Talking about money can be hard, but not if you’re a financial guru with thousands of loyal fans who walk your money talk. In honor of Black History Month, we asked some personal finance experts to share their experiences and financial lessons, and to reflect on the significance race has on their financial lives and the advice they give their followers.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Nationally syndicated personal finance columnist, The Washington Post

Michelle Singletary writes “The Color of Money,” a weekly personal finance column that appears in more than 100 newspapers across the country. She is also the author of three books on personal finance.

Twitter: @singletarym

NW: When did you realize that you wanted to devote your career to writing about personal finance?

MS: I knew I had found my life’s passion after writing my first column for The Washington Post. The response was like nothing we had seen in the business section. Everyday people were writing that finally someone was speaking to them in a way that was understandable. I think we were all shocked at how many readers wrote in to say that they too had a Big Mama who taught them about money. My grandmother was extremely smart when it came to money, but she also worried a lot about not having enough. So it’s with her in mind that I aim to explain complicated financial things so the folks like her won’t be afraid to make certain money moves.

NW: In your experience, has race mattered in the kind of financial questions you receive or in how your advice is received?

MS: There are some dark days when I do receive some racist mail or emails. But overall the response to me has been very positive. Readers relate to me not just as an African-American, but as an American trying to make sense of her personal finance, just like them. Although my experience may be different than theirs, readers can identify with trying to save for retirement or their own kid’s college fund. In truth, the name of the column, “The Color of Money,” has less to do with my race than the fact that the color of money is green and it’s green we all need to live a good life.

NW:  Do you tailor your message for an African-American audience? Why or why not?

MS: I don’t. I write for anybody struggling to manage their money. I write for people who are good money managers and want to know how to be even better stewards over their money. I write to help people in debt.

But having said that, my writing is definitely influenced by and speaks to African-Americans because that is who I am. I’m black. I’m a black woman. I’m a black mother, wife, churchgoer, etc. I am the legacy of slavery. My grandmother’s grandparents were slaves. My grandmother Big Mama would tell me about the stories she heard as a child growing up in the shadows of a North Carolina plantation. It’s only been in my lifetime that blacks have had the right to vote, live in certain areas or hold certain jobs. It is with this black history that I write about the financial challenges African-Americans still have. So I understand why many are still poor or struggling to make just a middle-income lifestyle. I’m a fiscal conservative, but I also have compassion for people who make financial mistakes.

NW: What’s one financial lesson you’d like to give someone?

MS: Live below your means. Live below your means when you don’t have much money. Live below your means when you get money.

NW: Name some of your financial role models and what you admire about them.

MS: My Big Mama is my No. 1 financial role model. Much of my advice stems from what she taught me. She never made more than $13,000 a year, yet she paid off her home before she retired. She saved money from every paycheck. She taught me to be skeptical. It makes me cry to think that I’m a nationally syndicated personal finance columnist for one of the world’s best newspapers and my core advice comes from my black grandmother who was a nurse’s aide with just a high school education. Yet she managed her money better than some financial professionals I know. I give credit always to her because she is the reason I have my column and national recognition.

I also admire my husband. So many people joke that life with me — a professed lifelong penny pincher — must be tough. But he’s a great money manager. And he helps me let go of my fear of spending while still being frugal. He’s truly my partner in my mission to help people find financial freedom.

I also admire my pastor, John K. Jenkins Sr. (First Baptist Church of Glenarden) and his wife, Trina. My pastor taught me the importance of tithing and giving back, that it has to be at the top of my budget. And he is one of the most generous folks I know. I’ve seen him go to a restaurant and see members of our church and pick up their tab. He and his wife encouraged me to start a financial ministry at our church. And there is always someone living with them. They think nothing of opening their home to help people. He really does practice what he preaches.

The Budgetnista

Tiffany Aliche, known as The Budgetnista, is a trained educator who writes about budgeting and money management techniques. She founded a movement called the Live Richer Challenge that features daily tasks to achieve financial goals.

Twitter: @thebudgetnista

NW: When did you realize that you wanted to devote your career to writing about personal finance?

TA: I was a schoolteacher for 10 years, and my school lost funding at the height of the recession. When I lost my job and so many people I knew were struggling with their finances, that’s when I started my company. I had grown up in a household where money was talked about all the time.

NW: Name some of your financial role models and what you admire about them.

TA: First and foremost is my father. He was an accountant, and he taught us the academic parts of money management. My mom, who was raising us, taught me the application of money, like how to buy groceries. My dad and mom came from Nigeria with not much money at all, and they raised five girls. We are all educated, we have college degrees, and they financed it. To raise five girls and to teach them to manage their money wisely, it just shows you the power of basic money management and the power of your budget. Now [her dad is] retired, and I don’t have to take care of him financially. Not only was he able to provide for us, but also provide for himself in the future.

NW: In your experience, has race mattered in the kind of financial questions you receive or in how your advice is received?

