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These must-follow F.I.R.E folks (Financial Independence Retire Early) are setting the stage to retire the term "retirement"—for good.

By Nafeesah Allen
March 11, 2021
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When my mother handed me a copy of Suze Orman's Women & Money in college, she thought she was giving me a leg up. After all, her parents never taught her anything about money. She cashed savings bonds to fund the down payment on our childhood home. Spendthrift frugality and dutiful contributions to her 401(k) helped stave off lifestyle creep as she worked her way up from a typist to a techie. As a Black woman in 1980s fintech, she was ahead of her time, but also severely underpaid. Yet the promise of a dignified retirement became her pot of gold.  

When I, her free-spirited eldest, finally landed a 9-to-5, my mom let out a church shout: "I thought you'd never get a job with a retirement plan!" Previously convinced that I would artsy my way through adulthood, she promptly advised that I read Orman's book. "Sock away just enough to make the company match for retirement," she insisted. I complied, but was never convinced that I liked this bargain—after all, age 65 felt like a lifetime away. Surely that was too late to finally stop working for someone else?

One thing this past year has hammered home for many of us is that we can no longer use our parents' personal finance models to navigate this brave new world—in which a pandemic rages, student debt is high, job security is low, and womxn and people of color now have published pay gaps to support decades-long rumors of chronic under-earning. The welcomed rise of a new set of "money gurus" has made space for those of us who don't look or think like Dave Ramsey to increase our net worth, improve money habits, and finally retire the term "retirement"—for good.

early-retirement-BIPOC-influencers
Credit: https://www.hisandhermoney.com/

These must-follow financial independence (F.I.) influencers are setting the pace for a more diversified personal money management community that corresponds with today's realities. 

Talaat and Tai

The His & Her Money Show is a household name in personal finance for couples, especially ones with very different money habits. Although they both grew up in similar households, Talaat and Tai McNeely had different perspectives on money. Tai, who was debt free, agreed to tackle Talaat's debt with him and within their first year of marriage they knocked out $30,000. They credit debt diligence and open dialogue with balance in their marriage.  

Since 2014, they’ve grown their podcast and YouTube community to nearly 200K subscribers intent on bridging the intersection between family, finance, and faith. Their show highlights different people’s stories of debt freedom, making the dream of financial independence more proximate. “We get numerous messages from people who look just like us and are encouraged and inspired that they can do what we've done, because we've shown them it is possible.” When asked about their retirement philosophy, they advise, “Financial freedom is when you have the ability to do whatever you want on your own terms without finances being a culprit or a hindrance to your desires. Retirement then becomes a choice and not a deadline.”   

Paula Pant

Born in Kathmandu, Nepal, Paula Pant was just 2 months old when her parents immigrated to the United States. “I was growing up while they were just starting their lives in America. A lot of people get their first car when they're 16 or 17, I was there when my parents did it in their 40s and when they bought their first starter home. My dad was 50 when he opened a retirement account for the first time. I saw that as the immigrant experience. An extremely frugal lifestyle really rubbed off on me.”

Realizing that penny pinching was causing her anxiety, 20-something Paula set out to achieve financial independence, mainly through investing in real estate and ETFs. “I knew that I was never going to have a high paying career. I was so scared about my lifetime earning ability that I tried to cling to every penny as tightly as I could, but that led to chasing pennies at the expense of dollars,” she says. Today, Paula runs “Afford Anything,” an online community of over 11,000 members, who exchange everything from spreadsheets to stock tips to help average people reach their “F.I. number.” This personalized number is the amount of savings and passive income needed to feel like you have “enough.” Rather than bickering over the semantics of retirement, Paula encourages followers to define “enough” today and to go after it now. “From that point forward, you can do whatever you'd like,” she says.  

Jully-Alma Taveras

Like Paula, Jully-Alma Taveras also got her start in real estate investing, but she soon became more intrigued by the stock market and doubled down on building her own business, Investing Latina. The self-proclaimed “JLo of Personal Finance” leverages Instagram and online workshops to reach her audience of over 35,000 followers. Most are eager millennials searching for financial independence amid a turbulent job market. “I wanted to speak to women, I want to speak to immigrants, to people that have unique paths and also who want to build unique strategies that don't follow some sort of one-size-fits-all approach," she says. "I started The Investing Workshop so that people can have a place to start. After they start, I want them to know that they can create a strategy that fits their needs precisely. I want people to enjoy having money conversations, not to dread it or be afraid or be ashamed.”

