black history month
12 African-American Financial Gurus to Follow in 2018
Money talk can be stressful, boring or hard to comprehend. These financial gurus — with thousands of loyal followers — make everyday finance fun, accessible and easy to understand.
In honor of Black History Month, we asked these gurus to reflect on the significance race has on their financial lives and share advice they give their followers. This year we’ve added five new voices and combined their wisdom with advice from our 2017 gurus.
Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Learn more about each financial guru below the questions.
When did you realize that you wanted to devote your career to personal finance education?
Patrice Washington: To be honest, I realized it in the moment I found myself crying on my bathroom floor, trying to figure out what happened to all my money. I had gone from having a really successful real estate and mortgage brokerage to the point of scraping up change.
I felt like I had done everything the way you’re taught to — I went to school, got a great education, started a successful business, saved. I didn’t have a lot of credit card debt, but I was heavily mortgaged. When the real estate bubble burst, it put me out of business.
I was crying, and I felt this still, small voice tell me to reach for my Bible, and I found Proverbs 17:16, which to me said: What good is money in the hands of a fool if they have no desire to seek wisdom?
I was always chasing more money. There was not that wisdom piece to it.
In that moment, I thought, “Man … maybe this is what I should be sharing with people.” Even though I was broke, it inspired me to create a free site. I thought if I could help one person, that’s enough for me.
Samantha Ealy: Up until college, I didn’t have the best personal finance habits. I hit my lowest point my junior year. I was working, so I had money but I didn’t know how to prioritize needs versus wants. I had credit card debt, student loans, a brand-new car and unpaid medical bills. I was evicted from my apartment and spent a month living out of my car.
This was a huge wake-up call. I realized the importance of financial literacy and became completely obsessed with learning. As I began to learn, I saw friends struggling in the same way. There’s a lack of a conversation, and I wanted to be a leader in making that conversation happen.
Dasarte Yarnway: For me, it was twofold. My parents are from Liberia. When they came here, they didn’t have much. They worked hard and made a living, but still weren’t in the best financial position. You have to have that knowledge or financial coaching to help you achieve your goals.
Then, in 2015, my cousin [who was raised in the same household as a brother] passed away. I thought about my life and what would make it worth living?
Working at a big global bank was an accomplishment. But what made my life worth living was the fact that I was helping people research their financial goals and live their best life.
That’s when I decided to take that leap and [create my own] advisory company.
A lot of mainstream financial advice assumes that everyone has the basic information. In reality, different conversations are happening in a lot of African-American households.Patrice Washington
What was your financial education like growing up?
Chris Browning: My family never talked about money. You could tell from their emotions that things were bad, but we never talked about it.
That’s why I was so drawn to [learning about money] in college. I took a personal finance class and loved it — I realized how much stuff I didn’t know.
Kara Stevens: My mom didn’t talk about money directly, but I noticed she always hustled. She was a nurse by trade but loved to sell clothing from our living room. I also had a grandfather who owned a pharmacy in Antigua. I learned that no matter what job you have, you can have an entrepreneurial spirit.
On the other hand, she taught me that money makes you sad. I remember her stressing out when it came to paying bills.
Washington: I heard [my family] say certain things [about money], but it was not a direct conversation. I watched my mom battle credit card debt — and ended up paying off her debt when I built my business.
I heard things like “Money is the root of all evil.” If you let that sink in, it makes you feel like you don’t want to be rich, because you don’t want to be perceived that way. I’m a kid from a poor neighborhood in South Central Los Angeles. Who am I to think I can get out of debt? It starts to shape very negative perceptions.
Ealy: After my parents divorced, I lived with my mother, and talking money was extremely taboo. I can now appreciate that when you’re struggling, that’s not a topic you want to discuss with your child.
On the flip side, my mother did a great job of telling me about the positives. When I turned 8, she took me to her credit union to open my own savings account. I got a Looney Tunes checkbook.
It’s only been in my lifetime that blacks have had the right to vote, live in certain areas or hold certain jobs. It is with this black history that I write about the financial challenges African-Americans still have.Michelle Singletary
Has race mattered in the kind of financial questions you receive or in how your advice is received?
Washington: Race does matter, to a degree. A lot of mainstream financial advice assumes that everyone has the basic information, like “Don’t spend everything you make” or “Save 10%.” In reality, different conversations are happening in a lot of African-American households. You’re not thrust into [financial] conversations until you’ve made some bad decisions and now you’re playing catch-up.
What I try to explain to black parents is that your kids can learn from your failures if you are transparent enough to share. That’s a valuable lesson.
Ealy: Yes, race has mattered regarding whether or not someone will openly share their struggles with me and in the complexity of the questions they ask. Both of these stem from the same reason: Historically, people from minority groups don’t come from lineages of wealth.
To a marginalized group like African-Americans, there’s no one there to teach them the skills and knowledge necessary to build, maintain and grow wealth. When people have low confidence regarding financial literacy, they’re less likely to talk about it altogether or to ask just the basic questions.
Yarnway: Early on, race mattered because I was a young, African-American male. But over time, having competency, confidence and a proven track record has allowed race to be a non-factor. Statistics show that African-American advisors and minority advisors have a harder go at this industry because of the wealth gap.
Marcus Garrett: I think the greater umbrella is the millennial generation that’s dealing with a weight of debt that other generations cannot relate to. People are graduating from college with $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 in debt. That used to be a unique circumstance for other generations, and now it’s the life we live.
