Welcome to our Personal Finance Bloggers of Color interview series!
Our goal with this series is to highlight the experiences and perspectives of people of color in terms of money and personal finance topics, as these voices are often underrepresented.
This interview features Rho from Their Money Goals.
1. Please introduce yourself by telling us about your background.
Hi! My name is Rho. I’m an attorney, financial coach, personal finance enthusiast, and owner of the site Their Money Goals.
My husband and I are currently in the process of paying off over $670,000 of student loan and mortgage debt, and I’m chronicling that journey on the site. (https://www.theirmoneygoals.com/our-debt-payoff-plan)
Through sharing our story and teaching personal finance on my site and with my clients, my ultimate goal is to help others take control of their lives by taking control of their finances.
2. When and from whom did you acquire knowledge about personal finance?
I never received any real education on personal finance. I didn’t even get my first bank account until I was in college. I stayed away from credit cards the first few years of college because I saw my parents’ generation struggling with that, but even so, I didn’t manage my money well.
When I started my job during freshman year, I knew enough to direct some of my paycheck to savings automatically (I saved 20%) and to monitor my debit card transactions, but I would regularly draw my checking account down to $1 and have to wait for the next payday to be able to buy or do anything that cost money.
While I was home for the summer after my junior year of college, I worked at the local mall. Every day on my lunch break, I got something to eat at the food court. The items weren’t expensive—$5 here; $7 there.
It wasn’t until a friend showed me how those small amounts add up over the course of the month that everything really clicked for me. He was much better with money than I was and had even bought a small house. He taught me some basic personal finance skills, which completely turned things around for me.
I tracked my spending with a spreadsheet the next couple of months and started being more intentional with how I spent my money. As a result, I kept more of it in my pocket. Once I got the hang of that, I got a credit card because I felt that I could handle it responsibly.
That was 10 years ago now, and I have continued to study personal finance and build on the knowledge I gained that summer.
After college, I went on to law school, and as I neared my law school graduation, I started thinking about the best way to pay off my student loans. I had been reading blogs from people who had finished paying their loans off quickly and was inspired. I also stumbled upon the FIRE community and was intrigued.
My husband and I got married right after I graduated from law school. He was in his last year of med school, and we were doing okay financially but definitely could have been doing better. It took the birth of our first child to really motivate us to take action, but we’re now on a serious plan to pay off all our debt (including our mortgage) and build wealth.
3. Do you feel that your race/cultural background has impacted your life in terms of personal finance? How so?
My race has absolutely impacted my life in terms of personal finance, as well as other ways.
As a Black woman, I’m highly affected by the history of race relations in America. Although many people dismiss the Black population’s arguments in this respect because slavery was “a long time ago,” those same people fail to realize that the Jim Crow era in the South, which reinforced segregation and the inferiority of Blacks after slavery was abolished, ended fairly recently in modern history.
My parents and parents-in-law were all born during the Jim Crow era, and my grandparents and husband’s grandparents lived it. These are people my husband and I know in real life.
The effects from that time in our history still ripple through society today.
With respect to personal finance, the wealth disparity between Blacks and Whites represents the most obvious effect. I have seen various statistics, but all highlight that Black families have a small fraction of the wealth owned by White families. For example, according to this article (https://www.forbes.com/sites/brianthompson1/2018/02/18/the-racial-wealth-gap-addressing-americas-most-pressing-epidemic/#670a0f987a48), for every $100 of wealth in White families, Black families have just $5.04.
This wealth gap stems from slavery and Jim Crow, when there were literally laws and government programs that prevented Blacks from building wealth and that allowed Whites to take advantage of Blacks for their own wealth-building. Add on top of that persistent pay disparities between Blacks and Whites and discrimination in hiring and in the workplace, and you’ve got a recipe for an ever-widening wealth gap.
Most people know about Equal Pay Day (https://www.pay-equity.org/day.html), which highlights the gender pay gap and marks how far into the year women have to work to earn the same amount that men earned by the end of the previous year. That day is typically observed in April in the United States and actually marks the gender pay gap between White men and White women.
Black Women’s Equal Pay Day (http://www.equalpaytoday.org/black-womens-equal-pay-day/) shows how far into the year Black women have to work to earn the same amount that White men earned by the end of the previous year and is typically observed in August. In other words, Black women must work for 20 months to receive the same pay their White male counterparts received in 12 months and their White female counterparts received in 16.
A study nicknamed “The Lakisha Study” (https://www.nber.org/papers/w9873) examined racial discrimination in hiring. The researchers used fictitious resumes with White-sounding names (Emily and Greg) or Black-sounding names (Lakisha and Jamal) to respond to job listings. The results of the study showed rampant discrimination in hiring across industries, even in those companies that touted themselves as Equal Opportunity Employers. Emily and Greg received 50% more callbacks than Lakisha and Jamal, despite their resumes being the same.
A similar study that more directly affects me as an attorney, “Written in Black and White,” (http://nextions.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/written-in-black-and-white-yellow-paper-series.pdf) explored how supervising attorneys evaluate Black and White associates’ writing skills. Researchers drafted a legal memo and intentionally inserted various errors. The memo was then sent to partners from a number of law firms who had agreed to participate in an analysis of a young associate’s writing. All of the personal details about the associate were the same, except half the partners were told the associate was Black, while the other half were told he was White.
Despite receiving the exact same memo, partners who believed the associate to be White had generally positive feedback and rated the writing 4.1/5.0, while partners who believed the associate to be Black were incredulous that he could have attended the school he did, found more errors in the memo, and rated the writing a 3.2/5.0.
Against this backdrop, I have no doubt that my race has impacted my life in terms of personal finance.
4. How did you become interested in personal finance? What made you want to start a blog?
As mentioned previously, I became interested in personal finance when I saw a friend who is about the same age as me handling his money so much better. He sparked the idea that the paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle isn’t the only way to live, which led me to want to learn more about how to handle money properly.
When I began learning about personal finance 10 years ago, most of the voices I came across were those of White men, with a sprinkling of women. I didn’t really see anyone who looked like me. Although I was still able to draw inspiration from their stories and to learn from them, it would have been nice to see more of myself in the stories.
Today, things have changed drastically. There is far more racial and cultural diversity in the field, but I still think we can benefit from diversity of thought. People who share a race or culture can nevertheless have vastly different experiences and can think about personal finance differently. Further, different people are drawn to different personalities.
Recognizing this, I started my blog to add to the voices from people of color in the personal finance community and to share my husband’s and my story in the hopes that it resonates with others and inspires them to make a change in their own financial lives.
5. What advice would you give to others with a similar background?
Don’t allow yourself to become a victim of your circumstances. Yes, there are deep-rooted, systemic issues in our society. Yes, someone else with a different background might have more opportunities than you do. Yes, it might be harder for you to achieve your goals.
Push forward anyway. Work with the hand you’ve been dealt, and make the most you can out of it.
Based on our circumstances, my husband and I aren’t supposed to be a doctor and a lawyer, and I’m not supposed to be coaching others on their finances. My husband grew up in the projects, and both of us were raised by single moms just trying to survive. Despite our circumstances, here we are.
Believe in yourself, and don’t let anyone else write your story.
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