Black women are retiring into poverty and finding themselves with many questions about how to plan for their financial future. We spoke with three financial advisors to help us navigate common retirement questions.
When should you start planning for retirement?
“The best time to start planning for retirement is as early as possible,” says Rahel Cook, assistant vice president at U.S. Bank Private Wealth Management. “By the time you’re in your 40s, you should have a clearer picture of your financial situation.”
Dr. Dana Palma, financial advisor at Edward Jones, believes there is no ideal age and that a first job as a teenager can be the start of retirement planning or, at any adult age, if planning was delayed.
Both suggest taking advantage of retirement accounts like 401(k)s and IRAs, regularly assessing retirement goals and making any needed adjustments with the help of an experienced and trusted advisor.
How much money do you need for retirement?
Shemira Fermon, regional leader at Primerica Financial Services, says you need at least $2 million to retire with basic financial security.
“You’ve got to factor in inflation, but $2 million is still going to be minimum wage in 20-30 years from now. If you plan to live in the United States, understand that is going to be the equivalent of middle income.”
Fermon believes Black women should be open to moving outside the U.S. to live their retirement dreams with greater financial security.
How do you save for retirement with a low income?
For those on a tight budget, Palma suggests starting with two percent or the minimum contribution to a company 401(k) and increasing it by one percent every six months or whenever possible.
“Even if you are still living paycheck to paycheck, make sure your employer is matching because if they are matching and you’re not putting any money in, you’re leaving money on the table.”
She says creating new habits of regularly putting money aside for the future is important.
How can planning for retirement be different for Black women?
Planning for retirement for Black women can come with unique challenges and considerations compared to other demographics, explains Cook.
Studies show that Black women earn less than their white counterparts and Black men, which can make budgeting and saving a greater priority.
“Black women may need to prepare for a longer retirement period. This requires careful budgeting and investment strategies to ensure that savings last throughout their lifetime.”
Cook says it’s crucial for Black women to approach retirement planning with a tailored and proactive strategy.
What are common retirement vehicles that Black women can consider?
“The most common and sought-after retirement income includes a mix of savings, 401(k), IRAs, a business or home,” says Cook. “For many Black women, several of these streams of income may not be an option in their retirement strategies.”
Palma understands that Black women may not be able to rely on generational wealth or inheritance but can use insurance to lessen the financial burdens of future generations.
“If you at least have a life insurance policy, then that’s one way to make sure you are bringing money over and your child(ren) will have some money – that’s another way of creating generational wealth.”
Cook suggests that Black women maximize the streams of income they can access and work with an advisor to assess risk tolerance and find the right mix of stocks, bonds and cash. Other options to explore may be Money Market accounts and Certificates of Deposits (CDs).
Palma recommends a Health Savings Account (HSA), a type of personal savings account that can be used to pay various healthcare costs. Those with an employer should check to see if they are offered.
“The greatest thing about an HSA plan is if you keep putting money in there and wait until age 65, that is another retirement savings account.”
How can an advisor help?
All experts advise having a single point of contact to assess current financial status goals and devise a tailored plan based on needs and vision for retirement.
In 2021, Angelia McKinney, then age 43, “pulled the plug” on her job, retiring after being a human resource professional for 20 years. After eight years of planning, she could finally retire early and live life on her terms.
“I started speaking it out loud that I was going to retire early, way before I ever believed it. Then I started putting this plan together, and basically, I lived off half my income or less, quit making debt, paid off all my bad debt and started investing.”
Her investments were a mix of stocks, a 401(k), a few Roth IRAs and stock trading. She also brought in extra money by investing in real estate properties with her best friend and a few of her own.
“My tenants are literally paying the majority of my mortgage, which allows me not to work full time.”
Being at home has given her the opportunity to spend more time with her son.
“I love being at home. I love being able to cook at Noon. I love being able to go to the grocery store in the morning. I love making all of his events.”
While she’s not a certified financial planner, she is now a content creator sharing her journey and helping others plan for early retirement. She says there are three things you must do to retire early.
Change your mindset
“If your mindset hasn’t changed to say, ‘money is a tool, and I am not scared of it’, then none of the rest will work.” She tells her followers to start being better managers of money and learn to budget.
Honor God with your money
“Ever since I started honoring God with my money and being a giver in general, I have not had financial lack.”
Put a plan together
“Figure out where you are now and where you want to be in one year, five years, ten years or however you want to do it.”
