Who's Teaching Black Women About Financial Literacy?

Photographed by Alexandra Gavillet.
It’s 2017, and yet women are still fighting for equality. Data suggests it will take until 2152 to close the gender wage gap, but it shouldn’t take a century to get what we want. We want more, and Refinery29 is here to help — because 135 years is too long to wait for what we deserve today.
Growing up, I had no problem discovering my passion for writing and literature, or losing myself in my imagination. But when it came to finances, I was suddenly alone. Forget not knowing where to start — I didn’t even know what I had to learn.
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As a teenager, I had a part-time job at the mall, and I used that paycheck to buy clothes or go to the movies. But outside of a few hundred dollars in savings, I didn’t have a clue how to make myself financially secure, or how important it was. When I was applying for college, my mother sat me down and explained that I was now financially responsible for myself. She is an incredibly intelligent and resourceful woman, but she didn’t go to college — and in an age when you need an undergraduate degree to get most entry-level jobs, my mother wasn’t able to provide me with much help as I took that next step in my life.
My story isn’t unique. It’s the norm among my Black friends to struggle to talk about money. Systematically and historically, the Black community has been left disenfranchised and disempowered. Even with the rise of awareness surrounding the gender pay gap, there’s still overwhelming silence surrounding the importance of including race and other intersectional identities into the conversation about money. The median net worth for single Black women is just $5. If we want to change that, it’s crucial that we have financial planners who understand how important intersectionality and race are for their clients.

there’s still overwhelming silence surrounding the importance of including race and other intersectional identities into the conversation about money.

The traditional American success story assumes a level of privilege and access. Historically, Black people and other people of color have been cut off from the connections and access that white communities use to build their wealth. And Black women face systemic racism and sexism, along with unfair federal policies that have prevented us from obtaining quality housing, supporting our families, and creating long-term financial plans. Violence is often used in tangent with these policies — as occurred with the destruction of “Black Wall Street” in 1921, when more than 300 Black people lost their lives and over 9,000 Black residents were left homeless.
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Financial literacy, especially for Black women, is about much more than simply having the tools; it’s about connecting with the community and understanding how to empower and serve a diverse clientele.
And if there were ever a time to talk about the importance of financial literacy among women of color, it’s now; Trump’s presidency leaves us with so much uncertainty rather than empowerment. And one of the most empowering things we can all do is better understand how to plan for the future. For many of us, this means creating a financial literacy plan for perhaps the first time in our adult lives.
But what about communities that have been historically denied this information? Where can we go? Fortunately, many Black financial experts are having these important conversations — which look very different than the discussions they have with white clients.
“We put almost everything else above ourselves,” says Maria James, PhD, owner of financial advisory firm Pocket of Money, LLC. “From researching and working with different clients, I can tell you that Black couples are more likely to forgo retirement in favor for children’s education. While that’s great, we also need to be able to practice self-love and invest in ourselves. It’s not selfish.”
But we can prioritize ourselves and still teach others at the same time. For Tiffany Aliche, an entrepreneur and founder of The Budgetnista, the key to financial literacy is through open dialogues and sharing knowledge about money. “As important as it is to gain individual wealth,” she says, “it’s also important to pay it forward and help others achieve the same within our community.”
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Black women have faced systemic racism and sexism, along with unfair federal policies that have prevented us from obtaining quality housing, supporting our families, and creating long-term financial plans.

Both James and Aliche reiterate that race plays a role in how wealth is interpreted. Many Black women simply don’t have the financial knowledge to pass down. “Financial literacy is particularly difficult for us because our communities have been so drained of resources,” says Juanita, a 31-year-old teacher. “How can my parents know how to teach us to save when we grew up with banks denying us loans because of credit, or surrounded by cash-checking places that prey on us? It’s almost impossible to find financial help unless you look outside of the community.”
Often, it’s a life change that inspires Black women to really take a closer look at their money. For Rachel, a 28-year-old freelance writer, it wasn’t until she left her full-time job to go freelance that she realized the importance of long-term financial planning: “With my full-time job, I was used to living a certain lifestyle. But to go freelance, I had to downgrade. It was the first time I had to learn how to budget and question my own financial goals. What did I want to be making, what steps would I have to take to reach that? I had to take a long, hard look at where my money was going for the first time in my life.”

For me, it’s about the freedom to live the life I want, and not be doomed to follow played-out stereotypes.

If I could, I’d go back to my 17-year-old self and tell her not to be afraid. Financial literacy and independence was something that intimidated me, and that made me put off learning about it. But now I know that it’s not about being rich or living a lavish lifestyle. For me, it’s about the freedom to live the life I want, and not be doomed to follow played-out stereotypes. This means taking responsibility for my shortcomings as well as taking the steps to reach my goals. It means understanding my spending habits, how to budget effectively, and how to make investing work for me.
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My identity as a Black woman shouldn’t be a barrier that keeps me from taking control of my finances. We all have the power to rewrite our own destinies — financial and otherwise. All we need is the courage to simply begin.
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