“Keeping It Frugal Since 1979”:  How I Became Mrs. Fab and Frugal

Dear Frugalista,

I have been blogging for a while and I wanted you to know more about me, as a frugalistas. If we are going to be growing together, it’s important that you know how I became who I am, flaws and all.

I hope you enjoy! 🙂

You’re having a…frugalista! 

I wanted to make a grand entrance—something memorable without being too showy. A simple slip and a slide with a flash of a jazz hand to close or something classic like a tuck and a roll with twist at the end.

The thought of committing to just one move, the thought of possible imperfection, though, paralyzed me. I remained stiff in the fetal position until someone came to get me—literally.

The Caesarian section was scheduled for November 19th. I made my entrance into the world with far less elegance than I would have liked, but less blood than I expected, and with this middle ground, I was satisfied.

It was love at first sight for the both of us. I quickly became a mama’s girl; I not only picked up her love for WWF wrestling, practicing body slams on my Cabbage dolls and a surprisingly swift aging cat named Shadow, but also, as if through osmosis, I made my mother’s love of savings, flea markets, hard work, entrepreneurship, and adventure, my own.

This Is How You Create A Mogul 

As soon as started learning the value of money, I started thinking about ways to make my own. My first business was in fourth grade. Back in the eighties, fourth grade was the year of the BIG transition—we went from writing in pencil in print to writing in pen in script. But a lot of my classmates were not ready for such high expectation. “What if I make a mistake?” they asked. “ I don’t want to have to write my whole page all over again” some of the others complained.

I listened carefully and I realized that there was a niche. I offered to rent out my erasable pens for $0.25 every day. This business was lucrative for a while until I realized that my pens were being returned with almost all of the erasers gone, were being stolen, and that I was pricing my product too low.

I closed shop and reinvented myself in middle school with a poster business. With the lessons learned from my failed business, I learned that I needed to price my merchandise better; I needed to sell a product that did not need babysitting.

That is, no renting, no wear n’ tear. Once you bought it, it was yours.

Middle school girls attending strict Catholic LOVED themselves some forbidden, naughty love. They loved boys, but not just any boys, celebrity boys, whether musicians or actors, but especially musicians.  We talked about who we loved the most, what we would do if we met them, and how grown listening to their music, or watching them act made us feel.

Hi! This is me on my wedding day.

I knew my target market well, so on my way home at the Jamaica Bus Terminal, I would buy Right On Magazine. On the bus, I would flip through the magazine paying close attention to the pull-out posters and full-page posters of Michael Jackson, The Boys, New Kids On the Block, and any other boy band or solo artists that would be considered premium eye candy for a prepubescent, fantasy-laced good-girl-dying-to-be-bad.

Once at home, I would carefully remove the posters and place them in a carrying case—at that time, a grey folder. In the morning, I knew who to target. The pull-outs would go for$1.00 and the full-size $0.75. Right On! Magazine usually cost $2.25 so after a couple of sales, I would be making profit.

I had a couple of repeat customers, but none were as memorable as Melissa Samuel. Melissa Samuel was in love with Michael Jackson and I made sure that she would be the first person I would show the posters. She had no impulse control so I could always depend on her for a hefty sale.

I tabled my entrepreneurial endeavors once I started high school. In high school, I discovered thrift stores and scholarship writing.  I had watched an episode of Ricki Lake one day that showcased the power of thrift store shopping and I was hooked. There were a couple of Salvation Army’s around me and since the cashier had a crush on me, I could get items that were already for $1.00 for $0.10 without even asking.  I supplemented my jaunts to the thrift stores with weekly visits to the flea market with mom and wholesale shopping to the Garment District when my aunts from Antigua came seasonally to shop for their boutiques.

In addition to securing a couple of academic scholarships, I learned that organizations were willing to pay me for my thoughts and ideas.  While I only applied to a few scholarships, I won close to 85% of them. I took the $4,000 that I earned from writing and deposited in the bank next to the money that I had started saving since opening my account at thirteen.