Another piece of advice McKenney shares, and one she did not plan for is ensuring you calculate inflation into your financial needs.
“I’m like, ‘Dang Lord, things are expensive!’”
Among Black households, 31 percent are led by a Black woman, according to Pew Research. As the head of household, Black women are responsible for investing in their family’s future and planning for retirement. However, some find themselves ill-equipped for this task. Experts say the first step in breaking generational financial barriers is through conversation.
Dr. Dana Palma, a financial advisor with Edward Jones, believes financial literacy is key for Black families. She says it’s never too early or late to begin talking about money and retirement. One obstacle she feels Black women face is that money is often a taboo subject amongst Black families.
“For our generation, we were never taught about finances. It’s not something that was ever discussed around the dinner table.”
Palma changed that when she became a mother and started teaching her son, now 18, about financial literacy from a young age.
“At age seven, I talked about stocks, and he actually started investing at age seven, and we kind of make that part of our discussions.”
When he began working at age 16, he opened a Roth IRA. They chose this vehicle instead of a traditional savings account because it’s tax-free money and, unlike a 401(k) that can’t start until age 21, this allowed him to save for his retirement and future big purchases, such as a property when he is a first-time home buyer.
Shemira Fermon, a regional leader at Primerica Financial Services, also recommends Roth IRAs to her clients, especially those who are self-employed. Although she advises others about their retirement, she wasn’t always financially literate or prepared. A trip to the store at age 20 changed her life and her ideas about finances after a chance meeting with a stranger in the aisle who happened to be in the insurance business. They met formally, and not only did she leave with a life insurance policy, but also a retirement strategy and a new career.
“I had a retirement plan with my job, but I’d moved from one job to another, and I really didn’t understand it, so she helped me understand it.”
She realized that part of a successful retirement strategy and a key component to creating generational wealth involved a solid life insurance policy. However, it was her experience that money was not a discussion point in her family or friend circle.
Her neighborhood reflected the silence around money and planning with no financial advisory offices unlike more affluent areas. This realization motivated her to get an insurance license and learn about investments so she could help her community.
“It just became a passion. I started talking to people I knew because we need to start having these discussions.”
She found some had life insurance policies, but they were predatory in nature or had exclusions or fine print that weren’t explained at the start of the policy.
Fermon recommends going over every policy, no matter how old, with a professional advisor or the insurance company to ensure the coverage is clear.
“I have a 20-year-old client who had a Gerber policy that her mom had on her since she was a kid. She went to pull money out of it, and they told her she could take out $1,200.” Fermon went over the policy and found that after 15 years, the policy was only worth $2,000.
Many Black women are trying to invest in themselves and their families’ futures, but need help understanding what vehicles work best for them. In her experience, Fermon explains that Black women are more prepared for retirement than Black men.
“Typically speaking, Black women are used to doing everything. They’re working, they’re paying the bills, so they know what money is left and what’s not left. “
Seven seconds. That’s all the time needed for the average person to assess your personal brand, according to Dawn Thibodeaux, branding and mindset coach.
“Now, whether they are right or wrong, the package that you’re showing up with is what they are going to see.”
Her philosophy and book, “The Power of Clothing & Personal Packaging”, centers around a trifecta: once you change your mind and clothes, you change your life. Thibodeaux says she sees Black women being victims to clothing, which negatively impacts their work performance and keeps them from promotions.
“They’re getting dressed thinking one thing—that what they’re wearing is sending a particular message when, unfortunately, it’s not.”
Thibodeaux finds that some women think their co-workers are envious of their style or clothing choices when, in reality, they are being mocked.
“There’s a balance. So, while you want to be who you are, you also want to be aware of the environment that you’re walking into.”
One aspect of Black women’s style she admires is the critical role color plays in wardrobe choices. However, she says it’s important to choose colors that make sense for the environment.
She believes it is important for Black women to have honest advocates in their lives who tell them the truth about the personal brand they’re projecting. She explains that it’s imperative to know your body type and when certain articles of clothing are appropriate to wear.
“One would say if you went into a construction zone wearing a tutu, I don’t think you’ll be taken seriously.”
Thibodeaux says respect is fundamental for clothing choices in various spaces.
“Respecting yourself in a way that you can bring your personality to that particular event in a way that also respects the people you are going to be interacting with.”
