Tag Archives: BOUGIE: Wealth Building for the Post-Bling Generation

Financial writer Toni V. Martin uses research, experts and real-life experience to guide you through life’s fiscal faux pas.

Pt. II: Value Your People (Or Put Them Down)

Cover of "Prepping for Prosperity" book
Toni V. Martin’s newest book, “Prepping for Prosperity,” is available now for e-readers!

(Financial expert Toni V. Martin’s 3-part series on Values breaks down how to ensure you give sufficient energy to what you value most.)

In the first part of this series, I explained that we spend our time on what we value most. When it comes to people, it’s not just the measurement of time that demonstrates their value to us. Communication, appreciation and dedication are the markers by which we can evaluate who we value the most in our lives.

Communication
In all relationships, there are inevitable times when another person simply gets on your nerves. In romantic situations, enough of these can add up and cause you to call it quits. With family, you might stop going around certain relatives. In a friendship, you might stop returning their calls.

For whatever reason, you’ve determined that the person doesn’t add enough value to your life for you to maintain contact with them. When you value people, you communicate on a regular basis. Not only do you enjoy the contact, but you genuinely care about how they’re doing and want to know if there’s any way you can assist them.

Appreciation
This leads to how we show appreciation. You’d be surprised at how far the smallest gestures of recognition go, no matter how cheesy. Something about a certificate of recognition makes everyone feel good.

I love stationery, so I take advantage of my stash to send affirming messages to my friends. They’re always so touched that I took the time to hand-write, address, stamp and mail warm words and thoughts to them. Whether I get cards back or not, it’s a simple way to let them know that their presence in my life is noted and appreciated.

Dedication
Have you ever noticed how we feel free to let the people closest to us bear the brunt of our foul moods, quirks and idiosyncracies while we’re polite to a fault to people we don’t even care for? Are you quick to “cut people off” and let relationships fall by the wayside?

Once, in a fight with a friend, I told them to “replace me if you can.” I didn’t say that to rub in how wonderful I am, but to say good luck trying to replicate my level of loyalty, nurturing, and understanding in a johnny-come-lately acquaintance.

The true qualities of friendship are developed over time and trial, and shouldn’t be callously tossed at the first sign of discord.

Another time, I let a misunderstanding with a good friend fester, telling myself it was no big deal. But when it was pointed out to me, I realized that I have chased and called lesser people to maintain ties. This friend had been too good for me to be satisfied with seeing our connection wither. I sucked it up and extended the olive branch to right whatever wrongs I’d done.

Do your words and actions validate the people you value?

Bougie Financial Columnist Toni V. Martin’s work has appeared in national magazines and media outlets. Her newest book, “Prepping for Prosperity: How to Be Rich Before You Get Rich,” is available at tonivmartin dot com.

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Bougie: Keep Friends Close and Critics Closer

“Do you really have the expertise to charge that?”

“What makes you think people will pay those prices?”

“I wouldn’t pay that amount for what you do.”

“I’ve priced the same service, from someone with more name recognition, and it was less than half of what you’re asking.”

Ouch. These pronouncements were delivered by my good friend and colleague after I announced my increased rates for my fledgling business. Because my friend is in a related industry and in the position to recommend my services to clients (and actually got me my first gig!), her words carried more weight than casual observances.

In fact, her comments were exact replicas of ones I had said to my very own self, at the outset of my journey to uplevel my business and earn what I’m worth. Now, coming back to me from an industry professional, they sounded all the more plausible.

It was something of a shock to have my plans shot down in such a way. But I resolved to turn the situation into a learning experience and use it for my gain.

As you move forward in your pursuit of the finer things and discuss your plans and goals, you’ll come across what I call “The Credible Critic.” These are people whose opinions you value, who are knowledgeable in your industry, whose words have the ring of truth.

Usually, this is where you’d get the advice to simply ignore them, or to cut them out of your life, or to stop talking about your plans. Let me explain why you should do the opposite of all three:

Don’t Ignore, Analyze
Think of the Credible Critic’s words as a sneak preview of future objections. If you don’t yet have solid responses to their concerns, sincerely thank them for providing you with a blueprint of questions you’ll need to develop the best answers to.

