Did you know April is Financial Literacy Month? I did not. I was having a conversation with a dear friend about how expensive everything is these days, how one paycheck seems to evaporate quickly, how you can leave the supermarket having spent $100 for two bags of groceries (if you’re lucky), and how we finally understand what our parents meant when they’d say, “It’s always something!” when discussing finances.
I have been trying to think more strategically about my finances. I feel young, but I am over 40 and need to start thinking more seriously about retirement and what saving and investing look like for me and my lifestyle. I am also someone who does not like to think about money often. It stresses me out just a bit. However, I realize that I must do a small amount of planning now so that in my later years I am not stressed, broke, or a burden to others.
I recently met with a financial planner and he gave me some great words of wisdom. First, everyone has differing levels of comfort when it comes to money and savings. Much of our relationship to money has to do with our childhood and upbringing; whether we are in a relationship and sharing financial responsibilities; whether or not we have loads of debt, etc. When discussing money, we must meet people where they are and realize we may be starting these conversations from vastly different vantage points.
Second, when we think about what we want our lives to look like when we are no longer working, what do we see? I pray I am healthy and mobile so I can continue to travel. I am not that interested in designer clothes or very expensive restaurants, but I do know that much of my disposable income goes towards experiences. We must be sure to plan to be able to afford the things that bring us joy in the future, no matter what they may be.
Last, live below your means when possible. Many people max out credit cards and have no savings whatsoever. This is not a judgment, merely a statement of fact for millions of Americans. Raising kids, helping family members, and being a stable force in one’s community is often an expensive responsibility. When possible, I was advised to squirrel away money when I could, whether for a rainy day, vacation, or emergency fund. As I’ve mentioned in the column before, I try not to spend $5 bills. I put them in a can for miscellaneous expenses that pop up. You’d be amazed how quickly $5 bills can turn into well over $100.
So use this month to take stock of where you are and how you feel about your financial health.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an Associate professor at Fordham University, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream”, and the co-host of the podcast FAQ-NYC and host of The Blackest Questions podcast at TheGrio.