Episode 7: The Challenge Of Running A Small Retail Business During COVID

My Candid Conversation With Three Local Female Business Owners

In this episode, I talk to three women who own boutique retail businesses in the Rock Ridge neighborhood of Oakland, CA:

  • Joyce Gardner, Owner of Fit Clothing Boutique
  • Johnelle Mancha, Owner of Mignonne Decor
  • Andrea Serrahn, Owner of Serrahna Boutique

Rock Ridge is an area that typically sees heavy foot traffic from locals and visitors, making it an ideal location for local businesses. However, COVID has changed all that. I invited Joyce, Johnelle, and Andrea on the podcast to share their experiences operating retail businesses in the midst of a pandemic, and how they’re tapping into their creativity to find new ways to serve their customers and generate revenue. Whether you’re a business owner yourself or looking for ways to support your local businesses, I think you’ll find their tenacity and commitment to their community and customers inspiring. 

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Episode 7 Transcript: The Challenge Of Running A Small Retail Business During COVID


Welcome to episode number seven of the Financial Finesse podcast. I’m Cathy Curtis, your host and a financial advisor who specializes in the finances of independent women based in Oakland, California.


Today, I’m interviewing three women who own retail businesses in Oakland. I wanted to discover what their experience was like running a business during the pandemic.


Joyce Gardner owns Fit clothing boutique, Johnelle Mancha owns Mignonne Decor, and Andrea Serrahn owns Serrahna Boutique. All of these stores are based in the Rock Ridge neighborhood in Oakland, which is a thriving commercial district. I hope you enjoy our discussion. Hi, ladies, thank you all for joining me on my podcast, Financial Finance. It’s really good to see all of you on YouTube. Great to see you too.


So thank you so much because you three represent successful small business, retail, retail business owners. And as we all know, things have gotten quite difficult since March with the pandemic, but also prior to that you had the onslaught of online shopping, right? So over the combined 18–how many years? So Johnelle, you’ve been in business 14 years with Mignonne Decor. Andrea, you’ve been with Serrahna for 18 years, and Joyce, you’ve been with Fit for 18 years. So very experienced, long-term retailers. And I know our audience is gonna love hearing from you and what you’re experiencing right now. So what, and so the two of you are fashion retailers, and one is home decor, and I think there’s probably


some differences between what’s happening with your businesses right now based on what you’re selling. Because you’re not all the same even selling clothing, you’re selling totally different types of clothing. And we’ll get into that.


And Andrea, I’m sorry, I called you Serrahna. That’s the name of your store.


So let’s start with Andrea, I want to ask you, you have a very unique business, selling clothing, that is Indian themed, you actually design your own clothes, you probably built up a great following, and you sell jewelry and all kinds of beautiful things. And what has happened with your business over the last few months? Well, like most retail businesses, we’ve all suffered a big hit. And a big change in terms of walk-in business. Everyone, you know, took cover and didn’t come out of hiding for a while. And then finally, when the city of Oakland and the mayor declared it safe, under the you know, protocols of safe


social distancing and masks, etc.


I started taking clients by appointment. But meanwhile, I still had clients who wanted to shop who love shopping who want to support me who still want to get dressed every day and wear color. So they’d reach out to me by email, phone text, and say, I need something, help, what do you have for me? And it was really nice to have that kind of connection. And I have been building up an online presence for some years now. I’m not wanting to go online, but here we are.


This is the moment right.


When stepped in my shop, they would recognize the abundance of inventory that I carry and the idea of going online is really daunting. However, I have used these moments of COVID and downtime to use models and do really low


passionate, sensual photoshoots and post those on Instagram and Facebook. And that’s been driving me a lot of business. That’s fantastic.


And all of that is going to all those images that I’ve been creating. I do about two or three shoots a week. So I’m getting about 25 to 30 images, different looks. That’s all feeding into this new website that I’m creating with the help of a designer. Okay, so you’ve thought about, you have not had a true online presence yet. You’re building up to it and then you’re going to do your website to actually sell off of it. Right I’ve had an online presence in terms of Instagram and Facebook. Yes, ecommerce aspect is going to be amplified with the new website. Yes. Okay. Good for you. Okay, we’re gonna get back into that more but I’m gonna go to Johnelle. So you do home decor and decorating. You go to people’s homes and help them decorate their homes and you


We also have a retail store that sells. So what I’ve been reading is actually your part of the business home decor is actually doing really well right now because people have to be at home so much. Have you felt that and seen that trend in your business? Yeah, I mean, I think just kind of like Andrea, you know, the first initial like, oh my gosh, your store has to be closed. It’s a little bit of a panic. And yes, you’re right, that people are sheltering in place and kind of thinking about their homes on bigger scales. And now we’re seeing like my interior design, I’m picking up. I’ve locked down some really fun projects. But yeah, definitely. It’s not like I would say that has just like replaced all of our foot traffic and everything. But yes, you’re absolutely right that people are, we are lucky that people are in their homes and reaching out to us for different projects and things like that. Yeah, right. Right. Good. And Joyce.


Can you lift up a little bit? There you go.


I know your shop well, because I’m a loyal customer of Joyce’s. And she’s been selling women’s fashion for a long, long time. And so Joyce, what has your experience been?


Ever since March, let’s say, well, the thing was, you know, the original edict for retail didn’t work for us– curbside delivery, which meant nothing because what does that mean? Yeah, you know, our women like to come in, touch and look at new things and try it on. You can’t try it on and have curbside delivery. It just didn’t. So we actually opened on June 19.


So people aren’t out shopping, but we work by appointment, which really helped because I call my good customers and they would come in


to grab new things, because I’m not very into, you know, doing a lot of online things because it doesn’t work for a personal business like what we do. We’ve been in the neighborhood 18 years. So we built up a good clientele. So I would call them or they would say, send me some pictures and I would send them pictures of the new things and I’d send it to them free shipping, get a free mask. So they were really happy with it. But the nature of retail has been going downhill anyway after the recession, and online shopping is continually, you know, wanting to come to see you. But see neighbors will fly because people aren’t going anywhere. They’re not venturing far. So they do want to support local people. Yeah, yes. Yeah. Yeah. So you brought up three different things. You brought up the recession, which I’m assuming you mean the 2007-2009 recession. Yes, yeah. And then Amazon or you know,


We’ll just call it Amazon.


business. And then now, the pandemic three whammies. Right. Johnelle and Andrea have you felt all three of those as well? You’ve all been in business through 2008.


I feel like you know, that’s just kind of going back to what it means to be a small business owner, especially when you’ve been open all these years. It’s like, when the whammies hit you, you channel that, like drive that first initiated the whole concept of opening your own business. It’s like, you have to depend on that. Right? And it’s not enough to get you through. I mean, I know you all probably have a real passion for what you’re doing.


But you also have to pay the bills. And you’ve been in business a long time. Has there ever been moments in those years where you’ve thought, oh my God, this I just can’t do this. No.


More. Joyce, do you want to


kick in? Well, we have a lot of sleepless nights. Let’s put it like


anxiety, what you got to have


you know, the reason why you are in business because you have a belief that, you know you can make this work. It’s not like most businesses have been making a ton of money. It’s not about that because you care about what you do. You do care about your customer. So there is this thing where we are and most of our customers are women, right? They’re not men. Because men don’t spend money, we know that so our consumers are woman, yes. And we do care about that they understand we have relationship with them, whether we’re dressing them for their body or their home. You know, we are trying to take care of them and that’s what I believe in, you know, and I do want them to feel better about themselves and feel good about being in their home. What they do because we have a lot of responsibilities. A lot of them are retired but they also are mothers.


Got husband you know they got things going on in their lives right now. Nothing’s going on. So to get them to buy something is a challenge. Have you shifted the things that you buy given that most people are at home in their companies? Yeah so you know the term they hated that was that sloppy chic? So I think women are ready to get out of stupid sweats and their yoga clothes. That’s enough. You know, we dress for ourselves, not because we have to go somewhere all the time. You know, because we do like to feel good. I mean, I still put makeup on I still get my you know, comb my hair, and men don’t give a shit. You know, they can be on zoom and look like hell. But we still care about how we live our face to the world. And our home now is spending a lot of time there. So I’m spending and doing a lot more projects with my house than I’ve ever done.


You know, to answer your question about, you know, would I ever consider? I think it’s just I think it goes back to the community and like what a small business brings. So we’ve been having an online presence for a long time and people can shop and, you know, obviously we’ve ramped that up, you know, as of late. It’s, um, but really like, what do you want your community to look like? Do you want empty storefronts? Do you want to walk in, you know, people who love walking, you know, on College Avenue and pick back up? So I think it’s also really important just as consumers, you know, there’s enough you can buy something on Amazon, but you can also enjoy a coffee and a stroll and is that ever something you’re not going to want to do in your life? Like, I don’t think so. You know, I mean, I still agree with you. I should have said earlier that all of you have your stores in a neighborhood in Oakland called Rock Ridge, which is a super popular neighborhood, great walking neighborhood. It’s so sad to me that there’s so many storefronts that are boarded


up in Rock Ridge and that’s not only because of COVID, there’s other reasons landlords and things like that.


