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Charged Up! podcast: thriving on a single income

Episode 9 with Emma Johnson, tips for single parents and single income households

By  |  Published: March 1, 2017

Charged Up! with Jenny Hoff

 



Single mom and author of the popular blog, wealthysinglemommy.com, Emma Johnson talks about how to thrive in a single-income household. With her family ripped apart after a tragedy, Johnson had to quickly learn how to cope with raising her two kids in New York City on a single income. She figured out how to put the talents she had to use, start her own business and share her knowledge with other moms facing similar situations. 

Hear how Johnson believes you can not only survive as a single parent, but thrive. 

Transcript:

Hoff: Thank you so much for joining us, Emma, 

Johnson: Oh, thank you for having me.

Hoff: This should be interesting. You talk to single moms on your blog about not only surviving financially, but thriving financially. As a single mother yourself, you've been through the financial ups and downs. Can you tell me a little bit about your own story and your financial journey?

Johnson: Sure. Well, just to start, I was raised by a single mom, and I always had the sense that it had a really big impact on me. And I was just sort of intellectually very curious about that because I'm 40. I was born in 1976, which I guess was probably right in the middle of that big boom of divorce. And then this whole new crowd of single motherhood popped up, which was started 40-ish years ago.

So that was always very present in my mind, even as I grew up and I got married and I had a quite traditional family. I married a man and had the baby after marriage and just really did this kind of traditional nuclear thing, which I imagine was in part a little bit of – I don't want to say a rebellion but more like we all want to do better than our parents – and that was part of my narrative.

And well, we did it. My husband, he was also from a single parent family, very similar background. We both had educated moms who had struggled financially throughout their lives; neither of our moms remarried and so that was definitely a connector. We both thrived in our careers when we got together.

We moved from Phoenix, Arizona, where we met, to New York, where we both live now, and we started making money. And for the most part, I think we did pretty well with our money. We put money away and saved and had the cash reserve and did the retirement funds, and when our daughter was born, we even did the college funds, 529 funds, bought a nice apartment.

And then our tragedy happened. My husband had an accident and had a brain injury, which he's miraculously largely recovered from now, but our lives unraveled and our marriage unraveled and what do you know? I was a single mom. And I was also, after some time of receiving child support, financially on my own with this situation, and I had two kids by this point. And it was horrifying.

I live in New York City, which is just teeming with amazing, competent women who are doing incredible things with their careers. I immediately went to that dark place and was like, “I'm a single mom and I'm going to be living in my car.”

Even though I had the benefit of so many other storylines and plots to my life, I went there. I went to the darkest place, and it's very, very common. I mean there's some study from so many years ago about how all women, huge amounts of women of all income brackets, have this bag lady nightmare all the time. Not like a dreaming nightmare, but a fear that you're going to become a bag lady. And actually the more income you earn as a woman, the more likely it is that you are going to be afraid of becoming a homeless person.

And that was very applicable to me. So I was facing this really tough situation. I felt like I had failed, I felt like that was my big goal in life: not to be a single mom. And what the heck, here I was. I had a lot of wonderful support around me, but the narrative was, “When are you going to go and get on welfare?” Literally, I figured out how to make money pretty quickly, and I also received some nice child support right away that lasted maybe about a year. And people close to me who shall remain nameless were like “Well, OK, that's fine. Those numbers are big numbers but when are you going to go and get on food stamps?”

And that is also very common. I hear that same story, just one of many examples involved another mom who I am friendly with through my work. She was also very successful. She was a breadwinner in her family, I think she's a marketing consultant, and she was making really great money even through her divorce. She never stopped. She never became broke like many of us do when we're going through that transition. She just kept earning and earning, and her mother still said to her “You know what? You can still get a job at Wal-Mart. I know somebody that can help you to get a job as a clerk at Wal-Mart.” She was appalled. “What are you talking about? You're sitting in my giant house that I pay for,” she said.

So, it's just so ingrained, and it's very, very hard as an individual and collectively to break out of that messaging. Because we're only human, right? So I figured it out, and I found it very empowering. I mean it's always great to have professional success, and it's always great to take care of your family. It's always great to make money. Women don't talk about that enough. They don't say how awesome it is to make money. It feels so freaking good, and I want women to own that and say it out loud.