TA: Honestly, when I started, there were very few people of color teaching financial education. I thought “there is no color” when it comes to budgeting. But race plays an issue, as it plays on trust and being relatable to people. The financial industry has taken advantage of people of color, so there’s a lack of trust of financial institutions. I’m teaching from a place where I am a woman of color. I found that women of color thought of me as someone who looks like one of them. They thought, “She wouldn’t do that to us.”

NW:  Do you tailor your message for an African-American audience? Why or why not?

TA: No, I tailor it more so to women in general. I don’t know if there’s something I’m doing other than the fact that I’m my natural self.

NW: What’s one financial lesson you’d like to give someone?

TA: To get started. Whatever your financial goal is, whether it’s buying a house, traveling or investing, what is one simple task you can take today, quickly? So many people look at the task as a whole, but goals are merely a collection of small tasks put together. Just do something every day, simple and soon.

His & Her Money

Talaat and Tai McNeely run the “His & Her Money” podcast, aimed at helping married couples navigate their financial lives. The couple paid off more than $30,000 in debt together.

Twitter: @HisandHerMoney

NW: When did you realize that you wanted to devote your career to personal finance education?

T&TM: We realized that we wanted to devote our career to personal finance once we conquered getting out of debt and we started to help others around us. We knew that we wanted to take our passion globally and help so many others achieve the same thing.

NW: What’s one financial lesson you’d like to give someone?

T&TM: You can change! A lot of people don’t believe that they have what it takes to become debt-free or build financial success. We like to tell them that they can. We are living proof that you can turn bad habits into good ones.

NW: In your experience, has race mattered in the kind of financial questions you receive or in how your advice is received?

T&TM: Race has never mattered in the kind of financial questions that we received, because money is universal. Everyone uses and needs money to thrive. We are very conscious of the lack of financial knowledge that our culture receives, and that is what fuels us even the more to share. We have a lot of people that follow us simply because we do look like them. They believe if they can see someone that looks just like them do it, then they can, too … and they can!

NW: Do you tailor your message for an African-American audience in any way? Why or why not?

T&TM: No, we don’t tailor our message per se to our African-American audience, because again money is universal. There is no color when it comes to money. We do feel like we have a voice and ear from the African-American audience because we are authentic and relatable.

NW: Name some of your financial role models and what you admire about them.

T&TM: Our biggest financial role model is God. We learn so many principles about money from the Bible. We also admire so many other financial role models such as Lynnette Khalfani-Cox and Michelle Singletary, just to name a few.

Madam Money

Tarra Jackson runs the Madam Money blog. She is a financial consultant and has worked as an executive at banks and credit unions.

Twitter: @MsMadamMoney

NW: When did you realize that you wanted to devote your career to writing about personal finance?

TJ: I was an executive at a credit union in Atlanta, and a lot of our clients were low- to mid-income people. They borrowed money, but their credit was really colorful, if you will, and when I talked to them, no one really taught them about money, about credit. Working there made me realize there was a disconnect in information about personal finance, and that is where my passion grew. That’s when I wrote my book “Financial Fornication.”

NW: Why did you choose that title for the book?

TJ: One day I saw this Hardee’s commercial, and they had this woman sitting on a car, eating a burger. I thought, “If sex can sell a cheeseburger, it can probably sell financial literacy.”

I took what people like talking about — relationships — and tied it to money. In the book, I used keywords that we use with relationships, like financial promiscuity (spending) and financial STDs (debt). People who read the book wanted more information about what to do next. That’s why I started a blog.

NW: What money mistakes did you make?

TJ: I was an executive, but I was living paycheck to paycheck. I wasn’t maximizing my retirement savings. I was doing the opposite of what I was helping and teaching other people to do. After I wrote the book to help the people I was working with, I had to look at myself in the mirror and realize I was doing the same thing. Being a broke banker just made me wake up and say, “I can’t do this — I can’t make everybody else rich if I’m not doing it for myself.”

NW: In your experience, has race mattered in the kind of financial questions you receive or in how your advice is received?

TJ: Race does play a factor, because we deal with certain social and economic differences, whether it’s where we live, who we are, how we were brought up, and our relationships with money. Now there are certain things that move beyond race — if you’re a spender, you’re a spender, if you’re a saver, you’re a saver. But a lot of African-Americans that I have met, a lot of their parents didn’t teach them about finances; that wasn’t something they talked about. I think cultures have different conversations about money, if they even have them. I respect and understand that, and it helps me respect and understand where certain people are coming from when I have conversations about money.

NW: What’s one financial lesson you’d like to give someone?

TJ: Start saving something sooner. If I had just put aside money in my 20s — even if it was $100 a week when I could afford it — I would have had more money saved up later. I wouldn’t have to save as much when I got older.

