Building Wealth As A Woman of Color

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Carmen Perez is the founder of the financial education platform Make Real Cents and the creator of Budget Better.

In this episode, we discuss Carmen’s experiences including:

  • navigating pay discrimination
  • how childhood trauma impacted her spending decisions
  • finding herself deep in debt
  • climbing out of debt to leave a career
  • transitioning from a career in finance to one in tech
  • responding to being laid off by building Budget Better

Listen To The Episode

Connect With Carmen

Make Real Cents Website

Make Real Cents On Instagram

Make Real Cents On Twitter

Resources Mentioned

Mr Money Mustache Blog

Budget Better App


Read The Transcript

Michael Lacy 0:00

You're listening to Episode 52 of the wind to wealth podcast, building wealth as a woman of color with Carmen Perez of make real sense.

Unknown Speaker 0:12

You're listening to the winning to wealth podcast where you'll hear real stories from real people who are on the path to building real wealth. These stories will show you how to earn more money and pay off debt, start investing, and make better money choices so you can build wealth for your future. Now, here's your host, Michael Lacy,

Michael Lacy 0:34

what's up? What's up? What's up teammates. This is Episode 52 of the wisdom to wealth podcast. And today we're going to be talking about building wealth as a woman of color. My guest today is the founder of the financial education platform make real sense and the creator of budget better, Miss Carmen Perez. Now, before we get into the episode, I got to give you a warning. Carmen and I come from very, very similar backgrounds and have a few similarities in our story. Now, as a result of those commonalities, this interview gets hilariously real at one point. Like, we couldn't even get words out. We were laughing so hard, and I'm about to start laughing right now. And we talked about editing that part of the interview out. But as I was listening back during editing, I really decided not to because I just know, so many of you are going to relate to that segment. And you're going to find those minutes. absolutely hilarious. So I really hope I'm right about that. But that's why this week's episode is a little bit longer than normal. Another thing to note, Carmen really, unintentionally wrapped up the episode for me with an answer that she gave at the end. So there's also no longer intro with just me talking this week, because the winner of the week would have literally been take the leap. And that will make total sense to you. Once you hear Carmen's final answer on this episode. Like it's gonna be crystal clear why I didn't come back on at the end and record an ending. Anyway, I said all that to say these aren't permanent changes, we're going to be back on track next week. But I felt like this interview was so good, so impactful, so powerful, that I wanted you guys to really experience the authenticity of the recording, like, I wanted you to feel what we felt while we were talking. And while we were recording this in its fullness, so I didn't edit as much as I normally would, just to make it fit into the typical structure of the show. So now with that said, we're going to be talking about everything in this episode from Carmen's experience with paid discrimination to Carmen finding herself in debt and then becoming debt free. And there's a career change in there. So she left the financial industry for the tech industry. And we end with talking about her recent layoff and her creation of budget better, which is a tool that I'm personally, like really excited about. Now, because we cover so much in this episode, like it's like back to back to back to back, I want you guys to head over to winning to wealth.com slash Episode 52. You can also find that in the episode description, but it's winning two auth.com slash Episode 52. And check out the show notes because I'm going to link to everything there that Carmen and I talked about from the bloggers that she mentioned to the ways you can connect with her and her app budget better and just so much more that we talked about in this episode. But this is a longer recording than usual. So I'm just going to stop talking right here and jump right into this interview with Carmen Perez from make real sense. Hi, Carmen, welcome to the show. I am so excited to have you today. Thank you so much for coming on and agreeing to do this interview.

Carmen Perez from Make Real Cents 4:05

Absolutely. Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. Happy to be here.

Michael Lacy 4:08

First things first, I want to go back really to, I guess kind of what I see is like the beginning of your story, right? You have this move from Florida to New York. And you have this friend that's kind of referring you to a job. Can you talk a little bit about that situation of what happened?

Carmen Perez from Make Real Cents 4:27

Yeah, so um, at the time, I was working at a retail slash investment bank in Florida, and I knew it was time to make a move. I had been there almost three years and I was managing a team of roughly seven people.

I was acting interim team lead and then my boss came on and I had to train her up and I was just like, why am I training someone to do what I'm not like I'm nailing right now and doing really well. And I was just

very junior in my career, I was it was early on in my career, I was already managing 77 people responding to audit requests, all that stuff. And it's and that's like a fairly big deal in the banking world. So I said, Okay, it's time for me, I've gotten a taste of what New York can offer. And it's not necessarily based on how many years you've been with a company, it's whatever, you know, if you can push revenue across the line, if you can bring your talent and, you know, take the team to the next level, merit is, is rewarded. So I said, Okay, it's time for me to leave Florida pack up. Let's go. So I started putting out all these feelers. And my friend who had literally, he had just left the company, moved up to New York, started at this investment bank, and he said, Hey, come up here, the salaries high, like you know, it's gonna be great. And mind you, I had more experience in him two more certifications than he had, he didn't actually have any certifications at the time. And so I said, Oh, awesome. You know, you got the job, like, can you? Can you put in a referral for me like, what's up? And of course, if you refer somebody, they get a bonus if they get in and all that stuff. So he's like, Yeah, I got you got, you got to get a call. I go through the interview process with them. It's all great. But I get a call. And they said, okay, we'd love to have you on board. Here's your offer. Are you happy with it, and I kind of paused. So that offer was, I think, roughly around 65, or 67,000. Now I take that back, they went up to 67. So I call him up. And I said, Hey, this is this is what I got. This isn't what you necessarily promised. You told me you're at 75. Like, what's, what's the deal? And he's like, yeah, that's weird. I don't know. Because you'd literally be like, my counterpart, we were going to be working in the same team. And he's like, so that's, that's really strange to just like, go back and just try to negotiate it up. You know, make sure you mentioned your certifications, your experience, he's like, That makes no sense to me. So I called them back and I said, Hey, I have these certifications. I have this experience, you know, this isn't going to cut it for me. So they're like, Okay, well, we'll see you we'll, we'll come back. So they gave me a call back a couple days later and said like it was something like 67 or 70, it was a $5,000 like range, I think, or 7000. somewhere around there. But it didn't pass 70,000, I can tell you that there was nowhere near 70,000. range, they came back with and said this is absolutely it. This is as far as we can go, you know, take it or leave it type deal. Coincidentally, thank goodness, another offer came through the door at the same time. At another investment bank where I was the offer was 80,000. That's exactly what I wanted.