I'm breaking through my own barriers, and that was just so satisfying to me. I started seeing some of those stories around me, and so I started this platform. I'm a professional writer and that was my background, so this did not take a whole lot of big mega-planning.

I started a blog about professional single moms, and it's grown and grown. Now it's my full-time career. And as you mentioned, I have a podcast “Like a Mother,” and I have a book coming out next year about single motherhood. And it's been such an amazing journey, and I feel like it's such an honor to be able to speak and connect with so many of these women who are either finding their way or really just find these incredible things. I mean, some of them are very high-profile people, building businesses and leading companies.

But there are also moms who are caring for disabled kids and serving their communities and caring for an older parent, and they're keeping it together and enjoying a dating life, and there are just everyday heroes everywhere, and this is beautiful. I love it.

Hoff: Yeah, that's amazing. And I love what you said about how you get into this mentality of feeling like now you have to be a victim. You know you're going to need support from other people, and I think it's easy for people – even if they're very successful – to fall into that trap, probably even easier.

And I loved one thing that you said in one of your recent podcasts about how you need to make decisions out of a place of abundance and not out of a place of fear. I think in a lot of financial situations, while they're tangible such as debt on your credit cards, it's also very mental. And when you get into this place, you can start digging a hole for yourself of, “I'm never going to get out of this, and what do I do?” in panic mode. It's very hard to make better decisions.

Can you talk a little bit about that? How do you mentally get out of that hole of desperation and anxiety and have a place of confidence to take charge of it? Especially if you're in debt?

Johnson: Yeah, I mean look, FYI 57 percent of millennial moms are unmarried. And half of the ones that do get married are on track to be at that roughly 50 percent divorce rate. So the idea that the nuclear family is the ideal or should be the goal, well, everybody is entitled to their own goal, and that's great, but this is really mainstream now. In fact, 51 percent of families in this country are not that heterosexual couple, two kids, marriage unit. Families look like all kinds of things today, and it's really beautiful. The majority of that 51 percent is now single mothers, gay families, multigenerational homes, all sorts of wonderful configurations of family.

But when you come to single motherhood, it's usually in a place of crisis, even if it is not a divorce, it's pregnancy outside of a relationship, or even if you're a single mom by choice, I mean, parenthood is catastrophic. It turns your life upside-down, including your finances, and single motherhood is going to make you poor in the short term. It's just the reality. So it's just like if you lost a job or the stock market crashed and your assets tumbled. You go into panic mode. It's completely normal.

But here are my tips for reframing that.

One, let's look at this in perspective. Let's get some context around your situation. If you're listening to this, you are probably living in North America and you are living at a time of the most incredible amount of abundance for any human being, especially for women. 

We have equal economic power. Technically, we have equal political power. You can get a credit card in your own name, which our mothers and grandmothers in some cases could not. You have equal access to capital, whether that's to buy a home, to start a business, to get a student loan. You have so many options. It is embarrassing how many resources you have right now. So it's really about gratitude. And that is not just some feely meme that's going to come across your Facebook feed. This is a real actual mindset that is going to change your life.

Figure out how to remind yourself of that every day, like writing down everything you're grateful for. I have a gratitude practice I do with my children, which I started to teach them, but really it's just as much for me to remind me of all the things that I'm grateful for in my life.

OK, you think you're more broke now than you were before the situation happened, but you still have more than 99 percent of people in this world. Do not ever forget that. And if you really tap into that feeling, it’s hard not to feel a sense of obligation and service, so that might mean that you feel of service to other women around you. Maybe you feel of service to women who are still stuck and have a poverty mentality when they don't necessarily have to. Maybe you feel of service to whatever you're passionate about, whether it's improving your business where you work or that you own or whatever nonprofit you're committed to in your community or your neighbors, or just being a great role model for your kid.

People are obliged to give, right? Eleanor Roosevelt said it better than me, we can look up the direct quote. It's about gratitude, perspective and then a sense of giving back and service.

