational wealth.
There need to be more people of color in the personal finance space. It’s our obligation to change the institution that has systematically held us down, even if that means creating our own.
Be patient with yourself. Changing deeply ingrained money habits takes time. Know that it is possible and focus on what financial freedom can do for you. The ability to get to do things versus having to do things is priceless.
For more info on Naseema and Financially Intentional, please visit: www.financiallyintentional.com
**Please note - we have a paid marketing relationship with Naseema.