Women, too timid to take control of their finances? A Newark, N.J.-based financial educator is on a mission to turn that tired stereotype on its head.
In January, Tiffany “The Budgetnista” Aliche, a former schoolteacher-turned-self-made-financial-guru, launched the Live Richer Challenge, a 36-day free virtual boot camp aimed at offering 10,000 women tools and tips to get their finances on track. By the end of the five-week challenge, more than 11,000 women had signed up, collectively eliminating more than $150,000 worth of debt. With the savings goals adopted during the challenge, Aliche estimates they will save an estimated $1.6 million by the end of 2015.
Aliche has been working to educate women about finance since she lost her own job during the height of the Great Recession. It was around that time that she began offering advice on her blog and released a self-published budget tutorial called “The One Week Budget,” which includes the same strategies she used to dig herself out of a financial hole.
“I am one of five girls and my father, who was a CFO and an accountant, really invested in my sisters and I by teaching us about finances very early on,” she says. “When you help a woman you help a family and when you help a family, you help a community, and it’s really through the community that you can move the nation forward in a positive, tangible way.”
During the challenge, participants were assigned a new task each day, like negotiating their rates on certain bills like cable and Internet, asking creditors for reduced interest rates, verifying debt under collection, and monitoring credit scores. There were no lost points for skipping a task or picking up the challenge late in the game. In fact, Aliche plans on keeping the Live Richer Challenge active for anyone who missed out and wants to take the challenge now.
The tasks were designed with larger financial goals in mind, like creating a budget, coming up with a savings plan, paying off debt, and overhauling retirement savings strategies. Aliche kept the momentum going via a private Facebook community designated solely for Live Richer participants, appropriately given the nickname “Dream Catchers.”
The challenge was a game changer for Nicole Purcell, 43, a single mother from East Orange, N.J., who was struggling to make ends meet at home while pursuing a degree in business management and working part-time as a nanny. A native of Trinidad, Purcell entered the Challenge with one goal in mind: save the $1,500 she would need to pay for her 16-year-old son’s visa to move to the U.S.
“I was taking money from one bill just to pay another bill and I didn’t know how I was managing,” Purcell says. “I don’t have the money to pay a fee for somebody [like a financial advisor] to tell me how to spend my money, so the fact that Tiffany did this for free, that was a big thing for me.”
Between work and her studies, Purcell was rarely at home, which meant she, like many Americans, found herself constantly buying meals on the go and relying on vending machines in a pinch. She stopped eating out and now carries a rolling suitcase stuffed with a day’s worth of meals (breakfast, lunch dinner, drinks and snacks, which she buys in bulk and splits into individual servings).
She also cut cable, which has served the dual purpose of lowing her monthly bill and limiting her 7-year-old son’s exposure to commercial advertisements. Last year, Purcell made a big push to save by trading her truck in for a smaller fuel-efficient car, but the Challenge helped her make sure those savings were properly banked for future goals.
By the end of the five weeks, she saved $850 and was able to round out the $1,500 needed for her son’s visa with money from her tax refund.
“Sometimes we stay stuck in a situation because we don’t have the information to get out,” Purcell says. “But when you know better you do better and now I get to have my whole family here with me.”
'You don't feel so alone'
The Live Richer Challenge officially ended in early February, but the community Aliche created on Facebook is as active as ever, with nearly 9,000 members. People crowdsource questions about how to lower their bills, improve their credit, and deal with debt collectors, while others chime in with posts to celebrate significant milestones, like a major credit score jump or a credit card balance finally paid down to zero
Live Richer meetups have been cropping up across the country, from New Orleans and Atlanta to Chicago and St. Louis. At a “wrap party” hosted in Newark, N.J., earlier this month, Aliche was joined by more than 300 LRC alumni.
“You don’t feel so alone,” says Andrea Harvey, 32, a Chicago attorney who took the Live Richer Challenge. “There are some people in the community who have stellar credit, some whose credit is hanging on by a prayer and they all like to share their experiences.”
Harvey, who’s been a follower of Aliche’s for a year, said she signed up for the challenge to better manage her business and personal finances. She launched her own family law firm five years ago and only recently began to see substantial profits, which, after so many months spent scraping by, she needed help managing. Over the course of the five weeks, she managed to pay off $1,500 worth of credit debt and raise her credit score from 615 to 693.
Like most participants in the challenge, Harvey has set a list of goals she intends to reach by the end of 2015. First and foremost, continuing to nurture her credit back to health and pay off her lingering $10,000 student loan bill.
“From now on it’s about learning what to do with my money and doing it responsibly,” she says. “I want to get my score into the 750s and maintain the work that I’ve done.”
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