Latest News

Black women must balance charity, saving

Based on what I just learned it's obvious a lot of black women today aren't as thrifty as my mother, the woman who taught me how to manage money.

Many are not socking money away in envelopes as my mother did, and many are not saving as they should.

According to a survey conducted in May for the ING Community Foundation and Essence Magazine, black women give money to family and friends, spend more on expensive retail brand names, and then end up with very little put away for a rainy day.

According to the survey of 1,000 black women, 47 percent said financial obligations to their immediate family, and 68 percent said unchecked shopping sprees, have put them in a precarious financial position.

More than half have lent $500 or more to friends or family in the last year, according to the survey, and one-third have lent more than $1,000.

Half the women said they live from one paycheck to the next, and others have less than $10,000 saved.

"Those results seem to ring true to me," said Tamara Brown, chief executive officer of SISTAS Inc, a Lexington investment group made up of black women. "I know it is the case for me and many of my black female friends. We are often in a position of giving back and helping others. Part of that is the blessing of being middle class."

With that blessing, however, comes the responsibility of reaching back and helping others, she said, as others have helped them. "There is a responsibility to share."

That makes the accumulation of wealth more difficult, though, without the help of inheritance.

But Brown, who is a University of Kentucky associate professor of psychology, said she hopes black people don't stop helping one another. We just need to find a balance.

"The wisdom of our culture is that we help one another," she said. "We either succeed together or fail together. It is a wonderful thing. I hope we don't become sold out to the individualism that is prevalent in this country."

But we as a people need to start saving.

"No amount is too small. Put back $10 or $20. Whatever you can. If you do it consistently, it is surprising how that money will grow. They must develop a discipline."

I remember one Christmas season walking into the living room of a friend who is living on disability because of uncontrolled high blood pressure, diabetes and heart problems and I was overwhelmed by the dozens and dozens of gifts she had wrapped and placed under her tree.

I asked whether she had lost her mind.

She explained that she had bought all that stuff on sale and that much of it was quite inexpensive.

But, I said, wouldn't it be better to have that money in a savings account or even in your pocket for all the prescriptions you have to buy?

I have worked with that woman for two years now, getting her to pay off her credit cards and to tell family and friends she cannot afford to give them gifts for Christmas or any other time of the year.

Fortunately, she's doing a lot better.

The national telephone survey was conducted with working black women and 454 non-black women between May 1 and May 18, 2008. The women had an annual income of at least $25,000.

Another area of giving for black women is their house of worship. More than 70 percent said tithing is very important. About 42 percent of all other women agreed.

Tithing for a lot of people in general is non-negotiable. It is for me.

But something has to give.

If you are going to give to your church, to your family and friends, then spending has to be curtailed. There has to be money put aside, especially in these economic times. We have to say no to some things, despite the guilt we may have.

"We all have to be shown how to live balanced lives and our finances are no different," Brown said. "Anything in excess turns a good thing into a bad thing."