She tells her clients that to achieve the life they want, they should choose the best clothing they can afford, use a tailor to get the right fit and ignore the numbers that correspond with size. She says that once the trifecta is achieved, Black women gain the power and confidence needed to have the life they desire.
“By doing that, then they are changing the dollar signs on their paychecks, and when that happens, that gives them the opportunity to put their children in different schools and ultimately change the legacy of their families.”
Black women face many obstacles in the workplace – from racism and discrimination to stolen wages. These experiences lead to feeling invisible, anxiety, depression and PTSD. What if they had been warned before entering a toxic workplace? Maybe they would have chosen another path. Ansa Edim had a few terrible experiences in organizations where she felt unsafe, prompting her to leave the corporate world and eventually starting Blacklist, a website dedicated to warning others about toxic workplaces. While it is open to all marginalized and protected groups, as a Black woman, Ansa hopes her site will give a voice to the voiceless. We caught up with her to learn more about her career journey and her mission to make workplaces safe and inclusive for everyone.
NOTABLE: What made you decide enough is enough? And we need to have a blacklist about the mistreatment of marginalized people in the workplace?
ANSA: I’ve been in corporate America, in the tech space, for about ten years, going on maybe twelve years. As a Black woman, I started from the bottom and worked my way up. I consistently felt like even if I was hired for a job, my white bosses always made me feel like I was lucky to be there and that I was underqualified. I would keep saying to myself, “I don’t understand. You hired me to do this job, so clearly, I’m qualified enough to be here.”
I had a really bad experience at an organization, Change.org, where I was just surrounded by inept white people. And I just kept saying, “How did they get to this role? This is not fair. It’s just not fair that they, through their connections and resources, have been able to accomplish so much, and I’m begging them for scraps.” So, I left that company after three years. The lawsuit bought me this house.
I told people about Change.org and my experience there being kind of surrounded by people who didn’t really know what they were doing and weren’t handling HR situations professionally. They were letting people manage who were just known bad managers, but they were white people. They were friends. They were just letting people progress and progress, and I was begging for scraps. People were like, “Wait, change is like that? Isn’t that a progressive company?” And I was screaming, “No, it’s actually decidedly not a progressive company!” And, I wished I had a mechanism to warn people, to say, “All these companies you think are going to be these progressive organizations where you are safe are not safe.”
NOTABLE: What do you hope to accomplish? I mean, is the mission that Black women are warned or is the mission that these companies will see themselves on here and change?
ANSA: The mission is that companies will see themselves on Blacklist and that they will be moved to change. I want it to be restorative justice so that people know that speaking up actually did make a difference. So, there are certain criteria that companies can meet to be on the safe jobs list because there are three pillars to Blacklist. There’s the list where there are warnings and experiences no company can ever get off the list because those experiences will always have happened. What they can do is meet certain criteria to become a safe job, and that can be proving that they are an equitable workplace. And then kind of the third pillar is the resources that I want to provide people. I did not know that I had suffered a constructive dismissal until an attorney told me, and I didn’t know how common it was. Companies bank on us being ignorant, and they bank on us being too afraid to act.
And if we can come together as all underrepresented communities, as Black women, as queer people, as people of different ethnicities and abilities, then I think we will be unstoppable, and companies are going to have to step up to the plate as younger generations are taking up more of the workforce and they’re not playing around.
NOTABLE: Do you really think these companies care?
ANSA:Well, the people who did that to me at Change.org made that man the head of HR after I left. It was a slap in the face. And to your point, I don’t think that the people who work at these companies genuinely care to make safe spaces. I think we need to hit them where it hurts. We need to hit their pockets, and we need to hit their recruitment abilities. So as younger studies show that younger generations millennials, Gen Z – I’m a millennial – and Gen Z especially, they’re not working for work’s sake. They will quit a job. They would rather be unemployed or underemployed than work at an organization that doesn’t match their values. So, companies are losing their workforce to gigs to underemployment. As boomers are dying off. Millennials are going to be 75% of the workforce in 2025.
Companies are going to hurt. They’re really going to hurt. And I’m trying to get a jump on that by saying, ‘Look how much revenue you’re going to lose. Look how much churn you’re going to have. Look at the turnover rate. Look at the attrition. Look at all of these numbers that are going to suffer if you don’t address this.’ So, I want to harm their brands enough that they say, ‘okay, even if we don’t mean it, we have to do something’.