Other people who learn about your ideas will have these same questions, and you’ll come out ahead to already be prepared for them. Think of it as market research.

Also, when you have a narrowly defined market, your Credible Critic may not be a part of your demographic. When you go to position yourself in the marketplace, your messaging will be much more targeted and your conversations with people who are actually slated to need your services or product.

Don’t Remove, Observe

If you admire or look up to your Credible Critic, don’t cut them out of your life. Keep them around to study how they’ve become successful. Ask yourself, what is it about this person that makes me respect them and take their words as truth? Is it their confidence? The way they position their
accomplishments? Examine the source of their credibility. Mine those factors to add to your own personal presentation, so that your pronouncements have just as much weight.

Don’t Stop Sharing, Stop Caring

We’ve all heard “don’t talk about it, be about it.” We might hold our plans and goals close to our vests so we don’t have to hear anyone’s mouth. The embarrassment of making grandiose announcements that amount to nothing is enough to keep our lips zipped when it comes to our dreams of betterment.

But I’ve seen personally how talking about your dreams brings them to life. Scripture says the power of life and death is in the tongue. When I moved to Atlanta from Detroit, it started with a decision that I began to tell everyone. I was so in the practice of saying “I’m moving to Atlanta,” that I announced it to an acquaintance at my class reunion who already lived there. She was integral in helping me secure somewhere to live and a job when I arrived.

Ironically, because I talked about the process of writing my book so knowledgably (before it was even done), I was tapped to collaborate on another book-writing project—before my book was even finished. When you keep mum about your plans and their progress, true, critics can’t shoot down your dreams. But angels also can’t find ways to help you! Heed
the saying “a closed mouth don’t get fed.”

But make sure when you tell people about your plans, you detach from the outcome. Maybe they’re someone who can assist you. Maybe they’re a detractor. Either way, you’re going to be moving forward with your plans—no matter what.

Maybe you have what it takes. Maybe you don’t. My motto is “let’s find out!”

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BOUGIE:Love In the Time of Recession

Love In the Time of Recession

Call me old-fashioned. Call me a chauvinist. But I believe that a gentleman ALWAYS pays on the first date. A recent experience left me wondering if I’m the only one left who feels that way, when I was asked to pick up the second half of a first date with a new guy.

There had been hints. “I don’t date,” he’d told me. But when I asked him if he went out, got something to eat, got drinks in order to get to know people; he’d said he did. He griped about the distance he’d driven to pick me up and go to the pizza parlor, and mentioned something to the effect of “I know I didn’t come all this way just to get something to eat and turn right back around.” We had danced around the topic of finance, more specifically his lack thereof. But when I suggesting after-pizza drinks and he was all for it. So when the check came, I shouldn’t have been surprised to find him looking at me and asking me to pick it up.

broke blackSince my first date at age 17, I have NEVER been asked to pick up any part of a first date. Although one of my friends assured me I was a rarity, it was still a breathtaking experience to have. I felt flustered, and nervous, and angry and de-feminized. To be fair, I’ve heard brothas gripe about always being expected to pay for everything. I agree that the cost of dinner, drinks, entertainment and transportation for 2 multiple times a week can get astronomical.

I’m not so stuck up that I can’t date a guy without major bank. I don’t expect guys to be balling out of control, and that’s not my criteria to select a man. Granted, my own financial woes are already depressing enough without having a man who is struggling too, but how can I demand someone who’s financially well-off when I can’t match it?

Still, I won’t apologize for feeling that when a man wants to see a woman for the first time in a romantic setting, it’s part of the tradition for him to pay. Me paying for the drinks killed the entire romance that had been blooming up to that point. Because my No-Dough Romeo and I had been establishing an open and honest friendship, we discussed some elements of the situation.

But I feel that some candor was called for in this situation BEFORE we went out, BEFORE we decided on after-pizza drinks and BEFORE he ordered an Irish car bomb and two Ketel Ones with a splash of tonic. I wouldn’t have thought any less if he had said “I really want to see you and get to know you better, but I’m light on funds this week. Can we go Dutch and I’ll get you next time,” or something to the effect BEFORE we even met up. Homeboy doesn’t feel that people require that much explanation in the early dating stages.

