Real wealth is a mind-set and a lifestyle that is built over time with equal measures of hard work and sacrifice.
In this first of an ongoing series, in which we take a look at how we're spending and saving in these uncertain times, three ESSENCE readers -- a teacher, an accountant and an entrepreneur -- give up the goods on how to afford the things you love. These women know that real wealth isn't characterized by income and spending alone. Rather, real wealth is a mind-set and a lifestyle that is built over time with equal measures of hard work and sacrifice. African-American women who want to look like a million bucks while building wealth understand that you can have designer handbags, elite travel and luxury cars and not spend a fortune. It may mean buying with cash only or swapping designer duds with your always fly girlfriend. "It's about value, not about being cheap," explains Natalie McNeal, author of The Frugalista Files: How One Woman Got Out of Debt Without Giving up the Fabulous Life (Harlequin). Here we met women who have found ingenious ways to acquire what they want at affordable prices.
THE WORLD TRAVELER:
Lynn Roach, 41, teacher, Hartford
Lynn Roach is traveling the world and looking great doing it. "I don't make a lot of money," says the eighth-grade history teacher from Connecticut, who spends her summers in Europe. "It's what I do with what I have." She finds that renting apartments is much cheaper than hotels. She once spent a month in Paris for $320 per week, for example, versus paying $320 per night for a hotel room.
"For ten months I work hard, so I can enjoy a luxury lifestyle during my two months off," says Roach. In addition to teaching her class, she tutors, does education consulting, and works after-school programs during the school year so her bills are paid up for the two months she takes off in summer. To pull off her jet-setter lifestyle, Roach looks for deals along the way. "I usually rent a flat with a stove top and refrigerator," she says.
"It cuts down on eating out. This is especially good if you are staying for more than three days." For example, she stayed in Prague, Czech Republic, for five nights and made herself breakfast every day.
She wants to see all the sights, from the Louvre to the consignment shops when in France, so she relies on the rail services instead of taxis. "Europe has the best metro systems, especially Paris," says Roach. "You can get everywhere." For her flights to her world destinations, she makes reservations early to lock in good airfares. She begins looking for airfare deals at least six months in advance.
Roach also takes full advantage of her teacher perks for traveling. Over the last 12 years, she has spent summers in South Africa, West Africa and Puerto Rico on teacher scholarships. Back home, she has taken education trips that include a civil rights tour in Alabama, as well as visits to the famed Mount Vernon estate, home of George and Martha Washington, among others. She helped fund some of her education excursions with a Fulbright Scholarship, which paid all travel expenses and awarded her a $200 stipend for food.
Lynn's Travel Deal Tips:
Use sites like kayak.com and input your travel dates at least six months in advance. "Put in all the dates you may be thinking to travel, and it will send you alerts every week with prices," says Roach.
RENT FOR LESS
Check for overseas flats and activities on search engines and sites like europeanhomerentals.com. And get creative. "I searched '3 days in Paris' on Google once, and it told me where to stay and what to do and see each day I was there," recalls Roach.
LEVERAGE YOUR SKILLS
Apply for elite programs that grant you travel access. For Roach, it means visiting teachinghistory.org to find global summer jobs.
THE LUXURY BRAND DIVA:
Tretta Bush, 29, accountant, Hampton, Virginia
Tretta Bush enjoys the finer things in life. Still, the self-employed number cruncher and single mother to daughter, Nijha, 9, says she can't afford to pay rack rate for designer goods. Instead she shops for her size-zero designer label wardrobe mostly online, after receiving e-mail notice of a good sale. "I'm a label whore, but I don't want to pay full price," says Bush. "I'm not one to keep up with the trends, but I buy quality merchandise. I have clothes from when I was a freshman in college that I still receive compliments on."
For her other designer luxuries, such as the Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Hermès handbags, she scours estate sales and online mommy sites such as coolmompicks.com. She also checks for celebrity closet deals on eBay, which recently featured the closet of Jennifer Williams of Basketball Wives. For appliances and home furnishings, she shops Black Friday all the way. "Black Friday is almost the best day of my life each year," she says. "I redecorate my house, and buy anything from kitchenware to comforters." One of her favorite stores is Walmart. "I try to find the lowest advertised price to keep from jumping around from store to store," she says. "As long as you have the ad, they will honor the deal. I also take advantage of online purchasing to avoid lines and crazy people. Plus, most stores ship for free now."
Bush notes that the next best time to shop after Black Friday is tax season. "Tax sales usually start around the last week of January and the first week of February, when the bulk of tax refunds are issued," explains the small-business accountant. Expect big deals on furniture, electronics and cars, she says.