And I if, if it happens, that small retail dies out, I’ll be the first one to cry because it really is something that local bookstores, local clothing stores, eateries, everything about at coffee shops, it’s such a pleasure and to see a mix of, of stores like when your store went in, Johnelle, I was so happy because it wasn’t another hair salon or nail salon. It was actually a great retail store that you could walk in and enjoy looking and maybe buying something. So then I mean not, yeah, go ahead. I mean, I just feel like you know, when people travel and they and you know, when you go like that’s kind of something we try to bring it in. It is like this artistic experience that you know, like Joyce said and Andrea, it’s like you go and there’s a little bit of a wonderland and you know, you’re selling things


that, you know, are special and artistic. And so I think people, how do we drive that connective? Like, yeah, the small, the small purchases for small business really add up, you know, be it a $50 purchase. Okay. So that’s interesting. That’s, that’s maybe a good point to bring up a little bit. It’s not, you’re not just looking for the big purchase or the big engagement. Someone that walks in and buys a vase is every bit as an important customer as someone that engages you for more traffic. Yeah, there you go. You know, the service. And


yeah, me too. Andrea, you want to? I agree with Johnelle’s point there like when I had my door open to the public more than I do now. The casual drop in person who was going next door to have dinner or had just come from across the street and had lunch. Oh, look at this cute shop.


I feel like I’m in India. Well, you kind of are. And look at these earrings. These are fabulous. And oh how cool and you work with the artisans and you design some of this. Oh my gosh. So there’s $50 and there’s, you know, 75 and there’s 35 and that does add up. That does add up and that helps a lot. A little goes a long way. And people always say, I’m going to be back because I’m going to get gifts here. And so they want a resource where they can just pop in and get an easy grab gift. So I’m going to loop back around to the whole thing of boarded up storefronts. Yeah, because I don’t know if it’s sadly but I do have a boarded up storefront. I chose to do that when the looting and the rioting broke out. I have a lot of inventory and a lot of precious things. And I was like, I am not gonna fall prey to this. There’s just no way. Insurance or whatever. I’m just not going to deal with this shenanigan


of all this so


my partner’s a contractor, he put up a rather elaborate boarding system and paint. We painted it nicely. And so now I have a bunch of people coming in buying those 35, 50, $75 gifts. But I have time to focus on my website and focus on the bigger picture the next level the next place. Yeah, and my regulars know I’m here, there, they’ll bypass the, you know, the green plywood and come in, they know I’m here. And they all say no, don’t take it down. Wait till after the election. Just wait. Oh, that’s interesting. Yeah, I get a lot of support on that. And I’m glad because I was having sleepless nights when I wasn’t protected. And now I’m doing fine. Yeah. But it does have a negative impact on drop in kind of business. So it’s a trade-off.


That’s very interesting. Um, so going back to the whole online question, um, Johnelle, do you do a lot of business? Do you do most your business online or mostly with walk in and in person? Well, I mean, there are different facets to our business, like you touched on, you know, part of it is the showroom come in, get a gift. And that was why we moved to College because the bustling foot traffic and wanting to be in a community where people could come in, so there’s that. Then I do interior design and custom work that all fall under the umbrella of the home and we have a separate location on Martin Luther King, where we have a carpentry workshop and do upholstery, and then I have my fabric room. So, you know, we’re kind of a very interesting business in the sense that like, you know, and part of that is the first recession, you know, I started as kind of a gift and home decor shop. And when the recession hit in ‘08 you know, I was just a couple years open and it was like, okay, well, what else do I like to


do, I’m an artist, I’m a painter. I started selling furniture and then that turned into a whole other facet. And so that’s kind of like what we’re talking about with online for, you know, some of the other retails and focusing on online and getting, you know, getting crafty and thinking about other ways to generate income. So, yeah, I mean, we’ve always sold things online for the past couple of years, pretty consistently, but not as much as we are now, with just the major push on our Instagram page and Facebook and telling people we’ll deliver it, we’re doing complimentary, I do complimentary deliveries, if someone buys something and lives in the neighborhood we’ll take it to their house.


So yeah, but as far as like the foot traffic that we were depending on prior to COVID, you know, that has been a challenge, you know, because, um, because we don’t have it and and having to market and try to like, you know, supplement that online. Yeah,


we’re working through it and we’re getting and like I said it’s for me more than just online. It’s been locking bigger interior design projects. Yeah. And those types of things, right. I know I feel for you because I know you just opened that shop two years ago now. And a year and a half and you have the perfect location right next-door to Trader Joe’s, right next to Bart. It’s on the walking strip. It’s great. And boom. Well, yeah, we open the last couple days. We’re busy, like I sold furniture yesterday. It’s like so for me, I’m just staying in the positive lane. I don’t even want to introduce. It’s like we have to all work together, you know, the community and everybody to kind of get through this. And I think that’s what finds comfort is like, it’s not just me against the world. It’s like everyone’s dealing with this, you know, in their own realm. So I’m not going anywhere. I love my storefront. I love my neighbors. I love it.


Grew up in Oakland and, and so we’ll get through it one way or another. Yeah, you know one thing I’m really noticing with all three of you is you’re all entrepreneurs and business ladies, but you’re also very creative.


Like you’re saying painter and you’ve thought of creative ways to keep your business going over the years. And Andrea, you make all, well, I don’t know all but you make a lot of your own things. And Joyce. I know how creative Joyce is in putting together windows and she’s got that artistic eye for building outfits and helping women put them together. So maybe that’s the secret sauce is, is that creativity that you’re passionate about and keeps you going? Even when the raw business may not be so good. You still want to keep going and you love what you’re doing. Andrea, do you want to? Oh, yeah, absolutely. Um, when COVID first hit, and we all had to hunker down. You know, like most people, I went into a short


or however long depression for a little while and I’m like, ah, this is no fun. Don’t feel sorry for yourself get out of it. So I figured out, okay, if people aren’t going to be coming out, I’ve got to nurture this, you know, turn lemons into lemonade and, and a friend of mine is going through some transitions and she needed some work. And I’m like, well, let me give you an opportunity to model, you’re gorgeous. You love my clothes, my clothes love you. And so I’ve really been embracing this as an opportunity to take the time, which I didn’t have before. Because I’m very busy dealing with the minutiae of every transaction, and holding people’s hands which I’m happy to do, and I like doing, I love having that connection with my community. But with this downturn of business, I’ve got time and I have no shortage of creativity. So


my online presence on Instagram and Facebook has really picked up and I’ve picked up quite a few followers in the last six months. So I’m happy to tell you, I’m a shopper. Okay, I love beautiful things. I love fashion. And I think Instagram is a fantastic way to sell. And like all the stores that are using models, it’s brilliant. I mean, it’s so fun to see the models and the clothes on a human. And then you’ll probably start using video to that igtv video is a great way to sell. I mean, it’s just such a great tool for online. Joyce I know you’re using Instagram to some degree. Not quite as much, but actually it’s pretty good because you know I try and post other things too like food because I like to eat you know, my dog, but then every time I do Instagram I get lots of people yeah, last my customers so we’ve been sold out on a lot of pieces that I posted. Who’s good on Instagram, so yeah, not very good.


I’ve always been trying to encourage Joyce to do more online, but you know what, so you can’t change people’s thought




you know, you got to use everything and every tool at your availability now you know, we’re trying to get through this so anything that helps even me, Joyce years ago like now, I’ve come full circle but years ago I was like I can’t do. I didn’t even like have, we were cash and cheque only like I didn’t want to. I’m like I’m an artist. I want this to feel like old school, you know, you walk into different world but, you know, I finally got over that hump. But what I did in the beginning was you know, I had someone who worked with me like, I would say, I want these types of pictures. Just take like 10 pictures and email them to me. So it was someone helping like to do the Instagram and now it’s fine. Right?


Yeah, you’re outsourcing.