Michael Lacy 7:51

First things first, like, I want to share, because I think when we talk about personal finance, there is definitely a personal responsibility component to it. At the same time, we can't ignore the fact that there are certain sectors of people who have to deal with things and overcome things that other people just don't have to write, like, I went through a similar situation to where I got a job offer for a company, and it was 65. I negotiated it up to 72. So I negotiate up seven grand, I start working and my counterpart discloses that he's still making six grand more than me, that's $13,000 a year if I hadn't negotiate. And I actually did the math on that. The difference if I just invested that 13,000 over a 40 year career, it's almost $3 million. Right. So this stuff definitely, definitely has a huge impact when we talk about building wealth on certain sectors of our community. So I mean, talk about like, in your situation. So you talk about, you know, you get the new job come through what happened from that point?

Carmen Perez from Make Real Cents 8:59

Yeah, I think that to your point is there's just some groups that just don't have to deal with certain things. And I think that because I went through this minority internship program, they kind of prepped us for all of this, like take off the rosy colored glasses. We aren't going to shy away from the fact that all of you need to exude excellence. And it's unfortunate that that has to be your level set going into all of these situations. And we just want to make sure we prepare you as best as possible. So when I when I got the $80,000 offer started working at this bank, and there was a there was a few things at play there I tend to be really what would do really well within any role that I have. And then I get switched over into like projects because I'm basically doing too well that they need to like keep me mentally stimulated in some way, some some way, shape or form. And then I can It easily breakdown data a lot better, yada, yada, yada. So, in this role, and I was only at this company for a year, within this role, I started managing to consultants and in doing all this stuff, and I get called into the call into the office, you know, and we're having I'm having a conversation with my boss, we're chit chatting, he needs like, you know, I need you to tell the consultants to come in at this time. It's like, why didn't hire them? You know, you didn't get my buy in for that. I, you just told me that I had to, like, manage them. I, you know, he he's getting his work done. I don't know, the widgets in widgets out. That's all I can ask him for. So if he's like here late, you know, I'll mention it. But if you are trying to fish for some reason to get rid of this guy, I can't sit here and give you one. And that was not an answer. Let me tell you. It was not an answer that he wanted to hear. And that that kind of like led to this path of my exit. And not because of him. He was a he was a great manager. He was new to the team. And I think that that he didn't have the luxury of being there long term where, prior to him coming in, we had a black woman, powerhouse, who's one of my mentors and a huge champion. She actually, if it wasn't for her, I can't tell you that I wouldn't have been in a kind of, they do this thing where there's you get tapped to go to breakfast with the MD of your department. And these are kind of like the rising stars within the group that they think will continue to do very well in the firm. And you know, you know, the growth is exponential, if you can write up write it out. So if it wasn't for her, she actually tapped me and one other person, and now he's gone on to do incredible things. He's still at the company. So one of my really good friends, white guy. If it wasn't for her being a champion for me, I can 100% tell you right now, I probably would have never made it into that room. And that was just a good validation, personally for myself, from my career standpoint, because again, if you go back to that internship, and it's like, you guys have to always be excellent. And sometimes being excellent requires like biting your tongue and not saying, you know, the things that really need to be said, Case in point, what I the dialogue between me and my manager manager. Because that those things can really hurt you. And thank goodness, she was around before him to kind of vouch for me and push me forward through this program. And then you know, I ended up getting exceptional exceeds expectations on my review, yada, yada, yada. But it comes down to those points where you always have to show up 1000 times stronger than everybody else is being mediocre. And sometimes that boils down to the color of your skin. Unfortunately, you know,

Michael Lacy 12:57

so I want to say like, I found you are we connected on Instagram, right? You go by make real sense on Instagram. And and I see you all the time kind of talking about these issues. Do those are those experiences, like part of the reason why it's so important to you to talk about race and money and how those two things intersect?