But then, how are you going to maintain that? You can't maintain that if you are only hanging out with people who are stuck in a scarcity mentality. I am such a huge proponent of being very, very conscious and ruthless with the people that you spend time with.

So you know what? We are all products of who is around us, whether it's our friends, even if these are wonderful people who you grew up with, who you love, who are part of your family, even if it's your biological family or your colleagues. If these people are all just bringing you down, if they're saying, “Well, what do you mean you think you're going to go back to school and have this big career? What do you think you're going to get out of this financial situation? Do you think you're better than us? Who do you think you are?”

Whether it's explicit or it’s implied or they retaliate because of your new ambition, your new goals, your new positive attitude, it is really reflecting on the fact that they're stuck in some place they probably don't really want to be. You can't be thriving and hanging out with those folks all the time.

Find a new network. And you can do that any way. We live in this technological age where you can find that network online. I run a Facebook group that's called Millionaire Single Moms, and there's something like 5,000 women in there and of all income levels. You can't play the victim, you can't gripe about your ex-husband or your boss or your mom.

It's like you can pose questions, we laugh a lot, we joke about dating, all these things, but it's all about women who are on a path to bettering their lives and professional groups – or you're just making friends. And maybe those friends aren't single women and maybe they're not your age –maybe they're older, maybe they're younger, maybe they're married – but they're people who are going to lift you up and be on the same wavelength as you, and it's just critical.

Hoff: Yeah, I really agree with that. That's a great point that you made about surrounding yourself with people who are going to encourage you in your new endeavor and not try to hold you back. And I think sometimes we're scared of people, old friends or family members saying, “Who do you think you are?” like you just said, and in order to not have anybody judge us we hold ourselves back.

I want to talk to you a little bit more about single parents. You said, “OK, go further, find this abundance. We live in a country in which there are a lot of opportunities open to us.” Yet I think a lot of people feel as if, “I'm already maxed out. I have a job that I'm working at, I'm with my children, I don't have a single moment of the day.” What other options are there that they can go out and find ways to increase their income?

Johnson: Right, and that's really common. First of all, re-evaluate that story that you just told yourself about how you're so busy because progress is measured by how much free time you have. Think about it in lots of ways – like we have a washing machine so you don't have to spend hours beating your clothes against a rock down at the river. Or you have a cellphone so you don't have to write a letter to your friends when you're going to go and have margaritas. So, whatever, right? Technology is your friend.

We live in a culture that prizes this whole idea of being busy. Somehow busy makes us seem important, like you have all these things to do so you must be very important. Or you must be productive or you're suffering and people get off on this idea that you're somehow suffering and therefore that's desired. I don't know. But really evaluate that because again, there's so much affirmation for that, “I'm so busy. I'm so exhausted” because you can probably find a lot of efficiencies in your life to do what you freaking want to do.

OK, so your kids are demanding, work is often very demanding, taking care of a house or whatever. But what do you want to do? Do you want to get out of a debt cycle? Do you want to be doing more interesting work? Do you want to be working with more interesting people? Do you want to be living and working in a different location, different city or whatever your goals are? And then honestly, it's really just about “OK, I'm here. I want to be there. What three things can I do today to set that ball in motion?”

Literally, you can probably do three things in 10 minutes. It could be printing out your old resume and then calling your friend who is really excellent at resume editing or sending an email to a resume expert, which I advise even more. It can be scheduling a meeting with your boss about a promotion. It can be saying, “OK, you know what? I'm going to spend an hour tonight after the kids go to bed, and I’m going to look on some job boards.” Or scheduling a meeting with somebody in your life who's either in your desired field or meeting the goals you have. Maybe somebody who could serve as a mentor to you or just somebody who's going to be encouraging.

And say, “Look, can I please take you out for a lunch sometime? It’s on me. And I just want to run some ideas by you, if you don't mind.” Or if that's asking a lot, then just say, “Can I get 20 minutes on the phone with you?” And people will give it to you, and that's going to set the ball in motion. You're going to get ideas, you're going to get inspiration, and once that momentum is going, then there's no stopping you.