Great thing for something that you don’t love to do. I’m a small business person too, by the way, so I, I mean, I’m not having the challenges you are I cannot because I don’t own a retail business. But I outsource a lot of things. I figure out what I love to do and what I don’t love to do and outsource, right? I mean, you can’t be good at everything. So that’s right. So I’m gonna get in the nitty gritty of finances. Not too personal questions about finances, so don’t worry, but there was the


Care Act passed. And there, there was the PPP loan and there’s also emergency assistance loan packages. And I’m wondering if all of you were able to take advantage of it either in the first or second round? And how that experience was for you. Joyce, do you want to start. Well, the first round went to all these big chains, which was stupid and wasn’t supposed to go to them, was supposed to go to small business people, not the Lakers, sorry, and not these big food chains. So the second round, we did get some money, but guess what, nobody thought Covid


would still be going on in August so all that money’s gone. Yeah. So yeah, it was only supposed to last two months that money you know for no business people. It’s tough. I mean, I have a second source because my husband helps me out. Yes, we know but he doesn’t feed money into my business. I have to figure it out every day. What are we going to do? How are we going to get business and stuff so we really just have to constantly you know, just come up with new ideas and keep it keep excited about the business. So now I’m seeing more people come out because they realize COVID is not going away. So you better come out once in a while. It’s okay. Yeah, you know, you’re doing the right things. So you got to have some sense of your normal life a little bit. So with you and so in your case, the PPP money was welcome, but it didn’t close the gap. Yeah. What about you, Johnelle. Um, yeah, I received the second round PPP loan but


You know, it’s also a sense of chaos, even without it. I mean, I was so grateful. And like Joyce said, you know, it was for short term. And it did provide, like a sense of, but it also comes with an additional To Do List of like, ah, get all of this, you know, to get it because the whole concept is like it can be forgiven and, you know, and then with a state of, you know, just the presidency and the uncertainty, like just so many I know, it doesn’t end with getting the money, it’s how do you divvy it out? And how do you get forgiveness and use like, for me, like, I have employees, so I didn’t let anyone go even during the beginning, you know, it’s like, everyone stayed on payroll, and that was like to get that PPP loan, you know, you had to make sure that no one went off, okay, like so there were all these contingencies that like were stressful to be spending and paying money when there was this big hole. But just like everything else, it’s like you find the gratefulness and that was something that helped.


For sure. And now we’re kind of, that moment of pause is over and like Joyce said, it’s like the world is opening back up and it’s like, okay, it doesn’t stop there. What’s the next creative thing? Like what you know, and I think it’s about contagious energy. We’ve been open now back to the public Thursday through Sunday. I was busy this weekend, and


we’re doing it in a safe way. But yeah, it is a start. I’m getting the feeling. Well, Andrea, you don’t know yet. Because you’re focusing on your online and keeping the door shut. But it sounds like for both of you, Joyce and Johnelle, that it feels like things are opening a little bit more. Yeah. I mean, it’s gonna take time. Yeah. And this week, Alameda County is letting you know, they opened up a little bit more, but I feel for the hair salons because they’re not allowed to be open. I mean, you know, we can open our doors they’re not allowed to be open and they,


what’s the source of income? Right, right. Andrea, what about you with the PPP? Did you find that helpful? I did. Um, my partner is very business oriented. So he was encouraging me and pushing me. I’m like, I gotta finish my taxes first before I can even apply so I had to get all that together


because the bureaucracy of it, the paperwork is just a little bit daunting when you’re trying to maintain your everyday kind of storefront if you will. Yeah, so but I did. I ended up getting both PPP and EIDL, the economic industry disaster loan, right. Here’s the low percentage loan which was pretty substantial. And I just put that away. Good. Are you not gonna use it? I have a year until it starts to me interest and you know, it’s a nice nest egg. If I need to use it. What is the interest rate? Three and a half percent.


Yeah, yeah, yeah. Did you all go through your bankers individually personally? Or did you go online and apply?


Thank you because you will have banker’s relationship with you back so, okay. Yeah, because I know you did too. And Johnelle you did too. You had someone help you through there and then my accountant is really good and she actually if anyone needs to get an accountant, my accountant Liz is all biz like she posted tons and tons of stuff. She’s based in San Francisco but she does like videos on her Instagram feed and she’s amazing. Yeah, that’s good to know because I’m a financial advisor and I get asked all the time do you know a good accountant? So thank you. Thank you for that. That’s really helpful. Well, I’m so glad to hear you all got PPP because I remember in that first round, I was so disappointed to hear that so many small businesses didn’t get it and then thankfully, they started


it up again and they kept it going for a while. I don’t even know if they gave away all the money or not in the end, which you know they did, it got used up right away the first round and not so much all the wrong people that’s why the first round. Yeah, well okay so we’re gonna end, this has been so interesting and I want to give each of you a chance, we’re gonna use this as a little marketing effort to just talk about your business and just give us a little overview because we haven’t done a lot of that yet. And Andrea, why don’t you start and how people can reach you. What your Instagram? What do you call it? Name? Sure, sure. My Instagram handle is the same as my business name which is Serrahna. Serrahna means to be a queen and anyone who walks in the door or comes to me online. I’ll make sure they feel like a queen


after I’m done with them and you can get all kinds of beautiful colorful pieces from me. I specialize in color. Indian textiles are just ramped up with so much color. So and I understand what makes color work on each and every person considering the skin tone, their hair, their eye color. So you won’t walk away looking like a clown you walk away looking like a piece of art, a beautiful piece of art. So I dressed women of all ages, colors, shapes, sizes. I used to dress women going to weddings, Indian weddings aren’t happening so much right now. But people who just like comfortable cotton, pure fibers, silks, cottons, and all worked with the hand. Beautiful, you know, minute little tie and dye embroidery stitches, hand crocheted, a lot of like just bespoke kind of garment tree and jewelry. So


I hope you’ll come and see my collection on both Facebook and Instagram. I’m about to launch my ecommerce website, serrahna.com I believe in September. Great, well you’re a walking advertisement. Thank you. You look beautiful. You really do. Thank you. So Johnelle,


yeah tell us about you. Well, Mignonne means young decor and when you walk into our showroom you’re kind of taken back and we have


our brand is really kind of encompassing old world charm and timeless, one of a kind pieces for the home to complement you know, modern living, you know, if you’re going to buy something new, every house should have in our opinion, a couple statement pieces that tell a story. So when you walk in, you can find a larger piece of antique furniture that’s been refinished or reupholstered knowing that we’ve taken the time to


rebuild and save a piece from


landfill and pick out new fabric. You can also come in and find a small gift, be it you know, like you said a vase to put a beautiful arrangement in or a one of a kind textile rugs. So just pretty much anything for the home. Um, we have another shop in France, my family, my mom lives out there in the southwest. And so I studied painting in college and traveled a bunch and I just was always enchanted with our seasonal people actually using their hands. So that is something that you will find when you come into our showroom. And you can also talk with us when you come in about our custom services. Like I said, if you have a piece that maybe your grandmother gave you and it has sentimental value, that’s something that we can help restore for you. And then we do full scale interior design services. So I have a huge network. My husband is a carpenter. He builds furniture.


So for our bigger projects, we can you know, build cabinetry or banquette sore, whatever, you know, custom furniture, I would, I would tell people to go to our website, which is just mignonnedecor.com. And there’s tons of information about all of our services and you can shop online and receive a quote by reaching out to us also on Instagram. Great. Thank you, Johnelle. Perfect, perfect. Okay, Miss Joyce? Yes.


So, I just came out of a partnership in 2000. And it was in Burlingame. And it was I figured, okay, after two years break, I was going to open my own store. And I always like Rock Ridge. There was something about Rock Ridge because it always had the dining but then we use the retail, there’s no retail and right there wasn’t a lot of retail. It was


Awkward Rags, which was consignment anyway, so I found a spot right next to them. And I always wanted to have a store that was accessible to women, everyday woman and Oakland was the perfect thing. Because I came at a high end designer in but you know women the adult care about wearing Dolce Gabbana, Prada. So they want really great design, but really good clothes that fits their lifestyle. That’s the name of the store, clothes to fit a modern lifestyle. And that is 18 years ago, I tagged that line. Now it’s close to fit a pandemic. So what are you going to do? So, but it’s always been about really taking care of women and seeing how they could look because a lot of women really do need help in how they dress because that’s not what they do for a living. We do this for a living. So our customers are lawyers, teachers, moms from all walks of life, except now you know, they’ve, my customers have aged


With me, so now a lot of them are retired or not doing as much. And they still need clothing, right? So what are they wearing? That’s the key. So going forward, now I have to figure out, you know, it’s beyond sweats and athleisure wear, but they still want good design and good quality. So it’s taking them to go and forward. I just bought spring 2021. I’m very optimistic, because who the heck knows what’s going to happen next year. But in the European market, yes, by way ahead. But I am very optimistic because, you know, I know women still love beautiful things for their home and for their bodies. And they still do care about how they look no matter what age and we do dress all ages that we really do. But our particular customer really has good, you know, discerning taste, so we started doing consignment too because they have too much clothes, and they haven’t worn most of this stuff. So we sell it for them and then they can get a credit to buy something


New in the store. So that’s also added another dimension to our business is the online presence. You know, I still do Instagram, but I still like the one on one, you know, interaction of dealing with women and just seeing what they need and dressing them and taking care of them. So hopefully, you know, they’ll stay with us till their 70s and 80s and 90s. So we’ll see what happens. So I love it, very optimistic about the future. So it’s good. That’s great. Joyce, thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you to all of you. I I’m so inspired by you, and I, I’m optimistic too. I feel like things are gonna get better, please. And maybe they’ll get even better in November. Right.


Don’t watch the TV this week, is all the Republicans.


Okay, well, thank you. And I hope I see you in your store soon.

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Episode 4 Transcript: Young Women, Wealth and Black Lives Matter


Welcome to the Financial Finesse Podcast, where we’ll be discussing tips on how to handle your money and life with skill and style.