Carmen Perez from Make Real Cents 13:18

100% I'm extremely important, because I do think that there are there's there's broad personal finance advice. And then there's personal finance advice that will only apply to certain groups, which also leaves out a large majority of the minority, if you're not making enough to budget because you know, it's not because you're not working hard enough, you're working 4050 hours a week, let's say McDonald's as a manager on the line, whatever. That doesn't mean that you're lazy. That just means that maybe whatever for whatever reason, you're not having access to, you know, advance or you your family's out of the position to be able to, you know, for you to go off to college or do something different. And that's okay. But I do think that that kind of like, very broad and reaching advice is harmful, especially for people of color in our community. Because it does have this self esteem and confidence aspect that kind of diminishes when you're giving out this advice that it's like, Okay, well, this should apply to me, when it's like no, let's focus on it really is an income problem. let's address that. And we need to figure out ways where we can get you scaled up. So you can shore up your income to be able to start making that generational wealth impact. Because if not the reality of the situation based on so many outside circumstances, systemic racism, the social you know, socio and economic positions will keep you here, unfortunately. And so that's why I don't like these, you know, these like, Oh, just even my story, you know, it's like, oh, you know, you can you can save $1,000 a month if you cut cable Like, no, that's not true. Like, you know, every, especially my mom was a single mom, single mom, single parents, they know how to make $1 stretch doing every single thing possible to make money stretch, and it just might not be enough money. And then that's where I think, why I get so passionate about talking about racial disparities within the wealth community, because some that the advice just doesn't apply. And sometimes it can be very harmful and ways that aren't very obvious again, to like that self esteem, that confidence so on and so forth. The mental health aspect.

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Michael Lacy 15:38

Yeah, you know what, I love the fact that you brought up single parents right there, because something that I've told some friends and I've never actually said on the podcast until now, but like, you know, I grew up in poverty, my mom was a single mom, she was in domestic violence situations until I was in like, sixth grade. And here I am, you know, we've got a six figure net worth, we're doing really well for ourselves. But I will always say my mom could make money stretch and go further, way better than I ever could have. Like, if my mom had, like, the skills that she developed, and if she made the income that I've made in my career, man, like,

Carmen Perez from Make Real Cents 16:14

living like a king, and that's crazy, we have the same background, we have the same background, and I hate to say it, like, ooh, we can bond over this trauma. But it's the reality of the situation is like that, that's wild that we have been able to, you know, we come from the same background, my mom, it was a single parent, because there was a domestic violence situation, we'd go to shelters, I was only, I hate to say only for trauma comparison. But you know, they got a divorce when I was eight, there is a lot of disruption between, you know, the ages of 10 and 12. And then everything kind of normalized on the family front. But that's wild that, you know, we even have the same shared experience. It's crazy. I didn't I didn't know that.

Michael Lacy 16:58

Yeah, yeah, that was that was my life from. I mean, probably, I think the first instance that I remember, I was like four years old. And then the last instance, I remember of domestic violence, I was in sixth grade. Wow. So like a huge chunk of my childhood. That's kind of what I saw. And I want to kind of stay right there a little bit. Like, for me growing up, I didn't really get money conversations. The only money conversations we got were like, We don't have it. And when we talked about budgeting, my mom was like, using budgeting as a weapon to not spend money on things that we enjoyed. Like we'd go to the store and ask her something. She'd be like, I'm on a budget. Like she wasn't on a budget, she just didn't have money. Right? And so can you talk a little bit about just how money was talked about as you were growing up?

Carmen Perez from Make Real Cents 17:46

Yeah. So we It was kind of like, yeah, either I don't have it. And my mom, she tried her hardest to keep us from like, saying that, because we were in those situations where it was so tough and so restrictive for so long that once she got out of that she never wanted us to feel like, you know, we couldn't, you know, afford something or do something. So a lot of it just it wasn't talked about, even though we kind of knew as children, I won't say kind of you're intuitive enough to know, like, we shouldn't ask for x or I shouldn't ask for y, especially because my mom's like queen. And I just knew that if we had asked for it, she was gonna try everything in her power to make it happen. And sometimes it just wasn't worth like seeing her break her back, you know, to try to get this over the line. So in short, we didn't really didn't discuss money, we kind of had enough discernment to know not to ask for it. If we did ask for and she said, like, we don't have it, you know, you pout you and you get over it. But yeah, like she she didn't she didn't really talk about it, which I do think obviously now, in retrospect, I wish she would have because I think that would have changed my relationship with money to not always equate it with struggle, or like, my thing is, she's such a hustler, that my default is I know, I can hustle to make it work. That's fine. I'll max out the paycheck. Well, back Back in the day, that was my mentality, I can I can max it out. I'll figure it out. And that's all because I saw my mom doing it.

Michael Lacy 19:21

Right. And so when you talk about that, you know, coming from the struggle, really, you know, and you mentioned earlier how credit was costing you a lot of money. What's the connection there between like, what you saw growing up, and then the habits you develop that led you to that place of having your credit, you know, kind of mess up your finances?

Carmen Perez from Make Real Cents 19:44

Yeah, so I knew my dad like wasn't good with money at all. I knew that was like kind of open. don't really speak to my father haven't in a while, years. But I knew that that was kind of like his His thing that was kind of transparent, and then it's especially posted worse. So that was my dad's aspect. My mom's aspect was like, we're not talking about it. But I can see like, obviously, she has to kind of like figure this out, which she did. So I think my thing was, I always related, I've related with the struggle and just in a different light in a different way, unfortunately, so whether it would be the physical manifestation of seeing my parents, or you know, my mom get beat up in like us just kind of getting back to being okay, after whatever fight happened. I think on the flip side of seeing all that struggle with my parents, I think that I put myself in these situations where I would struggle and a financial aspect relate to it, because that's what I knew. And it just manifested growing up that physical violence into just something different, um, in those are the situations where I'd go, like, I got the card car on 18.5% interest. And my friend came with me, he was there, my coworker, he came, different coworker he came in, and he was like, I remember when you got that interest rate, he was like, blown away. And I'm just like, okay, that's, you know, didn't negotiate it didn't know, I got the financing at the dealership, like, didn't think it through, drive the car off the lot. And then I'm thinking like, wow, this is actually pretty expensive car payment. And for six years, I did it on a six year loan, did all this stuff like 500 or 450. The payment was I was driving a Jeep paying for a Benz and a US This is a used car, right? So yeah, I think like I those those struggles, kind of, again, everyone's path is different and how they were, you know, their upbringing, but I think mine was this different manifestation of what I had witnessed just in a different form. And I was doing it to myself.

