When we take control of our finances, which is tantamount to taking control of our lives, we are able to experience a more care-free and less stressful existence. We are also able to really be a blessing to our families and future generations.
To get my mind in the right place and get control of my finances, I looked to my grandmothers as inspiration. My maternal grandmother was a domestic worker. She worked for rich people. She cooked their food, cleaned their houses, ironed their clothes and helped raise their children — all while raising eight children and two grandchildren of her own with a husband whose disability stopped him from working.
My paternal grandmother was a sixth-grade graduate and a self-made woman. Her skill was sewing and so she became a seamstress. She raised six children and after she had her sixth child her husband had a stroke. As a Black woman growing up in New York in the 1900s, my grandmother had tremendous responsibilities.
What stands out to me is that both my grandmothers owned their own houses, which they passed on to family. Also, they always had money. If you wanted a little money from Grandma Pinkard, she would turn around, pull a handkerchief out of her bosom and give you a couple of dollars. If you wanted big money, $10 or $15, she would roll up her skirt, reach in the top of her stocking and pull out big cash. The bosom was the credit union; the stocking was the bank.
I decided that if my Black grandmother — with no education, no civil rights, in the 1900s, with no husband to support her — could die and leave me my first house, then shame on me — with my civil rights and all of my activism and all of my education — if all I have to leave when I die is credit card bills. That was not going to be my life. I decided to take control.
My grandmothers taught me three things about finances: 1) set short-term financial goals; 2) identify spending leaks; and, 3) list all income and expenses to give shape, form and life to what we call a spending plan, commonly known as a budget. These three things represent the backbone of dfree®.
Setting short-term goals gives you an opportunity to celebrate victories along the way and gives you something achievable on your way to your big dreams. It’s important to write these goals down and review them frequently in order to stay on track.
Spending leaks are just that — you don’t know the money is gone until it is gone. Now, my father was very supportive of his eldest son. Yet whenever I asked dad for a loan until payday, he would say, “Son, you work every single day. Why is it that every other month you need to borrow money?” And I’d say, “Dad, I don’t know where my money goes.” My dad would look at me and say, “It doesn’t leave home while you’re sleeping. The money goes where you take it.”
You have to look at every single penny you spend as you spend it. Track it. Write it down or put it in the notes on your phone. Make sure you are spending on needs, not wants.
When we get to the budget, understand that budget is not a nasty word and it’s not a restrictive word. A budget simply says that I have “this” much income and I have “that” many needs flowing from my expenses. I want my expenses to be not only no higher than my income, I want my expenses to be lower than my income because I need a balanced cash-flow strategy.
Is all of this easy? It definitely is not. Yet, you gain control by laying a firm foundation for your new life of freedom. Fundamentally, any plan that is going to work in advancing your freedom must be fueled by the power of your motivation. Attitude and action go hand in hand.
If my grandmothers could do it, if I could do it, you can do it. Get free. Get control.
Dr. DeForest B. Soaries Jr. is author of Say Yes to No Debt: 12 Steps to Financial Freedom, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, New Jersey, and founder of the dfree® financial freedom movement. Find your way to financial freedom at www.mydfree.org.