Economic Empowerment: 10 Ways to maximize your money and make it work for you

Very excited for my first article in Blavity: read full one here: http://blavity.com/economic-empowerment-10-ways-to-maximize-your-money-and-make-it-work-for-you/

Michelle Obama. Oprah. Beyoncé. Rihanna. Gabrielle Union. Kerry Washington.

What do all of these women have in common (other than my obsession with their Instagram feeds)? They represent strength, independence, and beauty: All coveted in our modern day society. I could write about those qualities alone, but what I admire most about them is that none of these women were born with a golden spoon. They worked hard, paid their dues, and because of their financial literacy, they’re now in a position where their brand works for them and, in turn, brings in more money.

We all hear that “when you educate a girl, you educate a nation.” It’s so important for women to be our own Gladiators and take control of our money. Money allows us to have our own feeling of self-worth and independence. Here are 10 ways to gain control and get on the path to financial stability:

1. Make a vision board

Whether virtual or physical, it’s great to take images of things that you aspire to have and put them in one place. I have a board on Pinterest that I use to capture anything from jewelry to homes I’d like to one day live in and vacations I’d like to go on…such as a 14-day safari to Tanzania. Update this board on a regular basis as your preferences will change over time. It will give you the motivation to strive more for what you want.

2. Create a financial roadmap

Just like with career goals, give yourself a 1 / 3 / 5 / 10-year plan. What kind of life do you see for yourself? Create a short- and long-term plan and constantly check back in to see if you’re on the right track. This is not a one-time shot, so re-adjust as your goals and needs change.

3. Take full account of your lifestyle

I’m originally from the East Coast, so when I planned on moving to California, I took salary into account but not the fact that CA has higher tax rates. I currently live in San Francisco, one of the most expensive cities in the US and also should have accounted for higher rent.

If you want to live in places such as SF or NYC, think about the day-to-day cost of living. If you’re in the city, chances are you might spend more on transportation, but if in the suburbs, you’ll probably need to buy a car. Weigh the pros and cons of each and decide what works for you.

4. Budget

Think you eat out two days a week but in reality it’s 4 or 5? Start tracking what you end up spending per month. You can use an excel spreadsheet, keep notes on your phone, or use apps such as Mint to log expenses. You can also look at credit card statements — many will break up expenses by type (restaurants, taxi, clothes, etc).

An ideal situation is to have three months savings tucked away in case you ever need it. Focus on how you can cut spending, and save at least 10% of your paycheck when possible.

5. Take advantage of workplace benefits

If you work for a company, chances are they offer benefits such as a 401k, tuition reimbursement, discounted food and merchandise, etc. Talk to your HR department to learn what these benefits are and how you can utilize them.

6. Start small

It can be overwhelming to think about all of this at once, so even beginning with one thing is a step in the right direction. For example, if you’re comfortable saving 5% vs 10% of your salary, that’s ok. Do it and start today rather than waiting for the ‘ideal’ moment, as that might take a lot longer.

7. Earn your splurges

We live in a society of “I want it now! I DESERVE this.” Although I admit to feeling this way sometimes, I remind myself that I should feel a sense of accomplishment before getting those shoes or that bracelet.

Give yourself a few rules, such as “If I save $__ over this next month then I can spend $__ on shoes.”

8. Talk to people you trust

Money is not a comfortable thing to talk about openly, so find your tribe. It can be your mom, sister, partner, colleagues at work or financial advisors, but make sure you are 100% comfortable with them. You could start an article club: It’s less commitment than a book club where you choose one article on a money topic each week that you can discuss over coffee, lunch, or a glass of wine (perhaps before Scandal comes on).

9. Simplify

I live life by the one in, one out rule: When I buy a new shirt or dress, I donate one item from my closet. I’ve found that this curbs my spending. I need to think about whether I actually want to get rid of something before purchasing something else. Simplifying also means prioritizing, so choose your critical financial goals first and work your way down.

10. Forge your OWN path

Everyone approaches financial wellness with their own ideas, so at the end of the day do what’s right for YOU. Listen to others for best practices, but ultimately you should be your own cheerleader. Your goals are very personal to your beliefs and values, and that will reflect through your own decision making.