Black Women Should Be Loud & Proud About Practising Financial Self-Care

After the phenomenal success of Slay In Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible, authors Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené are back with Loud Black Girls, a timely collection of essays from 20 established and emerging Black British writers, asking what the future holds for Black girls today.
In Loud Black Girls, the next generation of authors, journalists, actors, activists and artists explore what it means to them to exist in these turbulent times, from assessing the cultural impact of Marvel's Black Panther to celebrating activism in local communities, asking how we can secure the bag while staying true to our principles and how we can teach our daughters to own their voices.
Co-editors Adegoke and Uviebinené want readers to know that being a loud Black girl doesn't mean speaking the loudest or dominating the room but simply existing as your authentic self in a world that constantly tries to dim your shine.
In the following extract from Loud Black Girls, writer and journalist Fiona Rutherford explores the importance of keeping your finances in check, budgeting and being honest with yourself about debt.
I’ve always known that nothing would ever be handed to me on a silver plate. It’s a message that has probably been drilled into every Black woman – you’re going to have to work even harder than everyone else because you have two strikes against you – your gender and your race. Though one thing for sure is that hard work alone is not paying off – the world still has a long way to go before we reach a point where Black women are treated fairly. It’s time for Black women to rethink our strategy around working hard, especially what we do with the product of our hard work – the thing we don’t talk about enough: money.
Black women have always faced several barriers in the workplace, and the struggle has been widely documented. The most recent findings from the Office for National Statistics show that despite holding similar qualifications Black British employees are paid 7.7% less than their white counterparts – one of the highest gaps among all ethnic groups. Across the Atlantic the story is the same: analysis of wage data by the American Association of University Women shows that on average Black women in the US have to work at least eight months more to earn what a white man does in one year. There are a range of theories for why this is the case – racism, the historical marginalisation of Black communities, unconscious bias – yet despite having the additional full-time job of navigating these barriers, Black women are succeeding and excelling in a range of fields.
With that in mind, as I write this essay, I’m thinking about the various hard-working Black women in my life. I’m thinking about my younger sister, who, once she graduates next year, will be entering the world of work in an industry that is notoriously dominated by men. I’m thinking about my 97-year-old grandma who came to the UK from Jamaica in the late 50s – when shop windows had signs on the doors, which read "No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs". 
While juggling being a single mother of four, my grandma worked at a dry cleaner, amongst several other jobs, on minimum wage, ironing the shirts of the rich and famous she always reminds me. She once took on a night job to earn extra cash to help send my 13-year-old mum to typewriting school. My grandma today – relatively active, independent and still hardworking – would probably still be employed if my mum hadn’t forced her to retire at the age of 80. And then there’s my mum who went to university as a mature student after having my sister and me. She continues to study, loves learning new things and has not let her experience of workplace racism and bullying stop her from pursuing her passion. 
Growing up I was taught to work hard – and I did – but I was never taught money skills. Black women may be smart, but when our pay cheques come in, how clever are we being with what we earn? How can we be financially empowered to create a life for ourselves that makes us secure and in control? At my first paid job, age 16, I earned about £4 an hour as a cashier at McDonald’s. I remember the first few days of the job being so intense that at night I would dream about the tills. I’ve had several jobs since then, and earning my own money felt great – I didn’t need to rely on anyone else, I could buy what I wanted when I wanted. But by the time I was in my early 20s I was in thousands of pounds worth of debt. I was deep into my overdraft limit and had completely maxed-out credit cards that I was nowhere close to paying off. I wasn’t even living paycheque to paycheque, I lived payday loan to payday loan – each month trying to figure out which payday loan company would accept me this time around. If that didn’t work, I applied for credit cards, or increased my overdraft limit. If that was declined I would reluctantly sell my most valuable items – on eBay, in a pawn shop, or a second-hand goods store – for a fraction of what I bought them for. And if that didn’t give me enough cash to last the rest of the month, I would ask to borrow money from family – I hated doing that, and it was always, always the last option. It was a chaotic way to live. One thing for sure is that nothing about the way I was living was sustainable. Unless something dramatic changed in my life, it would be a disaster waiting to happen.

Black women may be smart, but when our pay cheques come in, how clever are we being with what we earn? How can we be financially empowered to create a life for ourselves that makes us secure and in control?

