For education administrator Kara Stevens, saving money is nearly as important as earning it! It was this notion, at least in part, that inspired the 34-year-old New Yorker to launch her web site, the Frugal Feminista a few years ago. The popular financial empowerment and money saving site advocates how to have a healthy and prodigious relationship with cash. Stevens recently sat down with TNJ.com to share some of her cost-cutting and wealth-for-life tidbits:
TNJ.com: Why are you a Frugal Feminista? How and under what circumstances did you start the web site? Who developed the catchy name?
Stevens: I am a Frugal Feminista because I see the direct connection between the financial empowerment, women’s empowerment, and what I like to call “juicy living,” which is life that is full of passion, joy, happiness and personal fulfillment.
I started the Frugal Feminista because I wanted to inspire and educate Black women around their personal finances. In 2004, I read the book, Girl Get Your Money Straight: A Sister’s Guide to Healing Your Bank Account and Funding Your Dreams in 7 Simple Steps, by Glinda Bridgforth. (Crown Business; $12.95). The book talked about money from a holistic, Black woman-centered perspective. It changed my whole relationship with money. I became passionate about teaching myself everything I could about personal finance. I read about savings, debt management, investing, and entrepreneurship for three years straight. In terms of the name, my Mom helped me develop, “The Frugal Feminist.” One day, on my way to work we brainstormed some ideas. One of her ideas was the Frugal Feminista, because she knows that I am all about girl power and financial freedom. I loved the idea but added the “ista” to make it pop and add a light and relatable tone.
TNJ.com: What prompted you to become passionate and proactive and about money management and saving?
Stevens: After graduating from college, I had about $12-$15k worth of credit card and student loan debt. I had some bad habits. I was missing my student loan payments and paying late on my credit cards. Sometimes, I didn’t even bother to pay anything on my bills. After reading Bridgforth’s book, I began to view money for what it is—a powerful tool to fund your dreams. I was tired of not having my money work for me and just working for the money.
TNJ.com: What advice would you give to others who want to save a percentage of their income?
Stevens: In terms of building a deep understanding about the wealth-freedom connection, I would tell everyone to invest in educating themselves around personal finance whether it be through buying a book, following a blog, speaking with a financial mentor, or enlisting the support and accountability from a community of wealth-minded friends. On a practical level, I would say start small and stay focused and consistent. Create systems and structures to ensure that you pay yourself first. I tell people to really examine and review their finances. Where is the money going? How much money is being spent on “needs”? How much is being spent on “wants”? Identify daily money wasters: stop buying bottled water. Use a cup or thermos from home. There is no real difference. It’s marketing. If you do buy, don’t forget to get your deposit back. If you buy Starbucks, get the smaller size or drink coffee brewed at home. Also, there are websites where you can cash in unwanted gift cards.
TNJ.com: What’s the best way to stick with your savings goal? What do you suggest to people who “live” on their credit cards, or people who use their MASTERCARD to make the minimum payment on their VISA credit card each month?
Stevens: Automate your savings and open an online savings account that requires three days for you to access the account. Spend less by creating a budget and sticking to it. Start a side hustle or side gig. I have had several side gigs over the years, ranging from Amazon.com book business to dressing up as a clown or Mickey Mouse character for kids’ birthday parties. I nursed the money I earned from side hustle for the week while squirreling away my regular paycheck.
Using your MASTERCARD to pay your VISA payment?!?!? That sounds like robbing Peter to pay Paul and leaving both of them without two pennies to rub together! If you are using credit cards to “live” and you don’t have the money to repay it in full or at all, then you are digging yourself into debt. Pay for things in cash or with a secured credit card.
TNJ.com: What’s your opinion on “payday loans.” Some people, especially entrepreneurs and marginally employed folks, think a quick cash loan at a triple digit interest rate is a quick fix to a short-term cash flow problem.
Stevens: I think relying on quick cash loans or payday loans creates a deeper and more enduring financial problem both in the short-term and long-term. If you couldn’t afford to pay for an item today that costs $100 and you take out a loan with a triple digit interest rate, the chances are slim to none that you are in a financial position to repay both the principal and the cost of interest within a short period of time. My advice is to stay away from payday loans and if you are in dire circumstances, identify items that you can sell or negotiate a less predatory arrangement with a family member.
TNJ.com: Any final thoughts or comments? How can I make my money work for me?
Stevens: Think long-term and break up your financial goals into small chunks. When you reach one of those milestones, be sure to celebrate your growth. Celebration keeps you motivated and recognizes your efforts!