In this episode of the Payactiv Podcast, we’re talking with Wilson Muscadin about his foundation, The Money Speakeasy, the intersection of race and personal finance, and much more. Wilson Muscadin is a financial coach and Accredited Financial Counselor®. His foundation, The Money Speakeasy, was built as a social outlet for Americans to talk about taboo financial topics like budgeting, debt, savings, credit, housing, and insurance.
Have a listen to our conversation or continue reading below.
Hello everyone. My name is Eric Rosenberg. Welcome to the brand new Payactiv podcast. At Payactiv, our motto is to live the life you’ve earned. Whether you’re someone with a full-time job who’s looking to improve your financial situation, or maybe a C-suite or HR executive who wants to help your workforce reach their best financial lives, you’ve come to the right place.
While we like to support communities of color all year round, Black History Month is a great time to take a look at the specific financial challenges and opportunities facing Black Americans today, we were lucky to have an opportunity to sit down with two amazing financial experts from the Black community to get their insights and perspectives on the biggest challenges facing Black American households, and opportunities for leaders to help those workers overcome financial challenges that are built into our economy.
So let’s dive in and sit down with our very first guest. Our first guest is Wilson Muscadin from The Money Speakeasy. He’s a husband, father, financial coach, accredited financial counselor, and regular speaker on financial topics. Without any further ado, here’s my conversation with Wilson.
Alright, everyone, we are here with Wilson, I’m so excited to have you on the podcast today. Could you tell us a little bit about The Money Speakeasy and what brought you into the personal finance community?
Absolutely. Thanks for having me.
First of all, as The Money Speakeasy sort of originated out of a desire to help folks that I didn’t feel like we’re being assisted in the way that they should. I’ve been in the financial services industry now for 20 years, and worked for very large financial services companies. And the way the financial services industry is set up, the sort of wealth inequality that we’ve all heard about and dealt with is that, companies, well within their rights, are gearing their financial services towards the top end of the spectrum. Because the dynamic is so tilted, most of the profits, and the most valuable customers, are at the top end of the economic spectrum.
But for me, as somebody that comes out of a different community, I felt like there are millions upon millions, 90% of the country, that’s being either underserved or outright ignored. And so that’s where The Money Speakeasy started out is my own personal upbringing of having a lot of money conversations with my father, I felt like a lot of these conversations weren’t happening in mainstream America. And a lot of those people that I described, that 90% of folks that either weren’t properly trained how to manage their finances, or just had questions that they had nowhere to get answers. So that’s where The Money Speakeasy originated out of.
I’m a financial coach in that regard, and help people manage what I call their Financial Fundamentals, in getting them to a place where they can elevate their financial status.
Great. So you have a lot of insight into people’s personal finances. And you’ve seen a lot across the spectrum. So you are a perfect person to give us insights into what we’re talking about today. And that is, as we all know, the financial situation for Black Americans. And while Black History Month is an important time to talk about this, it’s also important to think about and act on year round.
So Wilson, it’s 2022. And we’ve gone through some big ups and downs with COVID. The economy has seen some people do very, very well while other people have done very, very poorly. So what does it mean, in your eyes, to be Black and poor in America in 2022?
There’s a lot there. We think of our society as a whole as Americans in American culture as rich, but it’s individualistic in its nature. And I think a lot of times we think of ourselves as individuals that are part of this thing that we call “America”, but different communities have had different entry points into this American experiment.
And, and so depending on your entry point in this American experiment, you can be starting a race at a very different position than others. If you think about the period of time in history, from 1619, to the present, or just to take 1619 to, let’s say, 1965. That’s 350 years per se, of where Black Americans in particular, were not only locked out of the economy, but their labor was extracted from them. And you can argue that the wealth that we enjoy in America as the wealthiest nation in the world was built on the back of stolen labor that has not been replaced or repaid in any meaningful way, shape, or form.
And so, that deficit has impacts to today. We talk about the idea of compound interest. And if you think about compound interest, essentially, for all of us, regardless of your, your stripe, your background, all of us are playing this retirement game of, we essentially worked for 30 for 40 years, from ages 25 to 65, let’s say on average, to pay for not working from ages 65 to 95. So you’ve got 40 years to build up enough well, so that you don’t have to work for the last 30 years of your life.