The Wander Years

I lost some, but not all of the financial common sense that I had built once I started at Oberlin. I just got stupid. While I was always on the low side of maintenance, I somehow thought that running up debt on charge cards (i.e. Express) and buying mad CDs from Columbia House was somehow cool and what a girl should be doing in college. I was fired from a couple of campus jobs. I ended up leaving college with $12,000 in student debt and about $2k in stupid spending.

I languished in this fog of financial stupidity until I was in my mid-twenties, with exception of my opening up a boutique in my mama’s basement to pay for my ticket to the Dominican Republic, where I lived, laughed, and cried for a year. Outside of that, I took living at home for granted: I missed a couple of student loan payments, thought it was optional to pay off my credit card debt, and was just a hot mess. I had transitioned to a job that paid me $11,000 more than the previous one, but had NOTHING to show for it after resigning from that position.

Getting Back Some Financial (Damn) Sense

I am not sure if something clicked or my inner financial sense returned to the helm, and told me, ‘Stop ya dayum chupidness,” but it almost seemed like I was put under a trance, and started taking my money, my financial future, and my career aspirations more seriously.  I went to the library one weekend in search of a book that would help me understand how to built my credit, pay off my student loans, and get me back on the road to being financial on-point. I inhaled the books that I found, all written by black women that had humbler beginnings than I did, telling me that there was NO reason for my poor spending and sloppy financial self-care.

I took it upon myself to apply what I read and I saw the improvements shortly thereafter. Within a matter of 2-3 years, I had eliminated all of my student loans, credit card debt, took all the necessary exams to put me at the highest pay scale for my teaching position, maxed out my retirement contributions and started stashing away high percentages of each check.

Once I stabilized my spending and established this financial foundation, I became interested in investing. I had a financial advisor teach me about dollar-cost averaging, the difference between index fund, equities, and mutual funds and started looking forward to saving up enough money to make my investment purchases. I was 26 when I bought my first Hong Kong index fund and ever since then I have diversified my portfolio dollar-by-dollar, guided by the mantra, “ if it’s on your ass, then it’s not an asset” when I was face with the decision between splurging or investing.

Putting together the pieces of my financial life was like assembling a puzzle. Through trial and error and persistence and years of commitment, I was able to step back and see what I had created and “it was good.”

Hi, my name is Kara, but you can call me Mrs. Fabulous N’ Frugal

My confidence and self-respect swelled after being debt free for several years; and once I applied to Columbia for graduate school and had to take out a $40K loan, I was far from happy, but was confident that I would be back in the black without issue. Luckily, I secured some scholarships and grants, which brought the final cost to $25K. Like a woman training for a marathon and concerned about everything that goes in and out of her body,  I became obsessed with every purchase that I made. To expedite the arrival of the Golden Letter—sent by the State Department congratulating you for having completed paying your student loans—

I resorted to a number of guerilla tactics to increase my income, which included:

  • Being Mickey Mouse at children’s parties
  • Being a black princess at children’s parties
  • Opening up an Amazon.com book business
  • Working security at the flea market
  • Having a yard sale in my house
  • Having a flea market stall
  • Selling clothes to Beacon’s Closet
  • Signing up for a Money Story documentary
  • Selling Victoria Secret panties from a whole-in-the wall to friends
  • Cashing in on my Financial Freedom Bucket (FFF) aka my pink bin that I had used to fund my 2008 trip to Cuba.

This Work Is My Passion

Now that the heyday of my debt is behind me for now, I have this song in my heart that I want to share with women-of-color around their finances. The song tells of the joy, satisfaction, options, freedom, and self-respect that come with knowing yourself financially. This song sings loud and vibrant and is full of color. It’s a gentle song, though. It reminds you that you are closer, not further away, to greatness than you think. You just gotta adjust your thinking.

If this post really resonated with you and you want to transform how you feel and think about money so you can live your best life, consider money therapy.   

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