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Is Your Relationship With Money Toxic? Here Are 6 Keys To Shift And Prosper

Kara Stevens of the Frugal Feminista shares ways to renew your mind and free yourself.

Finance

When Kara Stevens started Frugal Feminista, she was on a mission to offer something she didn't see enough of as a young Black woman looking to become debt-free. She'd taken her personal finance matters into her own hands, turning to library books and other free resources to get out of $65,000 in debt. "During that process, I'd found books—some written by Black women, some by white men—and they were all helpful, but I noticed that there was a dearth of literature really speaking to what Black women in their 20s and 30s were facing. I couldn't relate," she recalls.


"I began researching and implementing some of the things I learned. I wanted to broaden the discussion around what it meant to be a Black woman who is out of college, educated, looking for love, wanting to travel, and wanting to have it all, and how money plays a role in that."

Courtesy of Kara Stevens

After getting out of debt, Kara, an educator by trade, eventually moved up the ladder into administration, putting her in the club of six-figure earners. However, she found that she had some further growing to do when it came to how she approached managing her money. "I was still having a lot of anxiety around money despite being, on paper, more well-off than, say, 90 percent of average Americans. What that led to was a deeper understanding of the lessons I learned around money and self-worth in terms of asking and receiving," she says.

"[It was about] understanding the energy of being confident and assertive in a way that allows you to expect the possibilities and expect things to happen in your favor. Money is one of the values, ways, and measures of getting what you want whether it be a salary increase, starting a business or anything related to achieving something in that arena."

Below are six keys Kara found, through her own journey, in resetting her mentality about money in order to thrive:

1. Decide what you really want out of life and how money fits into achieving your goals. 

It's important to explore self-reflection that will lead to decisions about your short-term and long-term goals related to what your best life looks like and how to create and sustain it. "What do you want to do with money?" Kara adds. "Do you want to travel with money? Do you want to start a business? Reflect on what your beliefs are about children, businesses, or travel, and see if they align with what you're trying to do with your money. If there's a disconnect, you're going to have a lot of difficulty in either finding the money or keeping the money in relation to achieving your goals."

2. Get to know your deep-set beliefs about money and their origins.

"Oftentimes, they're largely influenced by what your parents beliefs are," Kara explains. "In my experience, I had a lot of emotional hurdles to overcome when it came to dealing with money because growing up, I was taught that you shouldn't take risks with life, money, love—with anything."

"Even though I was able to technically get out of student loan debt, I still had this fear of being able to have a balanced approach to investing or a balanced approach to even giving myself the things I wanted."

Growing up, Kara saw a money management focus that was solely about basic needs. "Anything else was considered unnecessary. That made me a very measured and withholding person emotionally and financially, and that eventually led to having to learn more about myself in therapy."

Once she was able to pinpoint beliefs she'd carried from her childhood, she was able to form a renewed relationship with money and nurture a new mindset. "I was able to give and receive, take risks, and make my needs an important part of how I make decisions instead of looking at deprivation, hoarding, financial paranoia, and scarcity."

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3. Pinpoint how those beliefs inform the way you currently view money and how that perception affects achieving your goals.

Kara urges women to create a "family financial tree" exploring childhood memories related to money that they still hold on to in adulthood. "I grew up thinking, for example, that due to my mom's heartbreak with my dad, men are never to be trusted with money. That was a given," Kara says.

"But you have to look at that belief and analyze the validity or the universality of it to determine how useful that message is in serving you in your life goals. I know that ultimately I want to be happily married, so I had to rethink that message to create one that's more affirming, rational, and abundant."

"Not all men can be trusted with money, but the man I choose, I will trust because I trust myself to make good decisions. So, think about how you can flip that negative narrative and rewrite it to make it affirming and thoughtful and align with your goals."

4. Create a budget that incorporates your values and puts a focus on progress versus perfection.

"Having a budget that doesn't allow for fun or pleasure is not a budget you can stick to," Kara says. "Putting the pleasure element and values element in a budget is a key part to enjoying your money management and to thriving with your money."

Kara remembers a time when she was first getting out of debt and how the process was much more sustainable when she gave herself grace throughout the journey. "Sometimes you trip and fall and miss a payment or overspend, but don't take it personally. If you continue to make progress in the general right direction, you'll be OK, and you'll eventually meet your goal."

She incorporated a debt payoff strategy that allowed her to tackle each one in a particular order, gaining momentum by getting rid of them one by one. "I felt good when I was able to reduce the number of debts I had. Eliminating them made me feel good that I was actually making progress."

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5. Shift your approach to budgeting in a way that puts faith first.

"There's a place for living within your means, but the rationale behind it [is important]," Kara says. "You have to have that faith-based approach to handling money. Check in with yourself on whether the reason you're doing something is based on some type of fear perspective or more of an abundance or faith-based perspective. You have to tell yourself, 'I believe that what I'm offering is worth it,' or 'I believe that what I'm buying for myself is going to add value to my life so I'm going to do it without apology, shame or guilt.'"

6. Figure out a monthly flow for managing your funds.

"In addition to having a budget, knowing the flow of your money every month is important," Kara says. "I use a financial calendar. Sometimes you can feel that, by the end of the month, there's more month than money, and it's not necessarily that we don't have the money. It's about how we space out our spending and our savings to meet our various financial goals."

With a financial or budget calendar, you can track payment amounts and dates and estimate how much money flows in and out of your accounts on a monthly basis based on your money goals and lifestyle. You can do this the old-school pen-and-paper way, via an online spreadsheet or through handy apps that are free or downloadable for a fee.

Taking deliberate steps toward shifting how you think about money and its management can be totally life-changing and make reaching your dream life that much more believable and obtainable.

Featured image by Getty Images

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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