Introducing Keena Atkinson and Britney Sinclair
by Jasmine Zapata, MD
Welcome! BGGM is a social network of women of color working to reach financial freedom and inspire each other along the way! Last week I had the honor of introducing you all to the two newest members of the BGGM Crew: Keena Atkinson and Britney Sinclair! They are two amazing young women with amazing stories who are passionate about achieving personal financial freedom and helping others do the same. They will be serving as the Madison Chapter co-presidents and will be doing tremendous things to help further BGGM’s mission not only through social media but through live events as well. Check out the second half of our interview below!
JZ: What is one of the biggest personal finance challenges you all have personally faced and how did you or are you overcoming it?
BS: To actually not be afraid to pay a bill. I have been intimidated at times when a bill comes in the mail. More than one I will get overwhelmed. I will push it off and then bills will pile up. I wouldn’t say I’ve fully overcome this problem but I have admitted to this problem and have found solutions. One solution I found worked, make a reminder note or post mail on a highly visible place in my home. Another one, calendar reminders. Or of course an accountability partner.
KA: I would say that the biggest financial challenge I personally faced was when I decided to start going to payday loan stores. It was the most financially irresponsible decision I have ever made, but of course it made sense to me at the time. Here is the story: Shortly before my son’s father went to prison, I was hired on as a permanent employee to a great company. I went from making $12/hr to $33,000/year on salary. I was 19 years old at the time with a high school diploma. Once I let my caseworker know at the Aberg government assistance office, they quickly informed me that I was above the income limit for food stamps, and childcare assistance. Also, since my job offered health insurance at 80% coverage, I was not eligible for Badgercare either. So I went from paying $300/ month for childcare to $800. Every month I was responsible for $800 daycare, $900 rent, $350 grocery, and $400 health insurance each month, all by myself not including other necessary expenses such as travel, electricity, or heat. The last conversation I had with my son’s dad before he went to prison was “Will you help me with daycare?” On Friday that week, I got a phone call stating that he was in prison in Illinois. My income was less than my monthly bills. I went to my boss and asked for a demotion, because having this good paying job became more of a burden than a blessing financially. It was actually worse than having no job. My boss did not demote me. Soon I started going to the payday loan stores. First PLS, then a few weeks later, I needed money to pay PLS, because I used the money from PLS to pay rent. So I went to Check Into Cash, and took out another high interest loan and then a few weeks later I didn’t have enough to pay both places plus bills so I went to then EZ money, and eventually the story continues with Advance America, Check n Go, The Cash Store etc. until I realized how deep this problem had become for me. I realized that I would never be able to pay them all back because the interest was so high at 300% – 500%. I had paid back the original amount 2 or 3 times, but it always went to interest, so I was never getting out of the hole I was in. Then my job announced that they were relocating to St. Louis. I could either stay or go. I chose to stay. My job ended early February in 2009. With no job, the payday loans weren’t an option anymore and I defaulted on all the payments, then the harassing collection phone calls began. My phone would ring from 8 am to 8 pm all day every day. I was also in the process of losing my apartment since I could no longer afford to pay my rent. I found a lawyer and started the process for bankruptcy, I ended up homeless from March – July 2009. In July, I started doing hair again and found an apartment with a landlord who understood that I had made some mistakes and gave me a chance. That was when things finally started to turn around for me.
In hindsight, I realize that payday loans were a bad decision, and also that the system is flawed. There is not a program in place to bridge the gap when you make too much for assistance but made more money when you were on it. I thought I was doing everything right – working full time, taking care of my son, figuring out how to be a single mom, but I was swimming upstream against a current. What the system wasn’t trying to hear was that I didn’t want a job, I wanted a career. Some of the flaws in the system can discourage economic advancement for families.
JZ: What tips or words of encouragement do you have for other women of color striving to reach financial freedom?
BS: Take care of your HOME first, then FUTURE and then YOU. Everything else will follow.