Her approach to retirement is to lead with simplicity: “When I used to think about the word retirement, I thought of old, wrinkled people sitting in a rocking chair. As I get closer to financial freedom, I see it completely differently. I see myself much younger, enjoying time with my family. Financial freedom means joy and happiness. It means finding creative ways to enjoy life without having to spend a ton of money.”  

Cinneah El-Amin

Cinneah El-Amin (pronounced sin-EE-uh el-AH-meen) is a descendant of generations of free and enslaved Black people who were brought to the Mid-Atlantic and Southern states. Her ancestors later migrated to Baltimore, where her maternal great-grandmother raised seven children on a working class income in the 1930s-40s. Cinneah became passionate about financial independence in 2018, after she’d had her fill of burnout and debt overwhelm. She still has a salaried job, but she’s grown the @fly.nanced footprint to well over 20K people. Her mission is to show that Black people can eliminate "struggle" from their vocabulary.

“I also see financial freedom as a form of rest for Black folx. Our bodies have historically been used for labor,” she says. “Black women continue to be some of the most overworked individuals in our society. When we can achieve financial freedom, we can rest without guilt or financial worry. I define retirement as the point at which I will no longer work for my living. I fully expect to continue earning income when I retire early, but I will no longer have to work to survive.” Cinneah offers travel hack workshops and debt-freedom best practices as a blueprint to shorten the amount of time people spend in formal employment. She now sees this work as a personal quest to break generations of poverty in her own family and in others. 

 

Gull Khan

When someone tells you that they use “energy tools to exponentially grow your business and attract greater quality and quantity of wealth,” you might imagine something of a 1990s pyramid scheme mixed with hokey money affirmations. The Money Mindset Podcast with Gull Khan is nothing of the sort. Instead, Gull focuses on financial discipline, alongside much-needed money mindset re-education.

If you’ve never heard of money stories, toxic money, and bad relationships with money, you should start with episode one and work your way through all 107 (and counting). Her personal finance journey started when she was in her 30s. Although she was a “successful” property millionaire and trained lawyer in the UK, she found herself a twice-divorced, single mom of two, struggling to maintain her reputation and her identity within the South Asian community. Determined to break a cycle of domestic violence, she overcame bad marriages and “energy blocks” to turn her whole life around. Her online community is all about accountability. Members set awe-inspiring goals that require outpacing cultural norms and decimating inherited money blocks.

Kristy and Bryce

“At one point, my family lived on the equivalent of $0.44 USD a day, so I spent part of my life in extreme poverty, then middle class, and now wealthy,” explains Kristy Shen. “It's because of my journey from poverty to millionaire that I realized that some of the skills that you acquire in poverty (like the creativity that comes from living on nothing) can actually be an advantage that other people who grew up richer don't have. On the other hand, my cultural background actually hurt me on my F.I.R.E. (financial independence retire early) journey because in Chinese culture it's totally normal to put all your money into a house. So that's a part of my culture that I had to actively suppress. But I guess everyone's background is a double-edged sword. You have to learn which parts of your culture to suppress and which ones to encourage.”

Kristy Shen and Bryce Leung wrote this generation’s veritable bible on “geographic arbitrage,” a financial freedom technique that entails earning in high value currency and spending in low value currency, a lifestyle that so many people covet in retirement. “We found a way to apply the principles of FIRE and combined it with digital nomadism. The result is a life that lets us travel perpetually and never have to worry about money. We want to spread the word of how to do this to as many people as possible.” Kristy and Bryce offer everything they teach free of charge on their “Millennial Revolution” blog, including a 60-part investing workshop.

Miguel Gomez

The U.S. trails Mexico as the country with the second largest population of Spanish-speakers (over 41 million native and 12 million second-language), but finding financial education in español is harder than you might think. Born in Mexico City, Miguel Gómez turned two bags and a dream into a personal finance platform that helps Spanish-speakers navigate money matters that are particularly difficult to understand in a second language.

While respecting the intelligence of his clients, Gómez takes on the philosophy of “explaining things like I’m talking to my mother"—and driving home the importance of personal responsibility. He focuses on the emotional side of money, making his podcast Dinero en Español particularly empowering. He also reminds listeners to invest in therapy, being mindful of mental health while on the (often stressful) journey toward achieving the American Dream. To reach financial freedom, he advises never underestimating the power of clarity, particularly “about the things that you will give your money, attention, time, and heart (MATH).”