How To Start A Financial Wellness Journey When You're Completely Broke
Career & Money

How To Start A Financial Wellness Journey When You're Completely Broke

Being broke can be subjective because it means different things to different people. I had a coworker who said she felt "broke" when she only had $2,000 in all three of her checking accounts. Another considered having a negative account balance as "broke" after using overdraft fees to keep spending even when her account balances were low. Some might think "broke" is living off of credit cards after their cash has depleted. Others might have thousands of dollars in their accounts but not enough to cover their everyday bills with a bit left over for a rainy day.

No matter what your "broke" definition is, it's never a good thing, and with so much talk about financial fitness, recessions, and unemployment, how can you focus on better days when you're barely making ends meet, you're living check to check, or you're struggling with debt? Here are a few helpful tips that I lean on, especially when my pockets are screaming, "Chile, we're tired!"

1. Take a deep breath and release the shame.

High debt levels have been linked with depression and anxiety, and oftentimes, shame leads to avoidance. Find a bit of comfort in knowing that you aren't the only one struggling financially. (In fact, 35% of Americans have recently reported that they're in the "most debt of their lives," 61% reported they're living check to check, and Black women hold a disproportionate piece of the trillions of dollars in student loan debt).

Sis, we all deal with financial difficulties, so it's not something to be ashamed of. Find verbal ways to affirm yourself and boost your self-esteem, or talk to someone about how you're feeling. (There are free resources like the NAMI Helpline.)
Also, there are many reasons you could be "broke" that are simply beyond your control and aren't really a matter of fault on your part. It could have been a financial mistake, a lawsuit, a family cycle of poverty, an illness, a sudden loss of employment, an abusive relationship, or a natural disaster.

Some of these things take years to recover from financially, and you might have periods of being "broke" as you're trying to get back on your feet. And let's not forget, institutional and systemic issues of racism and sexism financially impact Black women in ways that are vastly disproportionate, so keep this in mind whenever you feel thoughts of regret and shame overpowering those of grace, problem-solving, and positivity.

2. Face the fears and ugly truths and make budgeting your friend.

Early in my budget journey, I hated the idea of it. I experienced childhood trauma related to frugality and limits, so, as an adult, I'd overspend simply because I hated feeling limited on what I could buy, especially food. I hated the thought of having a cap on anything related to the money I'd worked hard to earn. I'd buy on impulse, spend money eating out a lot, and prioritize entertainment and pleasure spending.

In my case, it wasn't about being neglected or deprived as a child, but I just loved food and freedom and hated when we only could go to restaurants on special occasions or how I'd always have to share food with five or more people. I was always privy to great meals, family vacations, and other amazing activities, and my middle-class family was always super-supportive, giving, and kind, but I grew a chip on my shoulder related to boundaries.

I learned in adulthood that budgeting isn't about deprivation, that I'd felt like nothing was enough as a child because I sought love through material things and grand gestures of money being spent, and that boundaries are a healthy aspect of maturity.

I also learned that budgeting could help me reach my lifestyle goals because, again, I love food, enjoying a great 5-star restaurant or a five-course dining experience. Even when you're "broke," you can still create a budget because the process includes realistically noting your everyday expenses, being super-aware of your actual take-home income, looking through your bills and calling creditors to negotiate or set up plans, acknowledging your splurge habits, and setting actual, realistic financial goals. I sat down once when I was flat broke, upset about debt that really wasn't as bad as I thought, and the process to at least get a handle on it actually turned out to be more than doable.

I also found out in my efforts to budget even while broke that I could actually get rid of unnecessary expenses and shift that money to things that matter to me, like security through savings, money for self-care, and a travel fund.

When you sit down and start the process of budgeting, it's empowering and scary at the same time, but at least you can finally breathe a sigh of relief by knowing the full picture of the truth in your financial situation and get the assistance you need in order to create a plan for financial wellness.

3. Start small and shift your mentality from "not enough" to "I can better manage what I have for now."

I've always been a go-big or go-home type of person who used to think in extremes. For example, if I couldn't buy a whole living room furniture set in full, with cash, I wasn't buying anything. Or if I only had $50, I couldn't save because it wasn't $100 or $1,000, so why not just spend the whole $50? Yep, that was me.

My anxiety over debt and always feeling like I didn't have enough subsided when I started to shift my thinking about what actually constitutes "small" or "not enough." So, for example, even if I only had $2 to my name, I could put 50 cents into my savings account instead of just spending the $2 on a burger because I'm emotionally eating due to shame. I could just buy the sofa and save up for the rest to purchase gradually over time.

My Granny has always earned less than $40,000 per year (and even less back in the '50s, '60s, and '70s) and leveraged that to keep ownership of her home, pay off her credit cards, and help out generations of family members simply because she never thought what she was earning was "too little" and was big on saving something. "Even if it's 5 cents, I saved it! You have to work with what you got and save your money! Try not to spend your last dime!" she'd always tell me.

If you don't make enough to meet savings account minimums, keep a jar of coins or envelopes with dollars at home. Use an old container---anything. It's the practice, not the amount, that matters. And that little bit of change can add up to a lot or at least provide a bit of a cushion for later. I now apply that to almost everything, whether I'm down to my last $2 or $2,000. When I see my savings account, I'm empowered to continue to challenge myself to always keep something in there, no matter how "small" the routine deposits might be.

