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My money story: Embracing spending, growing financial education

What are some money lessons you’ve learned?

After college, I started a Money Club with my friends, where we explored various topics including budgeting, credit and reducing debt. I found that so many of my friends shared the story of carrying debt and building credit, while financially supporting extended family members and tirelessly saving for large ticket items like a wedding, car or home.

At the time, making significant contributions to our retirement accounts was not an option due to lack of knowledge and simply not having enough money to do it all. Little did we know, the delay in our path to homeownership and early investing would significantly impact our wealth accumulation today. Back then, I believed financial education was the sole answer to our financial advancement. However, with time, I realized that is just the start.

Tell us a little about your what’s shaped your money outlook.

Based on my own wealth journey as a Black woman and first-generation finance professional — who did not talk about wealth building while growing up at the dinner table or at school — I believe financial education for all and inclusive banking practices are needed to make a lasting difference.

I’m the child of a police officer and a teacher, and both my parents relentlessly preached the importance of a college education as the best path toward success. My parents wanted to give me and my three siblings access to the best educational opportunities they could afford. When faced with sending us to the local public school that was not performing well, they decided to make a significant financial sacrifice by sending us to private schools. While I received an amazing foundation, there simply was not enough money to also save for college . Unfortunately, I graduated from Michigan State University with more than $40,000 in student loan and credit card debt.

You are a huge advocate for financial education for all. What goals do you have when it comes to the future of finance?

Inclusive banking practices would have helped my parents. Access to loans for entrepreneurial endeavors, homeownership in neighborhoods with strong school districts, and exposure to the capital markets by trusted financial advisors who looked like them and understood their experiences would have helped my parents build wealth and impacted my financial trajectory.

I firmly believe that all people deserve equal opportunities to financial services along with access to the knowledge, skills and tools to make the best financial decisions for themselves, family and future generations. It is this education that will allow us to neutralize barriers to financial advancement and close the racial wealth gap.

I firmly believe that all people deserve equal opportunities to financial services along with access to the knowledge, skills and tools to make the best financial decisions for themselves, family and future generations.

Tell us about when you first started making money.

I secured my first job when I was 15 — even at that young age, I understood the power of independence and taking control of my finances. My first employer was McDonald’s, where I earned about $4.25 an hour. It was hard work, but many of my friends worked there, which made the experience that much more enjoyable. I started with tasks such as mopping floors and making fries, and I executed the work with pride, always aiming to deliver excellence. Soon after, I earned a promotion to the grill and cash register and developed a great relationship with my manager, who then asked me to help open a new store nearby.

My time at McDonald’s was an important moment in my life, and I carried so much of what I learned there into future roles. I’ve always had a mindset of giving it my all, no matter what I’m doing, because I believe that’s how you create opportunities. It’s a mentality I’ve held to over the years, and it has served me well throughout my career.

What are some of your money plans or future goals?

I would love to be completely debt free within the next five to seven years. I spent my early 30s diligently eliminating my student loan debt, paying off about $70k from undergrad and graduate school. Currently, I have a mortgage for my personal residence and a rental property. My aim is to aggressively pay that off, too, and gain some freedom to focus on other goals. For instance, I have two kids in private school, so paying for their schooling now and eventually their college education is another big target of mine.

Looking further ahead toward retirement, I plan to max out my 401(k) and Health Savings Account, as well as make significant contributions to the Employee Stock Purchase Program provided by Ally and save for my kids' college via a 529 account. Ultimately, I love my work, but I aim to get to a place where it’s optional. In some ways, my goals trend toward the FIRE movement (Financial Independence Retire Early — a financial movement defined by frugality and extreme savings and investment). I want to reach a level of financial independence where money just isn’t an issue for me anymore and I’ve built generational wealth for my children. I’m not quite there yet, but I’m working toward it.

What are some money roadblocks you’ve encountered?

I am a spender — all of the online money quizzes confirm it! — and I understand that aspect of myself. When I was younger, I fought against it and always had some shame around it. What changed that for me was a certain book (Worth It: Your Life, Your Money, Your Terms by Amanda Steinberg). In it, the author breaks down the five money personalities. I discovered that I am an epicure — a spender, someone who enjoys spending money on experiences and gifts for people.

Something about seeing myself in this book made me realize it’s OK to be me. It’s OK to want fabulous experiences and to thoroughly enjoy life. But I had to look back and do the work to understand why I’m that way, why I’m someone who lives for today. I’ve found that, in my case, my attitude toward life comes from a place of loss — losing my mother when I was 12 and then, later in life, being diagnosed with (and surviving) breast cancer. Those experiences deepened my mindset of seizing the moment. Understanding how my emotions tied to money was life changing. I often used the YOLO (You Only Live Once) mindset to justify overspending. Now that I have identified the root cause of my financial behavior, I can make better decisions.

One of my keys to success is automation. I automate everything — every bill, every savings account, every investment, including my kids’ 529 college savings accounts. The money is sent where it needs to go, and I let it work for me. I also look for cost effective alternatives for food and fashion. I often split meals with friends at restaurants (which also helps my waistline) and shop at consignment stores or use fashion rental services for gowns and trendy clothing items. These shopping options help me save money, and they also have a positive impact on the environment: Sustainable fashion helps reduce CO2 emissions, as well as water, electricity and landfill waste.

Planning also plays a big role in my financial and life goals. This year, I scheduled a trip to Egypt for a yoga and meditation retreat. Having that larger target, paired with my big picture financial goals, helps me stay focused and disciplined. It’s not about depriving myself — go ahead and get the morning latte! — but finding balance.

Do you have a personal money mantra?

I am a money magnet. Wealth and abundance flow to me effortlessly.

Give us a 10-second money pep talk.

It’s never too late to start investing and taking control of your financial future. Dig in — read all of the books you can and educate yourself. Don’t just hand your financial future over to someone; immerse yourself in being an expert in your money, and if you work with an advisor, make sure it's a partnership. You’ll be so surprised at what you can do to create that generational wealth. Remember: You own your future.

Thank you for sharing your money story with us, Jack! If you’re looking for ways to further your financial education, sign-up for weekly expert insights on recent market moves from Lindsey Bell, our chief markets & money strategist.

Jack Howard serves as a strategic program and communication lead to establish Ally as the leading voice in financial health and wellness, with a focus on money psychology and behavioral financial education. She’s also the secretary for the Ally Charitable Foundation. As a passionate advocate for financial social inclusion, Jack is committed to be a change-maker by creating programs that help prepare Brown and Black communities with tools for wealth creation that recognize the significant historical wealth disparities faced by those communities. 

An active professional, Jack serves on the national board of directors for the American Bankers Association Foundation and Society for Financial Education and Professional Development, and the Boys and Girls Club of SE Michigan. In 2022, she was recognized as an Outstanding Alumni by the Communications Arts and Sciences College of her undergraduate alma mater, Michigan State University.

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