Michael Lacy 22:02

Okay, so let's go into your journey, because I know, like, at the peak of everything, you had $57,000 worth of debt. So I know you have the car. Can you talk about what all went into that? 57,000?

Carmen Perez from Make Real Cents 22:15

Yeah, so I had accounts and collections. I had credit card debt, and the rest was student loans. That was all of it. So credit card debt collections, my car and student loans, where were all the 57,000 48,000 being student loans.

Michael Lacy 22:33

Wow. Okay, so let me ask, like, were you always aware of how much debt you have? Or was there just this moment where you sat down and had to calculate everything, and it was like, Oh, my gosh,

Carmen Perez from Make Real Cents 22:43

I had no idea how much debt I had didn't have, I didn't know my net worth. I didn't know any of that. I just knew I had debt. And I knew that when I had moved, moved to New York, I was still borrowing money from friends and making very poor financial decisions. And a lot of that, so I was on the 80,000 salary, my car was, I'm pretty sure at the time, because towards the end, I think it went down to like, 450, let's say like, 500 for 450. My rent was 900, utilities, all that stuff, like, that was half of my paycheck, if not 60% of my paycheck gone. And then 40% of just like living in existing in New York, that's actually, you know, it's probably more than 60%. Because then I'm not even including my student loans. The rest of my money just went, who knows where, and that was part of the problem, right? It was like, no idea how much money actually Oh, and also don't know where my money is going to.

Michael Lacy 23:40

You have you actually had a little bit of margin, right between like your your lifestyle, your expenses, and it allowed you to really live and for a lot of people like that's the dream, like, okay, I'll take your student loans, I'll take your car payment if I can have a couple hundred dollars a month to do whatever the hell I want with it. Right? So like, for you, what was that moment to where you were like, something's got to change, like, I gotta do something different here.

Carmen Perez from Make Real Cents 24:07

So I was living paycheck to paycheck high income earner living paycheck to paycheck, and that wasn't making any sense to me. Like, why why am I choosing this? And again, it goes back to like, trying to figure out what your real struggle is in identifying that with money, especially as someone that considers themselves maybe not to be so great with money. Really, I like exploring like what like what is this so I had that moment of, why am I at this point now I am choosing to live paycheck to paycheck. I have no money saved and make good money when I don't know what I'm spending my money on and I don't know it was just it was a the December of 2015. I know going in into the new year I just like wanted something to be different and I came across mister money mustache and I was like this is a possibility. This guy's he retired at the age I'm about to be in I don't know, at the time was like three years. So I'm like, this is great. What do I need? How can I achieve this? And it was kind of one of those eye opening. Like I didn't never knew people were retiring early, like, I had never heard of that. Like, what? What are you talking about? I maybe heard of someone retiring at 5055? You know, that's early, but right. I had no idea at 30. So that was the moment where it was it kind of clicked in my head. One, why are you choosing to do this, you don't have to, you have the luxury in the privilege of not having to do this. And to, there's this example of what you could be, if you just kind of like, figure it out, float around. And then you know, I started doing the budgeting and paying off my debt got sued. And then it was history from there.

Michael Lacy 25:55

So you know, something that I just really thought about, kind of in my own story, really, as you were talking, like, I just had this little revelation of like, you know, people say, Oh, you need to surround yourself with like positive influences and people that are doing well. But like that, in and of itself is a privilege, right? Because, I mean, here you are, like we have similar backgrounds grew up similar, then you actually work in finance. And, and it wasn't until you were even outside of that, that you had access to the knowledge of even the personal responsibility component of personal finance. Right. So like, that just speaks to the role that access to knowledge actually plays in your journey as well. And so many people don't even have that. But so I want to go forward a little bit because, like, obviously, you paid off all your debt, right? And so after you hit this point where you kind of wake up like, what were some of those first steps that really made a difference in you being able to pay off your debt.

Carmen Perez from Make Real Cents 26:54

Yeah, so I won't take away from the fact that definitely like the income, and it's crazy, I just want to touch on one. One thing, one of my friends, she's Spanish in coworker at the time, we were walking outside and she goes girl, you know, sometimes like I think to myself, like we're in rooms with partners and people that are millionaires, we're getting on these elevators, and she comes from a single family home as well. And she's just like, we, it just, it's we're, we're in these rooms with these people. And she goes years ago, I would have never imagined this for myself, like, how is it that we're here? And I and I told her the same thing. It's crazy, you know, and it's all these little steps that we took to get to that point that the I went through in roads, they helped out a lot with etiquette and like what to say what not to say what you should wear what you look a hot mess in at work, like, you know, so they they provided all this access that exposure that had I never gone through that program, I wouldn't have been thriving in corporate America. To the extent that I was well, at least I thought. So. to your question for the budgeting, and just like getting out of debt and working through that the biggest things that I would say definitely my income, being cognizant of what I was actually spending. So I actually got on a zero based budget, we cut a lot of expenses are the expenses that we could reduce spending on food, and it freed up cash. It's like, Whoa, this is magic. This is just a few changes. And then this money like magically appears if you actually put yourself on like a little bit of a schedule and some structure. It was nice, I think I mean, literally even having like 100 bucks left at the end of the month. It's like, Oh, I just broke the paycheck to paycheck cycle.

