A lot of personal finance advice doesn't speak to our unique experiences with money. These content creators are changing that.
I had no concept of wealth, much less how to build it, until a year ago. (For context, I’m in my early 30s.) I didn’t realize it was a concrete number: the sum of a person’s assets minus the sum of their debts. For much of my life, I thought “wealth” merely meant a lavish lifestyle enjoyed primarily by older white men like Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos, which led me to dismiss it as a lofty dream not meant for someone who looked like me. Because I normalized financial struggle — while I was privileged to grow up middle class, my immigrant parents had to sacrifice a ton for me to do so — I learned to see money as something I would never have enough of, and accepted that I would carry my massive student loan debt to the grave.
But apparently, I’m not the only person of color who didn’t fully comprehend wealth until recently. Neither did Nika Booth, a money coach and personal finance content creator who shares her progress toward debt freedom on Instagram. “I, too, wasn't familiar with the concept of wealth and wealth building,” she tells me. “The more I shared my story, I realized a lot of other BIPOC didn't understand it, either.”
Due to systemic racism, among other factors, there is a glaring disparity in financial literacy between BIPOC and their white counterparts, Booth says. And most personal finance content — created mostly by white men — doesn’t really speak to the financial challenges we face, or the layered meanings we attach to money.
But thanks largely to social media lowering barriers to entry to content creation, combined with the elevation of Black voices in the wake of last summer’s protests, there’s been a growing movement to create personal finance content by and for BIPOC. Dannielle Romoleroux breaks down what happens when you’re your parents’ retirement account — a reality for many children of immigrants — on her YouTube channel, for example, while Gianni LaTange talks about how to build generational wealth through real estate, even with low or moderate income, on their IG account.
Through playing financial literacy catch-up with the help of these and other BIPOC personal finance content creators, I’ve learned that getting your money right is more than a matter of “adulting.” For BIPOC in particular, it can be an act of liberation. “You’re really saying, ‘I have choices,’ and for centuries, a lot of communities in the US, especially the Black community, did not have choices,” says Romoleroux, who’s Ecuadorian. While many of us would prefer otherwise, “we live in a capitalist society, and if we want to take ownership of our time, of where we’re spending that time, we need to have that financial house in order.”
What could explain the financial literacy gap between BIPOC and their white counterparts? Let’s start with who teaches us about money. We typically learn about money from our parents, who probably learned about money from their parents, and so on — but for BIPOC, that knowledge might be extremely limited. Slavery and its legacy, for instance, have severely impacted Black Americans’ ability to build wealth. “I am a direct descendant of enslaved people,” Booth says. “How were they going to teach me financial literacy?”
Meanwhile, immigrants like my parents might not understand how people in the US invest and build wealth, Romoleroux says. That lack of knowledge then gets passed down from one generation to the next.
“My grandmother didn’t want to not know about money,” Booth says. “She didn’t know it was a thing to know about money.”
The racial wealth gap, plus the challenges of carving out a new life as an immigrant, also means that many BIPOC families are in survival mode, which leaves little opportunity to build wealth, or even think about doing so. If your parents are struggling to make rent, “then they’re not thinking about 40 years down the line because they’re just thinking about how to live in the next month or in the next two weeks,” Romoleroux says. “I think that impacts what we’re able to learn about money.” As I’ve written previously for Mic, my parents instilled in me the importance of saving my money, in case of an emergency — growing it, not so much.
Booth and Romoleroux add that some BIPOC communities might also pass down limiting beliefs about money that can hamper our ability to develop financial literacy. In Romoleroux’s Latinx community, “growing up, we hear money is evil,” she says. “It makes it a lot harder to grapple with wanting to reach a level of wealth.”
As a result, money is “still considered taboo in our culture,” Romoleroux says, “whereas for my white peers, it’s just another topic of conversation at the dinner table.” But this silence can prevent people from identifying and addressing their knowledge gaps, which delays them from getting started on building wealth, she explains. In a similar vein, many BIPOC, myself included, learn to view money as a scarce resource, which she says can limit our ability to imagine more for ourselves, as well as the opportunities we explore.
It doesn’t help that many of us didn’t grow up seeing people who look like us building wealth or teaching financial literacy, Booth says, making it seem “completely out of our reach.” Indeed, most of the big names in personal finance — Dave Ramsey, Peter Lynch, and Suze Orman, to name a few — are white. “As a BIPOC, it's really hard to look at a white person and immediately say, ‘If they can do that, I can too,’ believe that, and actually do it,” Booth says. The reality is, BIPOC face barriers to wealth that white people don’t.