Paychecks & Balances

Jones and Garrett run the “Paychecks & Balances” weekly podcast, talking about ways millennials can increase their paychecks and reduce their credit card balances. Jones works as a human resources professional, and Garrett draws on his personal experience of paying off more than $30,000 in debt.

Twitter: @PayBalances

NW: When did you realize that you wanted to devote your career to writing about personal finance?

MG: We started out writing together as relationship bloggers, and I talked about getting out of debt. I wrote the first two main chapters of my book “Debt Free or Die Trying” in 2013-2014 and finally finished it in 2016. Knowing personally the pressure, the burden of debt can have on someone’s life, I just want to help folks avoid, reduce or solve their problems around personal debt.

RJ: I didn’t set out to cover personal finance, but I did realize that it’s a lot harder to do things when you don’t have money. There are some things I’ve learned over the years that a lot of people can relate to. How you perform at work relates directly to your earnings potential, which translates directly to your bank account, which translates to the types of opportunities and things you can do in life.

NW: In your experience, has race mattered in the kind of financial questions you receive or in how your advice is received?

MG:  Not really. I think what’s been a greater umbrella has been the millennial generation relationship — this generation has been dealing with a weight of debt that other generations cannot relate to. Everyone has a credit card by the age of 18, and people are graduating from college with $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 in debt. I feel like that used to be a unique circumstance for other generations, and now for us that is the life that we live.

NW: When you’re writing a blog post or recording a podcast, whom do you imagine giving advice to?

RJ: I think of my younger self. I see the podcast as an opportunity for us to really leverage our past mistakes to help others avoid them.

MG: I’m talking to myself. I’m naturally a spender; I like to make it rain, I like shiny things. I share that with my audience because I have to rein myself in — how can I speak to people who don’t want to budget? How can I help people save or grow their money, help them live their life and be debt-free?

NW: What’s one financial lesson you’d like to give someone?

MG: If you can’t avoid debt, make sure you have a plan in place [to pay it off].

RJ: Start small and start ASAP; it’s all about building habits you can stick to. Even if it’s just $10 out of a paycheck, $20 out of a paycheck, start to figure out what it is that you can reasonably do. As your income grows, as you attain more success, you’ll ultimately be able to save more money.

NW: Name some of your financial role models and what you admire about them.

RJ: My parents. Not because we had big conversations about money, but because they were able to provide a comfortable life for me with less money than I make now. I really admire what they were able to do with the money they had.

MG: My parents were thrifty. They taught me personal responsibility. I remember one Christmas, I wanted a $400 remote-controlled car. They said they’d pay half and told me, “If you want it that bad, you’ll come up with the other half.” So I worked whatever hours I needed to, and that created a sense of responsibility.

My Fab Finance

Tonya Rapley’s blog, My Fab Finance, teaches millennial women of color how to overcome debt and regain control of their finances. Rapley draws from her own experience of paying off debt and building her credit score.

Twitter: @MyFabFinance

NW: When did you realize that you wanted to devote your career to writing about personal finance?

TR: When I started my own financial journey to improve my own situation. I was in a financially abusive relationship during college, and, as a result, my finances were significantly compromised. For the first couple of years of my healing process, I just ignored my finances. When I realized it was preventing me from living my life in the manner that I wanted to, that I had planned to, I began setting myself up for my financial future.

NW: In your experience, has race mattered in the kind of financial questions you receive or in how your advice is received?

TR: No. But I acknowledge and embrace my race; I understand the unique financial dynamics that comes along with our experience. I understand that people who are relatively successful may be the first generation in their family to achieve success and the financial responsibilities that come out of that. I’m sensitive to the issues of our community, and because of that, people gravitate towards me. I don’t deny the role my race has played in my professional and financial opportunity.

NW: Do you tailor your message for an African-American audience? Why or why not?

TR: When I create content, I look at it as if I’m talking to my best friend or my sister. I don’t know if it’s intentional, but it is a guided thought process. I want to make sure it can relate to my target demographic, which is millennial women of color. But it’s not work for me — it’s an extension of me, it’s effortless.

NW: What’s one financial lesson you’d like to give someone?

TR: Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. There are so many opportunities available in life, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best opportunity for you. Whether it’s a promotion and you think now you can upgrade to a new apartment, or just because you have extra money, doesn’t mean it’s time to go on a shopping spree. Not enough people realize that just because you have the means to do it doesn’t mean you should.

NW: Name some of your financial role models and what you admire about them.

TR: My grandfather because he was a really simple man — he prepared for his financial future so well that even after he got diagnosed with diabetes and a host of other illnesses, he lived well.

Also Marshawn Lynch, the former Seattle Seahawks football player. He retired early because of the financial decisions he made during his career. While everyone around him was living in excess, he made such sound financial decisions.

And Oprah, because she’s Oprah.

 

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Amrita Jayakumar is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: ajayakumar@nerdwallet.com. Twitter:@ajbombay.

The article African-American Financial Gurus to Follow originally appeared on NerdWallet.