Talaat and Tai McNeely: Race has never mattered in the financial questions we receive because money is universal. Everyone uses and needs money to thrive. We are very conscious of the lack of financial knowledge that our culture receives, and that is what fuels us to share. A lot of people follow us simply because we do look like them. They believe if someone who looks just like them can do it, then they can, too … and they can!
Do you tailor your message for an African-American audience in any way?
Michelle Singletary: I write for anybody struggling to manage their money. I write for people who are good money managers and want to know how to be even better stewards over their money.
Having said that, my writing is definitely influenced by and speaks to African-Americans because that is who I am. I’m black. I’m a black woman. I’m a black mother, wife, churchgoer, etc. I am the legacy of slavery. My grandmother’s grandparents were slaves. My grandmother Big Mama would tell me stories she heard as a child growing up in the shadows of a North Carolina plantation.
It’s only been in my lifetime that blacks have had the right to vote, live in certain areas or hold certain jobs. It is with this black history that I write about the financial challenges African-Americans still have. I understand why many are still poor or struggling to make just a middle-income lifestyle. I’m a fiscal conservative, but I also have compassion for people who make financial mistakes.
Washington: When I first started, there weren’t as many financial personalities as there are today. All I knew besides Dave Ramsey was Suze Orman. People jokingly said, “You’re the black version of Suze Orman.” I never said my message is for black people, but my heart has always been to serve the black community.
Don’t be ashamed of where you are financially. When you’re ashamed, you isolate yourself from people who could encourage you or keep you accountable.Chris Browning
What’s the one financial lesson you’d like to give someone?
Tarra Jackson: Start saving something sooner. If I had just put aside money in my 20s — even if it was $100 a week when I could afford it — I would have had more money saved up later. I wouldn’t have to save as much when I got older.
Tonya Rapley: Just because you have the means to do something doesn’t mean you should. Just because you receive a promotion or extra money, doesn’t mean it’s time to upgrade your apartment or go on a shopping spree.
Singletary: Live below your means. Live below your means when you don’t have much money. Live below your means when you get money.
Stevens: Take ownership of your finances, whether it’s educating yourself, getting out of debt, finding an accountability partner or setting up times to look at your money on a daily or weekly basis. Create routines and rituals that get you to have a healthy relationship with your money.
Browning: Don’t be ashamed of where you are financially. When you’re ashamed, you isolate yourself from people who could encourage you or keep you accountable.
Ealy: When you think about personal finance, don’t neglect the “personal.” People often ask how much they should save, as if there’s a right answer. Everything is different from person to person.
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Who are your financial role models and what do you admire about them?
Rich Jones: My parents. Not because we had big conversations about money, but because they were able to provide a comfortable life for me with less money than I make now. I really admire what they were able to do with the money they had.
Singletary: My Big Mama is my No. 1 financial role model. She never made more than $13,000 a year, yet she paid off her home before she retired. She saved money from every paycheck. It makes me cry to think that I’m a columnist for one of the world’s best newspapers and my core advice comes from my black grandmother who was a nurse’s aide with a high school education. Yet she managed her money better than some financial professionals I know.
Yarnway: I like John Rogers, the African-American founder and CEO of investment firm Ariel Investments. As I was building my business, I looked for somebody who had done it before. Rogers started his firm in 1983. He took a leap of faith, like I did. Probably his job at the time was a lot harder than mine is today. I thought to myself, this can be done.
Stevens: My mom taught me you could make do without much. My grandfather took risks and was a brazen person, and I loved that about him. My husband, too; he taught me how to love money and not be so afraid to spend it. I was an over-saver.
About the gurus
Browning studied financial planning in college, but ended up becoming an accountant. His passion to share his knowledge and his own experience paying off $27,000 in debt inspired him to start the “Popcorn Finance” podcast.
Ealy created Generation Wealthy, a nonprofit website that produces financial education content, to break the taboo of talking about money. Inspired by her own money mistakes in college, the site promotes basic financial literacy.
Jones and Garrett run the “Paychecks & Balances” weekly podcast, talking about ways millennials can increase their paychecks and reduce their credit card balances. Jones works as a human resources professional, and Garrett draws on his personal experience of paying off more than $30,000 in debt.
Tarra Jackson runs the Madam Money blog. She is a financial consultant and has worked as an executive at banks and credit unions.
Talaat and Tai McNeely run the “His & Her Money” podcast, aimed at helping married couples navigate their financial lives. The couple paid off more than $30,000 in debt together.
Tonya Rapley’s blog, My Fab Finance, teaches millennial women of color how to overcome debt and regain control of their finances. Rapley draws from her own experience of paying off debt and building her credit score.
Michelle Singletary writes “The Color of Money,” a weekly personal finance column that appears in more than 100 newspapers across the country. She is also the author of three books on personal finance.
Kara Stevens chronicled her experience paying off $65,000 in debt on her blog, The Frugal Feminista. She uses her blog as a platform to teach women of color how to manage their finances.
Patrice Washington built a fortune in real estate by the age of 25 and then lost it all during the Great Recession. On Redefining Wealth, her website and podcast, she shares lessons from her journey getting out of debt by teaching others how to manage their finances without chasing money.
Yarnway had a bright future as a running back for UC Berkeley’s football team, until an injury made him reconsider his career path. He studied finance, worked at investment firms and banks and eventually decided to open his own advisory group. Yarnway is also the author of the book “Young Money” and host of an upcoming podcast by the same name.