After you’ve earned your degree, established your career, and started a family, the last thing you anticipate is living paycheck to paycheck. In many American households though, financial security is a constant concern.
Welcome to the Author Hour Podcast. I’m your host Hussein Al-Baiaty and I’m joined by author Monica Allen, who is here to talk about her new book, called Girls Just Want to Have Funds: Four Steps to Financial Freedom. Let’s flip through it.
Hello, everyone, and welcome to Author Hour. Today, I have a special guest. Her name is Monica Allen and she’s here to provide some amazing context around her remarkable book, called Girls Just Want to Have Funds. Now, if that’s not a great title, I don’t know what is. Monica, it’s so great to have you on the show. Thank you for coming on today.
Monica Allen: Hussein, thanks for having me.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, this is my pleasure because I’ve had the privilege of swimming through your book early, if you will, and I am just – I love the simplicity, the context, the stories were so rich and so relatable, and I can’t wait to get into all that. But before we get into the book, I’d really like to set the foundation and share with our audience a little bit about you, your personal background, your story of perhaps where you grew up, and what led you to the path that you’re in now.
Monica Allen: Okay, thank you for asking. My story is really a story of “against all odds.” So if I can do what I’ve done in this book, then any reader is going to be able to also do it if they want to do it.
I’m just going to give you a little picture summary of a few things that have happened in my life because I think it’s easy when you’re struggling to look at somebody on the cover of a book and think, “They have it all together, we’re really not in the same class, I’m struggling paycheck to paycheck. How is this going to help me?” I’ll just picture summarize it.
When I was at the early age of 16, I had a teenage pregnancy, and this was what we called at that time a baby out of wedlock. I was not married. When I was 18, my father dies unexpectedly at the age of 44 of a heart attack, and at age 22, I’m going through a divorce that I did not want and I find out that baby number two is on the way.
I like numbers but let’s just say here that the statistics for success were definitely not on my side. If you look at teen moms, less than 2% of them get a college degree by age 30 but even worse, only 51% of teenage moms get a high school diploma. We have to get out of school to take care of our child.
The Breaking Point
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, I think the circumstances of certain situations in our lives definitely lead us down paths that we may not have seen for come, right? Then, it’s really trying to figure out, “How is it up to me to make better decisions and start to improve X, Y or Z?” This is a story where you share not only what happened throughout those experiences but also really practical tips and advice and management tools to help people, and it’s very easy to navigate.
Can you tell us about a time when you felt really overwhelmed by financial burden and what you did to start to overcome that?
Monica Allen: Yes, I sure can. I think we all have our times but then there’s the time. So we have times when we’re struggling and we end up making it. It seems like it works out. We’re just maybe getting by what they call the skin of your teeth but I thought that I had made it when I finally met my husband Brad and we both had two good jobs.
I thought, “Finally, I made it” and then there was one night, and this changes my life, there was one night, I wasn’t really even thinking about finances but we both came home from work dead tired and we wanted to order a pizza. This is my north star of the book because, when I looked at our bank account, I realized that unless we took it out of – we had a measly savings – there was nothing really in checking – unless we took it out of savings that we weren’t going to get a pizza on that Wednesday night.
Something snapped inside of me. You know, where you said, “Enough is enough.” After that – we ended up eating – we cooked the frozen pizza that night – but after that, I started reading everything that I could on finances. Everything I could get my hands on. Some of it good, some of it not so good, but I soaked in everything that I could get my hands on and we started living differently. So now, I can live differently and help other people and just pass it on.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: There’s a breaking point, right? I think for me personally, it happened a few times I feel like. There’s like during college, after college, and starting a business, and the business part was where everything just snapped. I too, just like you, there’s something I’m not seeing here and I needed to figure out what I was doing wrong as opposed to I feel like the times before that, it was just like, “What’s happening around me and how can I control it?” That is obviously impossible, right?