Your host Cathy Curtis, CFP® has been helping make finance accessible and intriguing for women for almost 20 years. You’ll get savvy, actionable ideas, listening to her conversations with some of the coolest and smartest women on the planet.


And now, here’s your host, Cathy Curtis.


Hi, I’m Cathy Curtis, host of today’s podcast, the Financial Finesse Podcast. This is episode number four. I’m also the founder of Curtis Financial Planning, an independent investment advisory firm based in Oakland, California. I am super excited about today’s podcast because it is full


of my students from a personal finance class I taught last summer. The class was so much fun. And mainly it’s because these women were so engaged in the material. And they just were incredible students. And I loved it so much that


I can’t wait to talk to them more about their experiences with money since the class, and their life, and I know you’re going to love their money stories. So, before we get started, I want them each to introduce themselves. And we’re going to start with Joy.


Hi, everybody.


Like Cathy said, my name is Joy. I’m Jocelyn Robinson.


I am married,


recently married. I have two boys.


One, soon to be 15, and soon to be 11-year old.


So, we are definitely in teenage years. I currently work for an


affordable housing developer and the accounting department as this has been accounting.


And I studied. I received my MBA from Mills in Business Economics and my MBA from Mills, and 2019 at 28.


Thank you, Rebecca. Thanks. Well, my name is Rebecca Castro and I really appreciate you having us here today to talk about money. I am 29 years old, and I live with a partner in Oakland, California. I don’t have any kids yet. But for work, I work at a company called nofal ed and I’m a customer success manager. It’s an ed tech




and I help customers learn how to use our products. So, it’s really fun job for me.


As for all of my educational background, I studied environmental anthropology at Stanford University for my undergrad and moved on to Mills College, an MBA and finished that last year, wrapping up with Cathy’s course on personal finance.


Great, thank you Tori.


So, my name is Tori, or if we’re using government names, my name is Tori Howard. And I am 26. I am not married, but I’m in a relationship. And I don’t have any children. But I’m the oldest of six kids. So, I feel like I grew up raising children. So


yeah. And so for work, I’m a legal interviewer with the Bar Association in San Francisco. And so mostly, that just means


listen to people’s legal problems and


Trying to match them with a lawyer who’s suitable for that problem. And then on the side, I’m a freelance digital artist. An awesome one, by the way. Thank you. And I, I actually didn’t go to Mills, I would say St. John’s, which is in New York, but I love taking summer courses. This is actually the first summer in a while, but I won’t be able to just because of the shelter in place, but I always enjoy the classes there. And the personal finance class was like a godsend. So


awesome. Shonda.


Hi, there. It’s happy to be here. Cathy, thank you for having me. Just a little bit about myself. She her pronouns, Shonda Williams. I originally hail from the Motor City, Detroit, Michigan, but have been in the Bay Area for several years now. And really similar to my classmates I’m just a lifelong learner. I didn’t attend Mills, I attended Grand Valley State University and Michigan, but truly believe in continuing my education.


On my undergraduate and taking the personal finance course at Mills was just a really amazing step for me. I work with the Oakland Promise under the Brilliant Baby program as the coordinator. And we’re committed to ensuring that children in Oakland from birth on through their educational career can graduate high school and attend college or pursue a career of their choice. And part of that is financial capabilities for our parents. So, I’ve been working in that field, but it really wasn’t until this Mills personal finance class that I found a way to incorporate that into my own life.


Excellent. So, speaking of this personal finance class, but prior to taking this class, do you feel like you had an education in strictly personal finances, your own finances, how to handle money, how to open accounts, etc, etc. Does anybody want to jump in and


I definitely had personal finance, education. Just I didn’t mention that I’m, I’m 43 going on 44 end of the year. So I, you know, this is my second marriage. Of course, I have children. I was a stay at home mom


until I started back to school in 2014. So I wasn’t the breadwinner. I was the one that took care of the household, along with my children, so I had to balance our checkbook. I had, you know, I wrote checks out for bills. I went and did the grocery shopping and things like that. So around personal finance, I knew what was in our joint accounts and I knew what was in you know, our immediate savings.


But I didn’t understand credit and I


Didn’t have any investments. My ex-wife had like a 401k and some other


investment plans through her working. But I wasn’t part of that because I wasn’t working. But as her spouse, I signed up in her pension plan. And then you know, we have our children. We got them an education plan. So, when folks wanted to give money for their birthdays, they could, you know, go into their scholarship funds or whatever. So that was the broadness of my understanding until the personal finance class when, you know, I was shocked. Just understanding IRAs, Roth accounts, the difference when you can pull money out when you can, which is the better place to put money in like that. That was mind blowing in your class, Cathy, and I really appreciate that because, you know, I didn’t I wasn’t working. I was out of the workforce for


Over 10 years, and so the only money base that I have is part of my ex’s pension plan through our divorce. And I had no clue. I really don’t know, like when I can start getting that money, how much money it was. And so taking your class that was like, one of my detective modes I went into and was like, Well, I’m gonna find out how much money I got coming to me. And I’m gonna know where it’s at. And I want to know, the finish points and I want to know who’s holding it. And it was just like, you know, I had all these questions. And as I was talking to the financial advisor, I was hitting him with a map, Hey, what about this? What about this us like, what


do you do? And I was like, you could thank Cathy for all of this knowledge. Thank you. See, that’s the power of knowledge. It’s not just knowing what a Roth or an IRA is. But in real life. When you learn these terms, you can really help yourself


right. I know that’s a great. That’s a great example. Rebecca, do you have any? Absolutely, I actually took one, one course in undergrad on finance. But I think for me at least, I absolutely loved the entire experience, but it was highly theoretical. Whereas our class was very practical and hands on and, you know, we looked at reports and went through things together, really analyzed in depth, like, what our retirement accounts were doing. I had no idea that my retirement account wasn’t doing anything. So did you have it in good? Is that right?


No, the biggest thing I learned from the course and this is something that we talked about at the time was that my IRA was basically in cash I had put money in but I hadn’t taken the second step to actually invest it. It was life changing for me growing


tremendously since then, just from that simple act, and I thought I was doing enough of just I was like, I’m investing I’m putting money into my retirement account. But I was putting it in and then not taking this because I just didn’t know I didn’t know I had to take another step. Which is amazing to me that people don’t know. You don’t you don’t learn these things anywhere. Unless you take a class, this is you know, you consciously decide you want to learn about it. Okay, Tori any stories.


Um, so as I mentioned, I am the oldest of six kids that means I always grew up in a big family and financially that is like, means that like money is hard, but at the same time, like my parents, they obviously you know, things like you need to save money for a rainy day. But like, one of the things that you really stressed the importance of is like making sure you have like three to six months of savings specifically like so number not just like saving


indefinitely, but like you know, like saving a specific amount so that if something happens, and I am


immediately thought about your class when the COVID


when the shelter in place started, and people were losing their jobs because I was like, man, for people who don’t have that savings, and if they lost their job, this is a hard time right now, this would be like the prime time to have to have had that three to six months of savings because where else you have to rely on credit cards or hoping the government gets the money to you in time on like all these other things. It is just


which one of the things that I’m learning in my job is that it is taking a long time for people to get those unemployment checks. So, I immediately thought about you and that class when Michel Tremblay started but outside of that


I learned so much in your class, like one of the biggest takeaways for me personally was about my credit cards. Because while I’ve always been good about like paying them, you know, paying the minimum or more if I can,


I never thought to check what my percent rate like my interest rate is. And that was a huge game changer.


Because one of my credit cards is like being near a scam is when I realized because the interest rate was 30 31%.


And it was a non-negotiable 31% unbelievable. Oh and


so as soon as I realized that first of all since I really like could check that, and then I checked it and then I realized what it was I was like I need to get a card. So yeah, and I’ve had this credit card for eight years now. So eight years of me paying this 31% interest. And fortunately I’ve been I’ve never missed the payment and I’ve always been really good but at the same time, I would have paid that card off so much faster. You


okay, and it’s because um, which is like an unfortunate thing, but my car that I had at the time was just like, it was a lemon basically. And so it was just like expense after expense after expense. Yeah, unfortunately I had a card that had developed security it but at the same time, that was the card that had the most extreme interest rate so just taking so long to pay it off. Even though it happened so long ago. I was like still paying it off.


31% It’s almost like


Never get paid that thing off. Yeah. So yeah, what did you do? What did you do? Did you close a card? Did you try? I didn’t close it. I didn’t close it because you that is still my credit history. It’s eight years of on time payments, would you talk? Otherwise I would have definitely been like forget this card. Yeah.


But no, so I left it open, but I transferred the balance out to a card that have a lower interest rate and a high cashback. So and I set the cashback for online purchases because I found out that that was also editable. And I am always buying stuff online. So I’ve been getting so much cashback so happy and I’ve been applying that directly towards paying down the balance. So my credit score has gone up a lot. So I really believe that right? Because of all that, like a simple change, just changing the card that I was using next. Rhonda.


