If you're constantly stressed out by working a ton and still somehow feeling broke, you're not the only one — money woes are the top cause of stress in the U.S., research by the American Psychological Association shows. But one woman is by no means ashamed of the struggle — in fact, she's completely embraced it. Dasha Kennedy, better known as The Broke Black Girl, is a millennial financial advisor whose no-B.S., real-talk coaching and strategies are helping women of color like her get ahead.
After a tough life event made her realize how financially unprepared she was, Kennedy began sharing her own journey towards financial success on Facebook. The Broke Black Girl (BBG) Facebook group, launched in November 2017, focuses on the struggles facing young women of color like Kennedy, 31, who she says have often been overlooked in the traditional conversations around personal finance. Kennedy, who has more than a decade of experience working as an accountant and default counselor, leads the women through discussions around difference aspects of financial wellbeing.
"From what I've seen, other financial advisors talk at young women, not to them, often leaving them to feel ashamed, judged, or unsure of their financial future," Kennedy tells me in an interview for Elite Daily. "I don't see a lot of emphasis on spending triggers or economic financial background that is leading young women to debt at an alarming rate. ... I've attended plenty of financial workshops or sat with many financial advisors and I've always left feeling like, 'They don't get it.'"
Where she saw gaps in the system, Kennedy created a platform to fill them, in the form of a group to support women ready to take charge of their own finances. As the group administrator, she leads a community of women who are seeking financial betterment, sharing her personal tips as well as her struggles, and encouraging accountability for the participants. Offline, she also gives community talks to continue the conversation to a broader audience.
"The journey was an eye-opener," she says. "It revealed to me, in masses, how many people actually struggled with basic money management skills and needed assistance free of judgment. It transformed from being a 'social media group' to an actual place of healing and learning." Though it started as a small financial forum for women in the St. Louis, Missouri area, as of February 2019, the group has skyrocketed to over 53,000 members in the 15 months since its launch.
Every week, the group has daily topics for which they share advice and ask questions: Monday is all about money management, for example, while Thursday is dedicated to careers. One weekend a month is reserved as a no-spend-weekend. Kennedy has also created a mailing list for the group that provides a seven-day challenge and daily budget and expense tips, as well as written and self-published a book of her own to help women jump-start the budgeting process.
In addition to being the administrator, sharing a few posts a day and facilitating and moderating the conversation, Kennedy functions as a resource and teacher, offering and soliciting expert guidance based on what members are talking and asking about. "I'll decide to go live [on social media], set up a budget class, or bring in someone to teach," she tells me. "For instance, someone had a concern about life insurance, so I brought an insurance rep in the group to give a few tips."
It's not hard to see why it's been so immensely popular; BBG, now also present on Instagram, dishes out repost-worthy advice on both platforms as well as its newsletter.
The key to BBG's success, Kennedy says, was having a platform where women could be open about their struggles, allowing for a different kind of experience for its members.
No one has money issues on social media.
One financial pitfall particularly relevant to millennials: the growing pressure to keep up with The Joneses — to live beyond your means to to try to keep up with the lifestyles of your friends and colleagues — a pressure which social media may have helped magnify.
"No one has money issues on social media and no one is talking about it — at least, that’s what social media has led us to believe," Kennedy says. Online, anyways, most people display a polished, heavily-edited version of their lives that shows off expensive new purchases or exotic vacations, but seldom shows them clipping coupons or browsing a thrift store. Research from the American Institute of CPAs suggests that the Joneses effect is real: as consumers see their friends' luxe purchases and experiences on their feed, they may be influenced to pursue the same. As Kennedy muses, "If you have real financial woes but social media has made anything less than 'rich, famous, and wealthy' a horrible thing, how do you speak up and ask for help in a world you don't fit in?"
The community has made it OK to not be OK financially.
So rather than seeking to keep up the my-life-is-perfect façade online, the BBG community talks openly about their shortcomings. "The community has made it OK to not be OK financially, to stop feeling like you have to fall into the pressures of social media," she says. "[It] has normalized a common issue — financial hardships — and made it OK to seek help openly."
Kennedy says most financial problems are simply due to a lack of knowledge about them. Reading up to get financially literate, knowing terminology, and understanding one's situation, she says, is key, and recommends starting with the wealth of books and online guides already available. (She spends one day a week at the library reading new books and articles on finance herself.) Besides her own budgeting book, she recommends one called From Welfare to Almost There by Deborah Kennedy (no relation) as well as the blog My Fab Finance to get started on the path towards financial education and success.
Also key, Kennedy says, is having the discipline to overcome the urge to spend. To that end, women in BBG were assigned accountability partners to keep them on track with their goals. Now, the group members have the option of becoming a mentor or mentee to be coached through their goals, and from there, Kennedy encourages those partners to check in at least once a week.
"As we look for jobs, create budgets, and make large purchases, think long term," she advises. For big purchases, do your homework, shop for the best price, and sleep on it for a couple days. "Are the things you are spending your money on really beneficial to your financial future?" she asks.
The community stripped the power away from the word 'broke' — that is a word that everyone fears, but it is a reality for most of us.
Kennedy is also filling in the gaps where the advising industry has failed to address young women of color. "I don't think we have been overlooked intentionally, but I do believe financial advisors teach from a level of believing that most people have a knowledge of basic money management when in fact, we don't," Kennedy says. She explains, if your parents and grandparents weren't financially literate, the cycle of poor money management can perpetuate across generations.
"When black female millennials join our community, they see me, they see themselves," she says. This isn't only because of her identity as a millennial woman of color, but because her story as a divorced mother of two trying to manage her own money is relatable — and she's transparent about it. "The community stripped the power away from the word 'broke' — that is a word that everyone fears, but it is a reality for most of us," she says.
Coupled with the normal pressures for young women, women of color may have a steeper uphill battle when it comes to finances. On average, black women in the U.S. make only about 68 percent of what while males do, according to the Institute for Women's Policy Research, and report experiencing the most financial hardship of any ethnicity in repaying their student loans, per the American Association of University Women. This may in part be thanks to a decades-long persistent gap in wealth between black and white households in the U.S., per the Center for American Progress, meaning that black families may have less to contribute to the next generation's higher education. Black women have also been found to be charged at higher interest rates for home loans than their counterparts, a study by the Journal of Real Estate and Finance Economics found. Unsurprisingly, with all these factors added up, American women on average now hold about $11,000 more in debt than men, according to a study by Comet Financial.
Somewhere on that page were words of inspiration and encouragement that might not have been spoken directly to me but [were] meant for me.
So for many women, advice like what BBG doles out is necessary. And the impact is evident on the financial lives of the very real women in the group.
"Before The Broke Black Girl came along, there were no pages that were teaching young girls the importance of financial stability," Mikeia Brown, a BBG community member, tells me over email. "I myself learned many things about financial freedom and have applied those to my life. I've opened a [savings] account and savings accounts for my children, I’ve cut unnecessary spending, I look for cash back rewards on my cards before making purchases. ... Somewhere on that page were words of inspiration and encouragement that might not have been spoken directly to me but [were] meant for me."
The community really seemed to make the difference for Brown. "There are women out there that want to see you succeed and not tear you down, women that will help you without a second thought," she says. "They won't judge you, and some will give their last to help you out of a situation."
Financial woes can be complex and personal to say the least. But if BBG proves one thing, it's that you don't have to pretend to be something you're not. And having honest conversations about money and a community to overcome the struggles with together may, at the very least, reduce some of the stress or shame that being broke causes so many young Americans.