There is no easy way to say it: I am a Black woman and I suck with money.
As a kid, seeing the likes of Hilary Banks (played by Karyn Parsons) in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Dominique Devereaux (played by Diahann Carroll) in Dynasty saunter around in luxury was an eye-opener. At the time, I had never seen women who looked like me living like that. They were far removed from my world, where scarcity and hand-me-downs were a part of everyday life. I was fascinated.
Even though it was make-believe, I wanted what they had.
With zero to no budgeting, saving, or investing advice from my parents, I went to London to study when I was 20. I was suddenly in one of the largest fashion capitals of the world, which of course heightened my incessant urge to look ‘the part.’ I tried to emulate what I saw on TV and in magazines, which led me down a rabbit hole of irresponsible spending.
At the time, it didn’t matter that I was constantly in overdraft. I was young, in a new city and the world was my oyster. Consequences be damned.
My expensive habit didn’t let up when I got older and moved countries. Paychecks and credit cards were readily available to feed my hunger for things—clothes, makeup, shoes, and luxury handbags. I played into the statistics: 71% of Black women have at least one expensive habit in comparison to 60% of Latino women and 49% of white women. With every increment in salary, my lifestyle creep became worse. I fell deeper into debt, which ultimately affected my self-esteem and mental health.
Over time and following concerns from family members and friends, I realized that I had a problem. My irresponsible money habits had gotten out of control.
I wanted to do better, but that meant acknowledging the elephant in the room; the fear and scarcity mentality that had followed me into adulthood. Yes, systematic problems exist, as Black women currently earn 15% less than white women, and 35% less than white men. For context, that puts Black women at a 90% wealth gap in comparison to white men. Still, I had to take responsibility for the poor decisions I made.
Doing that meant challenging the negative fear-based self-talk I had around money. I knew that if my inner dialog was negative, no amount of financial literacy content would help. Adopting a healthy mindset would be the most powerful way to begin the process of changing my relationship with money.
But when you grow up without learning how to budget and save, it can be tough to get your money mentality together. Stumbling across South African actress Khanyi Mbau's simple yet powerful money mantra helped. “I have a relationship with money, I just think money recognizes me, money is comfortable around me, money likes me,” she says. It was exactly what I needed to hear.
To see a woman who looked like me speak so unapologetically, positively, and abundantly about money inspired me to come up with my own mantra. After some deep inner work and the help of financial literacy YouTube, I crafted one:
I’m worthy of making money. I am in control of my money and finances. Money is attracted to me.
Maybe it’s cliché, but having this mantra as part of my daily routine truly helped me break a generational cycle of fear and scarcity. Beyond that, it brought a sense of self-worth, focus, and patience to my life.
In a perfect world, having a mantra would be all you need to build wealth. Obviously, this isn’t the case. Without practical foundations like budgeting and an investment plan, a money mantra will only get you so far (especially if you have debts to pay).
Prior to budgeting, I had no idea where my money was going or how small purchases can add up. This left me at a disadvantage. Having a dedicated budget plan that combines my bank's money tracking app with an excel spreadsheet, in addition, to help from financial advisors, puts everything in perspective. Mostly, it makes me accountable, so I end up making better decisions in terms of spending, savings and paying off my debt.
The truth is, we can’t afford to not talk about money. Our unconscious thoughts constantly shape how we view it and use it. And while financial mantras might be the David-to-Goliath solution to discriminatory economic policies, having a mantra rooted in healing can be a powerful and empowering tool. Beyond that, it has proven to be the best way for me to invest in myself. Has it been easy? No, but I know the journey is worth it. I can see it in the numbers.