Yes, I really identify with what Rebecca said around having taken courses in undergrad on the topic of Finance. And it was very theoretical or my major was public and nonprofit administration. So it was about nonprofit but you


And finance. And I didn’t really find ways to be able to connect that back to myself. And it was really similar and growing up, my parents had made the money mistakes, and they wanted better for me, but it was kind of going over my head. They’re like, I’ve opened up a credit card for you at 18, which I’m so appreciative of now. It’s my highest


tier, and just really able to see how that’s been able to grow and help my credit. But again, all of these concepts, I kind of knew of them. But to Jocelyn’s point, I didn’t have the education to be able to apply them to myself. And there’s been so many little lessons that have just really been beneficial since your course that biggest thing I think I’ll say is that I opened up a Roth IRA. So I’m starting a full time position in August with an excuse me a 401 K. But I’ve been working for several years and hadn’t been putting anything aside for retirement until I took your class.


I’m just building that habit, having a monthly amount that goes out and just really excited that I’ve been able to do that and keep it up. In addition to I’ve opened up an online high yield interest earning savings account, and this is where I’m doing that three to six months of saving. When I found out that I could get 2.4% on my savings account, and without it being risky, I was super excited to be able to do that you’re not getting my money. And I love that there’s no brick and mortar because that means I don’t go to the ATM to take money out. That’s right. That’s what’s great about online bank accounts, it’s not as easy to get the money. For sure. You know, I love it that you’ve all opened Roths, we talked about Roths a lot in the class because I think they’re the best account for younger people. Because if you really do need the money at some point, there’s less penalties and you could always take out what you put in. So like if you’re going to plan to buy a house and a lot of you


have house buying on your minds and things like that. So, super smart. Great. Well, thank you those are great things that you learn. Um, okay, so speaking of lessons, all of you have faced some kind of hardships as you’ve been on your journey to get independent right? Um,


I’d love you to share a story about something that you overcame, whether it you had credit card debt, or you tried to get a job, you couldn’t get it. Just something that you really learned a lesson from, like, kind of like me, I I felt deprived. And so I took things into my own hands. I tried to find ways to always earn money as I was growing up. And Rebecca, do you want to start? Sure, I think that I was very fortunate that I earned scholarships and qualified for at Furman undergrad. So I didn’t come out with a ton of debt after my undergrad. But I knew that I wanted to go to grad school and


I wasn’t going to qualify for a lot of aid for grad school. So I planned to work for about five years to save up that money. And I think one of the biggest mistakes I made was just paying out of pocket straight up instead of investing that money, taking out a loan, paying it down gradually, and like building credit.


Instead, I just spent all of my savings on grad school. So it wasn’t until the summer course, you know, after I walked in graduation, and I needed that one extra course to graduate that I learned from you. Why? mistake for me? And I kind of knew the whole time I was like, Oh, this doesn’t feel good. I’m just like, you know, losing all this money.


But I felt like I was investing in my education.


But I’d say that was one of the biggest financial hurdles, hurdles and or lessons


knowing that I’d spent about leveraging yourself like I’m paying for some of it taking up debt for some reason.


Exactly. So taking on debt for some investing some and just more strategically managing taxes.


You know, making some money earned back for me while continuing to work and go to school. And instead of just, you know, putting all of it from savings directly into school. Yeah. Great. Thank you for Shonda.


Yes. So one of my biggest money lesson so earlier on I shared I’ve always been this saver. So during my college undergrad experience, I knew that I wanted to study abroad. I was a first-generation college student. I’m really just setting a pathway and I figured I wanted to get the full experience so career. So between getting the finances and finding a location, it took, let’s say I walked across the stage and had one final credit, I think


Took abroad. But that was my goal, right, I wanted to study abroad. And when I went abroad, I also had plans. I’m single for tax filing purposes. But I do have a long-term relationship that I’m in and we had plans to move to California. So while I was studying abroad, finishing up my final courses, I was also looking for a job. And that’s when I found my current job at Oakland Promise. And what I’ll say about that is once I got back into the country, I had about four days to pack up my apartment, get everything set, move across the country, and then start my job. So I was really thankful I saved this money for my study abroad period. And I think to your point was when I love that if you pretend you don’t have it, you don’t have to spend it frivolously. So that’s really that kind of take. I’m


allowing myself to take on this new look diligent, and honestly, I’m really happy to hear that a few of you have college savings


accounts for your siblings or your children, because that’s another thing. I’m the first in my family to know to graduate from college to begin my career move across the country and I have great nephews and cousins, all under 10 that I want to be able to be an example for and encourage them to have a college savings account. I myself grew up with one and the power of it. Yeah. Congrats on being the first in your family. That must have been a big deal. Thank you. Yes, I it was a very big deal. And you know, that’s why I work with the organization I work with now to be able to support children to have an education. You know, research shows that having a pursuing an education your higher education is really an equity indicator as well as allowing our students especially our students, our black Indigenous students of color, to be able to gain social capital and excel and close that racial wealth gap. I love it. So important.


Okay, sorry.


Um, so


like I said, I’ve kind of been saving my whole life. But saving money and like knowing how to properly spend money are two different things. And so that’s something that like, I was, like I was pretty good about until like I was really independent, which is to say like when I went off to college because I went away to college. So originally from here, Oakland and the Bay Area, but went to college in New York, obviously, my family is not in New York. So my parents were not able to be


that they weren’t able to support me also, like I said, I have five other siblings, so they financially really couldn’t support me either. So


all I had to go off of was whatever was left over after school was paid for like whatever was leftover, usually from loans. And so that is kind of what I had to live off of.


However, one of the things I didn’t like fully like process once I got to college was like, the concept of like bills and depths and


and how, like, somehow magically like no matter how much they


Do you have like the bills seem to increase with your savings? Like,


I feel like that tends to happen. Like if I ever get a bonus at work, there’s like a new bill that pops up. They’re like, Oh, look at this, your bill change. And so, so that real-world aspect or the real-world application of like, what are you saving your money for was really important because sometimes I would save a bit of money and I’d be like, Oh, I just have all this money. So now I can buy something that I want. Not really thinking about the fact that like, there’s things that I need. So


and so that’s something that I really had to work through. And at one point, I’m at one point, at one point, I want to say like midway through my sophomore year in college,


I had $6 in my bank account, and it had to last me two months.


Well, I bought a huge bag of rice.


And I, whenever my friends would go out to eat, I would be like can I have your leftovers?


I had to throw away all my bread.


I was like, I don’t know. But anyway, so that was one of those hardships for me because I it made me really, like stressed the importance of like, what am I saving my money for, which is when I came like and when I got to your class and you told us about like saving three to six months of your expenses of the things that you have to buy your must buys. And also being mindful of like how much do you have coming in versus how much do you have to have going out? It’s something that I wasn’t really paying attention to before I just was like, Oh, I think I have I might think that I’m you know, like doing well because in college I might have like $2,000 in my bank account but if my bills for rent and stuff like that are more than that, that I’m actually like coming out with a deficit. I just happen to be getting money fast enough that I didn’t notice it right away. Yeah. And so that’s, that’s something that really hit home for me when I was on my own.


Now do you carry balances or do you pay everything off? Um, so like I mentioned before, because of that one card that I had, which I fortunately don’t have anymore, but I do have


Have some balances that are circular. So you’re still carrying over, but it’s significantly less than what it was before. And now it whenever I use my credit cards, it’s only for something that I know that I could pay off. So, for example, I recently bought a washing machine for my house, but I had the money already set aside in my bank account for it, and I had been saving for it. So I put it on the card just so that I can you know, build that credit and then like within the next month, I paid it off. Yeah, no credit at all. Yeah, it’s when it gets out of control that it’s the issue. Are you strategically paying down your credit cards? Yes, interest rates are still what are they now 14? I’m the one of them I think is 18. But that’s also it gives me cashback so it doesn’t hurt as much because when you balance it out the percentage that I get on cashback versus the amount that I’m paying an interest it’s, I guess it comes down to like $13 so or 13% rather.


And so yeah, so what I do, though, is that I am like I said I’m only paying and I’m only putting


Something in my cart if I know that I can pay it off in cash, and then also when I do pay that off so for example with the washing machine that I’m paying off extra on top of that, because I’m also still trying to, to, to pay down my total balance. And so anytime I get extra money


besides what I need to put into my savings, I put it onto my credit cards. That’s, that’s like the majority of where my excess money goes right now, just like I am aggressively paying down my credit cards now that it’s on a lower, more manageable. Yeah, lower, more manageable like payment each month. So for example, my credit cards before my monthly payment was actually like $300 a month and right now it’s like $50 a month. So I can still pay that $300 a month, which I usually still do, but it’s actually doing more for me, because I’m not just paying a minimum balance. I’m paying the minimum plus a huge, huge lump sum more so it’s you know, this thing with the interest rates on credit cards is so egregious is 18% and whatnot. I mean, if you can earn seven to 10% on your investments, you’re doing well. So think about that the critic inflation


so low, that it’s really smart to pay down those high interest. It’s just so much in your financial favor to be able to do that. Yeah. And it sounds like you’re doing it. I mean, you can’t just focus on paying down debt. You’ve got all these other things you need to do, but it’s still so important to the overall financial picture. Yeah, that’s what I’m working on. Right.