But what I can control is my actions, my behavior, and my methodologies. Yeah, so you went down this rabbit hole of financial literacy and really trying to understand where you stand and that’s what inspired you specifically though to write about a financial management tool, basically, you call it the kitchen table approach. What inspired you to write that specifically for women?
Because I know there are a ton of financial literacy books and some are targeted towards women and some are targeted – you know? But I feel like, with your story, it’s more around moms, and correct me if I’m wrong, I feel that it’s maybe the book that you wanted to read when you were younger.
Monica Allen: I think it was, yeah. I think one of the biggest things is that mom, and most of us will agree with this, she is the heartbeat of the household. That old saying that, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy,” it does hold true because mom, whether we’re in a bad situation or a good, her attitude kind of controls the pulse of the house. We’re not only the partner, if we’re lucky enough to have a partner, but we’re raising up little girls and little boys that look to mom like, “Everything is okay.” Even if you’re dirt poor, your mom can make you feel, in her mindset, that everything is okay. It can make these little lives better that are entrusted to you.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: That’s so powerful. I mean, I don’t know anyone who can’t relate to that. I mean, personally, I feel like I could ask my mom today where I left something 20 years ago and she would probably remember.
Monica Allen: I love that, yes.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: It’s just her ability to, like you said, keep things together in such a beautiful way and yes, it is a shoutout to all those remarkable women who keep the things together. But there’s a missing element in financial literacy where the woman at some point really takes charge. I know, in a lot of people’s relationships, the woman is able to take care of the financials and just make sure things are sent out and on time. Of course, you’re keeping track of Johnny’s baseball game and his orthodontist appointment and all of these things. There is some science behind why women are able to sort of do multiple things.
Monica Allen: There certainly is, yes.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: I found that really powerful that you brought that to the table. How can women who feel the pressure to make money and manage it apply your kitchen table approach to their finances? What’s the first thing women need to start thinking about to start applying this approach?
Monica Allen: We’re made to multitask and I love the science of it because, I’m scientific that I’m in the healthcare business. So before birth, they say that men’s brains are washed with testosterone. So they’re the, go hunt and kill and bring home and the lady was at home doing everything else. We are multitaskers. We can decide, we’re taking a vacation and it’s just going to be camping.
We don’t say it to the kid that way, it’s just going to be camping this year or we’re going to go to Disney. Big difference in money there. The female controls the pulse of what happens in the house, whether a room gets redecorated, how many sports each kid can be in, and keeps the pulse going. So, the woman is the perfect person to decide, “Hey, if you’re the one deciding on all the bills,” whether your husband’s doing it or you’re doing it, somebody needs to jump in and take the reins.
A lot of times, we’re so overwhelmed, both of us, the wives and the husbands, the men and the women in these relationships, that you just skate by. You want better but you feel like you don’t have the time to do better.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: What are some of the common misconceptions about financial management that you feel like your book aims to dispel?
Monica Allen: I think many people think that they need to go sit in a financial advisor’s office and they need to have a million dollars to do that. They just feel so overwhelmed when they think about that, that they do nothing. These steps are much easier than that.
Four Steps to Financial Freedom
Hussein Al-Baiaty: What are some of the steps you started taking when that snap happens and you went down that rabbit hole? What were the first few things that you started to do to really start making that shift?
Monica Allen: After reading everything that I could get my hands on, I decided that we needed to get out of debt and that’s one of the biggest things that almost any financial advisor will tell you, to start digging out of debt, to free up that money, to put the money and tell the money where you want it to go.
If you’re spending 700 bucks, which is easy now because of inflation, a month on eating out, and you put it down on paper, that’s great, do it. If you want to do it, great. Maybe more than that now, if you have a family with the cost of things. We’re not even talking five-star restaurants. You decide though when you look at it on paper, “Hey, I’m spending $700 a month eating out and I‘m putting $100 a month in my retirement.”