NOTABLE: Is it effective? The people at the companies carrying out the abuse aren’t called out, so they stay with the company or go elsewhere and continue to abuse others.
ANSA:That’s a really good point. And I tried to do that on a Glassdoor review, which is what kind of started to prompt me to build Blacklist. Glassdoor is for the company, and they are trying to legally protect these companies and themselves. And they got to the point where if you look like you’re what they would call bullying, naming specific names, if it looks like you might be identifying someone, they’ll take it down. Blacklist, based on the legalese that I’ve been able to parse, based on my legal recommendations, I don’t have to do that. You can name names and protect yourself. If you’re telling the truth, let that person come and try and fight you over it.
But I want people to feel free to write the truth on other review sites or sites that are somewhat similar. There isn’t anything like Blacklist right now, but on similar sites, on company review sites, I think that people are kind of prompted to be polite and broad strokes, and they can’t really get to the root of “this specific thing happened to me under these people’s watch, and they haven’t changed.” That’s what I want Blacklist to be. I want it to be a space for stories, not just reviews.
Fighting to be seen is commonplace with Black women in the workplace, who often feel invisible. Many learn that with colleagues, perception is reality, and it can negatively impact the trajectory of your career. When the office is the city of Orlando on national TV with millions of viewers, navigating the effects of negative perceptions may be less about being seen and more about being understood.
San Diego native Danielle Miller, a 30-year-old entrepreneur and reality TV Star of “Basketball Wives: Orlando”, knows all too well how others’ views in the workplace, especially when they differ from personal truth, may cause you to fight – both literally and figuratively – to protect your story. “Basketball Wives: Orlando” is the No. 1 most watched social reality series on cable in terms of total interactions, according to Yahoo! Finance. Despite the show’s success, since its debut on Oct. 9, Danielle has received sharp criticism from some of her cast-mate colleagues. Labeled a “mean girl”, a term that makes her seethe, she shared on IG Live that she believes the show’s editing deliberately portrays her that way because sensationalism sells.
However, Danielle doesn’t seem to need a gimmick to draw attention. At 5’8’’ with deep dark-brown skin, athletic curves and legs for days, she stands out. On the phone, she is the same as she appears on-screen—direct, funny, confident and endearing. Watching her on the show she’s calculated, determined and a little guarded when she enters a room – a demeanor she may have developed from years of going against some of the best players in college basketball and then overseas.
In 2015, she played professional basketball in the Euroleague system at SIAULIAI-UNIVERSITETAS in Lithuania, where she led her team to score. Previously, as a guard at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas (UNLV), she was known as a top defender in the Mountain West. That label, defender, continues to follow her on “Basketball Wives: Orlando”, where she finds herself in constant battle – verbally and physically – with her cast-mates over her past relationship, office gossip and the honor of her friends. What she sees as guarding her post, others may view as defensive.
While viewers will get to know her from the storyline about a severed 10-year relationship with her ex-fiancé and their tumultuous breakup, when she talks about herself the focus is on personal and professional accomplishments. Outside of her career in basketball, Danielle’s highlight reel shows her master’s degree in criminal justice, her most recent executive positions in the non-profit sector and being a mom to two beautiful kids.
“It’s crazy because I was in the delivery room giving birth to my daughter, taking my final to finish my master’s degree. Yes, and he thought I was crazy, but I’m like, I couldn’t not get it done, so I was like, ‘I’ve got to do this.’ It was important for me, while he was playing in the NBA, to always maintain my own career.”
In Minnesota, where her ex is from, she was committed to helping reduce recidivism and was focused on providing criminal offenders a chance to return to their lives with the support they need. A role that came with unique drama and stark realities, but Danielle thrived in that environment.
“I was pretty much helping people become well-rounded individuals and law-abiding in a way that promotes a more healthy and safe Black community.”
Danielle found her footing, a promising career, a group of friends and meaningful contacts in the fight for justice that helped her grow as a professional and a member of the Minneapolis community. However, when her relationship took a turn, she packed up her children and moved back to the life she knew in San Diego, where she could get the support she needed to heal and rebuild.
According to Danielle, during a relationship counseling session, her then-fiancé revealed that he was no longer interested in a monogamous relationship, saying that lifestyle never appealed to him, and he wanted multiple partners.
This was news to Danielle, who put her WNBA dreams on hold to support his NBA career, had two children and was planning to spend her life with him.