3. Get an accountability partner.

Whether that's a financially savvy friend, partner, YouTube influencer, family member, or Facebook group, find platforms and people that will keep you in check, especially in those tough moments of doubt, fear, and anxiety. Go grocery shopping with them, ask their opinion before you make a purchase, share meals with them, and be sure it's someone (or something) who's really going to hold you accountable in a way that's a fit for your personality, your lifestyle, your financial goals, and their relationship with you.

(For example, if you're still living check to check and are struggling with unhealthy thoughts of comparison, it might not be a good idea to follow those hustle IG pages where everyone is balling out of control, talking about being millionaires all the time and showcasing their material blessings. Hey, if that pushes you to do better, cool, but if you find yourself feeling more insecure than motivated, unfollow and block, sis.)

Another great way to focus on accountability is to start a budgeting or a savings challenge (or join one via a Facebook group or IG page) so you can get the moral support and motivation you need to really take your financial wellness journey seriously.

If none of those are a fit for you, try your local credit union or the bank you have accounts with. Oftentimes, they have professionals you can talk to and who can look through your statements to figure out budgeting, money drains, and gaps.

And if your spending is deeply connected to childhood or other trauma, try counseling. I didn't get to the root of why I spent the way I did, why I had times when I was making good money but still living check to check, and why I would procrastinate and fear debt so much that I'd lose sleep at night until I talked to someone.

4. Figure out what drives your spending habits and get to the core of why you're always broke.

I literally had to use my last dime in order to invest in at least a few sessions with a therapist because I felt like I had nothing more to lose at that point. My spending habits were affecting my mental health because the shame had really taken over.

I'd see friends, family, and former classmates buying homes, expanding their families, and living great lives and always think, "Why am I so miserable and behind? I'm educated, get good jobs, and some of those people make less than me! Is my life going to be like this forever? I'll never get to that high-rise condo, be able to save for retirement, or be in a marriage where we're living great! I'll always be living check to check and scraping at the end of the month just to get groceries!"

I had to get real about my mental health and my family history to get to the root of my spending habits, prideful ways, and scarcity mentality. With the help of a professional and a bit of my own research, I learned how to decatastrophize my thoughts and self-regulate when I wanted to spend based on a negative emotional trigger. I also had to come to terms with immature and reckless behavior and habits related to procrastination, ego, and laziness.

Once I got through that, I realized I'd had several resources at my fingertips (i.e., housing lotteries, public assistance programs, family help, on-the-job advocates, and my own amazing brain) that I'd been neglecting to tap into and that I really was throwing away money and opportunities due to poor planning and low self-esteem. It took a while, and it's not an easy journey, but once you take those steps to get to the core of your why and how, you're better able to see clearly to focus on new habits and sticking to a financial wellness plan that works for you.

5. Brainstorm ways to make extra cash.

I left this one for last because if your money mindset is not healthy or balanced, it doesn't matter how much money you have. Toxic habits are the same whether you have $1 or $1 million, and you can still end up broke even after making lots of money.

That being said, I'm empowered by ideas and writing down solutions, especially as a combat for shame and fear. Solutions allow you to deal with reality, not made-up scenarios or emotions that will not help you get out of certain cycles (i.e., shame or indifference.) If you're broke due to your income and it never seems to be enough, even for your basic necessities of life (i.e., a roof over your head, food, clothing, transportation), it's time to look into how much money you're earning and find ways to earn more.

This doesn't mean you have to take on a third or fourth job (though, in some cases, it might). I'm big on working smarter, not harder, so if there's a side hustle you can do that comes easy to you, and there's a built-in market via your network or professional contacts to do it, do it.

(That's how I started my journey of self-employment. Before I took the leap, I did side gigs in writing, social media management, and editing via referrals from the network I already had as an editor and journalist.) Think strategically about your lifestyle, your work ethic, your current bills, and your mental health in order to figure out a way to make extra cash that won't make your situation even worse.

Go for that promotion, or apply for a new job. Think radically positive and just go for it. When you're broke, the only other way to go is up. Money is fluid---it can be lost and gained like the tide--but it's up to you to empower yourself, face your fears, get to know your triggers and lifestyle goals, and take action so that you can truly start living and stop just surviving day to day. You deserve it, sis. It's your time.

Let’s make things inbox official! Sign up for the xoNecole newsletter for daily love, wellness, career, and exclusive content delivered straight to your inbox.

Featured image via Getty Images

​Tour Interior Designer Annisa LiMara's Organic Modern Meets Midcentury Modern ATL Abode

In xoNecole's series Dope Abodes, we tour the living spaces of millennial women, where they dwell, how they live, and the things they choose to adorn and share their spaces with.

Annisa LiMara has called this space her home for two years. Her Atlanta sanctuary, which she aimed to give the look and feel of something you'd see in the glossy pages of Architectural Digest, embodies her vision of "stunning, yet functional and cozy."

"My home is a reflection of my brand, The Creative Peach Studios, and I am the 'Creative Peach,'" Annisa explains. "It was so easy to reflect who I am and my personal story in my space. When you walk into my home, you know that it is Annisa’s home. I’m so proud of that. So grateful."

Beyoncé at 2024 Grammys

If you followed Beyoncé’s career, then you know how hair has played an important role in her journey. Her mom, Ms. Tina Knowles, owned a hair salon when the multi-Grammy award-winning artist was growing up, and she has shared on several occasions how it impacted her life. We’ve also witnessed her many hair transformations throughout her career, from braids to her signature long, straight honey blonde tresses. However, it was her pixie cut in 2013 that had everyone talking.