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I Cleared $35K Worth Of Debt While Making $12 An Hour

Finance

In 2009, I lost everything. My career, relationship and home. It's amazing how quickly unemployment can knock you down and change the entire trajectory of your life. I went from earning and saving good money to waking up on my 30th birthday living on my sister's couch.


My credit card debt ballooned to $35,000 and my 802 credit score plummeted into the 500's because I couldn't pay bills. Fast forward five years later and I've not only dug myself out of that hole, but I built a business on the way up. I'm currently a speaker, bestselling author, and financial educator running an internationally recognized brand, but before building a successful business I hit rock bottom.

Here are some money lessons I learned from the struggle:

Always Save for a Rainy Day El Niño

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There's no way to predict long-term unemployment, but you should always prepare for it with an emergency fund. I lived well below my means to save money before losing my job. Thankfully, I had some savings to live on.

My first "real" job at 21 was as a teacher's assistant. It only paid $12 per hour, so I lived with my parents to stack coins. I found a modest yet affordable rental in New Jersey with a roommate (my sister), that cost just $1100/month, $550 per person including utilities. As my income steadily increased, I kept the same standard of living and a strict bi-weekly budget. I used envelopes filled with cash to divide my pay into categories: bills, savings, entertainment and grooming.

I lived off one paycheck and saved the other.

By 25, I had $40,000 saved in cash.

Live Richer Lesson #1:

Nothing in life is guaranteed, so establishing good saving habits no matter how much you make is invaluable. Downgrade your life, if necessary. This could mean cutting cable, getting a roommate or keeping your gel manicure on for a few extra weeks.

How To Live This Lesson Now:

Begin to set aside a few dollars from each paycheck in a savings account. Don't have the discipline? Start with Digit. This free resource studies your financial moves and automatically transfers money from your bank account to your Digit Account. They will send you daily, fun texts with updates of your balances and transfers. You can choose to save more, pause savings or withdrawal your money via text as well. Your money is FDIC insured and they have a no-overdraft guarantee. Oh, and they do it for free!

Nothing Good Comes Easy

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Before joblessness, my savings game was on point, but my investment game was lacking. I made one crucial mistake that put me in a world of debt and made unemployment overwhelming. At 27, I asked a wealthy friend of mine to teach me how to invest and he pitched me a genius plan. We would buy high-end clothing in New York and ship it to Paris to sell in one of his stores.

My return was supposed to be $1,200 per week for two years. Yup, you read that right. I thought I was going to make $62,400 per year shipping clothes across the pond. I was so excited about making racks on racks that I applied for new credit cards and took out cash advances totaling $20,000.

We sent our first shipment to Paris then I never heard from him or received any money. It devastated me at the time, but I can appreciate the lesson. First, be careful who you trust. Second, if a plan sounds too good to be true, believe it. Last, hard work and passion are what will pay off tenfold, not a get rich quick scheme.

Live Richer Lesson #2:

There's no such thing as easy money. When my "friend" aka The Thief shared his get-rich-quick scheme with me, I should have ran for the hills. Looking back on it, it didn't make sense. Rarely in life do you make a ton of money without knowledge and work.

How To Live This Lesson Now:

If you're interested in investing, you first have to invest in knowledge. Two financial books to help you get started are: The Richest Man in Babylon by George Clason, Stock Market Investing Mini Lessons For Beginners: A starter guide for beginner investors by Mabel Nunez.

Odd Jobs Add Up

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Losing my job and the implications of bad investing had me down and out. At 30, I was directionless and living off the little savings I had left. I didn't know how to start over after losing so much. Back when I was a teacher, staff members took notice of my money management skills and looked to me as a financial resource.

Looking for something to keep me busy, I began volunteering at several nonprofits teaching financial education. I networked like my life depended on it and asked nonprofits to refer me to other organizations for paid opportunities. Since I couldn't find 9 to 5 work, I did a bunch of side hustles to make money. I took on one-on-one financial consultations, babysitting and tutoring.

Sidebar: Don't discount volunteering. I met my first clients for The Budgetnista by volunteering. By combining volunteering and sharing me in action on social media, I was able secure a new client each time I spoke and posted myself speaking online. In the beginning, 80% of my business came from the posts I shared on Facebook. So use your social media network to showcase your skills and increase your income.

Live Richer Lesson #3:

If there's no place for you in the workforce, make your own way. Use your experience and passions to offer a product or service that someone finds valuable. Hustle even if you have a full-time job. Multiple streams of income will lead to financial security.

How To Live This Lesson Now:

  • Use Your Degree. If you have the education, put it to use. You can charge more money for a service when you're an expert in a field. Think about how you can shape your education into an extra source of income.
  • Do What You Do For a Living. You can hit the ground running with your side hustle if you have work experience in the industry. There's no learning curve and you have a resume that proves you know what you're doing.
  • Activate Your Passion. Start charging for things you already do for free. You already have an established clientele who like your work and you can use them to spread the word.
  • Negotiate a Raise. Start to collect all of the amazing value you bring to your job. Put it together in a file. Make sure you monetize your value. Example: The decision you made to do _________ is saving the company $10,000/year.

Take Ownership of Your Situation

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At first, I didn't want to face my credit card debt from the bad investment even when I started making money again. I felt paying any more than the minimum payment was admission of guilt and I didn't want to take full responsibility.

Only after owning the mistake and forgiving myself was I able to start crushing the debt. I transferred my credit card debt to cards that offered introductory 0% interest rates, so the money I paid largely went to principal instead of interest. (Use Magnify Money to help you find the best balance transfer cards.) If I had continued to sit back without taking ownership, interest would have increased my debt exponentially.

Since I've been through the struggle, I understand how disheartening financial missteps can be. You feel destitute, desperate and hopeless, but there is a way out if you face the situation. Open the bills, pick up the phone for collectors and form a plan. Sure, it won't happen overnight, but you have the power to change your situation.

Live Richer Lesson #4:

Have you made financial mistakes in the past? Are you currently making financial mistakes? Will you probably make financial mistakes in the future? Yes?! Well, so did Will Smith, Rihanna, Suze Orman, and me!

Sometimes you are unable to move forward financially, not because you don't make enough money, not because you don't have the resources, and not because your situation is un-repairable. The truth is, you have yet to get over your financial mistakes if you want to move onto greener pastures (pun intended). Financial forgiveness is one of the first keys to becoming financially healthy.

How To Live This Lesson Now:

  1. Admit to Yourself and Take Ownership. Confess; say "I messed up when I __________". Feel free to substitute the word "messed" with your verb of choice.
  2. Identify the What and Why (Be Very Specific). Take a break from beating yourself up for a minute and clearly identify your mistake and why you made it.
  3. Tell Someone You Trust. OK, so this may be a tough for you, but tell a trusted confidant. Doing so will allow you to let go of the shame, begin to forgive yourself, and ultimately work on a solution.
  4. Focus on a Solution. So the truth is out, and it's time that you focus on what IS, verses on what ISN'T.
  5. Plan, Then Work the Plan. Once you've drafted your list of possible solutions, pick one and begin crafting a plan. Not sure how to start or what to do?

Using these four lessons, I now run a successful business, and no longer struggle financially.

Tiffany Aliche, better known as "The Budgetnista", is America's favorite financial educator and she's here to answer your money questions.

Featured image by Getty Images

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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