As a young prosecutor in 2016, Nicole “Nikki” Donnell had a starting salary of $43,000 a year. Along with a low wage, Donnell was paid once a month.
She had to stretch her money over 30 to 31 days — something that, as of 2022, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found less than 5% of Americans experience.
“Right off the bat, I immediately knew, ‘Girl, you gotta budget because you have to make your money last for the entire month,’” Donnell says.
Beyond paying monthly bills and expenses, her budget served a larger purpose. She wanted to pay down $150,000 in student loan debt, build an emergency fund, start investing, travel, and move out of her parent’s house.
All of these goals come with a price. And for most of them — a hefty one.
Budgeting allowed Donnell to accomplish many of the goals she set for herself. Within a few years, she bought a house, got a dog, and paid down more than $20,000 in student loans, just to name a few. She even traveled to Cuba, England, and other destinations.
“I budget in order to live the lifestyle I want,” Donnell says, “not to be super restrictive and not be able to do anything.”
Donnell seemed to have the answer everyone was looking for: How do you live the life you want without putting yourself in a bad financial situation?
Instead of keeping her tips to herself, in 2018, she officially created Black Girl Budget.
Black Girl Budget is a passion turned full-time job. Donnell offers budget reviews and coaching, financial resources, and runs an accompanying podcast, The Black Girl Budget Podcast. She also amassed over 13,600 followers on Instagram and 30,600 followers on TikTok.
“I wanted to make sure there was a platform and a space for Black women, specifically, to ask questions, to get information, and to get it from a place of empowerment and not shame or guilt,” she says.
Changing How We Think About Budgets
While some people love them and others hate them, everyone needs a budget. A strong, thought-out budget provides a solid foundation for a prosperous financial future.
A 2023 NerdWallet report found around 74% of Americans have a monthly budget, with millennials being the most likely. However, most need help using it consistently and correctly.
Working with a CFP, an accountant, a tax consultant, or other certified financial professionals is a great idea, but that help is not accessible to everyone. Their services are an investment; one most people can’t afford to make.
Because Donnell is not a certified professional, she offers affordable alternatives with financial coaching and personalized budget reviews. Traditional financial planning services can cost between $2,500 and $4,000, if not more, depending on the service.
Donnell’s approach to coaching mixes financial literacy and planning with therapy. Finances are personal; she can be objective with her clients and help them change their mindset and relationship with money.
Some common problems Donnell sees in her work with creating budgets are overspending on eating out, too many subscriptions, high credit card utilization, and debts from buy now, pay later platforms like Klarna and Afterpay.
The missing piece of her client’s financial puzzles is a strategy that tackles their existing issues and leads to achieving future goals.
“One thing that I thought was always missing from the budgeting conversation is you can travel on a budget, you can save on a budget, and you can invest on a budget,” she says.
Black Girl Budget as a Business
All over social media there are photos of glamorous, fun trips. But what we don’t see is what it took to make it happen. The same was true for Donnell, but instead of keeping it a secret, she decided to share how she made her travel plans possible.
“I started to answer people’s questions, and by people, I mean literally friends and family,” Donnell tells Word In Black. “Then people on Instagram were like, ‘How were you able to pull off this trip?’ So I just started answering questions, and I really enjoyed it. And I really loved to see people’s light kind of go off and then to be empowered to take control of their finances.”
Her coaching service is a three-month subscription that includes a personalized budget and multiple conversations with Donnell as a form of accountability. On the other hand, the budget review service is a faster, short-term solution that includes a personalized budget to get clients on the right track.
For Donnell, financial literacy, ensuring her clients understand finance, and the tools available are essential to her services.
Bills and savings are common focuses with budgeting, but she also believes it should have room for the fun parts of life like travel or investing.
“I’m going to make sure that I’m empowering my clients as opposed to shaming or guilting them into saving, investing, or budgeting,” she says. “It’s more so going to be how can we adjust what you’re doing right now so that it benefits your budget in the end.”
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