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Michael Lacy 28:44

Yeah, and that's a win for so many people. Like, I know in my facebook group we do winning Wednesday where we kind of share our wins, like, just that thing of like you and I interacted on actually detriments Instagram posts like a week ago and we were talking about like, you know, I used to put $1 in the pump or whatever just enough to get to work backup or to work until Payday is like

Carmen Perez from Make Real Cents 29:10

the tricks we need like you said we are parents you gotta stress $1 like you knew all the tricks. I hate to say I'm not proud of it now because obviously I'm gonna better spot but I knew I knew like you said it was the it's a balance between either swiping the card for gas and it's going to overdraft or swiping it for food like you just had to be strategic about what you were doing.

Michael Lacy 29:33

Yeah, and like the worst thing is like when you get that overdraft and they take the big transaction first and then like they hit you with the overdraft for like nine other and it's like man, just take them in the order in which they happen. I had a plan I would have only got hit with two fees. If it wasn't for y'all tripping you

Unknown Speaker 29:51

fall out my chair that

Carmen Perez from Make Real Cents 29:55

that is my strategic like, Can you imagine? Put that much thinking into crafting a budget or at least me early on, but here I am trying to, you know, finesse the system like okay, well you know this, this overdraft is only gonna run me 35 I get paid on Friday, you know? And then I'll take you know, I'm moving,

Michael Lacy 30:16

but your overdraft?

I've never had to edit out this much laughter I don't even know I might even I might not even edit out on this laughter because this is hilarious.

Unknown Speaker 30:36


Michael Lacy 30:37

but like, you know, I know it's coming. It's on the way like.

Carmen Perez from Make Real Cents 30:48

And my friend My friend did messaged me about that though. She was like, I remember we used it overdraft. She's like you knew when to how much how am I do it over? She's like, like, He's here. Now. I'm so proud of like, thank you. Oh, man, if you

Michael Lacy 31:03

can relate to that, like, oh, hit us up on Instagram. Like, let us know your overdraft story, if you can relate to that right there. But I want to go back to like, your actual debt free journey. And so let's just let's move forward. How long did it take you to pay off your debt? Because you said it was 57,000. You you get on a budget, you get on a plan, you find out this money, and you start putting this extra money towards your debt. So how long did it take you to pay off your debt?

Carmen Perez from Make Real Cents 31:31

Two years, nine months, that included bonuses, tax refunds, all the savings that I could get out of what I was making. And I stopped contributing to my 401k. And

Unknown Speaker 31:51

we do need

Carmen Perez from Make Real Cents 31:53

we do need a plan for not just the overdraft, but like what was your money trick? Like? What was your money hack? I used to I used to settle the guys around in my car for campus and they had to give me $5 I would I would run I would I would run the difference, right to my wallet or to food like you know, Okay, I'm gonna only put it in a quarter. They give me money. They Oh, we gave you money last time. It's like, Well, I didn't fill it up.

Michael Lacy 32:24

Man. Okay, so mine, I used to, like look at my account. And I'd be like, Okay, I got like $3 and 27 cents in here. And I need gas to get to work for the next four days. I know that if I run my card, and I push debit, it's gonna take $1 out of the account. Right? So they're only going to take $1 while it's pending. So if I hurry up, I can swipe the gas, go to Taco Bell, get a five layer burrito for $1. And I've stretched that $3 into a full tank of gas and a meal

Unknown Speaker 33:00

and alone.

Michael Lacy 33:03

And if they do it right, I would only get hit with the one overdraft. But when they do it wrong I got overdraft.

Unknown Speaker 33:15


Michael Lacy 33:20

man they got money. Let me hold some till Friday.

Carmen Perez from Make Real Cents 33:27

Like Okay, so how many times that's what you really need to be calculated is how many oh my gosh, that you did that. That one? What's the interest rate on that? So 35 if you swipe and you go over $2 even into the red, it was a $35 charge. And then like you said they'll hit you at like multiple which I feel is so predatory. And then however many times you did that.

Michael Lacy 33:52

I think the craziest one for me was like, I got a mcdouble one time from McDonald's and it overdrafted me so it was like a $36 mcdouble right like

Carmen Perez from Make Real Cents 34:04

you're like this was not this is not what I wanted to do it for

Michael Lacy 34:08

man. We got food at home is like that's for me. That's for younger me like that, that. Oh, man. Yeah, I spent so much money just in just silly overdraft stuff where like you said, I mean, to your point, like if I had just sat down and put all that energy and all that brainpower into saying, Okay, I get paid this much. This is what I have to spend. Yeah, and let me create a plan for that. If I had just done that I could have saved myself so much money, right? You live in learn?

Carmen Perez from Make Real Cents 34:38

Yes. 100% and we learn now. Now it's such a good laugh because I didn't I didn't think anyone else actually would openly admit and like, as soon as you said that on that post. I died because my friend she messaged me a while ago and said I remember when you used to like strategically plan these overdrafts so you could go out like a mess. So it took two years, nine months to pay off the debt and that included tax refunds bonuses as cutting all those expenses. Keeping our rent below 25% I picked up a side hustle. I was I even did an arm model thing for Clinique, yes, that's a thing where they put shades of, of lipstick on your arm, you can do like the picture, but that was one that was a little side hustle that paid some extra, so any extra money that I got there right towards that. And that took two years, nine months.

