PERSONAL SPACE: Money vs. Wealthy

Editor-in-Chief Amy DuBois Barnett

About five years ago, a good friend called me with wonderful news: She’d gotten a huge promotion at her job that gave her the six-figure salary she had always dreamed of. “I can buy that apartment now,” she gushed. “And I can finally take that trip to Italy!” “I’m so happy for you,” I replied. “And you finally can pay off those crazy credit card bills!” You see, this friend had always maintained a difficult relationship with her wallet, dating from our college days. She had thought of credit as free money, never truly calculating the real cost of the designer clothes and expensive meals she was charging. After graduation, reality hit hard, and she would spend the next decade struggling to pay her monthly bills, even while steadily climbing the ladder at a wellknown marketing firm.

With the new job, her spending spree continued. She used her signing bonus to pay for a luxurious trip to Capri for herself and her man. Then she bought an apartment in a new high-rise with sky-high prices to match. When the dust settled, the signing bonus was gone and her monthly bills were still at the very edge of what her salary could sustain. 

Well, I’m sure you can imagine what happened next. The recession worsened and because she was the last hired at her new company, she was the first to be let go when it decided to downsize. Despite the prime location and “name” architect, my friend’s high-rise remained half empty, and the building owners slashed the prices on the remaining apartments to get them off the market. Of course, that meant that if my friend had to sell her place, it would be at a huge loss. To make matters more complex, she and her man decided to get married and had just found out that she was pregnant. It was a financial disaster, and the last thing they needed as they were starting a family.

Unfortunately, my girl’s story is far from unique. Our community has been disproportionately ravaged by the recession, and many of us have lost jobs, homes, savings accounts—and, sadly, the pride and confidence that go with being able to support our families. Yet, even though we all know people whose financial circumstances have been drastically altered, there are those among us who have not learned the lesson that the economic climate is teaching: There is a huge difference between money and wealth.

It frustrates me to see so many of us value the instant gratification of money when we should be seeking wealth and its long-term benefits. Money is a diamond-encrusted watch flashing on the wrist of someone who rents his home, leases her fresh-off-the-line car and has no savings. Wealth is the ability to contribute to your retirement fund, own a home with a monthly payment that you can comfortably afford, donate to charity and send your kids to the best schools possible to ensure their future success. Money is fun—but wealth is forever.

This issue is devoted to Black wealth, and to ensuring that we are empowered with the information and tools to make the best financial decisions possible. At the same time, I know we like nice things, so this issue is also full of fabulous indulgences for you to splurge on. We just want you to be smart about how you spend your money. Pay your bills, enroll your kids in brain-boosting activities, contribute to your retirement fund, shore up your emergency account—and then take that Caribbean vacation you’ve been dreaming about! 

E-mail amy@ebony.com or hit me up on Twitter @amydbarnett to tell me about your plans to develop wealth for your family.