Nyesha Burton is an Accredited Financial Counselor® (AFC®) working for the Department of the Army. She provides financial counseling and financial education to military families abroad in Germany. Nyesha thoroughly enjoys helping her clients gain a solid financial foundation, preparing them to make educated, sound decisions individually and collectively.
AFCPE: What inspired you to enter this field?
Nyesha: This is a huge question and I have a pretty huge answer. I can remember a time in my life where my financial behavior was digging me deeper and deeper into debt. At the time I didn’t recognize the effects that this would have over my life so, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to it. You can interpret this to miseducation or no financial literacy education at all. I don’t remember taking a financial preparation class in high school, nor in college. I also had no idea what it meant to have a money management plan (“budget”), all I knew is that I needed to pay for school and that I was going to do it with the resources that were available to me at the time. Unfortunately, those resources were student loans and credit cards.
By the end of a 4.5-year journey through undergraduate and 2 years of graduate school, I had accumulated almost $20K in credit card debt and $60K in student loan debt. It wasn’t until 2008 that I learned some basic principles of money management and debt elimination through a Financial Peace program at the church I was attending. Although I learned all of the principles and foundations of financial education through this class, there still wasn’t a behavior change. I continued the same spending and saving habits, digging myself more and more into debt.
In 2009, my husband and I got married and let’s just say, the whole thing about there being a “Spender” and a “Saver” was a reality in our relationship, and I bet you can also guess who was the Spender. My husband and I have always been open about our finances, so, it was no surprise to him that I had a lot of debt. Through his diligence and my feet dragging, we managed to get out of all of that debt in a little over 2.5 years. This was LIBERATING and rewarding! There was a change in me, FINALLY, and that’s when the fire started. I knew if we could do it on a reduced salary and income, we could share this with others. This started my journey to wanting to help others in their own financial journey.
AFCPE: As a graduate of the FINRA Foundation Military Spouse Fellowship program, how has the AFC®certification and the Fellowship supported you in your career?
Nyesha: The FINRA Foundation Military Spouse Fellowship program has been such a huge blessing and encouragement to me and, from what I can tell, for other spouses as well. I have been able to take the principles I learned through the AFC certification program and help so many military families, which is priceless. I have been able to grow as a financial counselor through all of the connections and educational resources offered through AFCPE, and I am forever grateful for the opportunity.
AFCPE: Amazing! Last year you participated in the Military Saves* campaign. For those who are unfamiliar with this campaign, would you tell us what it is and how those in the AFCPE community can get involved?
Nyesha: I believe the Military Saves Campaign is such a great gem that needs a lot more attention. For those who are unfamiliar with Military Saves, it is a campaign that happens annually in many military communities, and it is used to encourage and educate our communities on the importance of saving, reducing debt, and investing for building wealth. Find your local military community and get the financial literature out there! It can be as simple as having an outreach table. It doesn’t take much, but it does take intentionality.
AFCPE: February is African American History Month. Can you provide insight into your experience as an African American woman in the field of financial counseling?
Nyesha: Oh my, such a great question. I come from a normal, low to middle-class African American family from the small town, Bennettsville, SC. My values and experiences were shaped by what I learned at home, just like any other person. In this profession, especially in the beginning, I felt a sense of intimidation being a woman, but not just a woman, an African American woman where my primary job is to educate military service members on their personal finances.
When I started out, I was working with transitioning service members, and I remember having to give financial literacy classes to high ranking, very educated people. I remember thinking, “who am I?”, “what are they thinking?”, “they have way more money than me, maybe”. I’ll never forget this couple, a white COL (Colonel) and Lt COL, who were in the class where I was the SME (Subject Matter Expert). They had many years on me in age, and I’m sure in finances as well. However, by the end of the class, they stood up and gave me a standing ovation. They were so helpful during the entire class, and this really encouraged me.
I still get a little intimidated from time to time, but I have to remember that we all come from different backgrounds and experiences and if I can empathize with my clients then we can gain a relationship. It doesn’t matter if I am an African American woman at that point, our relationship and their goal is what really matters.
AFCPE: Amazing story! Lastly, what are some ways that the AFCPE community could celebrate and recognize Black History Month?
Nyesha: Get out into your community! If people can see that you care enough to approach them and share with them any kind of information, you gain a sense of trust and they feel a sense of importance.
Nyesha Answers the Friday 5
- My Why: My Why is People, changing lives through personal finances is REAL!
- My Favorite Quote: The best and probably the most popular quote from Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
- My Hero: I have many people in my life that have encouraged me and pushed me to get it done, if I had to choose one, I would choose my husband. It’s sort of strange, but he is the one that inspired me to take this journey. He challenges me to be better and holds me accountable although, I still give him a hard time.
- My Favorite Personal Finance Resource: I love podcasts. Some of my favorites:
- For Education: 1. Money, Riches, and Wealth
- For Insight: His and Her Money and The Clark Howard Show.
I also recommend using free resources for your clients, like: CFPB, FTC, and annualcreditreport.com. If you want to educate yourself, MFLN offers so many free resources.
- My Best Advice:
- For someone starting the journey to financial well-being:
- Don’t give up, you will have challenges, roadblocks, and people that don’t want to see you succeed. Stay on target and GET IT DONE! If you get off course, you’re not the only one. Don’t beat yourself up, get back on course.
- For a new professional entering the field:
- Take your time and learn your client.
- Empathize with them.
- Ask questions, get to know who your clients are but even more importantly, know your own values and don’t let those interfere with your client’s values.
- Lastly, don’t think you have all the right answers because you don’t. Learn from your colleagues, get connected, and stay educated.
- For Women of Color with aspirations of becoming a financial counselor:
- Just Do IT! There’s about 10% of African Americans that are in the field of personal finances, so not only are you needed, you have the opportunity to change generations.
- For someone starting the journey to financial well-being:
You can follow Nyesha at:
*AFCPE is participating in this year’s America Saves/Military Saves Campaign (February 25 – March 2, 2019)! Learn how you can participate and take the pledge at https://militarysaves.org/for-savers/savings-tools-and-resources/take-the-pledge