Hoff: I want to talk a little bit about side jobs. I know a lot of stay-at-home moms or people who work, and on the side at home, they're doing these side hustles. They’re selling products for companies. And what they're doing is they are getting a team of other people who are stay-at-home moms to also sell those products.

There can be a lot of money in this. A lot of people I know swear that they're paying off all kinds of debt doing these kinds of programs, whether it’s selling beauty creams or nail covers or clothes or anything like that. But I also want to talk a little bit about the risk that these can involve, too.

Is that something that you would recommend for someone to make extra money? Or do you feel that sometimes people get caught up in investing in this kind of stay-at-home salesperson mentality, and they don't actually make money from it?

Johnson: I know people, a couple of moms who follow me, a bunch of them actually, one in particular I know, she has this big six-figure business, and she's really smart about it, and it's a great lifestyle for her and her son. I know a bunch of other women who do it more as a side gig, to your point, and it works really great for them.

One, do your research. I think most people know that, right?

There are a lot of scams, but there's a lot of fine print that you need to read. It's a network, so the person selling you is going to showcase their crazy wild success that they had, but really ask a lot of questions. A lot of the times these things are done in a social atmosphere and everybody is having a good time, and you might feel kind of shy about asking the hard questions. But we're talking about your life here, so ask the freaking questions. When you go in to talk to the mortgage broker, you shouldn't be embarrassed to ask about the fine print and all the minutiae. This is maybe even more important because we're talking about your time, and your reputation is at stake.

If that person is saying they're bringing in $30,000 or $40,000 a month in income, ask exactly where that money is coming from. Ask, “How do you spend your day? How do you spend your week? How long did it take you to make $40,000 a month? What’s your overhead?” right? OK, you're bringing in $40,000 a month, but they might be spending $45,000 a month. There's a lot of marketing that goes into roping you into this program.

And then keep in mind that while you might be selling cosmetics or beauty products or cookware – and you might be really passionate about being a wonderful cook or you might be really passionate about beauty or you might be very beautiful yourself – that doesn't mean you're a great salesperson. Those are two totally different skills. If you don't have sales experience and you don't know that you're a real dynamo, start absolutely small, but also ask more questions because a lot of these programs have minimum monthly investments.

For everybody that's killing it in this business, there's a lot more people that are broke. I mean I knew one woman, she got caught up in it, and my friend got swept up into it and she invested $8,000 in products. 

Hoff: So she was just $8,000 in debt, and she realized that she wasn't a salesperson?

Johnson: Yeah, or she wasn't committed to it. If you're that personality where you get swept up into things, then you might get distracted into something else when you don't immediately start making a profit.

I think that's the other thing, too. I mean, OK, you're a salesperson, but are you a business person? And just because you haven't been a salesperson or you haven't been an entrepreneur, it doesn't mean that you can't do it. You absolutely can, but there's a really, really basic tendency of successful businesses, and one is that they usually start very small, they make lots of mistakes, and it takes them many years to be making good money.

So if you're ready to sign on for that and give it the go, then go for it, but go in with your eyes open.

Hoff: That's definitely good advice. And if you have to put up money upfront, you should definitely know everything you can about it, because I don't want people going out there and putting money on their credit card and then just have another debt they have to pay off.

Let's talk now about debt and expenses. You’ve talked to a lot of single parents – parenting is expensive. As a parent myself, it's a lot more expensive than I ever anticipated it was going to be. How do parents who feel like they're kind of living paycheck to paycheck cope, or that there's not a lot of extra money to give their kids everything they think their kids deserve without going into debt?

Johnson: One, what do your kids really deserve? I think it’s a healthy meal, a safe place to live, a reasonably fine education. They don't need to go to fancy private schools, and they need a hug like once a month. That's a kid's need. It’s the same advice as with the multilevel marketing things. You can have all the money in the world and go and buy the expensive baby crib. Sure, you can have whatever child care that you want, your kids can be super-duper cute – all kids are cute, right? They can be tricked-out in whatever fashion, but they just don't need that much stuff. Especially when they're little. Hand-me-downs are great. I mean kids don't even need a crib until – maybe they don't ever need a crib. They need a bed when they're 2. You can probably skip the crib. Whatever guilt you're feeling, all the marketers know that guilt, and they are tapping into it day and night in advertising.