Debt often creeps up on people, and my situation was no different. I was a working undergraduate with two part-time jobs, each of which paid me no more than £9 an hour – I earned a salary that was nowhere near to covering what I owed the banks. I was always living on the edge of my limit, and since I had zero savings, any unexpected expenses were a huge strain. Being in debt didn’t happen overnight for me, it was gradual. Despite how it sounds, it didn’t feel particularly uncomfortable, or even stressful for that matter – I had become used to my financially chaotic lifestyle. Putting aside all the pains and struggles that come with being a young person, a student and living in London – one of the world’s most expensive cities – I had a relatively decent life. I had fun, I went out with friends, from the outside there was probably no indication that I was in thousands of pounds worth of debt. My debt was dispersed around different credit cards and overdrafts, which meant it was hard for me to see the scale of the problem. Looking back, the funniest thing is that I didn’t even realise it myself. I wasn’t in denial, it was rather a complete lack of awareness of the state of my financial situation.
Money problems aren’t something people openly disclose – it can feel uncomfortable, awkward and shameful. A couple of years ago, entrepreneur Yemi Awopetu gave a short talk about financial management at Pursue Your Passion, a career development and mentorship event in London. I was in the audience, and when he asked us whether we had any savings I kept my hand down. I had none. I felt incredibly embarrassed. During the talk, he opened his wallet and showed the audience an impressive collection of loyalty cards and discount coupons. His message: you can always save something, no matter how small. But the one part of his speech that really stuck with me was the idea of being deliberate with your money: "You have to tell your money where to go, rather than wonder where it went."
I finally realised that I had an unhealthy relationship with money. Hearing someone talking about their personal finance and spending habits so openly, was a turning point for me. As Awopetu spoke to the crowd I found myself, for the first time, calculating the sum of my debt – each loan, overdraft, credit card. It was a suffocating feeling when I realised just how deep into debt I was. I panicked and I thought to myself, ‘How did it even get this bad? How on earth can I get myself out of this situation?’ Despite being rattled, I also felt inspired and energised. ‘If you’re not earning enough, then consider getting a better-paid job,’ he said. Yes, it’s easier said than done, but it got me thinking about the possibility of earning more, as opposed to only working with what I already had. It made me think about finding solutions to my problems, like using apps and prepaid budgeting cards that can help you keep an eye on what you’re spending and automatically take savings from your account based on clever algorithms.
After the event I knew I had to confront my finances – I acknowledged that it would be messy, challenging, depressing – but I was ready to start the process. It was hard and I failed several times – dipping into my savings, ordering takeout instead of cooking, saying yes to that holiday with friends because I didn’t want to miss out on all of the fun. It took a lot of discipline to change my spending habits – I would use the bus instead of the train, even if it meant leaving the house an hour earlier. I became a pro at finding deals and shopped in sale racks. I started saying no to social events that would push me out of my budget. I negotiated a cheaper phone contract and didn’t upgrade unnecessarily. Thanks to YouTube I even learned how to do my own box braids – impressing all of my friends and essentially saving hundreds of pounds a year. I had multiple side hustles – tutoring, an Etsy shop, proofreading. Within two and a half years I pulled myself out of debt and aggressively built up some savings – it felt amazing and is one of my proudest achievements to date.

It took a lot of discipline to change my spending habits – I would use the bus instead of the train, even if it meant leaving the house an hour earlier. I became a pro at finding deals and shopped in sale racks. I started saying no to social events that would push me out of my budget.

I am nowhere close to where I want to be financially, but one thing I can say is that I am now fully in control over my finances in a way I wasn’t before. I know what I need to be earning in order to live the life I want for myself. I’m aware of my outgoings and incomings. I can use debt and credit to my advantage. I have savings and I am continuing to learn about financial terms and strategies. It also took a degree of what felt like selfishness – society teaches and expects women to be altruistic, selfless and self-sacrificing – so when I quit several of my voluntary, unpaid commitments it felt immensely uncomfortable. I knew I could go back to volunteering, but right now it was time to put myself first.
Back in 2016 a Billfold piece "A Story of a Fuck Off Fund" went viral. The post, written by Paulette Perhach, shared a powerful message about what she describes as "financial self-defence". The story is about how the lack of a fuck off fund – a pot of emergency money – meant she stayed in an abusive relationship with her boyfriend and put up with inappropriate behaviour from her boss at work. Having a fuck off fund changed everything. She wrote: When your boyfriend calls you stupid, you say if he ever says that again, you’re out of there, and it’s not hard to imagine how you’ll accomplish your getaway . . . When your boss attempts to grope you, you say, "Fuck off, you creep!" You wave two middle fingers in the air, and march over to HR. Whether the system protects you or fails you, you will be able to take care of yourself.
The piece was a reminder to women all over the world that a bad financial situation can make you feel trapped, alone, and might lead you to make decisions that are not in your best interest. It was a wakeup call that women need to be equipped with tools to protect themselves. The examples within the story were relatable to me. Unhealthy financial situations meant that I put up with abusive behaviour because I felt like I had no choice and wouldn’t be able to do any better. Financial independence gives women options and opens doors to a range of opportunities. It allows women to be picky about where they work, how much they earn and lets them take risks. Of course, healthy finances won’t be a solution to all of the problems that Black women will face, but being and feeling financially secure, balanced and in control will give us the opportunities needed to pursue the things we care about. Money should be a means to achieve our life goals. As Awopetu said, we should be telling our money where to go, not the other way round.