Make sure you take care of your home first. This is how you should think in terms of budgeting. Although you may be pleased for a moment when you bought your favorite dress, or got your hair done, if you don’t have a home or a place where you can find peace, you could lose your focus and sanity. Taking care of your home should be your main priority with bills. Then start breaking down other debt, investing in your future (stock/bonds/career/retirement). Then of course yourself, you must put in your budget somewhere “self care.” Whatever makes you happy make sure you take care of yourself before you think of anyone else. And yes, this also mean family.
As women of color, we are the protectors of our family, the source of strength. We must make sure we protect our peace before we are able to give to others. Make your passion your income. We have so many talented gifted women of color, and those gifts could also make you happy overall including giving you financial freedom. Just do what makes you happy, take care of what’s important and everything else will follow — new motto!
And don’t be afraid to lose what you HAVE to get what you NEED. There’s a difference between WANTS and NEEDS. You have to be willing to give up some things you’re accustomed to to get what you need.
KA: Always set and have goals even if you don’t know how you will get there. It sounds so simple but it is so real. I knew that if I ever took a job again for more than $12/hr, it would have to leap me over that income gap where you’re making too much for assistance, but not enough to survive. A few years ago, I planned for how much money I would need to change my job of doing hair. I came up with the salary I would require in order to take care of my kids by myself, pay the bills, save, live comfortably and still help people. Then on my birthday, I got the job offer with that magic number. It is amazing how working towards your goal works, even if you don’t know how you will get there!
JZ: Wow, yes that IS amazing! What are some of your personal financial goals for 2016? How do you plan to achieve them?
BS: 1) Create a retirement plan. 2) Pay off debt on least 3-4 accounts. 3) Start a “future savings” for kids. I currently bank at Summit Credit Union. I’ve used them several times in the past for budgeting every year after my taxes. This year, I would like to invest and plan and I want to take advantage of their other programs and classes. Also, being a leader in this meet-up will keep me accountable for my financial goals.
KA: I want to follow my budget this year, but I also want to track my spending trends in detail. Then next year, I want to look at those trends and work to beat them next year. I have a cute mini binder that I keep in the car with me so that I can detail my card and cash purchases, and store my receipts until I consolidate them at home at the end of the month. I also opened a secured credit card last summer, so I am excited to see the positive effects that it will have on my credit and homeownership possibilities as I continue to use it this year.
JZ: Great goals! I’m excited for you both! In closing, what things are you excited about for 2016? In particular, can you tell me a little more about the upcoming monthly money meet up plans?
BS: Other than being excited turning 30 this year, I have so many projects I am working on, including debuting my business launch (sometime this summer…). I also opened my home for mothers, friends and women of color to fellowship. I will be hosting events and gatherings more often this year. The goal for the monthly money meet ups is to learn more about investments, traveling on a budget, saving tips, food prepping and how we can manage our budget within our daily lives. I could break it down more but there is so much list. I’m excited!
KA: Yes! I am excited about how empowering it will be for so many women to take charge of their finances. I’m telling you, as a woman who has made a lot of mistakes and used to just pray that the card would work, I already feel more empowered when I am both spending and saving now. Using a budget is not as scary as I thought it would be. It is actually exciting! I’m no professional, I’m just a woman who is learning, and trying not to repeat her past mistakes. In the meet ups, we plan to cover so many areas in women’s lives on the topic of spending and saving. Our plan is to educate and make finances fun and smart! Throughout the year we will have speakers, coupons, worksheets, prizes, articles, testimonials, partners and more! I can’t wait.
JZ: Wow. This is all so exciting. So glad to have you all on board!! I can’t wait for all that 2016 has in store! Thanks for taking the time to chat with me today and I can’t wait to hear more from you all!
To learn more about Brown Girl Green Money or to stay connected regarding upcoming events, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.facebook.com/BrownGirlGreenMoney. Have a blessed day!