The 10 Big Money Questions With Shammara Lawrence

I cannot tell you guys how ecstatic I am to be writing this intro right now. TFD has been growing so much this year, which is amazing on all fronts — especially because it means we get to add new team members!

I’m so thrilled to get to introduce you all to Shammara Lawrence, our new editorial assistant. Shammara is a long-time viewer and reader of TFD, and after just a week of working with us, it feels like she’s been a part of the team for much longer. I’ve been so impressed with her enthusiasm for tackling any task, and she’s been such a welcome, warm, genuine presence in the team’s day-to-day conversations. Shammara is a lifelong New Yorker and has a background in beauty and lifestyle writing, including a wonderful plus-size fashion column for Teen Vogue. In addition to assisting with the editorial process generally, she’ll also be writing for TFD often — and since so much of what she writes about centers on how to help others live their best lives, I think it’s safe to say her voice will fit in swimmingly!

In the meantime, we asked her to answer our 10 Big Money Questions as a formal introduction to the TFD community. Read on for her wonderful, thoughtful responses, and be on the lookout for more from her soon!

1. What was your relationship to money growing up?

I didn’t have the best relationship to money growing up. As a child raised in a low-income household in one of the most expensive cities in the nation (NYC), I had an incredibly simple-minded and negative view towards money. My mom and I always had just enough to get by. I had no understanding of what having a savings fund was because there was no surplus of money to put aside. To me, money was purely for paying bills and buying groceries to feed yourself — that’s it. It never occurred to me that money could serve as a vehicle for creating a fulfilling life for yourself, in addition to covering your basic necessities.

2. Do you feel, looking back, like you got a good education about money, either at home or at school?

Yes, but not in the way you would expect. Growing up, I learned what not to do with money. My mother wasn’t the best at her finances, and in the rare circumstances she did have extra money for the month than we were used to, she’d often spend it on material items to lift her spirits. Listen, I totally get it — sometimes material possessions bring us much-needed joy, but it’s the fleeting kind. All of this to say, I was never formally taught by her or teachers in school about balancing a checkbook, the importance of a savings account, what 401Ks and investments are, or any basic financial jargon I think most people should know.

3. If you have debt, what are your strategies and philosophies for paying it down?

I really like the debt snowball strategy that involves paying off your loans from smallest to largest. I’m someone who needs immediate satisfaction, and that method works best for me. Right now, I’m paying off my smallest debt, which is my credit card, and then I’m going to pay off my student loans (which, thankfully, aren’t that much compared to the national average).

4. What is your current job (or jobs!), and how did you get to where you are today in your career?

I’m currently the editorial assistant for The Financial Diet and a freelance writer all over the Internet. *Happy Dance* Prior to that, I was the digital editorial assistant to Phillip Picardi, the then-digital director of Allure & Teen Vogue. Besides managing his calendar (and his life, really), I contributed to both sites. That’s when I learned I have a deep love for beauty. Seriously, never ask me about my favorite makeup or skincare brands — I won’t stop talking. Before entering the “real world,” I was an undergraduate at NYU studying media studies, and that really opened up my eyes to all of the great careers I could have in media, like being a writer and editor.

5. When was the first time you negotiated for yourself, at work or otherwise? Can you tell us a bit about that?

To be honest, I’m terrible at negotiating. I always feel so lucky to be offered a job in this economy that I don’t want to ruin it by asking for more money even if my credentials or experience warrant it. Luckily, though, I have great friends who push me to ask for what I’m worth if the offer on the table doesn’t seem reasonable. Recently, I successfully negotiated an extra $100  for an article in a major publication. I was incredibly proud of myself that I did it despite my reservations and anxiety that they would kill the story then and there.

6. What is something you understand about money now that you wish you had before you graduated from school and entered the “real” world?

Most savings advice is utter crap. So many people in the U.S., specifically, are living in poverty or are just one catastrophe away from having their entire world upended. Simply put: you can’t save any money when you don’t even have enough to cover your bills. Cutting back on Starbucks coffee may help slightly, but there’s a bigger issue at hand that so many financial experts gloss over. It drives me nuts! I only started meaningfully contributing to a savings account a couple of months ago because all of my energy and resources were going towards simply surviving. We don’t talk about situations like that enough.

7. What is one of your biggest money-related mistakes that you’ve made? What did you learn from it, and what do you do differently now?

Hands down, spending around $3,000 on food over the course of six months because of a binge-eating disorder. I had a terrible bout of depression during my junior year of college and instead of seeking out professional help or support from my loved ones, I ate and ate and ate my feelings. It kind of embarrasses me now to think about how much food I’d buy every day back then. I also never cooked out of sheer laziness. As a result, I accumulated a little over $3,000 in credit card debt, which I’m finally paying down and should be finished with by end of the year. If there’s anything I learned from that period, it’s that you can seriously develop an addiction pretty quickly, even if you think that would never happen to you. I also learned that I need to be more forthright with myself about my emotions. If I had, I may never have spiraled as much as I did.

8. What is one big financial goal you still have for yourself? Are you currently using any concrete strategies to pursue it?

I still really want to live in a European city in my late twenties, preferably London. I need to sit down and come up with a concrete budget to turn that dream into a reality.

9. How do you deal with financial setbacks when they happen?

Truthfully, I cry at first. I’m a deeply emotional person — I’m not afraid to admit it, okay? Once the frustration has passed, I start reassessing my budget and ruthlessly cut back on expenditures that are a bit unnecessary so I can get back on track to hit my financial goals. If that method doesn’t work and there isn’t much leeway in my budget, I usually look for a side hustle or two (mystery shopping is a great example!) for extra income. It’s a surefire way to regain my financial footing.

10. What is your personal definition of success, and do you consider yourself successful?

In my opinion, success is being genuinely happy with all aspects of your life from your career to your relationships with friends and family. Sounds cliché, sure, but a successful life to me is one that’s genuinely fulfilling, brings you joy more times than not, and means you’re able to afford all of the necessities you need, with some splurges here and there. I haven’t quite found “success” as of yet (there’s a lot to work on internally), but I’m working on achieving it every day. That said, success isn’t one big abstract destination I’m working towards. It also looks different for everyone. Certain periods of life will be more “successful” than others, and that’s okay. Ultimately, the goal, for me, is to feel like I’ve truly experienced everything I’ve wanted to, so by the time I’m on my deathbed, I can look back in awe and delight that I’ve made the most of my time here while I was alive.

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