When it comes to developing wise money habits, Bush admits she made all the classic mistakes during her college years. "I was fly, but I was also in debt," she recalls. She maxed out her credit cards and her student loans, and was late on her bills. When she got out of school and landed a position at an IT company, she still couldn't get approved to lease an office space for her accounting business. "My cash flow was high, and so was my debt-to-income ratio," says Bush to explain why she was declined for the lease. That was the reality check she needed to change her spendthrift ways. For the next three years, she lived way below her means and paid off $18,000 in credit card debt.
The now thrifty accountant despises monthly bills, so last year she purchased a certified preowned 2006 BMW 330 for $19,200 in cash rather than buying new for $35,000 and carrying a car note. "Why pay new pricing for a car that looks and drives the same? Makes no sense!" exclaims Bush. She cautions, however, that when buying preowned vehicles, going higher end is a good idea since these cars often come with service warranties and regular maintenance system checks included in the price.
Nowadays, Bush rents a luxury two-bedroom, two-bath apartment in an all-inclusive rental community replete with a gym, running trails and a clubhouse. "I don't want to be house-poor," she says, noting that the cost to buy a similar residence exceeds her budget. "I'm totally all about the luxury." Another perk of the neighborhood is the newly built public school with a private school curriculum: "I'm saving $600 a month because I don't have to spend on private school for my daughter."
Tretta's Luxury Shopping Tips
STOCK UP AT THE RIGHT TIME
Shop Black Friday for the best deals. "I take full advantage of the sales," says Bush. "Prices don't get that low again until tax season."
SHOP ON SALE DAYS
Whether your favorite clothing store is Bloomie's, Nordstrom or Ann Taylor, figure out when the prices will be reduced. "The sales at these stores are like clockwork," says Bush. "Certain weeks are slower than others; thus, the sale."
Check local classifieds for estate sales of secondhand designer bargains, from bags to shoes to the little black dress. Go to the most affluent neighborhood within 20 miles of your home to snag some treasures. "A Google search and a little research will save you big bucks," says Bush.
THE TECH TOY MAVEN Bobbi Hampton, 34, business owner, Atlanta
Bobbi Hampton owns a strategic marketing and ad firm, The Hampton Agency, in Atlanta, so using the latest technology is critical. "I'm part of the Apple cult; my business runs on Apple technology," says Hampton, who has an iPhone4 and an iPhone4S; an iPad; and a MacBookPro laptop that she bought refurbished two years ago from Apple, saving $600. "It was still new in the box with all of the capabilities."
In addition to her avid bargain hunting for Apple products, Hampton is searching for a discounted BMW. She plans to buy through an auto broker, who will make the purchase at the online car auction site Manheim Auction (manheimauction.com). (It only accepts offers from auto brokers.) Her plan is to snag a five-year-old white BMW with tan interior with $12,000 in cash. Broker fees usually apply, but Hampton won't need to pay them because her broker is a former client. This sort of networking helps Hampton buy only what her pocketbook can afford.
"Exposure to poverty will make you real good with a budget," says the twice-divorced mother of three, who began working at age 9 in Montreal, Canada, where she grew up. Recently, however, her business has been thriving in "Black Hollywood East," aka Atlanta. Even though Hampton gave up the mini-mansion after her divorce, she didn't give up life's little luxuries. She still finds economical ways to purchase her high-end cigars, which can range from $15 to $100 per cigar. "They're a good networking tool, like golf," she explains. To fund the hobby, she finds deals on eBay. Her cigar kit in a leather bound, stainless steel case with matching cutter was valued at $500. She got it for $15 on eBay.
Hampton and her three children, ages 9, 7 and 3, now share a townhome within eyeshot of Peachtree Street, Atlanta's main thoroughfare. She pays a little more to rent there because of its excellent school system.
"After the divorce, we scaled down on everything," she says. "Now we eat out on Thursdays instead of eating out every day." But the point is, they still eat out.
Bobbi's Money Saving Tips
HIRE A MIDDLEMAN
Find a broker to shop at auctions for luxury cars, but comparison-shop on car lots. Visit carsdirect.com/car-buying/car-brokers to find a broker, then check the Better Business Bureau (bbb.org) to ensure the one you choose is reputable.
MAKE SURE IT'S THE REAL DEAL
Shop eBay for brand names and check for authenticity. "I once found a retired Coach Ergo tote and matching wallet, valued at $1,000, for a total of $99 at eBay," she recalls. "But be cautious." Choose sellers that allow refunds and read terms and conditions carefully.
EAT OUT LESS OFTEN
Do it no more than once a week. You'll rack up a bundle.
Purchase refurbished tech gadgets online from Apple. Check for deals at store.apple.com/us/browse/home/specialdeals.
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