You may decide to do something differently. When I looked at it on paper, we decided we were going to do something different in our house, so that we didn’t have to live that way and then eventually go into retirement that way, when our income decreases and have to own or ask our kids to support us.
I don’t know what there is because I believe social security will be there. Many people question whether it will be there or not, I believe it will be there but it’s not going to be what it was when you were bringing home the paycheck.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, definitely, I agree with that. I think our culture and our society today, we’ve just been so misinformed for so long, especially around financials. I think it’s the least educated thing in our world really, to understand financials, credit, all that stuff early enough where we can actually make decisions and build habits because I feel like financial, from what I’ve gained and learned, no matter how you perceive it, it’s something around building, just improving and building better financial habits.
Of course, that is limited to what you know and how you get to know it and so I love that your book really dives into that space where it’s just like, “Okay, here’s what I did, here are the things that I started thinking about. I started putting it to paper, I realized that I was overspending over here and perhaps I can bring that down and take some of that leftover money.” You brought it up in your van story, which I love.
It’s remarkably written because this idea of, “This van is going to make us rich,” and it’s just, sticking it out with the old thing for a while until you start to get comfortable and build the habit of putting that money away as opposed to putting it into a brand-new car every other year or so. Some people can afford that, of course, and that’s part of their financial world and what makes them happy.
But in some cases, when you have a family, when you have things you got to take care of and manage and it’s really on your plate, you got to make those choices. So mama starts making some choices, things started getting better, and you start taking control of that checkbook. Can you walk us through one of the four easy steps to financial freedom that you outline in your book and explain how it can benefit the reader and their financial future?
Monica Allen: I would probably say that building the emergency fund, which is step one is one of the best steps that you can have because we already talked about getting out of debt, and that’s important to free up that money, but a lot of emergencies, depending on if you’re single or married, between about $1 and $2,000. When you have that emergency fund, when you’re getting out of debt, you don’t have to put it on credit.
You’re going to have emergencies. I firmly believe, when you have the emergency fund and we say it’s like between $1 and $2,000, that you don’t have as many emergencies because you have it but when you do have it, then you are not adding more debt for when the furnace goes out and it’s a $500 bill, we hope, or when something goes wrong; the car breaks down, the kids need school clothes, that’s almost an emergency sometimes, but we learn eventually to start budgeting for those type of things.
But when you have an emergency, it really is a big mental setback too because you are thinking to yourself, “I just paid all this off and now I’m taking a big, giant step backwards.” So you have that emergency fund, you deal with the emergency, and you go on your way and that’s one of the best things you can do for yourself. Women especially like having the emergency fund because it just gives us the sense of peace that we know if something happens, we’d got it. We got it covered.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: It’s so powerful because and, again, that idea of freedom or just knowing that you’ll be taken care of if something were to arise, it does give you a sense of peace. I know it does for me and the more I’ve built up some of my savings and emergency funds and started getting better at allocating my budget and all those things over time and started building better habits, I definitely have a lot more peace of mind.
I don’t know about you but I used to have, oh my god, at the end of every month I would just have such anxiety, especially around when I owned my own business, you know, paying the taxes, doing all the things, and making sure everybody is paid. It’s funny, even after I sold my business and moved onto other things in my life, in writing and more creativity, what’s funny is at the end of every month, I still felt the sense of anxiety.
I’m like, “Wait a minute, I don’t have those worries anymore,” but the feeling and the pressures and the things are still there. It’s crazy because you realize, once I created that awareness, I was like, “Okay, during those days I’m going to just sit and meditate and just let these feelings pass because they’re not true anymore.” What’s interesting is the psychology of that at least for me, I’m not a scientist or anything or a doctor by any means.
But for me, it was just like, “Okay, at this time, this used to happen but now I have this pad and I have the systems in place to take care of my money,” you know, all of these things. So, I started wondering, “Why am I feeling this way?” And that feeling started to dissipate and now at the end of the month, I’m more of like in a celebratory sort of phase as opposed to feeling anxious and not good inside.
