Q&A with Patrice Washington: 'Getting real' about money


Q&A with Patrice Washington
Q&A with Patrice Washington

When managing money and building wealth, progress starts with believing you can tackle anything life throws at you, according to author Patrice Washington.

After spending excessively during college, Washington found herself facing $18,000 of credit card debt at age 22. Out of necessity, she developed a new attitude toward money, adjusted her spending habits and by the time she turned 25, Washington was debt-free. Inspired and armed with a new set of financial skills, she launched a real estate business.

Then the Great Recession hit in 2008 -- hard.  

Washington and her husband closed their business, lost all their investment properties and faced foreclosure on their home. They went from living in a 6,000-square-foot home in Southern California to a 600-square-foot apartment in Metairie, Louisiana.

She may have lost all her material wealth in the recession, but Washington embarked on a new journey to rebuild not only her own finances, but the finances of those around her -- especially women and young adults.

Q&A with Patrice Washington: Women should “get real” about money
Author Patrice Washington

Today, 34-year-old Washington is an author, columnist and speaker, hosting a weekly segment called "Real Money Answers" on the Steve Harvey Morning Show. Washington’s new book, "Real Money Answers for Every Woman," outlines practical advice for women looking to get out of debt, rebuild their credit and take control of their financial futures. spoke with Washington about her approach to teaching women about personal finance and what she's learned from her own struggles along the way.

Q: What is something you wish someone would have told you when you were 22 years old and facing $18,000 of credit card debt?

A: I really wish someone would have told me that asking for help is OK.

I think a lot of women are brought up thinking they have to be Superwoman these days. We are running businesses, holding full-time jobs, having babies, running homes and doing all this stuff. We are often all things to all people and that can make you feel like you can't ask for help when you need it.

I wish I would have known that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it's actually a sign of strength. And now what I know at age 34 is that I'm not supposed to know it all. No one knows it all. No one has all the answers to life and it's OK when you are suffering or intimidated by a problem or subject and don't know where to start that getting help is OK. It doesn't make you any less of a woman.  

Q: Do you think credit card debt impacts women differently than men?

A: We naturally just worry about things a lot more than guys do. I can speak from my own experience that whether it was about my post-college credit card debt or the ridiculous amount of mortgage debt we had when the recession hit, I was not sleeping at night and my husband was in a deep, deep sleep. And I was over there looking at this guy like, "Did he NOT hear what is going on? What in the world?!"

I talk to women all the time and that's one of their biggest frustrations with their partners. Many are like, "Do you not understand that we are in a crisis here?" We are definitely the more emotional creature.

We take a lot on and internalize it and that can result in not sleeping at night, worrying and biting our nails. It's so easy to be nervous and anxious about what all this is going to do to our families.

One of the first things you have to do is be real about what your numbers are. You know you have debt but what debt specifically?

Q: How should we approach, say, a large sum of credit card debt then? 

A: One of the first things you have to do is be real about knowing what your numbers are. In 2003 I knew I had credit card debt, but if you asked me how much I would say, "Oh, about $8,000" or "It’s about $10,000." It was always "about," it was never an exact number. And many women that come to me for help don't know either. You know you have debt but what debt specifically? And how much? You need to understand what you are dealing with.

I also really like the idea of going to a nonprofit or a credit counseling agency for help. I recommend services like that because as you walk through the steps, it teaches you how to be more proactive. You learn what was done and how to do it, so if you are ever in that place again, you will know how to handle it.

It's a very hands-on approach. I'm a big fan of that because the more you educate yourself, the more empowered you are. You don't have to know all of it, but if you can find that one nugget of information to hold on to, like, calling your credit card issuer and asking for a lower interest rate. Even that is something you can do and see results from on your own.

Q: What shouldn't we do when facing financial hardship?

A: I recently saw my high school yearbook again and under my picture my quote was, "Don’t talk about it, be about it." I think that still applies. Stop talking about stuff and just do it.

If you are waiting for the "perfect plan" or waiting for someone else to come and save you, it's not going to happen. You have to step up and deal.

Q: Even though credit cards weren't always a positive influence in your life, in your book's "Boosting credit" chapter you explain why it's important not to fear credit cards. What would you tell someone who is nervous about using credit cards?

A: Credit cards are not always plastic crack. Usually when we talk about credit cards it's made out to be like, "Oh, everyone is out buying shoes and purses and doing all this stuff, racking up bills for all these things," so I do meet people who are very fearful of credit and credit cards.

Credit cards are not always plastic crack.

But it's not something to fear, it's something for you to be in control of. That's why I'm so big on getting your mind in the right place, because if your mind is in order, you naturally will prioritize better, make wiser decisions and not go crazy buying anything and everything on credit. You have to develop discipline. I personally love credit cards for the rewards and the miles and if you know how to leverage them to your benefit. They can definitely be a positive thing.

Q:  Your new book is written in a very straightforward, almost blunt, way. Has this always been your approach to giving personal finance advice or have your own financial struggles made you more realistic when it comes to money, credit and debt?

A: When I initially started educating people back in 2003, I had a passion for financial education, but I had never really gone through any major life struggle. So I think I was definitely one of those people who sugarcoated things a lot more. But when I lost everything around 2008 and had to start from scratch and heard other people sugarcoat, it would just piss me off. I just wanted to be like, "That ish ain't real! This is real life, stop that!"

Because I lost everything, I went from having a passion to being compassionate. But I realized that being compassionate doesn't mean sugarcoating. It means giving someone the tips and tools they need to succeed because life is short and we live in a tough world. We live in a tough world where people don’t really care about what's going on with you. They might be like "Aw, that's too bad,” but they are going to keep living their lives and unless you take charge and step up and start investing in yourself and your education, nothing is going to change for you.

Because I have a heart for people, I’m not going to B.S. you. Your time is valuable and you need answers, so let's get straight to it. I've become less apologetic about telling people, "Stop whining and complaining. You have to participate in your own rescue. No one is going to come save you."

I don't get to coddle you if I'm here to really help you change. Sometimes that means being straightforward and kind of in your face, but that's OK because it's done with love. 

See related: Spousal identity theft is fraud, so fight it, Don't close maxed out card after you pay off debt

Published: February 23, 2016

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Updated: 10-23-2016

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