Booth’s deep dive into financial literacy began while she was searching Etsy for envelopes that would allow her to divide her cash into budget categories and noticed several people mentioning Dave Ramsey, a personal finance author and radio host credited with the cash envelope concept. She listened to his podcasts and read his books, which led her to consume content by other personal finance experts. None looked like her, though, and hardly any were single like her — and if they were, they didn’t carry the six-figure debt she did.
Along the way, Booth discovered the debt free community on IG. She opened herself to the possibility of freeing herself from debt — her path might just look different from those of her go-to personal finance experts at the time. “I have to redefine what that process and what that journey looks like as opposed to me trying to accept this cookie cutter approach to paying off debt from this old white man,” she realized.
Booth made the leap to creating her own personal finance content in 2019, when she began chronicling her experience paying off more than $200,000 in debt on her blog and IG account, both called Debt Free Gonnabe. Not only did documenting her journey help her hold herself accountable, it filled a void: “There was still no one telling a similar story of being a single Black woman slaying six-figure debt at the time, or that I was aware of,” she says.
On her IG, Booth is transparent not only about her debt, but also about the mistakes she made with her student loans and the cashmere sweater she splurged on. She talks about how, contrary to conventional personal finance wisdom, she’s investing now rather than waiting until she pays off her debt, because by then, it’ll already be time for her to retire. Sure, she’d have no debt — but no retirement funds, either. Indeed, most personal finance experts advise achieving goals in a particular order. “Unfortunately, many of us, especially those of us in communities of color, don’t have the luxury or privilege to do that,” Booth says.
Romoleroux didn’t grow up with much financial literacy, either. While her father invested in real estate, he also went through bankruptcy and foreclosure, resulting in the loss of all her parents’ properties except the one they called home. The experience led to her decision to forego credit cards until she had a full-time job. She only took out student loans for college because she had to.
A year into her well-paying, full-time job, she realized that she had “nothing really to show for it.” She didn’t have any savings, nor did she make a dent in her student loan debt.
In 2017, she started listening to personal finance podcasts and finally started taking control of her money, paying off her student loans in full two years later (although saving on rent by living at home with her parents helped, she points out).
Romoleroux also started a personal finance blog in 2017, which turned into an Instagram account, @firstgenmoney. At the time, “there were really very few people who looked like me who were talking about money,” she says. Not unlike Booth, she thought someone could benefit from hearing about her own journey, as a first-gen Latina. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, she started a YouTube channel.
“A lot of the content I create is based on my life,” she says — and that strongly resonates with her audience. Her video on preparing for your parents’ retirement has nearly 2,000 views and 38 comments, a few of which point out the lack of coverage of this topic. “It is very clear in our community that this is something that might fall on us,” she says. Now, she wants to expand on the subject. “How can I create content to continue to empower and educate the Latinx community on how to prepare for this when you have your own goals?”
Both she and Booth have noticed an uptick in personal finance content creators of color, even since they first started their own social media channels. “I think a lot of people said, ‘I don’t see myself in these stories, I don’t see my community being spoken to, and I’m tired of it,” Romoleroux says. She also points to the explosion of financial advice on TikTok (although it’s made headlines for spreading misinformation — as with anything on the Internet, take it with a healthy dose of skepticism).
Booth believes that the elevation of Black voices during last summer’s protests has also helped fuel the shift. What’s more, the pandemic afforded us the time and space to rethink longstanding norms, including personal finance advice that doesn’t account for systemic racism and other challenges BIPOC face, she adds.
Even if a personal finance content creator of color’s story doesn’t 100% align with yours, seeing overlaps — whether it’s the limited resources or not-so-great habits — can still be incredibly powerful. Although I’m not Black or Latinx, I still find myself relating to aspects of Booth and Romoleroux’s experiences. I’ve also found creators who share my Filipinx identity, like Berna Anat and Lindsay Bryan-Podvin. Although we still have a ways to go, Romoleroux says, it’s easier than ever to find someone whose content resonates with you.
“We’re not putting ourselves on a pedestal,” Booth says of herself and other BIPOC personal finance creators candidly sharing their stories on social media. “We’re inclusive, we’re supportive, and we’re building a community because of it.”