A Frugal Family

Janice and Mark Blake make sure their family knows how to stick to a budget

Alternatively, she challenges him to give up a toy he already owns in order to get a new toy. The Blakes use this approach to help their children differentiate between needs and wants, and it has the added value of teaching Christopher about charitable giving. To get their children started on the right financial footing, the Blakes opened bank accounts for them when they were born. The parents contribute approximately $50 a month, which is sometimes augmented by financial gifts from relatives.

As they save by being disciplined consumers, the Blakes can put their income to work. Earning a combined income of $140,000 a year, the couple are growing two mutual funds (his stands at $14,000; hers, $12,000) along with a 457 retirement plan and Janice’s personal retirement account. They maintain two brokerage accounts for stock investments. One is a joint account and the other is Janice’s alone. They both invest 10% to 12% of their income each year.

For Janice, investing isn’t just a financial necessity. It’s also a fun social activity. Eight years ago, she started a women’s investment club to help friends who were intimidated by money management and needed encouragement. “As a community, women of color are not as involved, aware, or learned about stocks and bonds. It was a way for me to learn more and a way for my sister-friends to learn more.” The investment club encourages family involvement; one of Mark’s cousins is a member, as well as Janice’s sister.

Money is not a delicate topic at all for the couple. They both believe strongly in not making major purchases without talking about it first. Mark can’t go and secretly spend, say, $700 on fishing supplies, and Janice can’t buy $400 worth of shoes on a whim. “The financial steps or missteps you make affect your family,” says Janice. The Blakes discuss things as they arise, Mark says. “It can be any time of day. We’ll be driving to work or to the train station; we don’t have a set time to talk about money.” The discussion extends beyond the immediate family unit: The Blakes ask family members to purchase savings bonds for the children’s birthdays. It’s an effort to prevent the children from seeking their identity in material things, while encouraging family members to give in a different way.

This story originally appeared in the June 2009 issue of Black Enterprise magazine.

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