You talk about this a little bit in your book, which I found really relatable. I think that’s such a powerful thing, when you have systems in place or a system that you apply your money to, I think that helps with the mental wellbeing. Would you agree with that and would you elaborate on that a little bit?
Spend with Gratitude
Monica Allen: I totally agree with it and here’s the thing, your business, you conditioned your mind in it. It had to be worried at the end of month to make payroll and everything but some of our conditionings may have been from something that was passed down to us from an aunt, from parents, something that we did not choose and we don’t really know why we act a certain way and we hang on to money like we do, with what I call a closed fist instead of an open hand.
When you have the open hand, money can come and go out as needed. But we’re the product of our environment and we didn’t get to pick what we were – maybe there was a time when someone said, “You are a bad girl, you do not get that toy,” you were running through the store, whatever but there’s certain things in our impressionable years that stick with us and we have to address those and get out of them.
For instance, maybe your mom and dad said, “We can never eat out. It is too costly to eat out, I don’t want to give anybody a tip. This is money we’re not going to spend,” even if they could spend it. So, in your mind every time you’re eating out, you feel guilty. There are a lot of things to address because we don’t want to just say in this book that we’re budgeting our money and were just going to scrimp and save.
We’re going to learn how to spend too and, when you do spend, it should be with joy. When you buy goods and you send your money out, you send it out with thanks and gratitude that I can pay this bill and when you receive it, it’s – think Ken Honda. He is one of my favorite people when he talks about this. When money comes in, you’re thankful, in gratitude, and when you’re able to pay something, you send it out with thanks and gratitude.
That’s what makes the world go round, so we’re not going to just teach you to covet and hold and hide and save. That’s not living. We want you to live.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, that’s so powerful. I’m so glad you brought us there because you know, gratitude around money is such a powerful way for it to come back, right? It’s this reciprocity. What you put out in the world eventually comes back to you, and if you put it out in the world that’s in a state of gratitude then it will come back to you because you’ve been grateful to it. It’s one of those things that was such a huge mental shift for me.
It was that, I used to do this, everyone does it, especially when you are young and just trying to figure things out. I used to feel so angry having to write a check for something that I needed, you know? My first year of writing out my checks to my student loans, oh, they used to just – I used to hate them, you know? I’m like, “God, it’s so much money,” you know? But at the end of the day I got educated.
I got this job because of this or something happened because of this. Transforming it into gratitude, and saying, “You know what? I am grateful that I was able to do X, Y, or Z even though it was probably a little more expensive than it should have been,” that doesn’t matter anymore. The thing is it’s done and now how I think about should also be positive, so I can keep attracting this thing that I need to survive and live through. So it’s very powerful, I’m glad you brought it back to that.
Monica Allen: Yeah, make money want to be with you. When you send it out with gratitude, it’s okay to say, “I’m paying this electric bill and all the people that work for that company. Go ahead, go do what you need to do and bring, come back with friends.”
Hussein Al-Baiaty: So powerful. So you know, writing a book is no easy feat of course, so congratulations on that. What was your favorite part of pulling the book together and what did you learn from that journey?
Monica Allen: It’s a long journey. I think it is much longer than what I even imagined but I think that it allows you to put your life and your perspective and stories in there and you are leaving a legacy, at least for your children and your grandchildren, of some of the stories that really impacted you. Like you said, when you read a few of the stories, they’re so relatable. We have four children and they’re so relatable, the stories that you’d go through.
But many times, those are not passed down. Each child’s take on the story might be totally different even my children but at least they’re going to know my take on the story when they read the book.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yes, that’s amazing. I love that. You know, what’s interesting for me is how one feels when they put down a book, you know? I think for me, having been able to skim through your book and really pull out some good nuggets, I felt more confident in what I am doing and it made me think about what I could also be doing, right? But it made me feel good and, you know, I like to feel good when I put a book down.
