The History That Shapes Money Stories of Women of Color
Advice from a financial wellness coach and author of 'Our Money Stories'
In her fascinating new book, Our Money Stories, Eugenié George, a Philadelphia financial planner, wellness coach and former grade-school teacher, has dug deep into how the economic history and oppression of African American, Latinx, Native American and Asian American women have affected their money management.
Our Money Stories (subtitle: A Six Week No B.S. Holistic Guide to Financial Wellness) takes a unique look at how decades of broad economic discrimination shaped the money stories of women in each of the four groups and offers advice to help the women manage their finances.
Currently, the financial differences between whites and Blacks in their 50s and 60s, for example, are enormous. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute and the Federal Reserve, the median retirement account balance for families headed by people between 55 and 64 is $151,000 for whites and $46,100 for Blacks.
"Some of the stories were draining. Some of the women had suffered abuse. Knowing their history helped me to ask better questions."
Next Avenue spoke with George, 33, about her takeaways and personal finance tips; highlights are below.
Interviews About Money With 40 Women of Color
For Our Money Stories, George interviewed 40 women in the book’s four groups. She frequently found that their views on managing money connected to childhood adversity, stemming from ancestral trauma. Examples: the 1921 burning of Tulsa, Okla.’s Black Wall Street; loss of property in Japanese internment camps during World War II; Latinx fear of deportation due to “Operation Wetback” in the 1950s and the forced relocation of Native Americans through the Trail of Tears during the 19 century.
George also shared her own money story. In the book, she says, she “hit the reset button” after getting evicted with limited cash flow from a failing business just before turning 30. While staying on a friend’s couch, she organized her bills, tracked her spending, started a money journal, joined Debtors Anonymous and got advice from financially savvy friends on paying down debt.
Next Avenue: What was your strongest motivation for writing the book?
Eugenié George: I think the biggest thing was that in all the financial writing that I have read, there was always a missing piece — even in various money blogs. They never had anything about race and class.
And as a Black woman, I felt it wasn’t completely honest to leave that out, when you’re talking about how people manage their money.
How does the economic history of African American, Latinx, Asian American and Native Americans connect to the way people in those groups deal with money once they reach their 50s and 60s?
There is so much history around what millennials are feeling, but a lot of folks that are older, I don’t think they’ve had time to process ancestral trauma.
A lot of folks in their fifties and sixties had to fight for their jobs and assimilate, and they may not be able to share some of that experience and talk about it when it comes to money.
Women of color have always been the sandwich generation — between their culture and possibly working in corporate America and taking care of their parents and if they have their own kids — I wanted to explain that experience.
How do you think money management differs for men and women in these groups?
For folks who identify as women, the focus is on raising the village and perhaps not knowing how to maintain the village. Men are often building and maintaining the village.
Surprises From the Interviews for 'Our Money Stories'
What surprised you when you interviewed the women for the book?
I had to be vulnerable myself in order for them to be vulnerable. I had to dismantle my assumptions about people so I could hear their stories. I went into therapy during that time to be as open to them as possible.
Some of the stories were draining. Some of the women had suffered abuse. Knowing their history helped me to ask better questions.
About seventy-five percent were successful business owners and college educated, but they didn’t see themselves as rock stars. If you are the person in charge of the ‘community,' your work never seems like enough, especially if you aren’t being acknowledged at work or at home. There is always a mental health component behind money.
What financial advice would you offer African American, Asian American, Native American and Latinx women in their 50s and 60s based on what you know about their economic history?
First, I would say, stop being so hard on yourself. If you need help with a bankruptcy or credit issue, Google and shop around until you can find a financial therapist.
People in the financial industry don’t market to women of color, and if you’re not taught it, then it’s hard to focus on building personal wealth.
If you’re over fifty, it’s time to look at what you have — time to check into yourself. Start being cognizant of what you’re doing and how you’re doing. See if your spending is affecting your values and look at self-care.
Advice to Organize Your Money Story
What do you think is the most important tool that can help women of color organize their money stories?
A six-week plan. That means getting into the habit of looking at your money on a weekly basis. The only way it works is to take baby steps.
Write out your first experiences with money. Then get that file cabinet and notebook to track spending, liabilities and assets weekly. It is important to get into the habit of looking at your money and unlearn bad habits.
You also recommend in the book to write a financial wellness plan and find your financial BFF. Can you talk about that?
Writing out a financial wellness plan helps you to discover your current net worth and money situation and organize your financial life.
A financial BFF could be an accountability group, friend, coach or financial support group like Debtors Anonymous that will help you to honestly see your money story without shame or guilt.
It took me a year to unpack my own money story.