Talking about money — and the mistakes you’ve made — takes courage. But it takes even more courage to do that on a public forum so others can learn from your lessons. In honor of Black History Month, we turned to these popular personal finance gurus, asking them to reflect on the lessons of the past decade, share how far they’ve come and look ahead to their money goals in 2020.
Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Learn more about each financial guru below the questions.
What are your financial goals for 2020?
Chris Browning (host, “Popcorn Finance” podcast): I have three big financial goals for 2020. First is to contribute the maximum amount to my retirement plan. This would be my first time reaching this goal, and it is something that I could never have imagined accomplishing when I was sitting in $27,000 worth of debt back in 2014.
My second goal is to begin saving for my first home. It is a huge task to buy a home in Southern California, but I want to start working my way toward homeownership.
Lastly, I want to focus on giving myself grace when it comes to my finances. Having the savings goals I mentioned above are great, and not being in debt is an amazing feeling, but learning to be at peace with money and not getting worked up over the small mistakes that we all make is what I aim to achieve. Giving myself permission to enjoy some of the things that are truly meaningful to me without guilt is what I am striving for in 2020.
Michelle Singletary (columnist, “The Color of Money”): For 2020 my goal is to let it go. I know that many people don't even have $400 saved for an emergency. But saving has never been my issue. I was born a saver. Sounds like a great problem to have right? But for those of us who are good savers, it's hard to let go of the money when it's time to buy what we've saved for. I suffer from a scarcity mentality, often worrying about not having enough.
I hear from a lot of retired spouses who struggle with getting their frugal partner to spend to make their life just a little better. But their penny-pinching spouse can't let the penny go out of fear of not having enough. So, this year I'm practicing being OK with spending for the things that I want for which I have faithfully saved to acquire.
Patrice Washington (host, “Redefining Wealth” podcast): My first goal is to tithe 10% of our household income to my local church consistently, which is over and above the gifts my family and I plan to give to other organizations we care about throughout the year.
Second, we relocated from California to Georgia last summer, and this year we've decided there's no reason to carry a mortgage for 20 years as we had originally planned to do. We are accelerating our mortgage payoff to December 2025, which means a lot of sacrificial choices are underway in the Washington home! My husband has agreed to sell his prized classic cars to put toward the payoff goals, and we’re doing one no-spend month per quarter. That means no eating out, no clothes and no unnecessary spending whatsoever.
Rianka R. Dorsainvil (co-CEO, 2050 Wealth Partners): This is a huge transition year for me, because I am going to be a first-time mom! My financial goals for 2020 are to navigate a budget and spending plan to incorporate a new member of the family. In addition to the many ways a baby changes life, I now need to also shift the way I think about cash flow and plan for future expenses like education.
What was your financial situation 10 years ago, and how does it compare to now? What did you learn in that time?
Rich Jones (host, “Paychecks & Balances” podcast): In 2010, my compensation was multiple times lower than it is today, I was barely or not contributing to my 401(k) and had a pretty feeble to nonexistent emergency fund. I couldn’t have told you my net worth, but I’m pretty sure it was negative, since I carried a credit card balance and was paying off student loans. Today, I’m maxing out my 401(k) and getting the company match, have at least six months of living expenses tucked away and a growing taxable investment account.
I learned the importance of compounding. I feel like I’m playing a bit of 401(k) catch-up given the years I made little to no contributions and missed out on company matches. This is also why I’m growing my taxable investment account as a long-term savings vehicle.
Tiffany Aliche (founder, “The Budgetnista” blog): Wow, what a difference 10 years make! During the recession, I lost my home to foreclosure and my life savings. I also lost my relationship of six years and most of my hope. I spent my 30th birthday in my middle school bed because I had to move back home with my parents. I was beyond broke and broken.
Fast forward to today. I’m happily married, and I’m the CEO of three successful companies, one of which is a multi seven-figure-per-year company. I have an amazing team that helps me to serve my audience of over 800,000 women with the financial education they deserve. I celebrated the one-year anniversary of a law I helped create with Assemblywoman Angela V. McKnight, which makes it mandatory for middle school students to learn financial literacy in all New Jersey public schools.
In terms of housing, I live in a home that my hubby and I were able to purchase and renovate with cash. I also recently bought an investment property in cash and paid off my parents’ home.
As for debt, I’ve paid off all of my student loans and am 100% debt-free. I went from a net worth of negative $300,000 at 30 to just over seven figures at 40.
Lynnette Khalfani-Cox (author, "Zero Debt: The Ultimate Guide to Financial Freedom"): At the beginning of the decade, I was doing pretty well financially and now I'm doing even better — even though my financial life has gotten far more economically complicated as our three kids and business have grown. Our goals have evolved, and we've promised all our kids that we'll put them through college debt-free, so that they won't have to pay off any student loans. It's a big challenge, but one aligned with our family values.
Thankfully, our business income has more than doubled, but it also feels like life has become far more expensive — even though we recently relocated from New Jersey to Texas. On the bright side, our assets have grown tremendously, including our solo 401(k) funds and our level of property ownership. In addition to our primary residence in the Houston area, we own five other rental properties.
Along the way I've learned many lessons, such as the importance of maintaining a great credit rating and the wisdom of keeping your spending in check. (Yes, even "The Money Coach" deals with spending challenges!)
