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During childhood, I never lacked for anything. There was never a toy I asked for and didn’t get. I was always well kept, attended private schools until high school, and my dad wore the flyest of Steve Harvey approved gators and three-piece suits. I actually thought we were well off, so it’s hard to break bad habits I didn’t even know existed.

Money was never a mystery in our household. I knew it was something you needed to get things and something that the adults in my life were always trying to get more of. My grandmothers played the lottery religiously trying to win big and I knew what the Pick 4 was by kindergarten. I quickly learned that cash could get me everything I wanted. That was my first lesson about money—it needed to be spent!

My fixation with making money started at an early age. My first memory of making my own money was in the 6th grade, when I’d bake dry ass brownies and sell them at an extreme mark up to my classmates. My sawdust treats earned my first income. As my mom restocked my supply by buying the brownie mix, I was free to spend my profits on whatever I wanted, and I did. From there, my money-earning ways grew. By 16, I had a small job where I picked up every available shift after school and on weekends. I also started babysitting the neighbors’ kids— for a teen, I was making bank. Unfortunately, I spent every dime I made and no one ever suggested I save. My lesson? Have fun, look swaggy and make more money.

That was my first lesson about money—it needed to be spent!

So that’s what I did. I  worked throughout college, I got paid… and spent it! Financial aid refund checks… spent it! This cycle of money going through my hands like water continued until my mid 20’s and then came my reality check. I was working a full-time job as a television Associate Producer but wasn’t getting paid. The production was having financial issues and every time their checks bounced, mine did, too. I had no cushion in the bank and I was in such denial about my work situation I didn’t leave right away. The production company soon folded and I was left with no job, no cash, multiple bounced checks, and hella bank fees.

I had to sit back and ask myself, (cues Deborah Cox) how did I get here?!?!

That’s when I realized I had no control over my money. I just wanted to get more money but never thought about what it meant to actually manage my finances. I started to examine the root of where my poor money management came from… my parents. It’s not a blame game, just facts. Memories started to come back of my “well off” parents asking for money from my piggy bank and overhearing them bicker about bills.

Now with clarity and an adult perspective, I started putting the puzzle pieces together. My parents were living beyond their means. Their bankruptcies, IRS liens, excessive borrowing, maxed out credit cards, and lack of savings all came from overspending. They couldn’t teach me how to save for a rainy day because they didn’t know how to. When you’re in the midst of cyclical and generational financial ignorance you don’t know it—it’s just how it is. You don’t analyze your parents’ and grandparents’ money choices, especially if the results aren’t particularly traumatic. I mean, who’s mad at getting everything they want? But in reflection, I realized there were some big things missing. Yes, we looked good, but there was an underlying sense of stress and instability due to overspending and under-saving. I didn’t want to live like that anymore so I decided to change the trajectory of my financial path. I gave myself some new rules for living:

  • Save: I opened a savings account and contribute regularly. I learned to live without the extra money, and named my savings account “Poor No More.” Every time I log into online banking, I’m reminded of my purpose for saving.
  • More Income: I stopped depending on one paycheck and got some side hustles. I started freelancing more and created passive income through investments.
  • Living Minimally: I learned to live without the things I didn’t need. That included selling a car I barely used to free up some money.
  • Communication: I contacted my debtors about payment plans, interest rates, and solutions. They’re usually willing to work with you because they want their money!
  • Debt Wipe Out: I stopped getting comfortable with just paying on debt but started to pay it OFF, tackling smallest loans first.
  • Setting Goals: I created tangible and attainable action plans with deadlines.
  • Say No: This one I still struggle with because who doesn’t like treating themselves? But I’m learning when to tell myself and others no or not right now.
  • Checking My Intentions: What are my intentions for wanting to spend this money? Do I need this or do I want it? Is it for me or to impress other people?
  • Educate Myself: I needed to actually learn what I didn’t know so I started reading more financial literacy books, listening to financial podcasts, and following financial gurus on social media.
  • Check My Habits: Where was I spending most and why? Answer: Food, because I’m lazy. So I started cooking more.

Once I took control of my money, I took control of my life. I stopped taking stressful jobs just because I needed a paycheck. My anxiety around money subsided because I created a safety net. The robbing Peter to pay Paul cycle stops with me. I’m not mad at my parents for not teaching me about proper money management because it’s hard to teach someone about something you don’t even know. But I know my kids will understand savings, investing, living debt free, and most importantly to not let money run them.

By the way, I was eventually paid all of the money owed to me by my former employer and as much as I wanted to drag them, I’m grateful for the lesson.

Arielle Neblett is a freelance writer for CASSIUS.