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Headshot of Paris Woods next to cover of her book, The Black Girl's Guide to Financial Freedom

Pursuing financial freedom: 5 questions with author Paris Woods

By Liz Keuler

October 2021

Many of us learn how to manage our own finances the hard way – through trial and error. That was true for me in my 20s – and true for Paris Woods, author of The Black Girl's Guide to Financial Freedom: Build Wealth, Retire Early, and Live the Life of Your Dreams.  We asked Paris 5 questions about her financial journey, the challenges facing Black women and men, and her advice for others seeking to gain control of their own finances.

You entered your 30s in debt – what made you decide to go debt-free, and how did you get there?

I happened to pick up a copy of The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey, and that book completely changed my outlook on debt. I had assumed that debt was normal, but I also was feeling stressed financially. I made a decent income, but didn’t really have much left over at the end of the month. That book helped me gain control of my spending, get rid of debt, and experience more freedom in my financial choices. Becoming debt-free was definitely a life-changing decision.

What extra challenges do Black women (and men) face when it comes to personal finance?

I think it’s common to face challenges learning how to master a system that so few people talk about personally. We rarely share our personal finance information with friends and family, so we often only hear about personal finance from people who live and breathe it everyday. Unfortunately, financial gurus can make the whole thing seem completely complicated. As a result, a majority of Black Americans don’t own a single stock. 

This challenge grows for women, and Black women in particular, because our earnings tend to be much lower than our white male counterparts. Less earnings means less money available to save, and less available to invest. Informational and earnings gaps put us in a really tough position financially. But the good news is that Black women are among the most educated, hardest working people I know. With the right information at our fingertips, the sky is truly the limit for us.

Why was it important for you write a book to share your financial journey with other Black women?

A combination of factors made this the right book at the right time for me. I witnessed a woman get harassed at work in a customer service job, and was appalled. I knew she would never stay in that job if she didn’t need the money. I also got laid off from my job earlier this year. And I found myself in the privileged position to take a few months off to travel and recuperate before seeking another position. I thought back to the young girl I was, growing up in poverty and seeking advice to put myself on the right foot financially. This was the information needed back then, and without it I made countless mistakes along the way. I realized there wasn’t anything like this book on the market, so I decided to write it--for both the young women who are trying to figure things out, and for the mid-career professionals who are ready to turn things around.

How has owning a home fit into your financial goals?

I have owned multiple homes over the years, and I’m in the process of buying my next one! When I was getting out of debt, home ownership gave me the flexibility to rent out portions of my home to offset my housing expenses – which was my largest budget item. That additional money helped me get out of debt even faster. I also benefited from selling a home during a seller’s market and making quite a bit of money in the process. I think about Warren Buffet, who has owned the same home for over 30 years. I’m hoping my next home will be my 30-year one. I’m also interested in real estate investing and might consider buying additional investment properties in the future as well.

What advice would you share with those who would like to start saving more and don’t know where to start?

First, think about what you want for your life. Where do you want to be in 10 years? What is your dream life? Having that goal in mind will be the motivation you need to align your finances and build the life you want. Next, think about how much you need to save and invest to achieve your goals. There are 2 ways to hit your savings target – earn more and spend less of what you make. Think about what choices you can make today that align with your dream life. Whether that means a higher paying or more fulfilling job, or the elimination of line items in your budget that are least important to you (or at least, less important than the goals you’ve set for your future), it’s up to you to decide.

About Paris Woods

Paris is a 2-time graduate of Harvard University with a bachelor’s degree in African American studies and a master's degree in education policy and management. She is currently a doctoral student at The University of Texas at Austin.

JOYCE SHIELDS-FORD

I FIND THIS ARTICLE VERY INFORMATED. I CAN'T WAIT TO GET ON MY FINANCIAL FREEDOM GOALS WITH READING THE BOOK.

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Liz Keuler is the editor of Readynest. She spent a decade meandering through radio, nonprofits and the corporate world before convincing MGIC to hire her based on her staunch grammatical convictions. She lives in a charming 100-year-old bungalow on Milwaukee’s East Side. Her interests include old Ernst Lubitsch films, new action movies, 60s girl pop, Regency romance novels, word games, sewing and shallots.
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