You can’t do that, particularly these days without pensions by just saving dollar for dollar. You need compound interest in order for that to build, so that you have enough to save for 30 years of not working.
Think about 350 years of not only not saving, but actively your worth, your work, your workload, is actively being extracted from you, and that compounding over almost 400 years. And so that deficit, (if we’re just speaking of the economic aspect of it, let’s set aside the moral argument of it) is so large, that we’re seeing these disparities. Black Americans in particular are only in their second generation of having full civil and economic rights.
So if you think about immigrants that come to this country, a lot of them start at lower level jobs, and then their kids graduate and are able to access more of the economy, and each successive generation gets better and better.
Black Americans in particular, have a deficit of 350 years of extracted wealth, and now only are in their second generation of having full economic rights. So I think that is the context upon which it’s important to understand when we speak about the wealth gap and where Black Americans are today. I think it’s really important to understand, because a lot of times people want to just talk about today, almost in a vacuum, isolated from the context of 350 years of extracted labor. And so that, to me, doesn’t equate it doesn’t doesn’t sit right with me.
So I think the other dynamic is just in terms of this wealth inequality that was talked about before. Our access, our ability to access all the benefits of the American experiment. Those are getting harder and harder to reach, as you get lower and lower on the economic spectrum. And there’s a hollowing out of the middle classes. And we’re now in a situation where we’re experiencing some inflation, and it’s going to get even harder on top of this pandemic. And so we’ve got to think about that in terms of how that impacts certain communities of all races and backgrounds, but particularly those with less income.
Well, I think those are great insights. Thank you.
So to take it a little more personally, as a finance writer, I see a lot of those big stories. We in the finance world know the story about Black Wall Street, which if people aren’t familiar with, that’s definitely something worth reading about. It was a neighborhood where the Black community was doing really, really well financially. There were Black owned banks and other businesses, and a white mob came and totally destroyed everything murdered a lot of people.
It was a terrible, terrible story, but we look at stories like that and we think of all the numbers of people who were affected and that makes it harder to think about the individual stories. So as a financial coach, you work with a lot of individuals and you can’t give away any personal details. But are you able to share any stories about somebody who you can think of who is a good example, where, because of race, they were not able to reach the same financial goals as somebody else might have been able to?
Yeah, I think if, if I may, let me backup a little bit and talk about the Tulsa situation. So we’re talking about cities that were being built and developed. And this is not just Tulsa. There are examples of this all over the country, Tulsa being the most famous example. But there’s examples of this, and then I’ll just sort of skip to how this resonates to today.
So if you think about the Tulsa situation, you had a town developed in and of itself, a Black town that was thriving. So this is post Civil War, we’re in reconstruction. And basically, you have freed slaves that are building a city, a town, and that is self sustaining and self sufficient. The dollars within that community are circulating rapidly and families are starting to build wealth and grow.
Now, in the neighboring part of that city, they’re now seeing that there are Black Americans who they see through the eyes of race and racism, as being not sufficient, right, and “less than”.
And so if you see somebody who you believe is inferior to you, having more wealth and success, that creates resentment. They are doing something that is untoward. And you can see the parallels in terms of the 2009 elections with the conversations of Barack Obama. If you see somebody that has that level of success that brings up feelings of resentment. That resentment, which created a situation in which a mob decided that they were going to destroy the town and destroy the wealth of that town. They had burned down nearly all of the central businesses of that town. And because of the structural elements of how that worked, the insurance companies bolted, and a lot of those families never recovered. A lot of those businesses never recovered.
Now, why do I bring up that background? I bring up that background because specifically within the Black community, and again, this is not just Tulsa, this happened in other cities around the country. You have generations of folks that will say to you, for example, “I don’t trust banks”, “Don’t put your money in the bank”, “Keep your money under your mattress”.
Why would somebody say something like that? Well, it’s coming from a direct experience of experiencing racist acts, or though again, I go back to the money being extracted from people. Wealth being extracted and taken from them.
So Black Americans’ distrust of institutions, a lot of times, is directly correlated to their own experiences. And so, that distrust in terms of those institutions, even to today– so your great grandfather taught this to your grandfather, who taught this to your father, who taught this to you. We distrust these people because of these experiences. This is why.
And so if you look at the statistics in terms of the unbanked or the underbanked, African Americans are high on that list, but again, that’s based on experiences, not because of intelligence, or those kinds of things. Those are based on experiences.
