We’re back at it with another incredible creative and small business owner for the Quill Collective Guest Expert Series, a recurring series where I chat with inspiring business owners about how they got their start, their area of expertise, and valuable lessons they’ve learned along the way.
In this episode we chat with the incredible Ayana Campbell-Smith, both the mastermind and coach behind Millennial Money Guide, a platform that helps millennial women and couples become empowered with their personal finances and a talented Creative Director and UX designer. We dive into all things money and mindset around finances, budgeting, balancing work, and how her design talents have meshed with her passion for money education. Let’s get right into it!
Q: Can you tell us a little about your business and where you’re located?
A: My name is Ayana Campbell-Smith and I am a debt-free Money Coach and the founder of Millennial Money Guide based in the Cleveland, Ohio area! I help millennial women and couples to get unstuck with their finances so that they can become financially empowered, ditch debt, use budgeting, and start winning with their money. Beyond my work as a Money Coach, I also work full-time as a Creative Director & UX/UI designer so I’m just super excited to be talking to this community as it merges two of my passions!
Q: That’s incredible and it’s so cool how you tap into both sides of the brain — your analytical and creative side. Going off of that, can you share with us more about your background and how you got into design and money coaching?
A: Of course! It’s been a bit of a winding road, which I’m sure is relatable for many! I actually studied graphic design at the University of Central Florida and graduated in 2014. I immediately entered the workforce as an associate creative working at a local agency in building websites and products for clients in that space. Originally from Orlando, I then landed the role at my current company Indie Labs, where I still work as a Creative Director but remotely.
My journey with Millennial Money Guide and money coaching began really organically. Around 2019 I recognized that I had a deep interest in personal finances and so I was sitting on the couch, likely watching Downton Abbey, and just brain-dumping this list of personal finance topics that were either interesting to me or of interest to other millennials trying to get more control over their finances. I’d done some research and immersed myself in personal finance education, and through that experience realized this is really valuable, important information that we do not learn in school. So I had a note on my phone with around 30 topics and just felt that I couldn’t sit on this information, it needed to be shared.
At the same time, being a designer and a creative person, I had been searching for a creative outlet outside of my 9-5 and this felt right for that. I decided I wanted something that was a low barrier to entry, and not too involved. I toyed with a Youtube channel but it was not for me, and ended up focusing on social media and an email list. It’s really just grown organically from there as I’ve shared from my heart knowledge and insight on these topics. As I began to get more comfortable and realized I could help more folks on either a 1:1 basis or in a group as a coach, that’s when I began to dive into offering my services as a money coach.
Q: As a money coach for millennials and couples, you promote a holistic, balanced approach to personal finances. Talk to us about what that means for you and your clients.
A: Definitely! So my whole philosophy when it comes to money is this idea of balance, whatever that looks like for you. I think that there are many schools of thought when it comes to how you can manage your finances — some that are very restrictive and others that are a bit more lax. I try to find a happy middle ground which takes a holistic approach in all aspects. Whether it’s saving money, being on a budget, paying down debt, or even working on your mindset around money, I truly believe that everyone’s journey is different when it comes to personal finances and there’s not really a one-size-fits all solution.
But there are proven methods and systems around managing your money that work consistently, like budgeting, and so I like to lean on those to teach. But it all comes from the perspective of making sure it aligns with the way that you want to spend or save your money and your overarching goals. It all comes together as part of a larger puzzle, but it really does come back to the idea of balance with your money and the strategies that you use.
Q: What is the biggest misconception people have about budgeting?
A: The biggest one that I see is that many people feel like using a budget means that you’re restricting yourself in some way, and I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. I think that the word “budget” has really gotten a bad rep over time, but budgeting is actually awesome and once you get the hang of it, it’s really empowering and it frees you to actually enjoy the money that you work hard to earn. To me, my definition of budgeting is simply a plan for how your money is going to be spent during a given period of time, nothing more and nothing less. It’s less about the restrictions and more about really knowing where every last cent is going, creating an intentional plan for it, and then holding yourself accountable to that plan.
Q: That’s such a good mindset shift around that term, budgeting! So saving and planning go hand in hand with achieving many of the money goals we have. Can you share with the audience why focusing on saving is so important and this concept of paying yourself first?
A: For sure! Saving is such an important topic and habit to get into when trying to reach your bigger financial goals. We can look not so far in the past to Covid and so many people losing their jobs unexpectedly as an example of why it’s so important to have strong savings for emergency situations and promote stability. Beyond that, it’s also a really great way to use our money as a tool and put it to work for us as opposed to just working for our money and living to pay bills.
When we’re talking about paying yourself first, it’s essentially a method of saving that prioritizes you and your needs and goals before anything else. Every time you get a paycheck or close out a project with a client, you’re setting aside a specific portion of that money from the very beginning for a saving goal you’re working towards. It’s a great way of ensuring that your money is being set aside for the right things. Instead of waiting to decide what amount of money to save or if you can even save at all, you prioritize savings first. And as you begin to get into the habit of saving this way, you’ll find that your spending and other money habits adjust to accommodate this practice. I don’t think many people would say they regret building a savings or paying themselves first in this way. I definitely recommend the book, “Automatic Millionaire” to anyone looking to learn more about this topic. I love it so much, my husband and I were able to save and invest over $40,000 last year so it definitely works!
