The path to financial freedom might seem daunting, but only you can take the first step.
I’m not claiming to be an expert on finances, in fact, quite the contrary, and the reason I lack this information may have to do with my race, sex, and upbringing in a home where government assistance was a means for survival. Truth be told, unless you have parents with knowledge on how to save, how to invest, and how to spend your money wisely, it’s not likely you will find yourself in an economic situation that is favorable. For example, in the US, many schools do not teach these basics that will be fundamental necessities when heading out into the real world. I’ve come to learn there are many disparities, caused by many factors, when it comes to wealth.
One of the most impactful racial inequalities in the US is economic. On average, people of color experience significantly lower levels of income, home ownership rates, and retirement savings than white Americans. This has a trickle-down effect, causing lower educational completion and poorer healthcare outcomes, which ultimately results in shorter life expectancies.
Women, too, face lifestyle and economic issues that cause setbacks on the road to gain financial stability. They tend to live longer and earn less than men, making it all the more important for them to save wisely. More than likely, women are responsible for the household budget. They take time off from work for childbirth, which frequently happens during the peaks of their careers. The expectation of caring for aging parents or spouses tends to fall on women, while a common universal theme suggests women should work in the home providing for and looking after their families, without compensation. This stereotype of women fulfilling the role of “homemaker” perpetuates the inability for women to catch up and obtain financial independence.
Refugees are also not in the most promising financial situation. Many resettled refugees lack the understanding and clear path for achieving financial success due to language barriers, inadequate job opportunities, and the fact that the majority are supporting not only themselves and their households, but also a family of extended relatives in the countries from which they’ve fled.
But I refuse to let my circumstances define me and choose to move forward, power through, and seek out resources for monetary security. I cannot change the fact that I’m Black, I’m a woman, and I’m a refugee. However, I can learn and work to change my financial trajectory.
I entered the fashion industry as no stranger to hard work. I’ve always wanted to acquire the basics of financial knowledge, because I’ve had insufficient professional advice and no formal training. The first thing I did was set up bank accounts. As an independent contractor, I am responsible for paying income tax at the end of the year. I also have to pay for my health insurance – something that required time to learn about – and I needed to study the principles of credit and interest. Setting up a plan for retirement is something many put off, but knowing little about the longevity of my career, it was something I wanted to get started on right away. Lastly, I also knew I was spending too much on rent so this year, I took the leap – having saved for a down payment – and purchased my first home.
I’m fortunate to be in a position where I can seek guidance from top financial experts. I’m not sure how many models or employees read basic line items and comprehend assets versus liabilities on their financial statements! My advice is to speak to a trusted professional to assist with your journey of financial management. There is also a great deal of helpful information online, but do your due diligence in vetting the source. With Covid-19 impacting economies and people around the world, I asked my financial planner to share his best advice, which is to focus on what you can control. You can’t control market fluctuations, the economy, or the political environment. Instead, you should base your decisions on time-tested investment principles, which include diversifying your portfolio, owning quality investments, and maintaining a long-term perspective.
Philanthropy is also part of my financial philosophy. Giving never goes out of style – it is truly what radiates your beauty. I’ve come to learn that those who have the least, tend to give the most. If you can’t give money, give time and energy to the organizations and causes close to your heart. If you can give money, do it. You might not even realize the impact you can have, but you won’t regret it. Not sure who needs you? Join me in donating to Unicef today.
It’s important – no matter where you come from or what obstacles you have faced – to take control of your financial future and educate yourself on the tools for navigating economic prosperity. I’m the first to tell you that money can’t buy happiness, but knowing that your money is working for you, determining your destiny, and allowing your world yet to come to look more sound, should allow you to sleep better at night.
Originally published in the November 2020 issue of Vogue Arabia