So having kids are expensive.


But what I went through was my divorce. Being a stay at home mom, I wasn’t prepared


at all. Everything was in my ex’s name, the house, cars.


We had a joint account, but she had a separate account.


And I went through it for


a good two years where I was not prepared when I’m moving


to Oakland from Cincinnati, only had a high school education.


And I’ve been out of the workforce for over 10 years, like I said, So, um, I didn’t have a savings. I didn’t we lit what was in our joint count down the middle. But she had income coming in and I just had what I walked away with, which was like 3500. Yeah. So, I think it was like $3500 I need to find a place to live. I need to furnish too that place, I need to get food.


And then I then I was in a battle of divorce and custody war for two years and I came out on the better end but it was two years struggle.


And so it was it was a drastic change for my family. I had to go work part time so I was away from when she had the boys I will work and then I had the boys. I wasn’t really


So, being a primary parent, I have four days out of the week. So I was only able to work three days.


And I fell back on, you know, a little bit of bookkeeping information that I had and wind up getting a really good job


through a temp agency at a family-owned business, I was like, oh, bring your kids in, you know? Yeah, you know, and so I was able to move from three days a week to, you know, five days a week and really get a nice, um,


you know, be able to work, unfortunately, that went away. And so I was just basically living off of my child support payments. And I moved us into a one bedroom, and we share that one bedroom and, you know, I’m super frugal, and, you know, I went on welfare just like I was, I was repeating the same things that my mom did, but


I didn’t have that, that down and out feeling. It was like, this is what I need to do. It’ll lead to my next question, and I’m about race and how you’ve been affected by that. Financially, job opportunities and all that. So


I know it’s a big question, but it’s really so relevant to ask you that, especially now, and I hope you don’t mind sharing if you do just don’t but who would like to step in and Tori


So, um, I believe I shared this story when we were in our class, but


as far as like myself as a black woman, especially as it pertains to finances the two major situations where


I guess where I was negatively impacted, and in both cases, I didn’t realize it at the time, like how much someone had taken advantage of me of the fact that like, they


knew that, you know, I most likely wouldn’t know about these, these lower opportunities or these, these better opportunities


and the fact that they even offered them so but so one obviously being my credit card, my credit card, like I said was had a 31% interest rate, it was non-negotiable. It was something that they offered me. And it’s something that I saw that they offered my sister more recently, but it’s something that they specifically offer only in lower income communities. They’re like, Oh, you don’t have credit, use this credit card, you can build your credit, it’s great.


But the reality is it’s highly predatory lending and like you said, it’s like nearly impossible to pay off. And, and I didn’t even I didn’t realize I didn’t know to check my interest rate. I just knew that I had a credit card I knew that I had, I had a card had to make sure that I paid the minimum balance because I didn’t want to default or anything like that. But the second one which Hit me harder, especially more recently is my car when I got my car, that lemon that you know, that kept breaking down and I had to replace eventually but


they gave me


interest rate that was like, so incredibly high for this car. And it was something like, again, I think it was like 22%. You know, like so these astronomically high interest rates, which I don’t know anything about, because I’ve never purchased a car before. And my parents, you know, to the best of their knowledge, they’re haggling, thinking that they’re helping, which they did because it could have been worse. But again, they only know from experience from what they’ve been offered, right. So they actually haggled down to 22%. Well, oh my gosh, it was like 27 or 28. At first, and the person was like, Oh, we can’t go any lower, you know. And again, that’s a lie. But I’ll be things but because my parents would have never been offered a better interest rate. So how would they know? You know, so?


And when I took your class, and everyone’s talking about Oh, my car’s 7% 6% 4%. I was like,


oh, and so when I got my car that I currently have, I bought it new, and I had to argue, and I sat there I went there for two days. And I was there for two full working days. While I was working with Oakland Promise.


Which meant that I wasn’t making money because I was physically at the auto dealership. I’m negotiating with them about what I should be paying, and they brought it down to 6%. It probably could have been less, but you know, they even still they, they were like, it could have been worse. So, um, and then


yes, compared to 20 something percent it was much more reasonable and my payments, I like I believe, and gladly. I’m like, it’s fine. It’s a brand-new car. It’s not gonna break down on me anytime soon. And if it does, it has a warranty. So that was that was the trade-off for me down to what did they start at?


Well, first, they tried to tell me I wasn’t approved. So first, they tried to tell me I could not get a car. They said that my credit was not good enough. And I had literally checked it that morning. And I was like, that’s a lie. And then they then they tried to show me the screen. They’re like, see, look, here’s a list of people that have rejected you. And I’m like, but there’s a list right over there. Who’s the list of people that accepted me so then they assumed I couldn’t read.


And you know, it was a process. So like I said, I was there for two full days. So I was there for 16 hours. Back to Back


days being in those places negotiating. Yeah. So, but yeah, so it was so frustrating. But I got my car. I’ve had my car for about two and a half years now and it’s great. never had any problems with it. Fast forward to maybe like three months ago, my boyfriend who is a white man, he went to go get a car, they were like, hey, do you know we had this discount today? Did you know that? You could actually get this low interest rate? Hey, how old are you? Has your grandfather ever? Do you know anybody who’s ever owned a car? And they’re like, Oh, well, if your grandfather owned this car, back in 19, whatever, then he can also get a discount. So they were just offering him discounts. That didn’t was not mentioned anywhere that these things existed. And so his interest rate is 2.5%.


And, and they offered he walked in and he said I’m not going to pay more than this much per month for a brand-new car and they’re like, okay, sorry, we can do that. Um, and it’s just it’s a completely different experience. So um,


Something that is just so unfair, it really is.


That’s my experience of bracing credit. Well, you you’re learning though, I bet the next time you won’t even accept 6% I’m not. Yeah, cuz next time I’m gonna have excellent credit and I’m gonna be like, oh no. Yeah, right. Right. Shonda, you had your hand up? Um, yes, I have this really early childhood memory that I wanted to share, as well. So I am a black biracial woman. My mother is white and my father is black. And growing up, we always would have different used cars. We did a lot of driving. So we needed a decent nice car. And I remember going to the dealership and my parents had different roles that they would play. So my dad would always go in first. He would always ask for the car that we wanted, he would get a price estimate and he say, All right, I’ll be back later, this time.


Afternoon. And later this afternoon was when my mom would come. And just hearing your story again, it’s just so familiar to this, my mom would go in and get a much better deal than my father. And then my father would come in, and it was almost like they knew they were wrong. So they would give them an even better deal once they realize that my mother and father were together. So they figured out how to play the system, if you will.


And you know, it’s sad, but there’s so many instances in my life where I remember my parents literally going in to see well how will they treat me? You know, my father, the black man versus my mother, the white woman. And the difference was night and day. The other thing I’ll say to that is just really lack of access to knowledge. It wasn’t until I got into college and actually joined my co-ed business fraternity Alpha Kappa Psi, the psi chapter, that I even started to think about these concepts with myself. So it’s when I first discovered the acorns app.


And then thanks to you, Cathy, for explaining what I was even signed up for. I just knew I was supposed to do it because it was recommended to me. But these concepts of money are very, very much a mystery and also taboo, especially in a lot of


people of people of colors, culture. And so we don’t talk about them, or it’s kind of seen as something you stray away from.


Yeah, and it’s just been, I’m really grateful, again, to be able to be in a space where you can have these conversations, and also be able to have these conversations with the lens of race and how they play into that because the more you know, the truly the more empowered you are to be able to have those conversations. And, you know, to Tori’s point, it probably wasn’t even initially thinking like this is this could potentially be a race thing. But on the other hand, I have the experience, I’ve always seen that it was a race thing. So I always have that in the back of my mind when I’m operating and being mindful.


Like, what is the situation and what am I actually worth? Right? Good, really good, Rebecca. Yeah, we’re talking about some really, too. And when I think about how race and wealth have intersected for me, it’s really about the


generational wealth. And I have an indigenous background, I mean, Native American from California, and our land is Yosemite National Park. And we’ve been in over for battle for federal recognition, and we have not been granted that permission yet. The court puts it out kind of every year and this past year, we had to prove that we were that we were all dispersed around the park not allowed to live in the park.


And all of our tribes’ resources and money and work has gone into these battles


and it started from you


the 1849 Gold Rush. First, there were massacres and, you know, natives were hunted legally and not granted religious freedom until 78. So there was in 1878 1919 Wow. Okay.




starting from, you know, the mid 1800s


kind of my community has not been building on wealth and didn’t really even building on the kind of wealth that exists and is what gets you ahead in today’s society. So, there’s an entire conflict in my background, the use of thinking about money that I’ve, I’ve been balancing of trying to live in today’s world and build wealth, where there’s no kind of historic intergenerational wealth or value put on that


In my community, so it’s very interesting.