What do you hope your book does for readers that are really are struggling and figuring out a way to kind of start managing their financials? What do you hope they feel when they put the book down?
Monica Allen: I think in order to say what I hope that they feel and need to touch on a little bit about COVID. You know, COVID has really taken a toll on everyone. When I was in healthcare, healthcare was a great job but COVID changed it all. Each occupation probably in a different way but it did something to all of us. One thing I’ll say about healthcare, it is a good stable job and there is many things you can do in healthcare, but it hit the healthcare workers hard.
We had finally met our match and by that I mean, we got into this field because we wanted to care and help people and help them feel better and now this caring took on a whole new meaning. COVID could actually kill us and did in many cases. I had worked the COVID ward and I know many people that did and I tell you, it was a lot different. I was around even when AIDS and HIV came out and this was a lot different than even that.
At least in AIDS and HIV, we knew that we’d probably in the beginning we thought that it was just by shaking hands so we’re cautious that way but this COVID was airborne, eye-borne. We didn’t know what it was, we didn’t know how everybody was getting it. At the same time, we had to deal with COVID, and because of COVID, 3.5 million mothers left the workplace or they lost their jobs, that’s the early pandemic.
They had to care for those school-aged children. You couldn’t leave your school-aged kids with your grandparents anymore because we were scared they might kill them. So many of those people have not returned to work and we know that I don’t know exactly how they’re getting by but they need some tips because they didn’t just magically get the tips when they left it but finances are the number one cause of divorce and one in two they say get divorced.
Then a woman’s household income falls by nearly 41% after a divorce. That’s double what it is for men. So, one in three households are headed by an unmarried woman and one in three of these households are below the poverty line. What I’m hoping that especially these women get is that, when they set that book down, they think to themselves, “There’s so many tips and tricks and stories of real people who changed their lives by working a plan.”
I firmly – I am at the point in my life now, I don’t care if it’s my plan. If you’d come to me and say you picked the plan that Suze Orman wrote, I don’t care, but you need to pick a plan. You need to tell your money where to go and I want them to think, “You know what? I don’t have to go in an office with a guy who has a suit on and scares me. I can actually start working my plan by reading this book.”
If people will do that in just these four steps without ever even talking about a 529 plan for their kid’s college, I mean, that will pay for itself when it gets there or they can take out their own loans. If they could just do these four steps, you’re 90% different from people, no matter what income you’re at. You can even be over six figures of income and many of those people, they’re not working these four steps.
That’s what I hope that they set it down and they’re like, “Ah, this lady wrote this and I can do this because she went through stuff just like I did and I can do this.” I want them to just relax when they put it down and start.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: So powerful, I love that so much because you’re right. I think the power of reading in of itself just illuminates the imagination and I think reading is so powerful because it always leads to some practical things that we can do, which means taking action and the moment we take action, I feel like our illuminated imagination on top of the action may yield a result that feels good for the moment that you took an action.
But imagine that result being compounded over time as you start that good behavior and thinking about your future self. I think that’s what your book does for me. It reminds me to think about my future self while also taking care of my current self and just adapting new behaviors that can ultimately lead to positive outcomes. Monica, I’ve learned so much today. I’m so grateful that you came on the show, it’s such a powerful experience.
The book is called, Girls Just Want to Have Funds: Four Steps to Financial Freedom, that’s it, four steps. So, besides checking out the book, where can people find you, Monica?
Monica Allen: They can find me almost anywhere at @authormonicaallen and I’m not quite out there as much as I want to be but it’s happening soon. The book’s going to be released May 16th on Amazon and I have a virtual assistant who’s helping me get the social media up and going, so it is coming.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: I love that so much. Monica, thank you again. It’s great to have you on the show and congratulations on your book.
Monica Allen: Thank you so much. It’s great to be here.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Absolutely.
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