So to your question of the personal example, when you have clients that are trying to build their financial lives outside of the banking system, there’s almost a deficit of trust there, you have to get them to overcome those fears of this system first, to be able to take advantage of the opportunities. Because it’s very difficult to be able to build wealth for this country without some level of trust in the institutions upon which wealth is built in this country.
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So can you share any individual stories of somebody who avoided the banking system or avoided investing? And did it cost them? Either potential future earnings or had put their money under the mattress or in a coffee can and it was lost? Have you ever seen that happen?
Yeah, absolutely. There’s several individuals, and you can just look at communities in general that aren’t invested in the stock market, and have all their money in their homes. Their home was basically all their wealth. And then 2009 happened. Look at the statistics, a lot of Black Americans lost the vast majority of their wealth, because all of their wealth was in their primary residence.
Because of the lack of diversified investments, not just in real estate, but in the stock market and other asset classes, that really, significantly harms the African American community. And again, a lot of this goes back to trust of institutions.
Personally, I’ve experienced having those conversations about, “Hey, look, in order to make this happen, this is something that you need to consider”. And the conversation is, “Well, I know but we don’t do that. I don’t trust these banks, these banks are out there to take stuff from me”.
It’s not just something that happened 100 years ago, if you see, for example, the subprime lending crisis, and all these settlements. Let’s pick on Wells Fargo, for example. That stuff still happens today. And so it is not something where people are holding on to something that happened 100 years ago, this mistrust is built for a reason. And so having these conversations about getting around this mistrust in order to facilitate the building of wealth is an important conversation to have.
Yeah, I wholeheartedly agree. Thank you.
At Payactiv, we have a framework, that livelihood is a state of sustained sustainability and control. So you don’t have to worry if your next paycheck comes a day late, you’ll be okay. Or you’re covering your education needs, your medication, transportation, food, shelter, and you don’t have to worry about tomorrow.
What would you see are the steps for Black Americans who are struggling financially today? And I know that’s a general question, because everyone’s households are unique, but what you see are the main steps someone could follow to achieve that level of livelihood.
Yeah, so let me throw out two statistics. And I will preface this by saying that these are pre-pandemic statistics. The last I checked, I think it was from 2018. So you’re probably adding 5 points after the pandemic.
78% of American households of all races are living paycheck to paycheck. 78% of all households. These two statistics are one of our two primary factors for why I became a financial coach. So 78% of all American households of American adults are living paycheck to paycheck. So to your point of sustainability, basically four out of five households are living financially unsustainable lives.
The second statistic is that 60% of Americans do not have $1,000 in cash saved for an emergency. And so again, both of those are pre pandemic statistics. So you probably add five points to them.
But regardless of race, this is an American problem in terms of having our country being built on the vast majority of people being financially unstable. Right. And to me, that is an existential problem. And it’s, if you think about inflation, that’s only going to get worse.
And so to answer your question directly, the thing that should be primary on the minds of most Americans is number one to build emergency savings. I would say 1A is understanding the inflow and outflow of income, understanding where your money is coming and going. And then 1B would be building emergency savings.
Building emergency savings is even more important than paying down credit card debt. One of the most important things that you can do is to understand where your money is coming and going, and to build emergency cash savings. And in my mind, the emergency cash savings should be in a separate account from your checking account. And it should have an amount that is enough to withstand most of your financial emergencies.
I would start with something that is one month worth of your expenses, and try to build towards three months of expenses. An emergency savings fund is often the difference between a financial inconvenience and a financial catastrophe. What happens is particularly for folks that are within that 78% that I talked about, that are living paycheck to paycheck, it starts a downward spiral, a spiral of negative financial incidences. Miss one payment, becomes two missed payments. Maxing out credit cards becomes having negative incidents on your credit.
And this downward spiral gets you from what could have been a seemingly stable financial situation, to the bottom of the rail, and where every financial decision is sort of live or die and you’re living from day to day, not even from paycheck to paycheck. You’re living day to day. And that is the situation that you want to try to avoid at all costs.
And so particularly for folks that relate to that paycheck to paycheck experience, the most important thing that they can do is build emergency savings as quickly as possible.
