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Going from Negative to Positive Net Worth - My Money Story

Going from Negative to Positive Net Worth - My Money Story

This is an interview with Isabel, a member of our Snowball Community

I’m Isabel Peña Alfaro, a freelance communications consultant. I’m excited to share my money story with you. Originally from Mexico City, I’ve lived in a host of towns and cities, but I’ve spent most of my adult life in New York City, one of the most expensive metropolises. It was during my late twenties when I started getting clear on my money goals—I finally took a hard look at my student debt and my relationship with money. That is also when I learned how to manage my own finances and was introduced to Snowball Wealth. I now have peace of mind knowing that with the right mindset, tools and approach, I’ve been able to achieve a positive net worth and can continue on this path. I hope you enjoy this conversation!

How have your feelings about money changed over time?

Talking about money is a huge taboo, but the truth is that we all deal with money every day, whether it’s to pay for gas or groceries or even a doctor’s visit. So why not befriend money and learn how to manage it? The biggest mindset shift I’ve had is getting comfortable managing my money and setting and understanding my budget.

Can you talk a bit about your financial situation when you graduated college?

Throughout college, I balanced part-time work so that I could get varied work experience and make extra money to do some of the things I love (travel was a big one!). I graduated in the spring of 2009, just after the 2008 financial crisis. There weren’t a lot of entry-level job opportunities at the time—I remember driving back home to New York City with my parents after my graduation, and I ran into a peer at the gas station on the highway. I said, “Congrats, we graduated!” He said, “We have our diploma, but we’re all going back to live in our childhood bedroom, unemployed, with no job prospects.” It was a daunting time for us college graduates then, much like it’s a daunting time for people looking for work today.

How did you start your early career?

After a lot of push and pull, I eventually landed a job. It was actually my dream job in Paris. While I was there, I also earned a Master’s degree in International Studies, so I was balancing my career and a heavy schoolwork load. I loved my field of study and work, but I was still a novice. When I returned to the U.S., I had a tough time finding a job. Employers turned me down because my experience was abroad and didn’t fit the traditional job trajectory. I eventually landed an entry-level role at a boutique Public Relations firm in Manhattan, working in communications for high-profile litigation firms in tech. I started working part-time because my boss wasn’t sure if I’d be able to manage the work. I was ready to get my hands dirty so within that first week, I brought in good results. My boss was ecstatic and asked me to work full-time—I was beyond excited. That job propelled me into a career in communications.

Since I started to manage my money, I have been able to successfully fill my emergency savings fund, get my student loans to a low-interest rate, and launch my own consulting business. I’m beyond excited to help others in their communication strategies.

How did you get started with managing your student loans?

I have to be honest, I did my best to ignore my student loans for as long as I could—paying the bare minimum and trying to forget they existed! But, those loans were always lurking in the back of my mind, stressing me out.

The first step in managing my student loans was taking control of my general, everyday finances, getting rid of any credit card debt, and paying my credit in full every month. Then, I started working towards small and big money goals. Even the small wins—like returning an unwanted online order and receiving the refund—were big wins for me. Then, I worked with Snowball Wealth to refinance my student loans and reduce my interest rates, saving me a lot of money.

Now, through a combination of budgeting, saving and debt reduction, my net worth is officially positive and I’m on track to invest every month.

What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received?

The best piece of advice I’ve received about money came from you, Tanya. When I got a pay raise, I shared that I wanted to buy a fancy handbag. You said, “That’s fine. You can buy an expensive purse. But, you know what the big-boss move is? Buy a building that makes money work for you. Start working towards that now.” I had no idea that could be in the cards for me because I always thought those goals were for other people but not me. Being more strategic about money and constantly setting small and big goals have been the best piece of advice I’ve received. Never allow yourself to believe that something is not for you.

What are some budgeting hacks you’ve tried that have worked for you?

Setting a monthly budget goal has been KEY, and revisiting my budget on a weekly basis to see where I’m at and adjusting where appropriate. Some hacks include: being intentional about the clothes I buy, always returning what I don’t want (online orders), and having a handle on my everyday expenses (grocery shopping, coffees, dining out, etc), as well as those surprise expenses (contact lenses, doctor’s visits, weekend trips, etc).

What would you tell your younger self?

Don’t be afraid of money… manage it, get comfortable with it, befriend it!

About Isabel Peña Alfaro:
Isabel is an award-winning communications consultant and strategist, targeting diverse, global and multilingual audiences. Formerly at IBM, Isabel led communications initiatives regarding skills and jobs in technology. Isabel has advised some of the world’s leading multinationals, including Chase Bank, Amazon, and AT&T on executive visibility, diversity & inclusion and corporate reputation. She holds a Master’s degree from the University of Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris and a Bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College. Originally from Mexico City, Isabel’s native language is Spanish. She is fully fluent in French and speaks basic Portuguese. Learn more at Isabel’s website, LinkedIn page and Instagram handle (@ipenaalfaro).

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