So just let a lot of that go. I mean the horror stories are out there. This mom in one of my groups online was struggling. She was really having a hard time making ends meet. And she worked as a day care worker. At the same time, she's asking advice for planning a trip to Disney for her 4-year-olds. And my mind just melted. I was like, “What?”

Hoff: They're not even going to remember the trip.

Johnson: Yeah. That's exactly it. I don't care if you're a billionaire, a 4-year-old isn’t going to remember a trip to Disney. My kids are 6 and 8, and they're just growing to where they’ll sort of remember now, but up until now they don't care. If there's a pool, they're good. I can take them to a Motel 6 wherever in the world with a pool and that was like the best vacation of their whole life. That's it.

So just keep it real, and ask yourself why are you spending the money? Is it because it is actually enhancing the kid's quality of life or is it assuaging your own guilt? Social pressure? Are you worried that the kids are going to be socially ostracized because they don't have the right sneakers or the right birthday party?

It comes down to you being very clear about your own boundaries, your own budget, values within yourself. And so much comes from that, but then it's also about just communicating that with your kid, like “This is our values in this family.” Kids understand so much. They understand so freaking much including about money and business. It is unbelievable. Just talk to them like adults and they get it.

One of my favorite stories, this was a year ago, so my kids were 5 and 7, and I was launching a digital course online about money. I was talking to them, “I'm doing this thing and here it is. Here's the landing page, and I'm trying to figure out how much money I should charge.” And they got into a literal argument on the way to the bus stop about price elasticity without any education from me. They just inherently understood if you charge a lower price more people buy it, or if you charge a higher price fewer people buy it. That was not like an explicit message, their brains just inherently understood price elasticity.

So just really get into expressing your values like “we believe...” “And, that's why for Christmas we're going to go to the Motel 6, and you guys are going to jump into the pool instead of us buying the latest whatever thing that you don't need. Why? Because remember we gave away all that stuff you didn't play with last year because you didn't play with it.” I just say be really brutal with yourself, and don't go down that rabbit hole.

Hoff: I love that. I talk to people who I know who are actually in debt – they're not even paying off their credit cards in full every month, they're paying the minimum payments – and yet they're signing their kids up for every single class and they're worried about sending them to the best private schools. I told a person I knew the other day, “Your kids are going to be more affected by the financial stress between you and your spouse that you're experiencing right now and the potential that your relationship might even end because you're fighting at home over money, than they are going to be about a smaller classroom.”

Let's talk a little bit about that because you've said on your website and in your podcast that a lot of relationships actually end because of money. That is the main stressor in a lot of marriages. Can you talk a little bit about that and the importance of – if you want to keep your marriage together – being smart about your money?

Johnson: Oh my gosh, yeah. And it doesn't end when the marriage ends because then you're still fighting about money – there's often child support or kid exchange. Even if there is not any of those things, you're still fighting about which school to send the kids to, which camp, who is paying for the day care versus investing in the 529, whatever. It just doesn't end.

When it comes to financial health, No. 1, everybody needs to be earning. If there's one parent who doesn't earn, doesn't have a job, the chances of divorce by some studies is 50 percent higher. If you don't have your own money that you are earning – you know where it is, you know where it's going – you don't have autonomy as a partner in that relationship. That’s a risk. And even if you are earning, you need to absolutely know where all the money is going, where it's invested, whose name is on the house, whose name is on which accounts, who is responsible for which debt.

It's so hard to do because when you go into marriage, the message is that this is forever, money doesn't matter, love conquers all, and my money is your money, and it's all really beautiful.

That's a nice notion, but there is no historical precedent for that ever being sustainable. It's just a fallacy, and I'm telling you if you believe that, you are kidding yourself, and it will bite you in the butt. It just will. Your relationship is that much more vulnerable to start with, and then, if and when it does end, you are going to be screwed. You don't know where the money is. You don't know if there's money. You don't know if your name isn't on the house, and you might not get a piece of that house. There might be savings that your name isn't on, and you think it's your money, but it's not if you're not demanding the answers to really hard questions.

