According to a recent study, the average African-American with a credit card is carrying nearly $6,000 in debt, and 42 percent of us use plastic to cover living expenses. Sure, it would be nice if we all had fatter paychecks, but how can we do more with what we have? ESSENCE tapped certified financial planner Lazetta Rainey Braxton, founder of Financial Fountains and president of the Association of African-American Financial Advisors, to rework the budgets of four women and help them maximize their salaries. Read on—you’re closer to financial success than you think.

Natalie Lawson, 29. Oakland, CA. 

Occupation: Clinical health specialist for a tech start-up

Annual income: $105,000

THE DEAL: “I’m a travel junkie. I’ll spend money on an experience before I spend it on products and clothes. I’ve gone to Carnival in Trinidad a few years in a row, plus I make several domestic trips for holidays, birthdays and weddings. Last year I spent roughly $7,000 on travel and even used some of my emergency savings to cover a trip.”

ON DINING OUT: “Being new in town, I feel like I have to say yes every time someone invites me somewhere.”

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ON TRANSPORTATION: “I send my mom $400 a month to cover my car note and insurance. I spend roughly $220 on public transportation, Uber rides and Zipcar rentals.”

ON WARDROBE: “I’m not much of a shopper, but lately I’ve spent more than usual on clothing to build up a wardrobe for my new job.”

ON DEBT: “My credit card balance is $5,000. I would put a $50 dinner on the card. Not a big deal, but I’d do it seven times and it wouldn’t occur to me that it adds up. I owe nearly $100,000 in student loans between undergrad and nursing school. They’ll be paid off in ten years.”

CURRENT SAVINGS: An emergency fund of $1,200 and $12,000 in a 401(k)

LAZETTA WEIGHS IN: “Natalie’s plan to pay off her credit card and build up her emergency savings to roughly $7,500 by the end of the year is great, but she hasn’t created a separate savings account for travel. I suggest she cut her dining out budget by about half to $150 per month and set aside these funds for future trips. At that rate she would save $2,400 per year just for vacations. Starting next year, she will be credit card debt–free, and she can apply that $620 per month toward savings and other goals. If she follows this plan, she’ll have more than $22,000 saved by the end of 2016.”

THE BOTTOM LINE: “Look for trade-offs. I believe in enjoying your earnings, but with some short-term sacrifices—like taking half as many trips this year—Natalie could easily bulk up her emergency savings.”

Read more on Money Makeovers That Work in the March 2015 issue of ESSENCE, on newsstands now!