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Lessons in thrift from the bling set

by Amy Kingsley

In 2005, I suffered something of a financial crisis. Fresh out of grad school, waiting tables when I could, I ran into some legal expenses and a snarl of red tape separating me from almost $2,000 in travel and research reimbursement.

I didn’t have any savings, natch, so I did what most people my age do – leaned heavily on my credit cards until YES! Weekly called with the offer of a regular paycheck.

It’s almost two years later, and I’ve paid down about half the debt I accumulated during those months of pecuniary hardship.

I learned a few monetary lessons, but I did it the hard way. On Saturday, I visited the Corbett Sports Center at NC A&T University for a presentation I should’ve heard maybe 10 years ago.

Russell Simmons, Benjamin Chavis and a host of hip-hop stars that included Lil’ Mo and Jim Jones, assembled in front of a background emblazoned with the name of the seminar: “Get Your Money Right.” The event, organized by Simmons’ Hip Hop Summit Action Network, promoted financial empowerment with a crash course in fiscal literacy for the college set. Topics included FICO scores, assets, liabilities and budgeting.

A lot of it was common sense: Set goals, prioritize spending, develop a budget and save money. The speakers encouraged attendees to check their credit records, which is something I’ve been a little scared to do.

I’m almost embarrassed to admit how much of the information presented on Saturday was new to me. I’ve been in and out of the working world for the better part of eight years. By now, I should have figured out how to navigate the realm of bankers and creditors.

Simmons put it in terms of self-worth. Opening and adding to a savings account is an investment in your future – a payment, if you will, to yourself.

Now, I’m not the kind of girl who burns up her paycheck on shoes or fancy dinners. I can be pretty miserly when I need to. In college, for instance, I could eat for almost a month on $25 dollars (pasta, lentils, potatoes and American cheese figured heavily into my diet).

So, as per the panelists’ advice, when I got home, I tried to determine where I’d spent money in the previous week. Mostly on groceries, it seemed.

Then I did the thing I’ve been dreading for the past two years, I checked my credit score. As it turns out, it wasn’t so bad. I’ve caught up on all my bills, and I’m making an honest effort to eliminate the last of my revolving debt (a term I learned at the summit).

Sure, there’s a part of me that knows how ridiculous it is that it took a panel of platinum recording artists who make scads, even bushels more money in one month than I will make in a year to teach me about proper financial management. But like a lot of people my age, and a lot of people at Corbett, I never really learned about this stuff in any formal sense.

Because I grew up witnessing my mother stress about her credit cards, and because I chose a career with limited financial promise, I figured a life of debt was one of the cards fate had dealt me.

This week, I’ll be keeping a closer eye on where my money goes. And next month, I’ll sign on to the Womack Publishing 401(K) plan. I probably will not ever possess the kind of bling that attends success in the realm of commercial hip hop. In fact, I think I’d be happy with a reliable car and a modest nest egg.

Try and rap about that, Lil’ Mo.

To comment on this story, e-mail Amy Kingsley at amy@yesweekly.com.

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