Contrast that is, is where race and money intersect and contradict each other and you know, don’t connect as well, that I’ve had to educate myself constantly on how to live in today’s world, how to bring that knowledge back into my community, so that we can maintain our traditional values, our vision, our, you know, connection with, with our history,


of being able to be members of society, and fighting for ourselves to be people in the eyes of the government. It’s, it’s a very interesting relationship where we’re just recognized as, as people while also trying to prove ourselves and you know, build ourselves up and just live in our ancestral homeland.


Do you? How do you help your community learn


about building wealth and things like that.


I would say through


model I’ve given talks before at UC with my aunt or just my cousin. I don’t exactly know how we’re related, but I call her my aunt. And she’s a peasant somehow.


But I try and help out where I can. It’s more one on one and personal communication.


I try, it’s not that big. But


are you unusual in your tribe, your education and ambition and all that? I would say?


Yes. So from my family, my siblings and I, with a couple of my cousins have gone outside for, you know, for your college degrees or higher education as well. And it’s not super typical of my tribe in general. Yeah. How does your tribe support themselves?




one supports themselves individually and the board. My understanding is that it’s more of a volunteer basis. Okay. Yeah, that’s so interesting. That’s just a whole different world that most of us don’t learn about.


You know, did you ever feel like you lacked opportunity, being


who you are, I would say, um, I really felt like I lacked opportunity so much as I just had to work harder. Everything was about working hard and work ethic was the number one value, you know, Family first, and you work for what you have. And you always, you know, feed your friends and your family and whoever needs it. Food’s a big part of it. So I think that I didn’t necessarily lack for


opportunities. But I think that whenever I earned them through really hard work, I was criticized for them. When I got into Stanford people would tell me like oh,


Cuz you check the box, you know, because you’re native. I heard that from so many people, and I had so much imposter syndrome. And it took me a long time to realize like, no, I worked extremely hard for this. A lot of people work really hard and are rejected from great colleges.


And it’s kind of the nature of the system and it’s not great. But it took me a long time to recognize my value and my worth in that my hard work. got me to where I am. How do you float that little clock thing that you were someone’s doing? Let’s float that Yeah, there you go. Thank you.


So that’s all around. Yeah. If I recall, you were going to buy a house, right? I was, that’s my initial plan. I bought a car instead. So I was really, you know, listening to what Tori was saying, I started planning after we talked. Last summer. We met a couple times. After


But I kind of changed my plan around a little bit and decided how it was going to be more longer term planning and that I wanted to invest in a car and I started planning about six and a half months ago for exactly what kind of and I waited until they offered zero percent financing and then I went in and got it.


It’s all about knowledge, right? What car did you get at zero percent?


Toyota rav4 hybrid, and I am just through the roof excited. It’s my first new car


driving little stick shift like 1994 ford escort before that didn’t have air conditioning and crank windows. So I was thrilled. That’s so exciting. Congratulations. Thank you. I’m sure you’re gonna make the house thing too.


Yes, it’s in the plan. Yeah, that’s great. Thank you.




Um, yeah, Race has


always played a big impact in my life.


Every week, the first time it was financial


was the first time I opened up an account by myself


in Cincinnati, and it wasn’t a credit card, it was just a normal checking account and I had to jump through hoops.


You know, normal depositing of money should have been enough, but I need to bring in


they want a letter from my employer that said I actually work there that this was my check this and on the other and I was like, you know what?


I don’t have to do all this. And so and it was a national bank. It wasn’t like a local bank. And I’ll just take money out you were trying to put it in.


I was just trying to get a regular checking account with checks and I had never, I had never overdrawn a checking account. I’ve never been denied a checking account for and it was


I had to jump through a lot of hoops. When I bought my first car.


I was very, I didn’t have any knowledge whatsoever. I just needed a car.


And my mom took me. My sister worked at Ford, which is a big plant in Cincinnati, and she had a family plan. And you know, you get a huge discount and a bunch of stuff. And I went to the Ford dealership.


And, you know, was looking at all these cars, and it was just myself. I was like, 21/22. I


just wanted a small car that I wasn’t going to have to put a whole lot of money in. And they were showing me these people expensive cars for like, no reason and the interest rates were ridiculous. Now, but you know, hindsight, right?


And I did finally get a car and it was like it pulled up on the truck. And it was this spring


Money green card. I was like, I want that one. And I got it. But looking back on it, it was a $17,000 car and I’ve paid double for that, because I wasn’t knowledgeable.


Why we were gonna stay on this topic. We’re gonna do one last question because we’re, we’re long, this has been so great. I want to have more of these.


So the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s getting a lot of support right now. I hope it keeps going. I personally, I think it would be getting even more support if it wasn’t for COVID. Because I think more people would be out protesting, you know, because some people are afraid to be out. But if they’re still getting big crowds, lots of support. So do you all think that this movement is going to have any impact on people of color, financially, at all, or what impact do you think it’s going to have


Who would like to? Yeah, Tori? Um, so one I had a thought. The first thing was that in some ways, I think the ability for the Black Lives Matter movement to like,


to kind of balloon the way that it has in the last couple months is in part because we’ve been in COVID because a lot of people are not working. I know that like, myself, especially like, in this circle, a lot of people in my community one of the biggest points of fear when you’re thinking about going out and protesting is what if I lose my job? In this case, you remove that obstacle because I’ve already lost my job. So what are they gonna do now? They can’t fire me. So, um, so I think um, I would say that I would say that in a lot of ways its ability to amplify has been because people are spending more time on their computers, so they’re able to like message each other faster. You’ve been seeing people getting fired, which is something I have never seen before. Like people are getting fired like that for saying the wrong thing for the wrong person and they caught it on recording, which you know, sometimes happens anyway, but now


Everyone has seen it. Someone did their research, they’ve investigated, I know where this person lives now I’m going to message their job directly. There have been doing petitions like to get people fired at certain places. I forgot what it was. But my boyfriend told me that a company co fired his own daughter.


Because she said something gracious, which is like a level of commitment. You haven’t we only did it just because of, you know, the public side. But what that says to other employees is that if my daughter is not safe, you are not safe. So you need to keep that racism in check. So


I would say that like positive, yeah, I would say that. One of the things I feel like has been coming out of this is a little bit more accountability. At the same time, there are people who even still, I think, see it as kind of more like a trending thing, you know, and so, especially when it comes to getting justice for people who were wrongfully killed,


pretty much whoever gets justice is the person who is the most popular at this time. So I think one of the two people


Who you hear a lot about right now are like George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. But Breana Taylor her killers are still out there, you know, like in because she has now like, bumped and bumped down and in the headlines, there’s less accountability, there’s less pressure on the on that local police department to actually grab people in you know, put them through the proper legal channels so


die out or do you think anything’s gonna happen there? Ah, well, it’s hard to say but I would like to be optimistic. I lean towards optimism because realistically, I don’t see COVID you know, the shelter in place ending anytime soon. So I’m hoping that that helps to continue people to have momentum because as soon as people go back to work that is already like this last time that they have available. That’s, again, that level of concern about what if I lose my job because I’m doing this? Yeah.


So I’m hoping that more, not just conversations


about change, but actual change will come out of this. So right now we’re in that conversation stage. And I’m hoping that if we have this window of time where we, you know, where there are fewer people who are dealing with these extra constraints, I hope that that’ll help to really push forward the change that it’s on paper and in practice.


So, you know, that’s, I’m an optimist. I’m optimistic that there is this few possibilities that we can go through with this. I love optimism.


I unfortunately think is going to die down.


And not is because I’ve been through the Rodney King incidents. I’ve been through a lot of different


incidences of, you know, racial inequalities, protests and things like that. I think for George, for Mr. Arbery, the fact that it was on video, and that people are sitting at home and have nothing else to do and had to


watch these videos over and over, and watching George Floyd call out for his mother really pulled out harsh at the heartstrings of America. It’s almost


I correlated to what happened on Bloody Sunday during the marches or voting. When the news showed what happened on that bridge in Selma, Alabama. White people were like, Oh, my dear Lord, and it was like, what are we doing as a country? Because it wasn’t hitting them in their face right away. If you would look at news stories or you know, hear stories, but until you see it for yourself, it doesn’t have the same context. And so watching George Floyd die on camera watching on her




chased down and shot on camera. And I think Breanna, the difference is we don’t have that video yet. But once those cameras are released, she’s


she’s going to be right back up there. And every time there’s a police shooting, unfortunately has to be in that context, then you have black lives matter, but our lives are, are systematically oppressed every day, every day. And it’s not just a fear of police is fear of financial institutions or spheres of education systems. We have huge fears, but this is just the one that is focused on right now. And, you know, this is 150-200 years after slavery that we’re still fighting to be


not second-class citizens not treated as you know, three-fifths of a man. You know, we still don’t have every right that we are supposed to have as natural born citizens who were brought over here on slave ships, not distressed. You know, I am I am a fourth-generation descendant of a slave. Just for


In my 40 years, and I don’t have the same footing that my white counterparts have, I never have, even when my mom made sure that I was in the best schools and public school, even though you know, she moved us out of the projects, that’s where my life started was the projects. So I am always cautious around police. I’m always cautious around financial institutions. I’m always cautious with education systems. You know, I have to fight for extras for my son’s and he’s in a, you know, he’s in a great school, but I had to fight for tutoring, because his math skills coming from a public school system wasn’t the same as his counterparts at this predominantly white institution. And I had to fight. All right, he’s in a really good Oh, he said he’s in the best of independent high school and in almost the state of California, but you know,


Is the diversity thing for them, it looks good on paper to have him there. And I’m willing to support that, because it gives us the education that you need. But I shouldn’t have to. And that’s, that’s what we’re really trying to get through is I shouldn’t have to do these things, jump through these hoops or make myself stand out more, just to be counted the same. And unfortunately, the distractions are coming up, you know, basketball is coming back, baseball is coming back. Football is going to come back. So now everybody’s going to be like, Oh, I have all these other things do and I’m not going to be captivated by all the other stuff that’s going on around Black Lives Matter and racial injustices. I think the change is going to come in November. When we have to get the current resident of Pennsylvania Avenue out of there and start working ground level to get to the higher level. We always want to start in the White House.


