When I first learned of filmmaker Amanda Brown’s short film, Black Heirlooms, I was overwhelmed by what an extraordinary example it was of how complex our relationships with money can truly be.
Brown begins the story by showing pictures of family, particularly her beloved grandmother, Mee-Mah Royal. Soon after the montage of family photos, the dollar amount $51,283.50 appears on the screen as Brown says, “This is the amount of money that tore my family apart.”
After a stroke in 2009, Royal’s family became “irreconcilably divided” over her care and her estate. “The family she (Mee-Mah Royal) built was destroyed,” Brown says.
The family’s financial tragedy had a huge impact on Brown, and shaped her own attitudes about money. She shared her insights for our series The 3 Most Important Lessons I’ve Learned About Money.
BE.com: What are the three most important lessons you’ve learned about money?
- Money provides access.
- Everyone does not define/value money in the same way; you’ve got options.
- Hindsight is 20/20. If I saved or invested the money I was given (and wasted) when I was younger, then I could be wealthy right now.
BE.com: How did you learn these lessons?
Brown: My lessons about money come from research, trial, and error, starting with the resources closest to me. I was introduced to investing during sixth grade when a great junior achievement program volunteered at my majority black school in Oklahoma. I didn’t hear about investing again until many years later, when I read the book Rich Dad/Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. I connected with the kid with the poor dad because my family emphasized good jobs and preached benefits of hard work.
Moving to D.C. exposed me to new types of people. [I was] at an HBCU in the “chocolate city” with different types of black people, and I saw how they struggled or excelled because of money. Although needed, there was no explicit teaching on financial literacy.
At my first corporate job in Virginia, my boss, a black female boomer from Jamaica, made me max my 401k contribution at the age of 23, because the company gave 100% match. She said that if I wasn’t smart enough to take advantage of that offer, then I wasn’t ready to work for her.
BE.com: What impact have these lessons had on your life?
Brown: Shapiro says in the Black Heirlooms film that wealth is the opportunity to fail and fail again. Starting my financial planning process early continues to give me multiple chances to get my money right. I made some good decisions that need time to mature. I made some bad decisions that need time to recover.
BE.com: If you had one lesson you could convey to people about money, what would it be?
Brown: Wealth is built over time, so it’s best to start your financial plan early—way before you need it.