Washington: Last year, I returned to Georgia and purchased a home. But the first time I found myself in Atlanta, in 2009, I was living on my brother’s couch. It was my husband, daughter and I — along with my brother and his children — in his two-bedroom condo. We had been devastated by the Great Recession and literally brought to the point of applying for food stamps and scraping up change. Today, I'm a well-respected personal finance educator. That's the difference a decade can make!
One of the greatest lessons that I've learned in my journey is to truly chase purpose — not money. I was offered different opportunities in those first few years that I know people laughed at me for not taking. I knew, however, that they were not in alignment with what I truly felt called to do. That calling was to take what I had learned as a mortgage broker and still help people with their personal finances — even using my own story and saying, "We can do this together." It wasn't the easy route or the fast track, but eventually it paid off. I followed my purpose and the money became the byproduct.
What is one aspect of personal finance you wish people would pay more attention to?
Marcus Garrett (host, “Paychecks & Balances” podcast): I believe people underestimate the importance of a steady paycheck. The side-hustle conversation has overshadowed the need to pay for day-to-day bills. The average American will earn $2.7 million (or more) during their career, according to a Zippia report of U.S. Census Bureau data. So there is plenty of opportunity to manage and win with your personal finances from working a plain old regular 9-to-5 job. Find a fulfilling job, then you can focus on maximizing your income all through one source.
Browning: There is so much noise on social media and online around jumping into the stock market or becoming an entrepreneur that often something as simple as having a strong cash emergency fund is overlooked, because it isn’t exciting. The thought of putting thousands of dollars aside in an account that’s only going to earn a few hundred dollars of interest a year doesn’t sound as amazing as the potential to double or triple your money with the latest tech company that went public, but it is crucial to any healthy financial plan. A cash emergency fund provides the foundation and security to weather most unforeseen issues while also giving you the freedom to work toward your larger and more ambitious goals.
Dorsainvil: A lot of people automatically freeze up and think that personal finance is this giant thing that cannot be conquered. I wish people would focus on something that may seem small, but will really change the trajectory of their financial life — their budget. Pay more attention to how you are spending your dollars; every dollar should have a job. If you keep track of your budget and spending plan, you can look at areas in which you want to decrease spending so that you can apply those dollars to other categories that add value to your life — whether it's paying down debt or putting more to a travel fund to visit family across the country or internationally. It doesn't matter if you are a thousandaire or billionaire, everyone needs a budget or a spending plan. It will help you make smart decisions with your money.
Singletary: I really wish people would identify and prioritize their long-term financial goals and come up with an action plan. Come up with a mission and vision statement for your finances. People often can't save because they are not specific about their vision for their finances. They don't have a plan. It's not enough to say, "I want my kids to go to college without a lot of debt or no debt." Figure out what savings vehicle you are going to use (I recommend a 529 plan) to obtain this goal and actually make it happen — right now. Make a commitment to put money into the fund every single month, even if it's just $25. Don't just worry about having enough for retirement. Review the retirement options at your job, or visit your bank and ask about opening an IRA.
Worry is not an action. I came across this proverb, and it's perfect for how to pay attention to your personal finances. "Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare."
About the gurus
Tiffany Aliche: The Budgetnista
Aliche, known as The Budgetnista, is an award-winning financial educator who writes about budgeting and money management techniques. She founded a movement of over 800,000 women called the Live Richer Challenge that features small daily tasks to achieve big financial goals. Twitter: @TheBudgetnista
Chris Browning: Popcorn Finance
Browning is the creator and host of the award-winning, short-form podcast “Popcorn Finance." Each week he discusses finance in about the time it takes to make a bag of popcorn. Chris holds a bachelor’s degree in finance with an emphasis in financial planning. Twitter: @PopcornFinance
Rianka R. Dorsainvil: 2050 Wealth Partners
Dorsainvil is a certified financial planner, as well as the co-founder and co-CEO of 2050 Wealth Partners, a virtual, fee-only comprehensive financial planning firm dedicated to serving entrepreneurs, first-generation wealth builders and thriving professionals in their late 20s, 30s and 40s. She also hosts “2050 TrailBlazers,” a podcast aimed at addressing the lack of diversity in the financial planning profession. Twitter: @Rianka_D
Rich Jones and Marcus Garrett: Paychecks & Balances
Jones and Garrett run the "Paychecks & Balances” podcast and blog for millennials interested in making money, saving money and getting out of debt. They leverage their experiences to provide entertaining insights and helpful tips on money management, professional growth and other topics relevant to 20- and 30-somethings trying to get ahead. Twitter: @paybalances
Lynnette Khalfani-Cox: The Money Coach
Khalfani-Cox is a personal finance expert, speaker, and the author of 15 books including the New York Times bestseller "Zero Debt: The Ultimate Guide to Financial Freedom." Through her financial education company, Lynnette helps Americans nationwide to better handle their money — especially managing credit and debt. Twitter: @TheMoneyCoach
Michelle Singletary: The Washington Post
Singletary writes “The Color of Money” for The Washington Post, a twice-a-week personal finance column that appears in dozens of newspapers across the country. She is also the author of three books on personal finance, including “The 21 Day Financial Fast." Twitter: @singletarym
Patrice Washington: Redefining Wealth
Washington got her start as a personal finance expert, “America’s Money Maven,” having success with her “mindset approach” to personal finance. She has since expanded her brand and mission, encouraging women to chase purpose, not money. Twitter: @SeekWisdomPCW