Smart Sisters Are Cash Positive

Two women launch a movement to encourage financial literacy

Postal Service’s civil service retirement program.

Following Ayo Yetunde’s advice, Flowers joined SmartSister’s BW2000 initiative, which encouraged 2,000 black women to invest $2,000 in a financial instrument before the year 2000. Flowers decided to take her $2,000 bonus that year and open a mutual fund, which has grown to about $3,500 today. “I don’t know why it took me so long to wake up, but that’s when I decided I would do something for myself,” Flowers says.

CREATE NEW REVENUE STREAMS
Judi Henderson began reading Beyond 40 Acres shortly before going to work at an Internet company that subsequently went out of business. Just before her dotcom bubble burst, she was searching the Net and learned of a San Francisco company that was selling its stock of mannequins. “I felt that the Bay area was enough of a creative community that there ought to be at least one place to rent a mannequin,” Henderson recalls. She meant to buy only one but recognized a business opportunity. “I decided to buy the whole collection and become my own mannequin rental company.”

Starting her company, Mannequin Madness, with an initial investment of $2,500, Henderson says she now averages $5,000 to $6,000 a month, comparable to the $74,000 salary she made at the dotcom. Her brush with unemployment led her to curtail her spending, and she now saves 15% to 20% of her monthly income. “I’m now putting about $200 minimum into my money market account [each month] instead of about $20,” she says.

TALK ABOUT INVESTING
Ayo Yetunde says that many women have problems with investing because they never discussed money management when they were growing up. “It was just never talked about in their household, so there’s no history, no experience of their parents dealing with money in this way,” she says. “Culturally, [discussing investing] is something white people do, not black people. If black people do it, [they're considered] black people who want to be white.”

Through the SmartSisters seminars, women are encouraged to face their fears about investing, which often come down to a simple lack of knowledge. “We try to be real with people and demystify financial planning,” Ayo Yetunde explains. “We say, ‘You’ve heard this on TV, you’ve read this in the newspaper, you’ve heard this on the radio, but let’s be honest–you have no idea what it means.’”

Once participants realize it’s OK that they don’t know it all, Ayo Yetunde says they talk about “why you should know what [each investment term] means,” because it’s relevant to each of them.

Ultimately, through conversation comes education. And with education comes empowerment.

CHANGE YOUR VALUES
Scott and Ayo Yetunde believe that women have to come to grips with their values before they can begin saving and investing. They’ve found that many women have purposely ignored investing because they are much more interested in acquiring “things” right now.

“So we talk about things like materialism, your religious background, the attitudes, values, and opinions that you have about money,” says Scott. “If you think about all the money you’ve made

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