Unhealthy financial situations meant that I put up with abusive behaviour because I felt like I had no choice and wouldn’t be able to do any better.

There are several Black women who are spreading awareness about financial empowerment, like blogger Bola Sol whose Refined Currency platform educates women about money matters, from managing debt to improving credit scores. Melanie Eusebe, co-founder of the Black British Business Awards, launched Money Moves – a membership programme, which aims to help Black communities manage and navigate wealth. Just recently Black Ballad, a platform for Black women, collaborated with the Financial Times on an event about helping women make the most of their money. It’s exciting to see such a growing movement of women acknowledging the importance of being in control of their finances – and helping other women along the way.
Looking ahead at the political and economic landscape of this country, financial empowerment, independence and health are more important than ever. The future of the UK is uncertain and scary. Just take Brexit, for example. The UK’s future relationship with the EU is continuously affecting the economy, and in turn, is likely to have a disproportionate impact on women from minority ethnic backgrounds. Reports show that ethnic minorities in Britain are worse off when it comes to getting jobs, in terms of housing and are hardest hit by austerity measures. With this in mind, Black women should be equipping themselves with as many tools as necessary to ensure that whatever happens, we are able to create the best possible life for ourselves. We should know our worth, and feel comfortable setting a price for our labour that allows us to live in the way we want. Financial health is not drilled into us from an early age, but now more than ever is time to make it part of our self-care regimes. Financial self-care is about having a nourishing relationship with money – using it as a device to make you happy, feel in control and obtain balance in your life. We should set aside regular time for focusing on our finances, in the same way that we think about our emotional and physical health and wellbeing.
When I finally decided to practise financial self-care, I noticed the difference in myself. It felt like a detox – my financial acne was cleared up, and my new, clearer skin was glowing, giving me a newfound confidence. Over time I saw myself become more deliberate about my spending, closing credit cards, reducing my overdraft to an amount that I could afford to pay off each month, switching to savings accounts with better interest rates. I was never any good at saving money before, I had no self-control and would regularly dip into any additional money I had. But practising financial self-care forces me to be more forward-thinking – I ask myself questions about my future, the kind of house I want to buy, what success looks like to me, and how I’d like to live during retirement.

When I finally decided to practise financial self-care, I noticed the difference in myself. It felt like a detox – my financial acne was cleared up, and my new, clearer skin was glowing, giving me a newfound confidence.

With radical changes to my spending habits, I went from a person living with thousands of pounds worth of debt and no control over my money, to being someone who enjoyed watching their money grow – and helping other women to feel financially empowered.
When my grandad kicked my grandma and their young kids out in the street during the middle of the night, with nowhere to go, perhaps a fuck off fund would’ve turned the tables. I wish she’d had a fuck off fund so that she didn’t have to put up with decades of racism at work just to put food on the table and pay the rent. I wish that I could go back in time and encourage my grandma to think about a retirement plan, so that as well as being around her friends and family, she could’ve retired much earlier than 80. I wish she was able to spend more time in her home country before she became too weak to travel. I hope my hard-working sister thinks about having savings, smart investments and using her money to live her best life – whatever that looks like to her. I hope that when it comes to negotiating a salary she knows when to walk away if the offer isn’t what she wants. I hope she realises that financial empowerment is about more than just money; it’s about knowing when to leave unhealthy jobs and unhealthy relationships. I hope that my mum, after years of working and studying, can use her money to live the life she deserves. I definitely get the hardworking gene from my mum – like me, she has worked continuously since she was a teenager. Unlike myself, my mum always saved money, no matter how small. Although having savings is only a good thing, I hope that Black women, like my mum, feel empowered to go further with their money by investing and taking risks to generate wealth.
We all know that as Black women we have to work even harder than everyone else because we’re living with two strikes against us – being Black and being a woman. But it’s time to rethink our strategy to enable us to live our life to its fullest potential – for the generations of Black women who came before us, for those Black women who will come after us, but most importantly for ourselves.
Loud Black Girls: 20 Black Women Writers Ask: What's Next? edited by Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené is out 1st October and is available to preorder now.

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