But if we can’t be honest about the basic things that make us who we are, if men are that hostile and feel it’s okay to pull a bait and switch from the expected order of things to prove a point, if you don’t like me enough to treat me—then what’s the point? I say retire from meeting people on romantic terms, and spend your limited resources on a ho on the stroll. At least you’ll get your money’s worth—guaranteed.

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BOUGIE: I do that..and that…and that…and that too..

How to Spot a Schizophrenic Entrepreneur

On the train the other day, a chick complimented me on my hair.
Since I admired hers as well, we struck up a conversation, and it naturally came out that she did hair herself. As a sales/prospecting approach it was perfect—I actually was in the market for someone to do my hair.
The conversation was natural, the needs analysis was organic. If she had a card or flyer with a rate sheet that was in my neighborhood and price range, she’d have just won a new customer. And don’t have a website—I would’ve probably told two friends about her too.
Alas, she didn’t have any of that. In fact, after she asked if I had a need for hair services, she went on to say that she also

· Kept kids

· Designed clothes

· Gave cooking lessons and was a personal chef

Yeah, that’s a lot to lay on someone. I am one of the main proponents of having multiple streams of income, and one way to do that is by having multiple hustles. But laying it out all at once just makes you look schizophrenic. We’ve all gotten business cards from a DJ/Plumber/Actor or some other outlandish and unrelated set of occupations.

How Not to Be A Multiple Personality Disorder Entrepreneur

multitask

Separate your branding: If some of your businesses fit under one umbrella, it’s okay to group them. For instance, I do PR and writing as a consultant/freelancer, so I group these endeavors under one website. But my lifestyle brand will need its own, standalone site. Of course, you can include links to your other identities, but don’t let them distract from the main goal of your site. Likewise, don’t be afraid to create multiple business cards for your multiple businesses.

Watch Your Mouth: “I do that. I do that too. Did I tell you I can do that as well?” It doesn’t look ambitious when you’re talking to someone, and this is your response to everything they say. Introduce into conversation the project that is hot right now or that best answers the other person’s needs, and wait to let people know about your other capabilities. Many of my friends have no idea I write for national magazines, because it’s really not relevant unless it comes up in discussion. Once people know and trust you, they’ll be delighted, not suspicious to hear about your other skills and talents.

Jack of All Trades, Master of None: Make sure that your multiple ventures don’t take you in too many different directions. For the train hairdresser/chef/babysitter/designer, I would recommend she rebrand herself as a Concierge—someone who offers multiple services in-home. She’d be perfect for a celebrity seeking an assistant under that title. Without it, to the everyday Jane, she just sounded schizo.

It’s hard to be a doctor AND an Indian Chief. Those paths might require such different skills that you could spread yourself too thin and be no good at either. Try to keep your efforts in the same vein.
I think of myself as an author, coach, consultant, and entrepreneur. They are all related to the sharing and synthesis of information related to being an urban lifestyle expert—which gives me a big enough umbrella to cover all of my ventures.

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BOUGIE – Bespoke Budget

Bespoke Budget

“Make a list of your income. Make a list of your expenditures. Track your spending. Save a portion of everything you bring in. Spend less than you make. Take your lunch to work. Stop eating out as often.”

I’m sorry, but if I read any more of this dry, white-bread financial advice, I’m going to slit my wrists AND my neck. Pretty gruesome, but you get the idea. If advice like this really resonated with people, there would be an army of brown-bagging cubicle warriors taking public transportation to work every morning—and they’d look just like you and me.

But you and I are still out at the clubs. Still at the liquor store buying top-shelf. Still using our online bank statement as our spending record. Still thinking that the money in the account IS equivalent to our budget. Hey, once it’s gone, it’s gone!

I like my budgets like I like my Pumas and Nikes customized just for me. I can’t be the only person who’s looked at one of those budget worksheets and felt my head start swimming with all the line items I need to account for: Professional dues. Property taxes. Car registration. Replacement tile grout.
I know that we have to take into account those things that don’t occur on a regular basis so we won’t be blindsided. But when you’re trying to make ends meet, association dues can seem so irrelevant and far away that the mere thought can get you to hyperventilating.