Michael Lacy 35:38

Wow. Okay, so what is what was it like for you like the moment when you became debt free? And I asked that question, because everybody on the show, I asked that question too. Like, we've got like half the people that say it was super anticlimactic. And it was like a letdown. And then other people are like, Oh, it was the best day of my life. Like I can't get over steel. So what was it like for you, when you hit Submit on that last payment?

Carmen Perez from Make Real Cents 35:58

He felt I was so I was at fin con. For your new list our listeners that don't know what that is. It's a personal finance conference. And it was like what a better what a better place to like be at then you know, where all these personal finance people are. I hit submit, then went to the conference. And it just it felt really it felt good. Like I am not I'm the worst at celebrating wins. Because it's always like, what's next for me? I'm terrible at it. But it felt really good in the moment. I remember going out we a we had like champagne and didn't feel like weird, even though it's broke at this point. zero dollar like Got it. Got it? Because I think people do think Yeah, like, once you become debt free The world is your oyster, which it is. But you have to like start building, you know, you got to build that oyster up. At least now you're like at zero, actually heard something last night about a guy saying this millionaire saying like, Oh, he's better off than me, this guy, this homeless man in the park, because I have, you know, a negative net worth of millions of dollars because of X, Y and Z investments. And this guy is probably closer to zero. And it kind of puts things into perspective. If you think about it, it's like, oh, you know, so that my dad definitely was keeping me in the negative and then it pushed me to zero. So at least I had a clean slate. But yeah, it felt it felt good. I didn't celebrate it long enough. But it felt really good. Because I was already on to the next site. Now I can say to quit my job.

Michael Lacy 37:29

Walk me through that part, like what was going on in your career that made you say, yeah, I'm, I'm over this, I'm done, I'm ready for something different.

Carmen Perez from Make Real Cents 37:37

Um, I had just gotten to the point where I was working a lot of hours, I was extremely stressed. So I was in a role that spanned a different time zones. I had a European counterpart, we were doing the same thing, taking on a lot of clients. And it was just getting to be very stressful, it was kind of more towards the sides of like sales and trading. That's not what I did. But I supported the sales and treat the sales teams and the traders. And it just becomes like very stressful, especially when you kind of feel like understaffed to an extent. So that coupled with like just a very toxic work environment. I'm just comments that I had heard things that had been said. And the place that I was at was not representative at all of any any person that I look like I could name probably call out five people of color on the floor that I worked at, at this particular firm. And it was just becoming exhausting, like putting on this kind of always having to switch to corporate vernacular, when you walk through the door and having to put a smile on your face regardless of what's going on, you know, behind closed doors, aka me drowning in debt. Regardless of like, whatever your personal finance situation is, you're going out to these very expensive lunches, lunch, and sometimes you put it on the corporate card and and other times everyone splits the bill. And it's like, you know, we go and get all these really expensive steaks, and I'm a vegetarian, but we're still going to split it, you know. So it was just it was a lot of pressure to keep up with something that I just wasn't passionate about. I didn't feel like I was really contributing by sitting in a desk, helping someone else make money. And some people really thrive at doing that. And they do it very well. I just I it started becoming very draining. I started becoming somebody that I was not. And that was like a big sign for me. I was big on it was I was unbecoming. I started not necessarily wanting to be like the best team player. And I started picking up the attitudes of the people around me. And then that's when I felt like that started to you know, sink in. Yeah, so that was that was like okay, it's it's time like you you've never been like this. You've always been 100% you gonna stay till like the project gets done you no matter what it is, whether you like it or not, you always give 110% I just started feeling that slipping and that made me feel even worse.

Michael Lacy 40:11

So did you start to feel that prior to your debt free journey or while you were on your debt free journey,

Carmen Perez from Make Real Cents 40:17

both in the end, and I think too, so I'll say take it all the way back mister money mustache coupled with the fact that I was not in a good spot. I think that that like, pushed me and motivated me to like, I know this, isn't it, it's going to help me get to wherever I want to be. But I know this, isn't it. So the only way that I can get out of this is if I pay off all this debt. And I'm not tied to this anymore. It's not like this, you know, cash cow for me, that I see as this like golden handcuffs, right? And yeah, so that was it. I had already, I was tired of not seeing faces and people that look like me, I was tired of just the toxic work environments that I was in. And then there was like, microaggressions, and all that stuff. And it just starts wearing on you after some time. So yeah, by the time I had become, I thought it was soul crushing that my debt free date had gotten pushed out. Because I didn't think I was going to be able to last like, past June, I paid off my debt in September, and I did when I tell you is the biggest struggle for me to just not get up and quit my job, I got to the point where it was like, every Monday, I'd be ready to be in tears or Sunday night, just like I don't want to go to that place.

Michael Lacy 41:31

You know, that's really important. Because back in May, like right after the whole George Floyd thing, I recorded an episode where I talked about how financial independence can be a form of social activism. And I specifically called out toxic workplace culture. Like the fact that, you know, you can see somebody that looks like you get murdered and justly received no justice, and then you have to show up to work on Monday morning, and act like everything's okay. Because if you don't, if you show your real emotions, the struggles that you actually face, when it's review time that gets held against you, and that cost real dollars on the back end. Yeah. So I'm glad you touched on that. Because like, again, that's a very real, that's a very real problem that we deal with, and that we face, and it affects our dollars, which affects our wealth and affects our net worth. And so with that, like I want to, obviously you you end up leaving that career. What was the motivation for you to go into the tech space, though, like you did?