That’s great advice and important statistics to keep in mind also, because people shouldn’t necessarily feel bad if they’re struggling with money. It’s not something people often talk about, because they’re not proud of it. But a lot of people are struggling. So if you’re having a hard time out there, you’re not alone. You’re not the only one in this situation, because a lot of people are dealing with it.
I was just gonna say quickly that the primary reason I bring that 78% statistic up is because we’re so private about money. And it’s one of the reasons that I I called my company, The Money Speakeasy, to have a joint place where people can talk about things that are sort of “taboo”. And I bring up that 78% statistic, because most people, because we’re so private about money, feel like they’re alone in their situation, where it’s four out of five people that you know, maybe even more than four out of five people that you know.
It is so common. And it’s one of those things that’s common around the country. But since we’re so private about it, we feel like we’re by ourselves, you are by no means by yourself in this struggle at all.
Yeah, thank you.
So far, we have been thinking mostly about the day to day workers that that’s who we’re talking to, mostly on this podcast, the people who are out there in the call centers and making deliveries every day. But there are HR managers and CEOs that may be listening as well. And they might be inspired to take action to help those workers succeed and, and thrive and reach the level of livelihood we were discussing a few minutes ago. So if you were going to talk to them, what advice would you give to those HR leaders and corporate leaders around the country on how they can help their workers turn around and thrive?
Yeah, so I’ll start out first with a sports analogy. We just had the Super Bowl. And when you think about football, oftentimes, again, I go back to our American culture being more on the individualistic spectrum. So often we focus on the quarterback, the Tom Brady’s of the world. They call him the greatest football player of all time. And even in a team sport with 11 players in the field on both teams, we still find a way to sort of isolate one individual.
And even your greatest quarterback is pedestrian at best without a strong offensive line. If that offensive line, the linemen or the big guys in front of them that protect him from getting mauled by the defense, if they’re not able to protect him, there is nothing. It doesn’t matter how you can be even better than Tom Brady, you’re not going to be successful.
And so in our individualistic culture, we have to be careful not to be myopic, about how this whole American experiment runs. And that if we don’t think about and take care of the offensive linemen, none of us will be successful.
And so what I would say to HR, leaders, and executive leaders alike, is that we have to invest in the financial wellness and financial aptitude of our employees. You have to build up your offensive line. Not a ton of us took financial management classes in school and a lot of us are working on faulty assumptions about finance. And so if you want to empower your employees to be the best that they can be, financial wellness and financial literacy is an enormous aspect of it.
It should be mandatory for employers to equip their employees on how to manage the resources that you’re paying them. Because if they mismanage those resources, it’s going to not only affect the individual employee, but it’s going to affect the company as a whole.
That’s great advice. And we see, even going back to sports, there’s a lot of stories of athletes or high millionaire entertainers blowing through all their money and ending up broke. So this isn’t just a problem for low income Americans, this is a problem for all Americans of all income levels. If you don’t have the education, and the knowledge of how to best manage your money, you could make very costly mistakes.
Yes, so even within that 78% that I quoted before, there’s a good portion, I can’t remember the exact number. But when they did the survey, there was a good number of that 78% That made over $100,000 a year. And so the level of income, the number of zeros is, is not as important as the information and building the capacity to be able to manage resources.
At the end of the day, I always speak about money being like learning a language, managing money is a skill, like learning a language. And if we don’t teach people to be fluent about their finances, they’re going to waste those resources. And and again, that has a negative impact on the entire team.
Oh, well, that’s, that’s a great place to end this one. Thank you so much Wilson. If anyone wants to find you or connect with you, could you shout out a link or a URL or somewhere they can go?
Absolutely. You can reach me at a themoneyspeakeasy.com. Also on socials, @moneyspeakeasy.
Awesome. Thank you so much for taking the time and having this conversation with us. I found it insightful and meaningful and I hope our listeners did as well.
Thank you for having me. It was a pleasure.
Well, that is all the time we have for today. Thank you so much for joining us. If you’re not already a Payactiv member, be sure to head over to Payactiv.com where you can sign up for free to access our suite of free financial tools like early access to your paychecks, free financial counseling, tracking your money and a whole lot more.
We’re not done with Black History Month just yet. So be sure to come back soon for our second Black History Month episode, where we sit down with my good friend Michelle Jackson. Thanks so much for joining us, Wilson and thanks to all of you for listening till the end.
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