“I was like, I have a choice here, and I am actually going to move back home to San Diego so you can live in this non-monogamous world, and I will live over here.”
Moving away was a hard blow to Danielle, whose parents’ 31-year marriage has always been “relationship goals” and the kind of union she thought they both wanted for themselves and their children. Now, it seems that she was alone in this desire.
She says she was manipulated and gaslit for the past 10 years. She is honest in sharing that their relationship was not perfect, neither was she, but she thought they were working through the normal issues in ‘love and basketball’ and believed they were on the same page in wanting marriage and a family.
“There’s like this thing where it’s like we’re trying to figure out what relationships look like in this day and age, and what is going to work long-term. Not a lot of us are getting married anymore, and that was like how I was raised. Obviously, I saw a successful marriage; whether it was up or down, they stuck through it.”
In the face of disappointment and a rocky co-parenting relationship, Danielle chose herself and turned heartbreak and single motherhood into a new job in reality TV. When she accepted the role on “Basketball Wives: Orlando”, she saw it as a career move and a platform to promote her upcoming business, Empowered by Danielle. However, right before she moved to Orlando to tape the show, she learned that her ex-fiancé was in a monogamous relationship with another cast-mate, and the job she thought she was hired to do had changed.
The producers were more interested in a love triangle and not a breakup story. It became clear the overlap between she and her new co-worker was juicy enough for its own storyline, causing confusion and hurt for Danielle who never thought she would be in this position.
“How we got to the reality TV of it all, I don’t know.”
A family breakup is difficult to experience in private, and it can be more traumatic when it is the focus of workplace drama. Navigating the loss while dealing with single motherhood and the possibility that your ex has moved on with someone you work with is called good reality TV, but in real life it’s an old fashioned heartbreak, and it is not a pretty picture.
While some viewers may see her as a “bitter baby mama”, Danielle feels she has the right to show her full-range of emotions, something that often carries a penalty for Black women. She wanted the dream, not the drama.
Danielle maintains that most of the drama stems from the shock that he had a girlfriend when he was so opposed to monogamy. She believes he targeted the cast-mate after learning they would be on the same show. All of this new information opened up old wounds just as she was getting to a place of accepting her single status.
“How could he do this?”
She knows that some questions in love will go unanswered. She’s forgiven herself for forgoing her passion, a career in basketball, for the promise of being with the man she loved. When asked what she would tell other Black women faced with the same choice, she says, “Always put yourself first, and always put your career first.”
Lunchtime office conversations often revolve around office gossip, new recipes, meal preps, eating protocols and diets. Lately, the spotlight has turned to the carnivore diet, a controversial eating regimen that has garnered much attention in offices across the country. Colleagues are frequently surprised to see those participating in the diet losing weight while eating nothing but meat and fats.
Yes, meat, specifically, the fattiest cuts of beef, pork, poultry and lamb. Fish, eggs and fats, such as lard, butter and ghee, are also included. Only salt, pepper and bone broth are allowed for seasoning, while water is the sole liquid dieters can drink.
Many Black women are skeptical of the diet because the list of foods allowed triggers issues surrounding high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease. According to the American Heart Association, about 42 percent of Black women in the U.S. have high or borderline-high total cholesterol levels, 58 percent have high blood pressure, and each year, almost 50,000 die from heart disease.
Content creator Crystal Wallar, age 42, started the Carnivore Diet six months ago after being a strict vegan for 15 years. High-stress community work and subsequent burnout caused her to gain 25 pounds last year. She is one of many Black women who became interested in the diet after seeing the hype on social media. Still, she had reservations because, for years, health professionals told her about the harmful effects of a diet high in meats and fat.
“I’ve had high blood pressure since I was in my 20s, so I was like, ‘I don’t know if I need to be doing this carnivore thing.”
Within six months, Wallar lost 22 pounds, and she says her moods are regulated, she hasn’t suffered any health consequences, and her appetite is much smaller.
“Now, how I’ve been lately is I have to force myself sometimes to eat a meal. If I eat breakfast, I will probably not eat a full lunch or dinner that day.”
Dr. Emi Hosoda, a board-certified doctor in internal medicine with post-graduate education in holistic health and functional medicine, says she would not recommend the diet due to its elimination of vegetables, a good source of vitamins and fiber. Still, she does believe it has some advantages.
“It actually really is low carb, and it removes grains, which I think is the problem most people have when it comes to inflation in their gut and not losing weight.”