From Basic to Magnums

So, to help with your breathing, I’ve created 5 types of budgets that you can use depending on where you are in life. These budgets reflect what’s REALLY good in your life and allow you to focus on where you are. They also help define the next level in your financial life. So one day, you’ll have a line item for Cayman Island tax shelter, and it’ll be all good!

barebones
The Bare Bones Budget:
Food. Lights. Gas. Pretty much this is the budget for when you’re in survival mode. I don’t advocate riding dirty, but car insurance and registration don’t make the cut on this
budget. This is the on-your-knuckles version of maintaining. Think ramen noodles and dollar store. Your bills might not be current, but your services are working and not cut off.


The Breathing Room Budget:
You can upgrade from bologna to turkey ham. This budget includes the necessities of life, plus one of two little extras, like a bottle of wine to split if friends drop by with a bucket of chicken. Your bills are caught up, nothing’s past due.

The Cruising Altitude Budget:cruising1
This budget is when you can kick off your shoes, if not kick your feet up. You might be able to afford a mini-vacation, someplace domestic. You can do little extras, dinner at a nice restaurant, getting the hair done more often, gifts for more than the kids in your family. This budget is probably where most people without financial problems find themselves.


The Life is Good Budget:
Affluence. This budget is when you truly begin to invest and start adopting a tax strategy. The wine is nicer, the vacations more exotic, the toys are shinier. Let’s call it hood-rich, but this budget is where you’re not hurting for anything.


wildout2The Wildin’ Out Budget:
This is the Oprah/Puffy budget. This is where you start having libraries named after you and establishing rec centers in your neighborhood. This is where you have the Gulf Stream and work really IS a four letter word in your vocabulary. Your money duplicates while you dream and your kid’s kids will be trust fund babies.

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BOUGIE: 5 Minutes to Fix Your Finances

Who, outside of MBA and CPA types, likes the word budget?

It sounds like being bogged down with a lot of papers and doing all sorts of math and trying to remember if you’re supposed to pay $5 on the 10th or $10 on the 5th.

Many of us say we’ve got it “all in our head.” According to productivity expert David Allen, storing un-acted on information in your head is the cause of our daily stress and strain. Wouldn’t you like to know how much money you’ve got and should have on any given day? If you don’t already have a budget, you’ll love my 5 Minute Budget. All it requires is a calendar, a pencil and five minutes! Continue reading BOUGIE: 5 Minutes to Fix Your Finances

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BOUGIE: Got A List, Checkin It Twice

Got A List Checkin It Twice

With 2008 well past the halfway mark, many of us are evaluating where we are in regards to our longer-term goals. As many of you know, this has been a tumultuous and rewarding year for me, in which I left behind a solid but flat job to pursue my joy full-steam. From getting two of my dream cars (a ’63 Bel Air and a Honda Civic) to my recent move to my dream city (ATL), I’ve used a similar process that gives me a knack for getting what I want. I decided to analyze the steps I’ve taken to reach my goals and use it as my future blueprint. As I look to the next stages of my success, I want to share what’s worked for me in hopes that it can work for you, too.

1. Know what you want: This step usually comes about by defining what we DON’T want. I didn’t want to be tethered to a phone all day in a cubicle, so I knew my ideal job would allow for some interaction with people. Most times, all we have to do is look to what’s currently making us miserable for cues on where we might like to be.

2. Be very clear: I knew I wanted a career that combined my love of writing, interaction, planning, and creativity. When I honed in on public relations as an industry, I went about the business of defining where I saw myself in that business. It’s not enough to know you want to be in finance or law or the music industry. Drill down until you have the exact title and job description of where you want to be. For me, I focused in on being an Account Executive at a small to midsize PR agency–and I’m currently on that path with an internship.