But we have to start locally, and changing our policies locally changing our policies in our counties and then change on state level and then it’ll move federally, but we always want to start federally, when the federal doesn’t hit us as much as local hits us first. And so hopefully, as people learn political influences as they learn financial literacy as they learn about education, and how that all transformed your entire life.


And I’m looking to all of these, you know, Tori, and Rebecca, and my children, that what I’m suffering now, they don’t have to suffer as much and that’s where the change is going to come in that next generation below me because we’re scientists, 20 years and I think Tory is 20 years younger than I am. That’s two generations removed for me. My children are right behind them. That’s where the change is going to be effective is within


Their generation.


And I don’t I don’t know if we’ll see anything big happening right now. But we’re definitely going to see some big in there.




good points. Rebecca, do you want to add something?


Yeah, and Joy made such good points. Um, I think it’s well known that communities of color are being hit the hardest by COVID-19. And


what I’m afraid of is kind of the sensational or sensational aspect of people’s attention spans and so becoming desensitized to it


and putting it on the back burner as other distractions come back as you were describing, you know, sports come back and all of these other, you know, exciting entertainment, entertainment things.


And I do see the underlying issue as systems which I was just talking about in the systemic racism aspect of it. I’m really glad that you pointed out local policies as being you know, one of biggest


starting points. I do think that this, this movement will have a long-term positive impact on


on closing a little bit the financial gap


between communities of color and, and historically white populations.


I think that in the near term, the short, the short-term losses for communities of color are going to be devastating to the point where it’s going to take a very long time for them to earn back.


You know, capitalizing on any progress that we make with the systems and because I think that we’re only going to be able to change a couple systems at a time and that’s even being sick. You know, depending on what happens in November too, it might be even longer than that. But I do think long term there will be positive ramifications for this, which is why it’s so important


that people participate and you know, make their voices heard because it will make a difference.


It might be hard to see it in the near term. You know, these things always take so much time. But you got to do it anyway, you got to start and keep going. Shonda did you get a chance to say anything on this topic? No, but my colleagues have definitely done a great job. I think what I want to add in though is we talk about systemic racism. And I think what people have to realize is, this isn’t just a black issue. It’s not just an indigenous issue. It’s not just the people of color issue. This is an all of us concept and thing that we have to get behind and support because our systems are failing communities of color.


We know that but we also have to acknowledge is that they’re actually failing all of us, right? Because we have low income people. We have people across the board who are falling through the cracks. And so what I want us to remember is when we are talking about Black Lives Matter, yes, we’re talking about the needs of a particular group that will benefit the masses and


I think that that’s the important focus to be on. And I’ll even go ahead and say, you know, during the 60s and when we had the beginning of the civil rights movement, that also opened the door for the beginning of the she kind of rights movement, the beginning of the LGBTQ movement. And so just acknowledging the solidarity that comes into this, when we begin to address these systemic problems, we see the intersectionality that’s involved with it, and that it’s not just one identity that we’re carrying, we carry multiple identities and we begin to address that we all benefit. I also just, again, thank you, Rebecca, for acknowledging that what’s going on, and communities of color right now with COVID. And I think it’s also important to note that there’s so much community organizing going on, especially in the Bay Area in particular, not being from the Bay Area. I can say people from Oakland I love the energy and spirit on right with there were fighters for what’s right. And so really acknowledging


Right now as we’re talking about what’s happening in schools, proud to see so many schools, taking police out of them, disrupting that school to prison pipeline and really supporting our children, because as you all said, it’s my generation, it’s the generation coming. It’s these amazing passionate Gen Z’s who are calling out racism and sexism, and all of those things that are happening in our world. And it really just comes back to that point, this is an us issue. We are all interconnected. And when we do right by one group of people we do right by all groups of people, and it’s really remembering that piece. So that’s where I’ll say I’m optimistic. I think we have to, you know, remember that policy changes also come with this. So I am an advocate for local government, holding your city council responsible holding your school boards responsible. Those things matter those things affect policy and change and really starting there and just shout out to all the members


organizations that are doing work right now to support and advocate for our youth, our children, their education, and also for them to use their voice because it can be really scary right now to stand up and be afraid you might lose a scholarship for college, if you’re speaking up against black lives matter. So these are really real things that we have to acknowledge in the realm and there’s so much more I could say on this topic, but I think that really encompasses where we’re at. Oh my gosh, okay. All right. So the audience was I write about these women. I am like, so energized listening to you all, I can’t even tell you. Thank you so much. We’re gonna have to end the podcast, unfortunately, but it has been a pleasure. And thank you.

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Episode 4: Young Women, Money and Black Lives Matter

My Chat With Joy, Tori, Rebecca And Reshonda

I’m very excited about this episode because I had the opportunity to reconnect with four of my former personal finance students from Mills College. As the call to address racial injustice and inequality in the United States and throughout the world grows louder and more urgent, I asked Joy, Tori, Rebecca and Reshonda to share their experiences and lessons learned navigating their financial lives as four independent women of color. I‘m so grateful for their generous contributions to this important conversation. 

During our chat, we touch on various financial challenges they’ve faced throughout their lives, from super-high interest rates on credit cards and car loans to not being able to easily open a checking account, and how an education in personal finance not only opened their eyes to the discriminatory practices of so many financial institutions, but gave them the confidence to start negotiating better terms for themselves. The ladies also talk about universal topics like imposter syndrome, learning to make better financial decisions, and celebrating wins. Finally, we discuss their hopes for the Black Lives Matter movement and how important it is to keep the momentum going, even after the world eventually returns to its pre-pandemic routine. 

Episode Highlights

Links Relevant To This Episode


Here's The Full Conversation

I hope you find it as inspiring as I did!

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Women and Money: Women Have Unique Financial Planning Needs

Carol Moretti (seated) and Lisa Deane
Carol Moretti (seated) and Lisa Deane
Carol Moretti (seated) and Lisa Deane

In my living room sat an architect, a CPA, a healthcare executive, a innovation consultant, a marketing and branding expert, a retired attorney, a writer for the Huffington Post, a clutter coach, an interior designer, a home staging specialist, a jewelry designer, a technical writer, and a newspaper columnist. We were joined by an IT manager, a freelance interactive producer, an owner of a cooking-party company, an owner of a company specializing in culinary health education for kids, a development director, a yoga instructor, a marketing consultant, a personal fashion stylist, a trade marketing manager and a business student. All women. All interesting and accomplished.

Women are as diverse as any other group of people in their career choices and in their lifestyles. But women also share distinct attributes: They are great communicators, relationship builders and nurturers. They also share unique financial planning needs. For example, many women are concerned that they will be old and poor and alone. Look at these facts:

  • Eighty percent of American women will find themselves the sole keepers of their personal finances at some point during their lives, However, most of those women feel financially insecure, despite controlling more wealth, having more education and being more involved in financial decisions.
  • Women still make less than men make in similar occupations.
  • Women’s careers are often interrupted by family needs, such as childcare and eldercare, which limits their opportunity for income and retirement savings growth.
  • Many women fear losing everything and becoming bag ladies (and it doesn’t seem to matter how much money they have or make).
  • Two-thirds of women over age 65 rely on Social Security as their primary source of income. Consequently, women are twice as likely as men to live out their golden years at or below poverty levels.

In my living room, we nibbled bites of grilled salmon covered in sesame seeds, ginger chicken, and artichoke frittata while sipping champagne cocktails. Everyone listened attentively to presentations on serious topics such as the 2010 tax relief act and the new healthcare law, but also to fun topics such as the top ten wardrobe essentials and how to save money on your wardrobe. In between speakers, we women did what we are great at: connected, made new friends and perhaps got a business lead or two.

About Cathy Curtis
Cathy Curtis, the writer of this blog and owner of Curtis Financial Planning, specializes in the finances of women, their families and their businesses. You can find out more about her on her website
www.curtisfinancialplanning.com and follow her on Twitter @cathycurtis, on Facebook Women and Money and on LinkedIn Women and Money.

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Curtis Financial Planning