Look, it's so common that women are in this situation, and if you are, tomorrow you're going to listen to this podcast and go speak to your spouse like “So I was listening to this podcast and this loud lady has told me to do this thing. And I need to know...” so I mean it's going to upset your relationship and you know that, and that's why you're not asking.

It's really, really tough. But the good news is from friends of mine – just kind of anecdotally and statistically – there are some studies about women and their participation in their finances and management or the family finances, and it's changing a lot for younger women. So friends of mine that are in the financial wellness space and wealth managers, they said that younger women are definitely more inclined to stay in the workforce after they have kids. They're more inclined to have their own accounts, and they're having better, more informed discussions with their partners about money – which is all great. That means that people like you and I are doing our jobs.

Hoff: Yeah, I think that's super important. When I first had my child I wanted to just be at home with him full time, and it still was important to me. But I realized I didn't feel good when I wasn't making any money because I had made money my whole life, and even if your spouse seems totally content to be the 100 percent breadwinner, it puts stress on the relationship. It puts insecurity in the other person who is not making money, in a sense of “Do I have a right to even buy that? Do I have a right to be making those financial decisions?”

Johnson: Right. Ask any divorce lawyer. When people split up, the truth just comes out.  Whatever things that you were too polite to say during the marriage, you say it. All the truth comes out because it's horrible. It's such a trauma. And the truth always comes out, and the truth is whoever made the money never felt like it was our money. They're like “No, but that's my 401(k) from my job.” Or like “Oh, what does she think she gets a piece of the house? I put that money down, or my family helped with the down payment.”

If you're not actually going and earning or earning somewhat equitably in that relationship, like I said, it's a beautiful idea to say “Your money is my money,” but no one deep in their heart really believes that. And when you split up, it's just not the story.

Hoff: Exactly. So you have a video master class as you mentioned before on your website to teach single parents how to make money. Let's talk about all parents for a moment or all people who feel financially strapped. What are the lessons that you teach in your master class? Can you give us some of those tips?

Johnson: First of all, figure out why you're not making money. I have struggled through my own hang-ups about why I’m not making money, and everybody has their own story, right? When it comes to single parents it's pretty easy. The story is always something like: “I'm a single parent, therefore I have to be broke.” That's the mega story that we're all told, and it's so hard to break free from that when all society is shoving that down your throat.

Everybody has their own individual neurosis – you would not be human if you didn't – and we all have things that are holding us back. I mean Warren Buffett, even he has got some personal neurosis that could be doubling his income if he got over it. Everybody just has one.

It's digging into those stories you tell yourself that become true. I really am a big fan, again, of surrounding yourself with the right people. So whether it means earning more money or being more professionally or creatively fulfilled in your work – maybe working fewer hours for a higher income, whatever those are – you need to be around people who support that vision.

And that doesn't mean that they look like you. They might be people outside of your field. I've been trying to really make a conscious effort to surround myself with people outside of media professionally, because they have a whole different set of experiences that I can learn from. But at the end of the day, business is business, and career is career.

So those people, again, they might be in a different industry, they might not even live in the same country, you might connect with them online. They might be older, younger, different gender, whatever. But surround yourself with people that are like “Oh, yeah, that's a great idea. Or maybe you can think about your idea differently. Or here is how I do my business, and I can see your client does lessons through your business.” Just having an open mind to the notion of your success will help, because by osmosis you will start to get that.

Get rid of the idea that “Oh well, I want to earn more, but that means that I have to work that many more hours and I'll never see my kids.” That's just a story. Take Warren Buffett, he has literally billions of times more income than I do, but he is not working billions of hours more than I am, right? It's just a story that people say.

Figure out what's your story and how you can deconstruct your story and apply logic to it. Your story is probably rooted in emotion and history, and you need to figure out a way of it. The other thing to keep in mind is, again, we live in this incredible time where every single industry, thanks to technology and the nature of our economy, is being completely deconstructed.

