We have just begun a new decade. Many of us are accustomed to making New Year’s resolutions. Data from all research, reports, and studies indicate that African Americans need to make a financial resolution. The resolution should take the form of a commitment to limit spending to enhance financial well-being and create wealth. Wealth gives you options, while money only provides for financial sustainability or the ability to purchase goods and services.
African Americans lag behind all races and ethnic groups in respect to wealth but exceed all groups in consumer spending. There must be significant change from buying personal use assets, such as technology, luxury cars, and jewelry, to the investing in financial assets, i.e., stocks, bonds, mutual funds and real estate. Based on FINRA data, 41% African American men do not have financial assets/investment accounts, while 22% have financial retirement accounts only. In respect to African American women, 50% do not have investment accounts, while 33% have retirement accounts only. Currently only 42.1% of African Americans own a home.
Most people live off their reference points. As we celebrate Black History Month, I will mention two outstanding reference points – 19th century leaders – to establish a financial resolution. In respect to investing, we can look at how Harriet Tubman managed the money she earned from harvesting crops. She did not spend all the money that she earned but saved a portion to purchase oxen to enable her haul to larger crops and used this money to make more money. The additional money provided funds to support her efforts to free slaves. Her legacy is preserved on a variety of sites on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
Frederick Douglass was a homeowner, resulting in the creation of wealth for him and his family. His Cedar Hill estate sits high on a hill in Washington, D.C. as a National Historic site.
We can replicate the thinking and actions of these two African American leaders to change how we use money. Douglass was self-educated. Tubman was illiterate but had the sense to use her financial resources to make life better for herself and others. Neither were financially literate as we know financial literacy today, butboth were forward thinking.
Douglass and Tubman can serve as our reference points to gain financial knowledge and skills to ensure that we maximize our available financial resources. This can be done by saving and investing to acquire financial assetsand improving our management of credit and debt so that we can qualify for homeownership. I use both Tubman and Douglass as examples in the financial literacy workshops I teach at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other universities, to inspire students, many of whom are first generation.
The common thread of those who have wealth is saving and investing for their future financial well-being. We must resolve to think long-term and move away from short-term gratification. Visualization of how to live one’s life in the future is of utmost importance. Rather than having the dream of many personal use assets, we must work toward acquiring financial assets and a home to live in during the later years of our lives. This will require us to think about the life we wish to avoid, which may lead to homelessness, dependence on government assistance, and the whims of politicians. We must resolve to have a sense of urgency to move to a higher level of wealth accumulation.
The next 10 years are critical. African Americans cannot afford to end this decade as we ended the previous decades. We must take on systemic discrimination with economic and wealth growth in the African American community.
Theodore R. Daniels is founder and president of the Society for Financial Education and Professional Development, Inc., (SFE&PD), a financial literacy nonprofit in Alexandria, VA.