Ryan Mack tells the true story of the young African-American man who scraped together $1,500 to buy a gold chain and then pawned it for less than its original purchase price in order to pay his rent. By the time the man gathered the necessary funds to get his chain back, 90 days had passed and the interest and fees were astronomical. “Not only did he not have the money to get the chain out of hawk,” says Mack, president and CEO at Optimum Capital Management, LLC in New York, “but he was also broke again and looking for a way to pay his next rent check.”
Mack credits rappers like Trinidad James and their gold-laced song lyrics with pushing young African-Americans to make decisions that go decidedly against good wealth-building tactics. “This is what’s going on in the Black communities across the nation,” says Mack. “We’re told to buy all of these things that do nothing to contribute to our own economic advances or those of our communities.”
Mack, who can be regularly viewed on television networks and BET discussing economic/social issues that impact consumers, offers these four solid tips to readers who want to break out of the stereotypical mold and start building wealth for life:
Start building wealth when you’re young. Just because you’re in your 20s or 30s doesn’t mean you have an endless savings and investment horizon.
“A lot of young people feel like they’re not making enough money to worry about savings and retirement,” says Mack. “In reality, the absolute best time to get started is when you’re young, regardless of your financial footing at the time.” Start by signing up for your employer’s 401(k) plan (many firms will match your contribution up to a certain amount) for example, even if it means that you have to cut back a little on the daily Starbucks lattes or that extra night out every weekend.
Don’t fall prey to urban marketing tactics. Prepaid debit cards, check-cashing services, spending too much on the party lifestyle and using all of your extra cash for jewelry and flashy clothes can quickly take their toll on someone’s ability to save for the future. “These are the financial predators of our urban neighborhoods,” says Mack. Use a check-cashing service regularly, for example, and you will miss out on establishing a banking relationship and good credit. “By avoiding the marketing tactics that we so often see used in urban communities,” Mack says, “you’ll be able to better position yourself for a lifetime of good financial habits.”
Work with a financial planner. Mack advises all consumers to work with a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) who can help you make sound decisions about retirement, buying a home, starting a business, wills, investment accounts, insurance and emergency savings, among other things. You can find planners in your area at the CFP site here or at the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) site here. Ask for a copy of the advisor’s Form ADV (which discloses services provided and fees levied, whether the investment advisor acts as a broker-dealer and transacts securities and more), says Mack, and call at least three client referrals before working with a professional.
Don’t wait for that high-paying job to start saving and investing. “A lot of young people feel like they don’t make enough money to worry about building wealth,” Mack points out. As the years pass and that “big raise” or “large inheritance” never comes through, the idea of wealth building stays on the backburner. The two simplest ways to jumpstart the process are by 1) setting up a household budget and sticking to it; and 2) arranging and regularly funding an emergency savings account. “These two easy steps will help you get a handle on what you have,” says Mack, “and exactly how much you can start investing for your future.”
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(Photo: Ferran Traite Soler/Getty Images)