Q: Going off of that, what are your thoughts on saving versus investing? And when should someone focus on one versus the other?
A: It’s difficult to say, but both saving and investing involve many of the same good habits but they serve different purposes. For saving, I think of it as saving towards the short and long term goals you might have and tangible things that you’re going to be paying for in the nearish future. This could look like saving for a vacation, a down payment for a house, or a new car.
When it comes to investing, I think that’s more about really being mindful and building wealth while preparing for the future. Investing looks more to the long-term plan, and using money to grow so that you can retire and not have to work until you’re 100!
In order to figure out when you’re ready to invest, that’s another thing that’s a little difficult to pinpoint exactly. It definitely depends on your personal circumstances, what you’re comfortable with and your risk factor, but I would say that the rule of thumb is to start investing as soon as you can because that’s the longer that you’ll have for that compound interest and those returns to really grow the money over time.
Q: Strict personal finance advice can sometimes feel overwhelming and a little unrealistic. Talk to us about how you plan ahead and eliminate some of that stress by using both “Treat Yourself Funds” + “Sinking Funds” and what those are?
A: Let’s start with explaining sinking funds. A sinking fund is essentially money that is intentionally set aside for a future known expense. Oftentimes we view saving as something for emergency funds where you plan to not touch that money, but a sinking fund is for that known expense that you have coming up. A great example of this could be budgeting and saving for new tires for your car or an updated wardrobe. Sinking funds are a great way to intentionally set aside money at a regular interval to a sacred, separate space so that the money is ready for you for that planned purchase when you need it.
A “Treat Yourself” Fund is a type of Sinking Fund, and one of my favorite types! It’s essentially money that you can spend guilt-free since it’s a fund that you’re devoted to putting money into at regular intervals, same as the Sinking Fund. For example in my personal finances, I set aside $100 for every paycheck that I receive to my sinking fund, and it just continues to grow over time. That way if I’m at the mall or on vacation and see something that I love, I know I can do it guilt-free because I have the money to use for it. Since it’s completely separate, it’s great because you know this purchase won’t encroach on the bigger money goals you have either as an individual or as a couple.
Q: For people just getting started with saving more seriously, are there some banks you love to recommend?
A: I recommend keeping savings or sinking funds in what is called a High Yield Savings account. These accounts are typically through an online bank and because of that they don’t carry as many costs that come with a traditional brick and mortar banking experience. They pass that onto you, the user, through higher interest rates that you can’t get on Savings accounts at places like Chase, Bank of America, or Wells Fargo. With a High Yield Savings account, the rates have dropped a bit because of Covid, you can have around 1 — 1.5% interest rates. It’s a great place to keep your money safe and sacred, while earning a little extra off of interest. The two online banks that I recommend are Ally and SoFi. They’re both really great because while they offer one big bank account, you can create little buckets within that account to really break down your budgeting goals. You can have one account and under it have several buckets for things like your Emergency Fund, your Treat Yourself Fund, Future Car Maintenance, or even Christmas present shopping. It’s useful to keep your money organized and avoid accidentally dipping into your savings.
Q: What is the most common limiting belief around money you’ve seen with your clients and how have they begun to overcome it?
A: Definitely the biggest one for my millennial clients relates to debt and the ability to pay it down or to become debt-free. Most of the folks I work with are either facing really large student loans or they’re regretful for past mistakes they’ve made with credit card debt. Working with my 1:1 clients we do spend a lot of time on mindset to dig in and determine what those limiting beliefs are for them, talking through the feelings surrounding those beliefs, and working towards developing new mantras by consistently writing down money affirmations to begin the process of changing those beliefs.
Q: What would be your #1 piece of advice to the new business owner feeling overwhelmed by finances?
A: That’s such a good one! I would say to definitely start with what you know. Get clear with your business numbers — your operating costs, what does your pricing and product suite look like, how much do you need each month to break even vs. a profit. These are all really important numbers to know and by starting there, you can begin to make changes and better align to the financial or business milestone goals you have. My other tip would be to get organized, whether that’s through accounting software or hiring a professional — like an accountant, a bookkeeper, a money coach. Hire out the things that overwhelm you to make sure you’re getting proper help with it.
Q: You’ve graciously offered a Budget Planning Guide for all listeners! Can you share more about it and where people can connect with you beyond this conversation?
A: Budgeting is one of my favorite topics, and I’m definitely on a mission to give it a better street name! So this 5-Step Budget Guide is designed to use with google Sheets and it helps people learn how to best make a budget that’s simple but can be built upon in the future as they get more comfortable with budgeting. I also include a few super helpful cheat sheets for formulas that come in handy when building and budgeting in Google Sheets.
And the best place to find me is on Instagram, I’m @millennialmoney.guide! I share practical tips and money advice along with pieces of my own financial journey. And definitely don’t be shy, feel free to shoot me a DM if you want to chat money or learn more about my services and what I offer!
Not yet a member of Quill Collective? Join now to get access to Ayana’s Budget Planning Guide and learn more from the rest of the incredible Guest Expert speakers!