But back to the stay-at-home parenting ... it’s super scary for folks who drop out of the workforce because even if you talk to a career expert and they will tell you if you're out for two years, you're obsolete.

And even in very traditional fields like teaching, I heard from a mom recently and she was like “You know what? I really believe I was a better mom for staying home with my kids and I was a teacher and I always felt like I could just jump right back into teaching if something happened. Well, now my marriage has ended, and I can't even get a part-time teaching job because the education industry has changed so much. And it's the worst mistake I ever made.”

So that's the downside of that, but the upside is that you can make your own rules. You can completely do whatever the heck you want, whether it's a staff position, being an entrepreneur, somewhere between, maybe you have a staff gig and then you have a side gig, whatever. But it is a time of complete professional liberation, and the sky is really the limit.

Hoff: I totally agree with that. I think a lot of times it’s what you said, it's surrounding yourself with different people because they might give you an idea that you might not have ever thought of. There are so many opportunities with technology today that you can make money without even leaving your house. You can work when the kids go to bed or at night by doing any kind of freelance work or helping people out in an expertise. It's really understanding what you're good at, what you know how to do, and chances are, there's somebody out there who is probably willing to pay you to do it.

Johnson: Yes, there is. I mean everything is kind of moving that way in the economy anyway. I mean I’m in media, it's a classic example where there's hardly any staff jobs anymore. But if you want to be an independent entrepreneur, a freelancer, there are so many opportunities. Companies don't want staffers anymore, they want people who they can try out, and if it doesn't work out, then there's no love lost, or they can go on and make tons of money together indefinitely. And that's very scary for people who have come of age in a time of corporate staff job security. But you know what? Fortune favors those who embrace change, and that's just not the reality of most industries – any industry – anymore. So the sooner you get on board with this idea of a nimble career you’ll find so many incredible opportunities.

Hoff: And speaking of changing, we get a lot of readers who write in and that has kind of become a way of life where they feel satisfied if they can at least make the minimum payments. They're proud if they're making the minimum payments on their credit cards every month. But we know that that just means you're paying a lot of money in interest. And people are overpaying for everything that they buy. What's your advice regarding credit card debt? How can you get out of it and stay out of it?

Johnson: Well, imagine what it would feel like if you didn't have debt. Just really think about that. Spend some time feeling that. It feels so freaking good. You know, people are comfortable with it, but I don't really buy that. I think that deep down there is a deep, deep discomfort with it. Because every purchase then is sucking gas. Ask yourself: “Should I pay for this $3 cup of coffee, or should I put that $3 toward the debt? I know I really should do that because Jenny on that podcast said I should do it.”

It's always a constant conflict. It's almost like a spiritual conflict. It's between doing what you know you should and what you want to do in that moment. And I don't want people to feel like that. I don't want people to be making even those little tiny decisions, right? Like “Oh, should I leave the light on, or should I leave the light off? It's going to cost me 45 cents.” I want you to turn the light off, and I want you to put that 45 cents that you saved toward your credit card debt because that is really living within your values and there's just nothing more beautiful in that. That's like euphoria.

Hoff: Absolutely. You say on your website and in your podcast that getting out of debt is the No 1 goal, it's the first thing that people should be doing, correct?

Johnson: Yes. I would temper that with also – I mean you need some cash on hand and you need to be not just paying off your debt but also managing your debt and managing your credit, because in an emergency, you want the cash but you also need access to credit. You know, if something really, really bad happens, you need access to credit. That's a lot of security, too.

So credit, credit scores, some cash but really focus on earning. Because the more you earn, it means the bigger your career becomes, it means the more successful and interesting people you're surrounding yourself with. You are stretching yourself professionally, personally, creatively and your universe expands beyond just the dollars in your bank account. Your entire being expands if you are living within your potential in every part of your life, including your professional life.

I know in personal finance blogs there’s often – I feel – an overemphasis on saving and budgeting. That's super important, but that's limiting, right? Because if you pay off X amount toward your credit card or you save X on your shopping, that's a finite thing and I get it, it feels very empowering because you know that you saved 20 percent on your groceries that month. That's great. That's a fixed number, you did it, and you know what the number is.