She’s had her fair share of patients on the diet with mixed results across the board.
“What I’ve seen in my patients that have gone on it is actually the cholesterol. Some of them it goes up, some it goes down.”
Dr. Hosoda says that high cholesterol is mainly caused by a diet high in sugar, and many with cholesterol issues are genetically predisposed. Other complications gave her pause.
“I’ve also seen, in general, inflammation go up in my patients, who have gone on the carnivore diet, not down. I’ve also had some weird things like pretty healthy people getting weird infections and ending up in the ICU.”
While she says she can’t blame these infections solely on the diet, it was the significant change noted in her patient’s lives.
However, she says that, in general, she is open to diets that work because she wants more people to get off medications.
“If carnivore works for you, amazing! But I think you have to be careful to get your cholesterol checked, get your markers of inflammation checked, and ensure that those things are going down.”
Founders of Not Your Ordinary Films (NYOF), Jessica Chaney and Amanda Willoughby are the creators behind “I AM”, a documentary that launched in October. “I AM” centers on Black women who live with anxiety, tells stories about coping and thriving with a disorder that is often overlooked and misdiagnosed in Black women. Films that center Black women are often void of Black women working behind the camera and on the scene to ensure the voices are protected and the stories are told with honesty and dignity. These two women are changing the industry by choosing a career in film that centers Black voices through a mirroring lens.
Chaney and Willoughby met as co-workers at a Memphis Public Library and found a kinship in their shared desire to make movies. Willoughby, a graduate of the Memphis College of Art and a filmmaker, is the producer and editor for the project. She says their goal is to normalize Black people in mass media and tell the stories that are typically on the margins.
“We don’t want to make stereotypical Black content. We just want to tell everyday stories, normal stories, and these characters happen to be Black. Whatever comes along with being Black is going to show up in this story somewhere, anyway, because it’s our reality.”
“I AM” shares the dangers that lurk behind the shadows of anxiety that can render Black women strangers to their own thoughts. The force of this mental health disorder unveils the stark reality of the pressures and unfulfilled desires that silence Black women and often leave them to face the world alone.
The film was born out of personal experience for Chaney, director of the project, who suffered for years with anxiety. After participating in a director’s program at the University of South California (USC), she realized that telling her own stories could be a way to help others.
“Even from the time I was little, I’ve just genuinely enjoyed listening to people. I think people don’t understand how much others just want to be heard.”
Being understood and validated was a personal struggle for Chaney who for a very long time felt invisible. Although she has come to terms with this reality as a Black woman, some incidents still trigger these feelings.
“The other day, I was in Fresh Market, and I was in the middle of the aisle. Now, I am a fuller-figured girl, and I am in the middle of the damn aisle, and this white man was like, ‘Oh, I didn’t even see you there!’ And I was like, ‘Sir, how did you not see ME and be bold enough to tell me?’”
The women in the film are boldly telling their truths, unfiltered and uncensored. Like Chaney, they experienced exhaustion, frustration, depression, hurt and anger and realized they wanted more from life than these feelings that were holding them back.
Willoughby believes many aspects of Black women’s lives contribute to their anxiety, including racism, societal pressures and being expected to carry the burdens in all aspects of their lives. She says many Black women “Have the feeling that ‘if I do break, nobody is there to catch me, so I can’t be the one to break’.”
Chaney says that unlike other women, Black women are not allowed to have a full range of emotions. She wants this film to give Black women permission to feel joy.
Willoughby’s goal is for the film to resonate with Black women who want others to see their humanity.
“It comes back to people calling us intimidating, or I’ve heard aggressive, yet we’re always expected to be on top of things, and sometimes I am just winging it.”
They both acknowledge that Black women are often thrust into jobs and careers that can provide security for their families, sometimes forgoing their aspirations.
Chaney explains that becoming filmmakers has been a healing journey for them.
“Black women, we’re the doers and a lot of times, we don’t get the liberties to be the dreamers and the thinkers.”
She believes there is a huge pool of untapped talent among Black women who can be deterred by a lack of resources and guidance, which can lead to anxiety that shows up as irritability, anger and frustration.
“As they grow as women and in their careers, they are unlearning behaviors embedded for generations, such as justifying wanting beautiful things, taking trips or changing careers.”
She believes that telling important stories from their perspective is a calling.
“It’s so important for us to be in this position where we are able to take ownership of these stories. This is where we feel most comfortable and where it feels like joy.”
