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Professor Pig has teamed up with John and David from the Debt Free Guys to bring you insights into saving in the LGBTQ+ community. Read on to learn more! You can find more of the Debt Free Guys at https://debtfreeguys.com/.
1. What are some of the financial challenges you or people you know within the LGBTQ+ community have faced? How have you overcome them?
We met on a gay disco dance floor when we were in our 30s and entering the peak of our social lives and earning years in financial services. We both came from a time and place when it wasn’t okay to be gay. By the time we met, we had a lot of catching up to do and we were finally liberated.
To be seen as equals and to make up for years – decades – of feeling less than good enough, we strove to have the perfect home, perfect car, perfect career and perfect bodies.
We bought a new car with a six-year term and a down payment on credit card. Every square foot of our home was covered in Pottery Barn purchased with plastic (thankfully not covered in it). We had the newest clothes and phones.
We spent more time at the gym than we ever spent on a budget. We knew our BMI and didn’t have a clue about our credit score.
When you looked at us, everything looked good. If you looked at our bank accounts, everything was scary. Because of our insecurity and recklessness, we found ourselves in $51,000 in credit card debt and renting a friend’s basement apartment at a deep discount.
We were financially and literally in a hole.
Our financial situation wasn’t unique and was the result of some of the numerous challenges LGBTQ+ people face.
According to the Williams Institute1, a UCLA think tank, 20% to 45% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ+ and, as such, start life without family support. Life’s hard enough to start with the support of mom and dad. Imagine not having an adult to guide you into adulthood, even if only for emotional support.
Likewise, to seek safety and community, queer people have historically migrated to the least desirable parts of the country’s most expensive cities – think Hell’s Kitchen and Chelsea in New York City and the Castro in San Francisco around the time of the Stonewall Riots. This migration, in turn, caused these less-desirable areas to become too expensive for many LGBTQ+ folks today and caused our cost of living to be higher than the general population.
Even appearing or sounding gender non-conforming, according to a University of Surry study1 , precludes individuals from getting hired or promoted, making it even harder to attain financial parity with gender-conforming peers.
As we shared above, our biggest challenge personally was our desire to not only be tolerated but loved. This is often expressed by displaying outward appearances of success, i.e., dressing well, traveling well and living well. Most, if not all, of our $51,000 in credit card debt was to dress well, travel well and live well at the expense of our financial security.
This ended about a year into our relationship when we came out of the closet to each other about our finances. We were two financial services professionals renting a basement apartment with no prospects of moving out or up. We weren’t on track for our retirement savings. We couldn’t help others in our community because we couldn’t help ourselves.
The catalyst for our shift to financial independence was talking about our money, understanding how we got to where we were and what we ultimately wanted in life. After much deliberation and discussion, we concluded that we wanted three things, 1) to travel the world extensively, but on cash and not credit, 2) to save for a comfortable retirement (we did learn something from all our years in finance) and 3) can give both our time and money to the queer community.
We’re now happy to share that we have and continue, sans COVID-19, to travel the world extensively on cash rather than credit, we’re set for retirement and we give both our time and our money to our community, but it wasn’t an easy journey.
Our best piece of advice for young savers is to get crystal clear on what you want and completely honest on why you want it.
The truth is, outside of a global pandemic, most people in America have a spending problem and not an income problem. Too many of us, LGBTQ+ and otherwise, seek external validation.
We seek the love and approval of our parents. We desire the acceptance of our friends, neighbors and colleagues. We yearn to appear good enough because we often don’t feel that inside ourselves. This is often a recipe for financial failure.
When we learned that we wanted to travel the world extensively on cash and not credit, save for a comfortable retirement and give back to the LGBTQ+ community, we realized that our designer clothes, expensive happy hours, the growing and revolving credit card debt to sustain a lifestyle we couldn’t afford didn’t matter.
We then had the focus and drive to climb out of our credit card debt and reach financial security. It was knowing what we want and why we want it that made all that possible.
3. How can banks and other financial services firms better serve the LGBTQ+ community?
About 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ+. Thirty-one percent of black LGBTQ+ people live below the poverty line, also according to the Williams Institute1, relative to 25% of black, cisgender straight people. Half of the queer respondents to Prudential’s 2016 LGBT Financial Experience Survey claimed to be unbanked.
Traditional financial advice, such as having an emergency savings account and saving for retirement, are important but mean nothing for those who don’t have access to adequate incomes and can’t afford basic banking products and services due to high minimums and fees.
The first step to better serve the LGBTQ+ community is to ensure all employees are educated and trained on non-discriminatory practices when working with both clients and employees. Adequate training to ensure overt and covert biases are eliminated from proper education and daily, deliberate practice.
For example, train employees to ask about a prospective client’s “partner” rather than assume they have a husband or a wife contingent on their appearance of gender.
Additionally, policies and procedures should be updated to avoid, as well as incentives eliminated that inspire, such discrimination. For example, allowing clients and employees to use their gender identity on paperwork rather than their assigned gender at birth would be a huge step toward engendering the entire LGBTQ+ community and especially trans folks.
Finally, banks and financial services firms have been great at earning a 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index and sponsoring Pride and Pride events in June. It’s important to remember, though that serving the queer community is more than checking a few boxes and that we exist the other 11 months of the year.
This can be done by creating marketing and collateral that looks like and speaks to the community they’re trying to serve. For example, a brochure of a straight, white couple walking down the beach with their golden retriever is possibly not the ideal retirement of a trans couple living in San Francisco CA or the mixed-race lesbian couple in Columbus OH.
This can also be done by hosting financial education and planning events for LGBTQ+ clients and prospects outside Pride Month (June). The calendars of many in our community are already full this time of the year and our minds aren’t focused on responsible topics like money.
What would resonate with many LGBTQ+ people is seeing the same bank that hosted a queer individual and couples’ trust and estate planning talk in February that also sponsored a float for our local Pride parade in June. A follow-up phone call from that bank’s rep in July would be better received.
4. What is the most helpful piece of financial advice you have ever received?
The most helpful piece of financial advice we ever received is to understand that money’s neither good nor evil but rather a tool for ours and others’ security.
Because of media and movies, we’re bombarded with stories about the evils of money and the evils of people with money. But they’re not the only money stories if they’re even a majority.
Trust in your own goodness and your ability to use money for good. If you’re a good person, you should want financial security and even financial prosperity because then you can do more good in the world. You can do more good by leveraging the power of your money than you can as a single individual.
To that end, money is leverage.
You may be able to clothe someone with the clothes in your closet, but you can buy pants and a shirt at $25 for 40 people at $1,000. You can let one or two people sleep on your couch or you can donate $5,000 to a homeless shelter that serves 100 people a night to keep the utilities on for a year.
So, despite what media and movies would have us believe, money holds the power of exponential good. Your financial security and independence can facilitate that, and that will help build a stronger LGBTQ+ community.
The financially stronger you are as an LGBTQ+ individual, the financially stronger we are as a queer community. The financially stronger we are as a community, the more time and resources we have to support the people and causes that seek the equality we’ve been fighting for since Stonewall.
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