I struggled for a long time with my finances. I took out student loans for a degree that I didn't complete, and when it came to consumer debt, my experience was one step forward, two steps back.
Over the years, I racked up $10,000 in credit card debt, which I paid off in 2013. Then in 2016, I found myself in the exact same position, with another $10,000 to pay off. I was in a toxic relationship where I thought I needed his help to cover my expenses.
Finally in 2019, I had reached a point where I knew things had to change. It was so important to me to prove to myself, and to show my kid, that I could stand on my own. I started to do the work to figure out how to manage my money.
In February of that year, I started an Instagram and YouTube channel called Talk Finances To Me as a way to share my debt payoff process. As I started to reach my goals, I wanted to share my experience with others who might be going through the same things I did. So in the summer of 2020, I launched my official website, and that December, I got my first paying gig through Talk Finances To Me.
My goal now with the platform is to help other women feel more confident about their finances and give them the tools to start building generational wealth.
In two years, I've saved over $20,000 in an emergency fund, created five streams of income, and have paid off all my credit card debt. I also recently bought a home with my fiance. These are the money rules I made to help me stay on track.
Setting smaller benchmarks on the way to a larger goal makes a big difference. My goal was to become consumer debt–free as fast as possible while also saving for emergencies.
I started with a savings goal of $1,000. When I met that, seeing that it was possible gave me the motivation to continue and to be even more ambitious. Having banked that first $1,000, I did the math to see how much I would need to save for one month of expenses, and that became my next goal.
I am currently working on saving my goal of six months of expenses one month at a time. Now I consistently save anywhere between $120 to $300 a month toward my emergency fund. It is a nonnegotiable item in my budget, like a bill.
Video by Helen Zhao
With my new budget, I wanted to make sure every dollar I earned had a purpose. I adopted a cash-only spending plan where I had cash envelopes for categories like groceries, gas, discretionary money, dining out, and more.
I opened two separate checking accounts, one for my daily spending, and one for monthly bill pay. At the start, I kept all my credit cards at home so I wouldn't be tempted to use them.
I made sure that the emergency fund would only be for things like a medical issue or a job loss, not for future events or special occasions. Along with my emergency fund saving, I started saving smaller amounts in dedicated funds for occasions like Christmas, birthdays, my car insurance, and my anniversary.
Now those sinking fund accounts are linked to my cash back credit card. When I want to buy something for one of those categories, I use that card and then pay the balance from my savings account.
Video by Stephen Parkhurst
I am an emotional spender turned avid saver. Whether I felt bored or sad or happy, I always felt the need to buy something. It's a feeling that I couldn't understand for the longest time and struggled to overcome.
The more I focused on my small goals and on how much I wanted to build wealth for my family, I started to see the shift. Now when I have the urge to buy or spend money, I recognize those feelings, and I give myself a goal to meet and reward myself with something I really want.
I understand now that it is OK to buy things for myself that are "nice to haves," rather than needs, as long as I have a plan for buying them. So I stick to the discretionary money I give myself every month the best I can for spending, and anything that will require more is put on a wish list tied to a goal, like a TUMI backpack I'm currently saving up for.
While I could afford to buy it now, it feels better being able to set aside a little bit every week, while working towards my other financial goals at the same time.
Anytime I questioned myself or doubted my ability to reach my goals, I remembered my "why" for becoming debt-free: building wealth for my family and no longer living paycheck to paycheck.
I kept myself inspired and accountable by documenting my process and journey on YouTube and Instagram. This helped a lot because I knew I had people watching who were in the same position I was in and who were looking for encouragement.
My motto is, "No one is going to create wealth for me: I need to do this myself." Educating myself and becoming more financially literate helps me stay on track and feel more confident.
So I read financial news every day, even if it is just one article, and read a book about money every month — this month's is "Your Money or Your Life" by Vicki Robin, and I highly recommend it for anyone who is looking to build a more positive relationship to their money.
Video by Mariam Abdallah
I started telling my story and posting about the things I was learning about financial wellness and literacy, and within two years I started receiving emails and messages from brands and businesses who wanted to work with me.
With help from my fiance, I reached my first money goal of bringing in an additional $1,000 a month with Talk Finances To Me in December of 2020. Now I have different monthly goals depending on what work I have going on during a given time.
It took a lot of trial and error with different types of online content to reach this point. I started with just Instagram posts and YouTube videos. I have added blog posts, weekly newsletters, and daily TikToks to the mix.
Now I have five streams of income: my full-time job as a pharmacy general manager, sponsored content, writing freelance articles, product sales, and paid speaking engagements. Together, these bring in anywhere from $6,000 to $10,000 each month.
Video by Courtney Stith
I recently started investing after years of putting it on the back-burner. I have some regrets about waiting, but I am already starting to see some progress.
My current employer does not provide a traditional 401(k), so I restarted my retirement investing journey in May of 2021. Now I contribute money every pay period, after tax, to my Roth IRA account. When it comes to my investments, I put 95% of my money into my Roth IRA retirement account, and the other 5% is put toward cryptocurrency and individual stocks.
I manually transfer my funds into my Roth IRA every month so I can actively monitor my progress. Since I became consumer debt–free in June of this year, I have started putting $500 every month towards my retirement.
These rules were tough for me at first. It took time and repetition and occasionally starting over to make them stick. But they have become personal values that have helped me create the financial life that I want.
Jennifer Toledo is the founder of Talk Finances To Me. Inspired by her own financial journey, she wanted to build a platform dedicated to helping women manage their money, develop healthy relationships, and build generational wealth. She always wanted to be a teacher, and is thrilled to be able to share the lessons she has learned about money with Talk Finances To Me.
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