Black women are finding unique ways to plan for retirement, included changing careers and their mindsets.
Freddie Davis-English, a retired government administrator from Minneapolis, was sought after for her previous accomplishments and propelled into a new career in the non-profit sector. While her retirement investments, pension and Social Security were able to afford the retirement she’d envisioned for herself, she was open to professional growth and the opportunity to help others.
Davis-English was more financially prepared for her retirement than she thought. A forgotten supplemental retirement policy in the high 5-figures gave her financial assets a boost.
“It was a welcomed surprise when I retired because there was a time when they wanted to get rid of it as a cost-saving measure. An older co-worker talked me into keeping it instead of cashing it in.”
She was able to use the money from the supplemental insurance policy to pay for her daughter’s wedding and many other milestone occasions without tapping into her pension and additional retirement savings. Even without working post-retirement, she was able to thrive off the retirement assets she’d accumulated. When you add her husband’s retirement assets to the mix, their lifestyle is equal to their pre-retirement income.
However, Davis-English is the exception, not the rule.
Dr. Angelino Viceisza, Professor of Economics at Spelman College in Atlanta, and research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, says that Black women have many structural barriers to achieving financial stability in retirement.
In his brief, “Black Women’s Retirement Preparedness and Wealth”, Viceisza studies single Black women and notes that they have an average retirement wealth of $11,157, the second-lowest average retirement wealth after Hispanic women. This means, as a group, they are not considered retirement-ready, and in fact, they often retire into poverty.
According to the Social Security Administration, in 2021, $13,363 ($1,113 per month) was the annual average Social Security income received by Black women 65 years and older. The maximum Social Security benefit available in 2023 is $4,555 per month, depending on lifetime earnings and age of retirement. The earliest age to begin collecting Social Security retirement benefits is 62. With Black women’s life expectancy at 75 years, there isn’t much time or resources to enjoy the golden years.
Viceisza finds that employment discrimination, low housing equity, health drains on savings and limited intergenerational wealth transfers are key factors contributing to low levels of retirement wealth for Black women. While they have a slight edge over other women in financial literacy, that isn’t enough to change their circumstances.
“There is a financial literacy component to why perhaps they’re not as prepared for retirement. The real big component is that they just don’t have enough wealth that they are inheriting, generating and are able to pass along to their children.”
He believes that Black women reinventing themselves after retirement is a way to circumvent the economic disparity.
At age 49, Darling “Diva” Moore of Denver, Colorado, did the math on her retirement.
“I started saying, ‘Wow, I am about to turn 50, and the only thing I have to look forward to is Social Security’. And when I looked at it, I saw shoe money.”
Moore’s plan is to retire at age 62, and she will receive $2,000 monthly from Social Security. If she had chosen to wait until age 67, her Social Security income would only increase by $100 per month.
When she looked at the numbers, that was not enough to afford the lifestyle she was currently living with her husband if he were to pass away first.
“When you tell a man, your man, your husband, ‘I’m worried about what would happen to me if something happened to you,’ the first thing out of their mouth is to remind you they have life insurance.”
Statistically, Black men live on average to age 69, leaving many wives to live out their retirement as widows. Moore and her husband crunched the numbers together to gain a mutual understanding.
“I literally had to sit down with my very educated husband, who’s an engineer and got math on lock, and show him that, ‘the money put away for me to live off if you’re gone, don’t even take care of our mortgage, Boo’.”
With this revelation and her husband’s support, she spent a year devising a plan to reinvent herself to supplement her income.
At age 50, she finished her bachelor’s degree and immediately started on her master’s. Her plan is to work in corporate until retirement and then use her newly acquired education to pivot into entrepreneurship as a private practice social worker.
In the meantime, she provides counsel to other women to get their Social Security Statements early to prepare for retirement. Her main focus is to help them figure out what they “want to be when they grow up” and devise a plan to make it a revenue stream.
Viceisza found that some who aren’t able to pivot into working after retirement often look to their children as a source of help to supplement their lifestyle.
Moore says that’s not an option.
“I have no intention of living with my daughter; I see the way she keeps her house.”
Dorothy Bridges of Minneapolis has over 45 years of working in the financial services industry, and she teaches her children and others about financial security. She has yet to retire, and although she feels prepared, that wasn’t the case early in her career.
“I learned a few things going through the school of hard knocks because I don’t think we even think about asset building when we are fresh out.”
