As African-American women, we have made tremendous strides in our careers, incomes and education. From television to Wall Street, City Hall and the world of sports, sisters are making bank. We followed the so-called template for success: Go to school, get a good education, land the dream job and, for some of us, start a family. Compared to our mothers we are living the American dream.
Or are we?
While some of us are building wealth, plenty of evidence suggests that too many women of color are broke. One study, Lifting as We Climb from Insight Community Economic Development, claims that some single women have less than $100 in net worth. And the most recent 2010 Census indicated that women head 72 percent of African-American households with children. The reasons for our continued struggles with financial security are varied. So how do we get rid of the empty purses and become financially fierce? How do we change the paradigm?
Let’s begin by accepting one simple principle. We cannot change what we will not acknowledge. To change direction, we must acknowledge our behavior, the persistent patterns that hold us in financial bondage.
One thing African-American women must learn to do is put themselves first. Too many of us drain our resources trying to help others, leaving little for ourselves. We live the lyrics to Alicia Keys’ Billboard hit “Superwoman”:
“I still put on my vest,
With an S on my chest.”
We attend church in record numbers, perform community service and take up the slack when our relatives fall on hard times. All of these things are positive attributes — but they simply need a little balance.
We also need some balance in the information we feed ourselves. There is a saying, “junk in, junk out.” Despite our many positive character traits, far too often we are depicted in the media as women who shop till we drop. There is a sliver of truth in these reports. According to a recent Nielsen study, African Americans have $1.1 trillion in buying power, and women influence the majority of those purchases.
So instead of retail therapy, how about making those trips to the mall an opportunity for some investment research, adopting the attitudes, beliefs and behaviors of financially successful women? How, you ask?
In my most recent book, A Purse of Your Own, I identified the traits or wealthy habits that any woman can use to trade that designer knock off for a purse filled with stocks and bonds.
1. First, it’s imperative that you take control of your purse strings and determine where your money is going. Track every dime for 30 days, and you will begin to understand your spending patterns. This is the information that you can also use to fatten your purse.
2. Identify the specific products and services that you buy. Are they potential investment opportunities? What if you shifted a few of those purchases to stock investments instead? To become financially fierce you must learn to redirect your spending and share in the profits of your favorite things. Before you invest a dime, you have to determine if those Michael Kors shoes or trips to Target qualify as an appropriate staple in your investment portfolio.
3. Increase your financial acumen by developing a critical trait: a wealthy appetite. Researching stocks is not that difficult if you are willing to devote the same amount energy you use when comparison-shopping for the best deal online. And if you shop with a girlfriend, partner with her to master financial literacy. It’s so much easier when you have someone to work with and someone who will hold you accountable. In 12 easy steps, you can analyze a company’s stock and determine if it would make a good fit in your portfolio. Click here to use a NASDAQ tool to analyze the company’s financial statements. You’ll be talking numbers and making cents in record time.
4. Finally, it’s time to take this information and put it to work by opening an investment account that will accommodate any budget. You can start an investment or brokerage account with as little as $25 at http://sharebuilder.com or learn which stocks you can buy directly from the company by visiting http://directinvesting.com.
These little amounts may not seem as if they would accumulate too much over time, but small change can really add up. A $350 investment in 100 shares of the initial public offering of Apple stock is worth more than $150,000 today.
When you decide it’s time to trade in high-heeled pumps and corporate attire for flip-flops and a walk on the beach, you’ll be humming “Living My Life Like it’s Golden” by Jill Scott. Let’s be clear, financially fierce women understand that money is simply a tool that when used properly can determine how you live now and in the future.