Whereas, if you start a business, or you ask for a promotion or a raise, or you invest in education, there's a lot of question marks, and it's scary and it's risky, and risk is not always immediately rewarded. And so people shy away from that and focus on the known. And I really urge people to go big and grow and focus on the growing. Because the growth is infinite, right? Your credit card is $20,000. That might seem insurmountable, but that's just $20,000 whereas your income and your core potential is infinite.

Hoff: I also want to quickly touch on credit because that is one thing that you mentioned here, and it's one thing that I noticed when I did a story on stay-at-home parents and a lot of them had no idea what their credit score was. They didn't even know how to check their credit. They didn't know why their credit would be important because they're not working.

That's one thing that you touch on in some of your blog posts: how important having good credit is, especially if you’re maybe going through a divorce or you may be thinking you might go through a divorce in the future or if you just want to have financial independence even if you are with somebody. Can you talk about the importance of knowing your credit?

Johnson: Oh, my gosh. Well, first of all, it is good, it feels awesome. And then you have options. For better or worse you can usually get some kind of credit, and it's going to be an atrocious rate. And that means you're spending money. You're spending a lot of money. I have written about financing, growth in my business with 0 percent credit cards over these past few years. And I believe that was a great option for me, and it was at 0 percent, and I could do that because I have really excellent credit above 800.

So I was able to earn more money because I was able to invest money with a great credit score. It's all a cycle. So OK, maybe you don't have a business, but you probably need a ride, you need a car. Not a lot of people have $10,000 to 20,000 to buy a car. You need a place to live, and it's a great time to buy a house, even though mortgage rates are climbing they're still at near historic lows. Your education, whether it's for yourself or your kids, there are all kinds of really good reasons to finance things in your life. And if you’ve got a great credit score you have a lot of options. And the more options you have, the more empowered you are, the better you feel and less money you're going to spend on interest.

Hoff: Those are all great tips. I also want to talk about your book. Can you tell us the name of it and what it will be about and when is it coming out and when can people start ordering it?

Johnson: You can start ordering it in February. It's called “The Kickass Single Mom.” It's all about how to be financially independent, make every man want to date you and raise fabulous, happy children. I'm very excited about it.

Hoff: Fantastic. So it'll be coming out officially in September but people can start pre-ordering it months in advance.

Johnson: Exactly.

Hoff: OK. Perfect. And one last question. Our show is called Charged Up! What charges you up about mastering money and being financially independent?

Johnson: I get just really excited about blowing through my own self-imposed limitations. For example, the notion that I'll never be financially independent without a spouse or a partner. Or the idea that I can't be a creative person. I'm a writer, and also make great money. Or this idea that I can't be a single mom and also not only make great money but spend a lot of time with my kids and not be stressed out and crazy. These are all stories that I told myself over the years and then by breaking through them and proving myself wrong it is ironically extremely satisfying.  

It gives me a sense of control knowing “You know what? I don't have debt that I don't choose to have. I see my money grow. It gives me a sense of security for now. When I make financial decisions, I'm coming at it from a place of empowerment and positivity, and I feel a sense of security and positivity for the future that I have a likely chance of being comfortable, not a burden on my children, having options as I go through the rest of my life and also that I can give back. That means I can give back financially to causes I care about or that I will simply be comfortable enough where I have ample time to lend my best resources, my best skills, my energy to things that I believe are deserving of my time and energy. 

Hoff: Perfect. Thank you so much Emma Johnson for joining us today. Your blog is wealthysinglemommy.com, your podcast is Like a Mother, and your book is coming out in September. That all sounds great, congratulations to you on pushing through any kind of financial obstacles you faced and thanks so much for sharing your tips with us today. 

Johnson: Thank you so much, Jenny. This was fun. 

Hoff: It was fun. Take care. 

See related: Charged Up! podcast: How to handle love and money, Charged Up! podcast: The art of stretching

 

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Updated: 08-18-2017

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