Bridges says Black women should begin thinking about retirement as an investment in themselves. She advises starting as early as possible and looking into hiring a professional to help navigate the process and find the right mix of assets, such as real estate, stocks, savings accounts and 401(k)s.
“Make sure you understand that when you’re very early in your career, you may not be able to afford to put away the maximum into your 401(k) or other assets, but at least try to put away enough for the company to match your contribution.”
Bridges comes from a family of sharecroppers in Mississippi and knows the obstacles of learning about finance on your own, growing up without an inheritance, and the difficulty of saving when you may want to spend. She understands the need to sacrifice, change course and start fresh.
“I tell my kids, ‘short-term sacrifice for long-term gains’.”
Over 66 percent of Black women are single, and almost 40 percent have never been married, as highlighted by the most recent census data.
While some Black women embrace the single life with no immediate plans to resume dating, others look at all their accomplishments at work, realizing that the heavy burden jobs place on Black women doesn’t leave much time or energy for romance. Many have to scale back on their work commitments to make time for romantic relationships.
Black women are opening up about the role their career-choices play in their love story.
Take Marin Heiskell, a senior manager at Deloitte in Chicago, for example. Marin is accomplished with three degrees from Ivy-League schools and a bright career ahead of her. She has a demanding job that she enjoys. Her consulting role requires 40-45 hours a week of client work plus an additional 15 hours per week participating in panel discussions and supporting research and recruitment. There is also a lot of travel with her role, and although travel has died down since COVID, and she can make more time for the people she loves, it wasn’t always the case.
“I’d be on the first flight out Monday morning, come back late Thursday night or even Friday morning, and then spend the weekend resting, recovering, doing laundry and repacking.”
Marin found that some men didn’t understand the nature of her job or why she was required to travel so often, which became a barrier to sustaining relationships.
“I think they are saying it from a place of both insecurity and just not being exposed to a lot of different types of careers. As a Black woman who works in consulting, I feel like people know the demands of a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer or a banker but question the demands of my job.”
Dating expert M3rry works with smart, successful, busy Black women, guiding them through dating. She says she often hears that men are intimidated by successful Black women.
“If you are a woman that likes to live well and likes the luxuries of life, and he can’t provide it for you, then he is intimidated by you because you can provide it for yourself.”
Marin’s had to vet prospective partners differently and change her mindset. “In the past, I’ve said to myself: ‘I’m not married, and I don’t have any kids, then there’s no excuse for me not to be at XYZ level. And so, I gun really hard, kind of forgetting I’m cutting off my nose to spite my face.”
Dating coach, Anwar sees this scenario play out often with his clients. He believes that many Black women are programmed by their parents to focus on security and to make sure they can take care of themselves, which translates to education, jobs and money. Romance often gets pushed to the side to ensure survival, which equates to putting most of their time and energy into having a successful career.
“No, your job isn’t in the way because you have a boyfriend already, your career. And you are giving this career emotional, mental and spiritual space.”
M3rry agrees. She acknowledges Black women have the pressure of success that may not be placed on other races of women. According to her, what’s really keeping them single is their lack of priorities, non-congruency and failure to include other races in their dating search.
“Does it matter if he’s Black? Does it matter that he looks a certain way? Or do you want to be taken care of? Sometimes what my clients say they want doesn’t match up to the men they are describing.”
Anwar believes that, even if the right guy presents himself, if Black women don’t have career boundaries or a level of vulnerability, starting and maintaining a successful romantic relationship will be challenging.
“If you are not vulnerable, it’s going to be really difficult for you to deeply connect with the man because it’s your vulnerability that is going to inspire his.”
He also says that many Black women have to learn how to date because it’s not something taught by most Black parents.
Fila Antwine, a relationship coach, also teaches her clients how to date. “Black women are not taught how to be partners, and we are not prepared for partnership.” She says that at a very young age, Black women are taught to protect themselves from men and to disconnect to achieve their goals.
“We are taught how to survive without men the first half of our lives.”
Fila says career success and accomplishments become a source of pride and self-worth, but that narrative has to change to have their desired partnerships. She says that Black women are taught to be self-reliant and independent when real partnership comes from collaboration and being open to connecting with others.
“Black women have to dismantle all of the things they’ve built for themselves and figure out who they are and what they want.” She says for many, there isn’t any time to waste.
“The time is now. There is no f*cking clock.”