Carmen Perez from Make Real Cents 42:31

Yeah. So I knew early on in high school, I knew that you can make a lot of money in finance, right? That was the literally and I was good with math. And I was like, ooh, my, my teacher had told me a story about some penny stock, he invested in and made a bunch of money and then lost it all. And I was really intrigued by that. So it was some engine that made the world go round, which is money, the markets, everything that we touch basically has to do with it. So I said, cool, I want to do that. Because then I know I'll be able to take care of my mom down the road and all this stuff, like I'll make a good salary. So that's why I initially picked finance. Then I started looking at tax and seemed like the writing on the wall. As far as like, I was always good with Excel. That's my that was my intro into tech, I was always the go to person for like formulas, all that stuff, reporting metrics, all that jazz, self taught, figured all that out. And that's a huge commodity in finance. If you know Excel, you're like always the that's why I always got put on projects, essentially, because they're like, okay, she can manipulate this data in a way that makes sense. And she can do it quickly. So I started seeing the writing on the wall at the last firm that I was at with the traders and the algos, the algorithms kind of moving at the same pace, if not a little bit faster than the traders not as relative to like actual trading time, but like the development and the speed at which these trading algorithms are starting to be developed and coming out the door quickly all these firms returning to robo advisors, all the stuff. So I started seeing this, like, maybe this industry is going to possibly it's not going to go away completely, absolutely not. But I do think there's it's going to be harder to thrive. in finance, especially regardless, it's hard to thrive in any industry, the higher you go. And then especially the higher you go as a person of color, it's even harder. So I thought hey, picking up a dish and additional skill would be very good. And I kind of like this and I see it as the writing's on the wall. It's the wave of the future. And oh you just so happen to be able to make an exponential amount of money in tech if you want to, if you I think not want but if you like really put your best foot forward and you know figure out different languages and yada yada yada there's potential for large incomes within this field as well. And Case in point it makes the world go round as well tech does. Um, so that was like my big like, this is something I should get into so I can kind of hedge against my career growth later on in life. At least I will have been in the tech field for, you know, 10 plus years and not relative to any of my counterparts who have who have been coding since they were like three. But it was, it was a way for me to hedge against like later in life, career transitions or, you know, just hedging out. And I saw actually one trader that had been there that the firm that I was at for 20 years, get laid, laid off, and I was just like, this is interesting.

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Michael Lacy 45:28

Okay, so, I know, like, I get bombarded with these Facebook ads for like these coding boot camps all the time. And I know that was part of your experience. So can you talk a little bit about going through that and then getting that first job, because I know just from people that I know who've gone that route, it can be tough actually breaking into that industry. So talk a little bit about your experience of really getting your foot into the door,

Carmen Perez from Make Real Cents 45:54

thank you so much for that, because it is important, I think that you know, these boot camps are sold. But any tech job, your first tech job, whether you have a CS degree or not, from what I understand it is challenging, because they want an intern who pay $10 an hour that has three years of experience plus a PhD in computer science. You know, coupled with they know 18 different competing languages, just to get that internship. So getting your first job in tech, whether it be a CS, you've gone the computer science route and got a degree in that or you're self taught or you've gone to a boot camp is just challenging period, no matter what age, what skill set. So I went to a coding boot camp that was three months was an intensive, immersive three month program, where we were doing 40 hours a week in the class. And then anywhere between, I don't know any given night, I was maybe doing three to five hours of work plus the weekend, in the weekend, meaning like, these are like long hours, these are the bigger projects, a great way to get your foot in the door as far as like get your, the the ground lay the groundwork for coding. And then it's really on you to just be ambitious enough to continue to go past that and continue to code continue to learn on your own. So I did that coding boot camp from September 2019 to December 2019, I got a job offer. From actually one of the guys that used to work in finance, he saw my Forbes article, and he gave me a call and said, Hey, I checked you out on LinkedIn, we have a similar background, we both went to the same coding boot camp, we dropped out of Wall Street basically in our coding, would you be interested in working at this startup? And I was like, Yeah, absolutely. I just need a job. I just whatever I can do in tech, I'm going to be super excited. Because I don't know, I don't know what I don't know. So anything like cool. So got the job, worked at that startup and then got laid off in May.

Michael Lacy 48:00

So I mean, what have you been up to? Since since losing your job? Because you went through this intensive process, like if leaving your career going through the boot camp, getting that getting your foot in the door in this industry? What was that like?

