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The year is 2016. I live 900 miles away from my parents, year one in a PhD program that lied to me about money I planned to use to pay my rent, and I’m staring at a notice that says if I don’t have the money by the next day, I’ll be evicted. That was the worst time of my life both for my finances and mental health. Many times I considered checking myself into a psychiatric facility but didn’t have any insurance and feared either being turned away or leaving with a bill I couldn’t afford. I’d already been running from creditors, maxing out my credit cards, barely able to make the minimum payment just to turn around and use the available credit to pay my bills.
Fast forward to now. My credit cards are all under control and I have a comfortable savings account. I’ve lived in my current apartment for 2 years and have never been late paying my rent. One important reason to note for this is that my salary is significantly higher than it was back then. And, while that is important (because otherwise, I’d be on here playing in your face), my bills are also considerably higher. Also, my journey to where I am now financially started while I was still on food stamps, before I made enough money to support myself and buy a nice thing or two.
Let me say: I am not a money expert.
The anxiety I used to feel, caused by my finances, would send me into a harsh depressive episodes. However, I can tell you that the moment I was in control of where my money went, my anxiety levels decreased significantly. I learned a bit along the way. For many of us, financial issues are a trigger, which is not to understand given the oppressive nature of capitalism. Imagine being suicidal and not going to seek psychiatric help because you don’t have insurance. It’s unimaginable in many places …that aren’t the US.
Once I started to get stable (financially and mentally), I made sure that I’d always feel as prepared as possible for anything. This was the only way I could keep my anxiety under control. In more recent times, I’ve had surprise expenses come up that I calmly reached into a savings account for and that was the end of that.
When I left my last toxic work environment, I just had surgery and had no job offer. I started a part time retail job before I left but the money I made there could only fill my fridge, not pay my rent. Yet, I happily left with 2.5 months rent in my back pocket. Miraculously, I was offered a job I spent 3 months interviewing for, on my last day. However, that job wouldn’t start for 3 weeks. And, I wouldn’t get my first 1/2 paycheck for 3 more weeks. BUT, because of my newly developed habits, I was able to survive that time even though things were tight.
So, after dealing with financial ups and downs, here are my suggestions for things you can do to get in control of your finances:
Let’s Talk Savings
A lot of people have convinced themselves that they can’t save. I understand this because there’s a lot of toxic financial advice out there that’s steeped in shaming and elitism. Once again:
However, if you save a quarter, that’s a whole quarter saved. Who knows when you’re going to need one? I’ve been many a day short for something by a few cents and was able to reach into my coin jar and make up the difference. That’s reaping the benefits of saving right there!
What really needs to happen is the development of a habit, building a muscle, and creating personal systems to allow you to put money away and leave it there for a more useful moment. I remember when I made $600 biweekly in 2017 and would save anywhere from $15-$25 each check. I can’t say the savings account grew that much because if something came up I would need to dip in it. But the idea here is that I had it there to dip into in the first place. #winning
Here’s what I suggest
Don’t try to save in an account that’s attached to your regular checking account. I use Cap One 360 which is an online only banking system. Online accounts are known for having lower fees and higher interest rates. If you can overlook the need to walk into a bank and call your favorite teller by name, this is an option you might want to look into.
Have separate savings accounts for separate savings goals. I have a Vacation Fund (which, as you can imagine is looking mighty thick right about now), Emergency Fund, Car Savings, and Moving Fund. The moving fund will no longer be necessary after I move, so I plan to change it into a “Reserve” account to dip into when things aren’t exactly an emergency but I need extra cash. The emergency fund is what I used to hold me over when I resigned from my last job. When I first moved into my apartment I had a Furniture Fund so I wouldn’t have to keep using Affirm to be able to afford to furnish it.
Other banks with online savings account options for you to check out:
BUDGETING: Another One People Hide From
Baby listen. Having a budget is not something mysterious. You are literally just comparing how much money you have coming in against what your bills are. That’s it. The concept can only be scary if you don’t prioritize paying your bills, in which case I cannot help you. There’s also the thing of making less than what your expenses are and that’s a special case. But, budgeting can help you figure out what might need to go if you’re in that situation. I’m a faithful rider of public transportation. When I’m feeling hollywood or not in the mood, I uber. Prioritizing having a car is the thing that had to go for me. Also, I grew up in New York City where 9 times out of 10, driving was the worst option for getting you where you needed to go. So, there was my sacrifice.
Budgeting can help prevent the panic attack of a past due bill you forgot about paying, catching you with no money to pay it. Budgeting works double time for me because I am most efficient when there is a visual aid of something I’m responsible for doing.
To create my budget, I don’t do anything fancy. I’ve been creating them in Google Docs for a couple years now. I usually sit down and plan everything out a month at a time. I take my pay dates and arrange what bills I’m going to pay when by the dates the bills are due (for this reason, I don’t do autopay). Larger bills I split in half between two paychecks. Meaning, I put away half the the money for a bill on a pay period when it’s not due and then take the second half and pay on it the pay period that it is due. I could never imagine using one check to pay my rent all at once. There would be such an imbalance that it would be hard to have any money available for other necessities. That doesn’t work for my anxiety.