3. Read and Research: I live on the Internet. My library card gets a workout. There are boundless resources for information on ways to obtain your desires. Databases, books, white papers, blogs and websites all exist to provide the answers to your questions without putting foot to pavement. Through specialized research, I amassed knowledge of the roles and responsibilities of the position I wanted, boned up on my interviewing skills and researched potential opportunities. Create a dossier or “go-to book” on your goals, with magazine articles, lists of names and companies, and your notes to have all your goal-getting info in one place.

4. Talk to people who have what you want: In researching my ideal position, I created a network of people who could tell me what in the hell I was trying to do. I found out the duties and going salaries, the differences between corporate and agency work, what employers were looking for. I have unofficial mentors like owners of PR agencies, corporate communications VPs, HR pros, and presidents of organizations. These people give me the inside track on what to say and do and where to look for what I’m going after. My key source for building my network is membership organizations and conferences–where everyone is already geared towards helping other members.

5. Preparation: Ensuring that you’re ready when the right opportunity comes along is more an art than a science. There is never a “big break.” Each little opportunity and piece of information builds on the others until you’ve created a portfolio, a resume, a reputation. Making sure to do well wherever you are gives you the foundation for where you want to go. Even if you hate your job, by doing it well you ensure a good reference. A few small pieces on a blog can demonstrate your writing skills and subject mastery if you want to break into writing for magazines. Sounds like grunt work? You’re catching on! This is also known as paying your dues, and it’s the hardest part of reaching your goals.

6. Prayer/Patience: No matter who you pray to or if you pray, you need to detach from the outcome. After you’ve controlled the controllables, you need to realize that you really can’t control what’s outside of you. After you’ve sent the application, shook the last hand at the interview, made the presentation, it’s out of your hands. Of course there are ways to continue to positively interact with people, but don’t ever tie all your hopes onto one opportunity. Keep moving forward and keep a few irons in the fire, because something even better might come to you.

7. Resilience: Setbacks are inevitable. Obstacles, snafus, and crises are par for the course in reaching your goals. Surround yourself with a team of cheerleaders who will remind you of all the hard work and achievements you tend to forget when things aren’t going your way. If you get a “thanks, but no thanks,” give yourself permission to have a down day where you mourn the loss of the opportunity and indulge in your frustration. But remember, there’s no good story without conflict, and times like these are going to be part of your “nobody gave me nothing for free” success story.

8. Celebrate!: Be thankful for every little win along the way. Share your news with non-haters. Stop for a moment to reflect on what you’ve accomplished and how you got there before moving on to the next step of the process. In our quest to acquire success, it’s rare that we pause to count our blessings as they are right now.

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BOUGIE: Through the Fire

I just finished reading Patti Labelle’s Don’t Block the Blessings.

I’m sure not too many hip-hop heads will pick this one up, but the message I took from it is universal, and can be found in the autobiographies of famous people in all sorts of social arenas. There is, more often than not, a period of struggle before success.

It’s not news, but it’s the stuff that sells records. What made an impression on me is the panoramic view of life. As Miss Patti reflected back on her life right after turning 50, she detailed the lean early years. It stood out that she crisscrossed the nation in an old station wagon, doing the Chitlin Circuit for four years.

Four years? To be broke, hustling gas money and singing in hole-in-the-walls? Doing what you love but having nothing to show for it? I wonder if I could progress towards my dream, do what God planted me here to do, with little encouragement other than applause for four years?

And then, after the breakup of Labelle, Patti had to reinvent herself. She had to open for people as a solo act, when she was used to being the headliner in a group. She had to humble herself and keep looking for a hit, when the critics and fans weren’t forthcoming. And the crazy thing is that we all know Patti can SANG. So how can it be, with a gift as undeniable as hers, that success didn’t come the first time she hit a high note? If she had to work like that, for that long, with that gift — what can we expect?

I’m not saying that everyone needs a hard luck story to make it big. Or that it’s going to take us all years of poverty before we reach the top. Each of us has a different trajectory in our quest for success. But it’s heartening to know that when you look at the big picture of a life — not the three months you were without a job, or the two years you worked days so you could go to school at night — when you take the panoramic view, life looks a lot different.

