Written By: Tess M. Jackson, AFC ® Candidate
The Black Girl’s Guide to Financial Freedom by Dr. Paris Woods is a rare read offering financial strategies specifically for African-American women. A first-generation Harvard graduate, Woods had a humble familial financial background. She, like most readers, learned financial lessons through trial and error. As a result, this book is a quest to educate black women on how to earn financial freedom. Every chapter ends with a summary and an actionable worksheet based on the knowledge learned. Although specifically written for a specific demographic, the information is pertinent for all readers.
Chapter 1: Credit
- We Are Drowning in Debt – Woods describes how from the age of 18 on we start drowning in debt. She compares current black debt to former slaves who became sharecroppers. Sharecroppers were shackled to their debt due to landowners overpricing land rentals and underpricing the wares sold. This created a debt that sharecroppers could never be free of much like credit card debt today.
- The Truth About Credit – Until the 1950s, everyone paid with cash for what they desired to purchase. During this time, credit cards were introduced to American society and people were able to buy now and pay later. Then, in the 1980s, the FICO score was created to quickly deduce a person’s creditworthiness.
- Preparing For Emergencies – Having an emergency fund is imperative to financial freedom. Many households are wiped out financially by an emergency such as a car repair or medical bill. Having an emergency fund facilitates financial freedom and decreases stress.
- Using Credit Cautiously – A good business rule is to never use over 30% of your credit card limit. It is best to use your credit record (I’m not sure what she means by record) for predictable monthly bills and to pay the balance off every month, if possible.
Chapter 2: Cars
- Do You Need a Car? – Is it possible to forgo a car insurance payment? “One in five black households in America get by without owning a car” by walking, biking, or using public transportation. What are other ways for you to get around owning a car?
- Cars Kill Freedom – Most cars lose half their value within the first three years of ownership. The average car in the United States costs $45,000 and the average loan payment is over $500; therefore, if you’re strapped for cash you may want to ask yourself if owning a car is financially sound.
- Buy A Car the Smart Way – Buy used and try to pay cash. Avoid salesmen willing to give you a loan with bad credit and no money down. Change your mindset and evaluate what you could do with the extra $400 to $1000 a month.
Chapter 3: Education
- The Truth About Student Loans – Most college graduates are not working in the field they studied and have student loans. Due to the various forbearance and payment plan options, most students never see loan balance even after paying for years.
- How to Go to College Debt-Free – Apply for merit and need-based scholarships. Try to work for a company that will help you pay for college. Look at your financial situation and make the best choices you can.
- What About Graduate School – First ask yourself what you want to do and if you really need a graduate degree to do it. Look for associations offering scholarships or try to save and pay out-of-pocket. Where there’s a will there’s a way and try not to get strapped with student loans.
- Learning from My Mistakes – Paying off student loans is a journey to be taken seriously. Before getting more student loans ensure you have exhausted all your options. There are many ways to get a free education if you’re patient and do the research.
Chapter 4: Get Out:
- You Are in The Sunken Place – Retail therapy is a real thing. Buying the latest gadgets or celebrity-marketed products is a money pit.
- Create Your Escape Plan – How much debt do you have now? When was the last time you checked your credit report? What are your methods for paying off debt? Take an honest assessment of your debt and figure out where you are.
- Finding Extra Money – The side hustle is your friend. Make extra cash with your creative talents. Decrease some of your monthly luxuries to pay off debt quicker.
- Dealing With Resistance – Paying off debt is hard work. Changing your money mindset is the first step to paying off debt. With the appropriate mindset, you can be debt-free.
Chapter 5: Dream
- Your Dream – What would you do if you didn’t have to work for money? Being financially free allows you to have the ability to indulge in any profession you choose.
- The Businesswoman and The Fisher – When is enough, enough? Woods uses a parable to describe the difference between wanting more and knowing when you have enough.
- Finding Your Why – What really brings you joy? What do you value most? How do you envision living in that joy?
- How Much Is Enough? – We earn more to buy more, but most of us still aren’t happy. How much do you need to earn annually to be happy? In a consumerist society, we are socialized to never be happy with “enough.”
- What If You Still Don’t Know What You Want? – Pay attention, be honest, and take notes about your likes and dislikes. See what stands out, you may be surprised at what you find.
- Lace Up Your Walking Shoes – Try to live out pieces of your vision now. It is possible to inexpensively test out your dreams now to see if they are what you really want.
Chapter 6: Earn
- Earn More – Get paid for the value of your time. Research the market value of your position. Apply, even if you don’t meet all the qualifications, you might surprise yourself.
- Position Yourself Well – Networking is key! Research if the company’s culture is good for you. Freshen up your resume to be a results-driven document. Get advice from people who are where you want to be.
- Spend Less – Get down to the basics. Complete a review of needs and wants in your financial portfolio. There are numerous ways to save on housing costs. Be creative.
- Budget For Freedom – Create a budget, and be honest about your debts and your incoming funds. That will allow you to easily review your spending habits. Controlling your spending is one of the first steps to financial freedom.
Chapter 7: Invest
- What Is the Stock Market? – Woods, describes how capitalism and companies affect our economy via the stock market.
- Index Funds – The history of index funds is described simplistically for the average reader. Woods paraphrases the benefits of the S&P 500, Vanguard Total Stock Market Index fund, Dow Jones industrial average, NASDAQ, and Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF. She is insistent about the long-term game plan and building generational wealth.
- Investment Accounts – Due to pensions becoming obsolete, retirement accounts have become the new entry into the stock market. Different types of retirement accounts are discussed here including 401(k)s and Roth IRAs.
- Saving vs. Investing – There is a difference between saving and investing. Savings you should have easy access to in case of emergencies. Retirement and investments are not easily accessible and will garner a penalty if taken out early.
- What About Early Retirement? – Are you ready to retire early? Ensure your emergency fund is well supplied.
- Putting It All Together – There are three steps you’ve made to get to this point. You’ve taken stock of where your finances are, you’ve increased your savings, and you built your emergency fund. Now it’s time to invest and work towards retirement.
Chapter 8: Freedom
- Pick Your Path – Are you a person who wants to work the job of your dreams? Or do you not want to work at all?
- Creating Job Freedom – How much do you need in order to quit your job? What extras can you cut to make your dream happen? This section truly encumbers change your mindset to change your life.
- Take a Mini Retirement – Do you love working but need a break? The sky’s the limit with mini-retirement. You can travel, relax, or take a sabbatical and return to work when you feel the need to.
- Retire Early – Investing and budgeting is key. There is no quick way with this method. You must be focused and determined. Playing the long-term game plan with your investments is essential to retire early.
- Your Retirement Number – How much additional money do you need to live your dream life? What will all your money streams be? Woods offers a simplistic calculator for people to estimate what they’ll need for retirement.
- Find Your FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) – How quickly do you want to achieve your FIRE? Are you frugal? Have you made significant investments early in your career? Or are you very balanced when it comes to investing and spending? These are pertinent questions to start the journey of financial independence.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Black Girl’s Guide to Financial Freedom. As an African-American woman, I appreciated the cultural, historical, and statistical information associated with my demographic. Woods writes about a difficult and closeted subject in the black community with ease and care. She understands the nuances and the vernacular in the black community and articulates them expertly for the benefit of her readers. I would recommend this book not only to black women but also to any person needing a basic understanding of finances.