In case your paycheck isn’t the same every time
When I would worked retail I couldn’t budget in advance in the same way. Once the pay week was wrapping up and I knew the payroll processes was underway to generate my check, I used a paycheck calculator and created a budget according to how many hours I worked, making adjustments as necessary up until payday. I started budgeting during my time working retail in Atlanta because I had to come up with $700 for my half of rent and I made $9/hr, PT. Go figure.
The Fun Stuff (To Me): Couponing & Cashback
Get more bang for your buck by clipping coupons and getting cashback for purchases you normally make. Couponing is another concept that feels mysterious to people and watching extreme couponers doesn’t help. However, there’s basic coupon use that requires minimal effort on your part. I started couponing when I first got food stamps and never looked back. Many grocery stores have apps you can easily download that have a built in feature for clipping coupons just by tapping them to add to your account. Every time I go to Giant, I scan through the app to see if there are any good coupons. Sometimes they have things like “Save $5 when you spend $75”. You can also find savings at Safeway. Be sure to check if your local marker has an app you can download.
In addition to clipping coupons on groceries, cashback is my favorite thing. I always check Rakuten before I make an online purchase to see if I can get some coin back for spending. Sometimes that “Big Fact Check” payout comes in real handy as extra cash on hand when I’m low, or to cover small expenses that I don’t budget for like this blog 😅. Rakuten also gives you a rundown of available coupons at the stores on their site (they also have an app). BOOM, they’re doing the coupon clipping for you. Sign up and get $10 to start.
Educate Yourself about Money
There was a lot I didn’t know about the possibilities when I was hiding from creditors. I learned later, too late, that I would have been better off telling them about my significant loss of income. Then there’s the rookie credit mistakes I made in my teens that I shudder about to this day when assessing my finances. I also wish I’d known about online savings accounts sooner. Basically, there’s a lot we don’t know and it’ll pay off if we invest time into getting more familiar with how this all works.
Here are some of my favorite resources:
- BOOK: Girl, Get Your Credit Straight: A Sister’s Guide to Ditching Your Debt, Mending Your Credit, and Building a Strong Financial Future
- BOOK: Girl, Get Your Money Straight: A Sister’s Guide to Healing Your Bank Account and Funding Your Dreams in 7 Simple Steps
- PODCAST: Millennial Money
- INSTAGRAM: Black Girl Budget
Have Your Credit in Working Order
Getting approved for credit cards to be frivolous with is cute until you’ve done the most and now you’re being denied for that car you really wanted. Don’t ignore that your credit can (unfortunately) be a huge boulder between you and the things you want that require a look at your finances. Unfortunately, the number can tell a story about you that doesn’t really speak to who you are. My 512 credit score just 2 years ago didn’t come with an asterisk that said “she was ripped off by broken promises”.
I know many of us would rather pretend our credit scores didn’t exist (me included when I was in the 500s) but being in the know is so much better than not. I wouldn’t be able to set adequate financial goals without being able to have a full picture of where my financial health its. No way I would have been able to raise my score by over 150 points if I didn’t sit down with my credit reports and get to work.
This is one that’s talked about all the time with mixed reviews, but it’s honestly a user-friendly way to keep track of your score and be well informed about how finances work related to your credit. (And, Free) They’ve added some great features over the years including the ability to dispute incorrect information on your credit reports.
I was able to dispute incorrect reporting of a missed payment through the app. Pro-tip: Keep records of EVERYTHING related to your finances. A year after the payment was marked as paid, it was showing as a missed payment (which Credit Karma alerted me about). I went into my email and found proof that I had indeed made a payment and went back into the app to create the dispute. It was fixed within several weeks after I activated the dispute in the app.
If you don’t trust your Credit to a 3rd party, you can monitor your credit directly with the bureau. Check out Transunion’s option.
Bonus: Reach Out to Your People
If you find yourself in a less than favorable situation with your finances, let someone know. They may be able to point you to help or have their own expertise or story to share. Don’t let yourself mentally deteriorate about your finances on your own. People have taken their lives, taken other people’s lives, have ended up in all kids of compromising situations due to issues with finances. And that is not a shot at sex work. We also don’t do that here.
I’m not suggesting that you go around asking people in your circle for money, because that can be it’s own level of issues, but I’m saying don’t let shame or pride keep you from the problem solving wisdom that exists around you. In my case, i wasn’t until I talked to a peer in Atlanta that I found out I could get food stamps. I didn’t feel shame at the thought, I just had no idea.
I didn’t grow up with parents who ever needed public assistance, and ironically, that was a barrier for me in my time of need. BUT HONEY, I walked in the social services building bouncing when it came time for me to ask for what was due me. That turned into $164 a month less of a burden on my $9/hr. It was a game-changer for my finances and a life-saver. Literally. (This is also why everyone should mind their business about what people do with food stamps. GET THAT CRAB BOIL AND BE BLESSED)
Anywho, point is: Keep your community close.
This is not some fool-proof, 5-pt plan to guarantee that you don’t have another panic attack about money. What I’m pushing here is that you set yourself up for success and a experiences a little less mental stress about your finances . Not everything can be planned for but a little financial planning can relax your fears even just a little bit.
Keep yourself informed. Give yourself a shot. You got this.