Carmen Perez from Make Real Cents 48:13

Um, this is the first time so I struggled a little bit from a self esteem standpoint, because it was one of the first times where I didn't have this is like, Did I make the right decision. Now I put forth all of these like, good seeds, and I've sewed all this good stuff I've you know, gotten myself out of debt, my credit completely transformed. I was very successful well to my, again, to my for my perception within my career. And then I took this big leap, getting laid off and like just all of like COVID. And this is for everybody. I put me in a very weird headspace because then I started backtracking and my mind Did I make the right decision? Is this a mistake is this for me like, now it's hard for me to get a job in tech, because now I have this like, you know, five months, six months experience, but it's not like a year where all these job descriptions are requiring a year plus for junior position. So it's just like this weird conundrum that I was in for a little bit. My headspace was to be 100% it was just like, did I feel like, Am I a failure now? Like, you know, I switch careers. And I don't know if I made the right decision. Okay, I got over that home. And I said, Now this will actually give me time to start implementing the very thing that I went into coding to do. Hands down. This is the only reason why because I'm like, I'm not going to be able to afford to pay somebody this. I want to learn it. This is going to be job security. It's going to help me this skill is going to be you know, helped me astronomically. Let's just go for it. So then that's when I started budget better I pitched it in May to a black incubator black investors Club in LA got third place. So I'm a big fan of like taking that leap. It happened when I moved from New York to Florida to New York got that $80,000 salary. I put that on a vision board. That was that was what I wanted that first hurdle if I would have been like, yeah, I'll take it with that lower salary. I don't know where I'd be right now. held out that higher salary phone call came through literally days later, exactly what I want. And I said, Okay, cool. I'm going to take this leap. And that was me saying, like, I knew Florida, wasn't it for me anymore. Next was fast forward to getting out of finance, going into tech, just take the leap, calm, take the leap. I said, Okay, I'm gonna do it, I'm going to save the money, I'm going to quit my job, I'm going to get into tech, get a phone call, hey, they're offering a free coding boot camp in Stamford, Connecticut, you're if you're a resident of Connecticut, you can take the the coding boot camp, that's usually 15 to $18,000 for the three months for free, okay, so I was like, Alright, I know that I'm on the right path, I just have to trust it. So that's when I got over the hump of like, you got laid off, because then then fast forward, I was stressed about getting a job, get a job instantly. And I'm not taking any of this for granted, then obviously get laid off from the job. But, you know, it's it's one of those things again, you you take the leap and you have to constantly remind yourself like you've been okay, well, at least for me, I've been okay. And I if as long as you trust that voice, that's like letting you know and guiding you that if you have enough faith to leap, we'll figure it out. So the password may pitch in a contest got third place. And this is the first time I ever pitched to investors ever, there was 11 companies 12 companies that made it to the final round. This is the first time I'd ever This was my idea at this point, pitched this idea to anybody, even pitch period to investors is crazy, I got third place. These other two people that want these, they're two women, two women of color. They want they had pitch before, like you know here and there, they had gone through accelerators, they have this training, like I had nothing under my belt. So first place prize was going to be you get in to this accelerator. And it's a business accelerator that helps you either get your idea off the ground, or gives you more guidance and access to resources to be able to continue to build out your business. The first place winner had already gone through this accelerator. So disqualified. They this particular accelerator, so they're like, Okay, well move the price down, they had said this at the beginning, we'll move the price down of the accelerator if the person who wins has already gone through it the second person. So the second place winner

had had gone through the accelerator. Bam, I was next on the list and let me tell you, you you'll get rewarded. And again, I was feeling so shaky. And then I reminded myself like, Look this, everything has panned out so perfectly to this point. Why are you stressing, like, come on, cry about it, tie yourself on the back, like it's time to just keep moving and keep your head on shoulders and keep it going. And that's what ended up happening. I got into this business accelerator for budget better. It was a program grid 110 out of South LA it was an accelerator for people in South LA, I'm in Connecticut. And I told them I said look, the only reason why I wanted to do this contest is to win first place so I can get into this accelerator. I didn't realize it was like location based. That was like kind of left out. And it worked. They said yeah, we'll have you as long as you're fine with signing on pretty late at night. So I get on calls from 10 to 12 at night, but it's worth it to me they've helped push the budget better like 100 fold I can't even thank them enough for it again to your point it's just that exposure that access that programs like this are just are killing it and it makes me so when I get to the point where I can give back in a meaningful meaningful way like this and I know any dollar you know helps. I want to be able to create a program like this.

Michael Lacy 54:08

You just put a fantastic bow on all of this and tied everything we talked about together so I'm gonna wrap it up right there but before I do, I want to give you the opportunity to let people know not only where they can find you but where they can learn more about budget better.

Carmen Perez from Make Real Cents 54:24

Yeah, so I'm at all things make girl sense. So make real and then since as in like change, so C E and t s. So make girlfriends.com on Instagram make real sense. I caught up on Instagram. I like to make money fun. So just a fair warning for everyone who's looking to follow me I do like to do a mix of informative and fun posts.

Michael Lacy 54:47

They know that it's done.

Carmen Perez from Make Real Cents 54:50

Um, and you can learn about budget better at WWW dot budget better.io we plan on launching a very basic minimum viable product is the industry likes to say, in October, late October, early November of this year, it will roll out as a web app and then turn into mobile app. But it is a essentially a budget better is a social budgeting app, that we aim to automate the tedious parts of personal finance, like creating a budget or a plan to get out of debt, while fostering a sense of accountability through community. So you'll be able to connect with like minded people on the platform, create your budget, figure out where you're at, put a plan in place, and it's all done for you through an educational way.

Michael Lacy 55:36

Why you guys know how big I am on budgeting, community accountability, all of that, so be sure you go check everything out. I'm gonna link to everything Carmen just mentioned in the show notes. But Carmen, thank you so much for coming on, and recording with me. It's been an absolute pleasure and a blast to talk to you today.

Carmen Perez from Make Real Cents 55:53

Thank you so much for having me. I greatly appreciate it.

Unknown Speaker 55:59

You've wrapped up another episode of the winning to wealth podcast. To learn more about how you can start making winning money decisions head over to winning to wealth.com

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