Pro tips Q&A with founder & author of 'Clever Girl Finance' Bola Sokunbi

Myelle Lansat


Myelle Lansat

Myelle Lansat

News Editor

Myelle Lansat is a news editor at Policygenius, where she writes the Easy Money newsletter and covers insurance and personal finance. Previously, she was a personal finance writer at CNBC and Acorns, and a reporter for Business Insider.

Published June 11, 2020 | 4 min read

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Bola Sokunbi has spoken about the need for more diversity in personal finance — it's one of the reasons she wrote her book. The founder and author of Clever Girl Finance talked to Easy Money this week about why representation matters when it comes to money, and how we can adjust our finances to this tumultuous year.

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This interview has been lightly edited for style and clarity.

How can people adjust financially to everything happening in 2020?

Start by taking an assessment of where you are financially, where you are stuck and what your challenges are. Take a good look at your overall finances and determine where you stand depending on income, side hustles, unemployment and expenses. Then you can start thinking about adjusting things to accommodate expenses. If you’re unable to , reach out to your lenders and creditors and let them know that you’re experiencing financial difficulty right now and set a goal to prioritizing your essentials, like housing, medication, food, utilities and transportation.

Why is it important to have diverse voices in the personal finance space?

It's so important to have diverse voices because audiences vary. If you were to look at it by demographic, unfortunately minorities, like Brown and Black people, often come from a severely disadvantaged background. People tend to gravitate to what you can identify with and what you can relate to. It’s hard to speak on a subject if you’ve never experienced what it is like to come from a severely underserved and also ignored demographic that has serious gaps with financial literacy.

Having more diversity in the voices that are building financial wellness gives people a sense that it's not just from one perspective and it's not just from one point of view. It's really important that the voices of those who are underserved, who are ignored, who are facing different degrees of challenges are also heard as well.

What can we learn from the Black Lives Matter protests?

Things are not going to get solved overnight, but the conversation needs to be had. It needs to be part of what we teach our children and how we can work against racism. If there's one thing that this situation has really highlighted, it is the importance of financial wellness — because when you have financial wellness you have freedom.

Having freedom is having the power to choose to walk away from situations or get involved and give back to your communities, donate to and support those impacted — like Black-owned businesses. Having financial wellness secures your family so that you can elevate them, and when your family's elevated, you can in turn elevate your community and give yourself financial peace of mind.

What was the best financial decision you’ve ever made?

Coming out of college I knew I wanted to learn more about money. When I got my first paycheck, I didn’t negotiate and took what I was given, because I was just amazed to get something. I later learned that wasn’t the right decision, but I did decide to make that money work for me, which was the best financial decision I’ve ever made. I wasn’t getting paid a million bucks but I started paying off debt, saving money and building my wealth.

How did not negotiating your first paycheck impact your finances?

Every raise that I got was based on a percentage of my income, including bonuses, life or disability insurance quotes. Those percentage points can make all the difference. Let’s say you start at $50,000 and your raise is 10% of that figure. That’s a big difference from a 10% raise of $60,000. For every job thereafter, your employer will ask how much you made previously, which will make a big difference in what they offer you. In many cases, women especially are literally leaving hundreds of thousands of dollars on the table just because we don't ask for more.

Check out our guide to negotiating a job offer

Aside from that, what's the biggest financial mistake you’ve made? How did you recover?

I had an expensive handbag collection. There's nothing wrong with handbags, but if they cost a lot of money and you don't use them, then you could be putting that money to better use. I used to say to myself that I've saved so much money, I deserve this. But they were stacking up in my closet and I just never used them. My cost per wear was incredibly high and I could have been investing that money.

What's the last thing you splurged on & why did you OK the splurge?

The last thing I splurged on was a dress from J. Crew. It was just one of those things where it was a nice dress and it's been a tough couple of months and it fit into my budget. I know I will wear it when things go back to normal.

What’s the biggest financial mistake you see other people make?

I’ve seen people put off investing because they say they don’t understand it or would rather have their money where they can see it. The mistake they're making is that they're not letting their money grow. Even with high-yield savings accounts, the returns are very small. The longer your money sits in a savings account the less time you have to make it work for you.

Intimidated by investing? Here's how you can put your money to work

What is the best financial advice you’ve received?

It’s from my dad. He used to say “penny wise, pound foolish.” That’s a British saying meaning if you do not know how to manage your money when you have none, then there's no way you're going to be able to manage it when you have a lot.

Image: Nastia Kobzarenko