My mother told (and tells) me, “No one stays unemployed forever.” I’m considering taking an internship so I can get a foot into my chosen career — no one stays an intern forever. Can you humble yourself to be a beginner in the field you’re trying to get into? To take a job that pays less than what you’re used to so you can pursue your calling? Can you reinvent yourself to allow for a lifestyle outside the norm that your friends and family expect you to have?

You may have to, if you want to get your star on the Walk of Fame. As I look at my current period of struggle, I remind myself that these are the days that don’t make it into the book. This is the period I’ll look back on when I “remember when.” Days like these are what I’ll talk about when I speak to kids who want to know how I made it. And make it, we will.

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BOUGIE – Reap What You Sow

Reaping Rewards

In the previous week, I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of “sowing.” In two unrelated spheres, it’s stood out to me as a concept to examine and embrace.

First, an e-mail quote by Robert Louis Stevenson: “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds that you plant.” I have a tendency to look at life by what’s NOT being accomplished. The to-do list tasks that pile up, undone. The unreturned e-mails. The contacts to contact that I haven’t contacted. In the missing blanks of a thriving business, a successful relationship, a fat bank account — that’s where I look for proof of what’s going right.

But if I were to start judging my days on the seeds I’ve planted, I would see a fertile plain and a rich crop for the future. There are emails I have sent, applications I’ve put in, people I have connected with, encouragement I’ve given, prayers I’ve prayed. And the result of yesterday’s seeds planted me in the life I lead now — why should it be any different going forward?

The other forum on the seed/planting concept arose from a discussion I had the other day with a young man who is “sowing his wild oats.” To his way of thinking, he wants to experience everything early on, so that by the time he settles down and gets married he won’t be tempted to cheat. On the surface, it’s a great idea, and certainly one answer to the classic “why men cheat” question. But when I thought about it a little deeper, I found it to be naive. Unfortunately, we can’t safeguard against future circumstances.

What if the root of infidelity in a marriage comes not from lack of youthful experience, but from boredom? Or loss of a child, creating distance between partners? Or workaholism, alcoholism, chauvinism? Why not have the seeds we plant today show us how to bond with one another, and seek to find the ultimate experience in one person rather than a multitude under the guise of “sowing wild oats?”

If a seed bears the fruit of the tree, then what can you expect from the seeds you’re sowing?

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BOUGIE – Who Ya With!!? or Why You Should Pick Smarter Friends

Quick — do you have any friends who own property? Businesses? Stocks, bonds, money markets? If you’re truly bougie, you can answer yes to all of them. But if you’re the only bougie one in your set, you’ve got a problem.

I won’t even bother quoting the stats on how many more people who are successful hang with other successful people. We all pretty much know that. But think about how hanging with the wrong crowd can pull you down — Mike Vick anyone? And since we’re not in high school anymore, we can’t blame our misdeeds on our friends. Think about how the company you keep enables you to continue to waste time. And how being around people who are on top of their game inspires you to up yours.

I don’t have a TV. Of course I miss my Law and Order: CI and Style Channel (sorry if your eyes glaze over, guys). But I remember how watching one episode turned into 4 episodes — don’t let there be a marathon on. Or how you have to catch up on all the preceding episodes of Top Chef that you missed before you could see the new one. If you have any extra poundage, every time you even THINK about sitting down to flip channels, you need to take a damn walk!

But what’s really interesting is the reaction people have when I tell them I don’t have a TV — it’s like I’ve said I don’t have running water. They swear I need the news, videos, and DIY shows to have a life worth living. But I know that TV is my enemy, one that sucks time and energy from my master plan. What’s your enemy? Blogs? Blunts? Booty (male or female)? Maybe I went a little too far with that last one, but I’m trying to make the point that certain social situations encourage us to stay right where we are.

Do you have friends who cut you off when you call, because they’re too busy to talk? People whose homes you can’t just pop up over and expect a warm welcome and lengthy chat because they are otherwise engaged in something PRODUCTIVE? Don’t take offense, learn from that person. Just maintain the balance to set aside time where you give people 100% of your attention and they’ll love and admire you so much more for it.

The admiration comes when you start making money, acquiring investments and amassing real estate. The love comes when you invite them over to watch a game on your super gigantic big screen!

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