Connecting the Dots- a feature of CWM*
An Interview with Dr. Maria James
Even from a young age, Dr. Maria James has had a love for all things financial. Let’s meet her..
You moved from the US Virgin Islands to NY at a very young age. Do you any recollection of your childhood days in St. Croix? Do you ever visit?
Yes, I remember quite a lot about barbecues on the beach, going to school and just hanging out with my family members. There were quite a few of us children around the same age so we were usually running around, getting into things and having fun. Having a strong support system and encouragement to explore helped foster my character.
I get to go back from time to time; most of my family is still in St. Croix so it’s always a fun to visit. Recently, I’ve been hosting retreats there through my nonprofit so not only do I get to see family but I’ve been able to give back to the community there as well.
I love the story of your first entrepreneurial endeavor. (Dr. James started a stand with her siblings at age 10 selling a frozen juice treat called Juleps). What advice would you give your younger self now when weighing your option to shut down your Julep treat stand that would have allowed you to remain open and compete with the kids next door?
I would have told young Maria, “Listen hardly anything in life is proprietary and if it is, it doesn’t stay that way for long. It doesn’t matter what someone else is doing. Do what you believe in and always work to make yours better. No one can do what you do better than you once you put your own unique stamp on it.” Also, “Sometimes you have to re-work a plan, but that doesn’t mean the plan was bad. It just means some of the variables have changed so the strategy needs to change.” This is definitely something I learned later in business. Sure there are others who give financial advice and information. However, I am The Money Scientist, and my drive to empower others mixed with my unique experiences, knowledge and personality lend something different that no one else can successfully duplicate. All entrepreneurs should understand this about themselves. You are unique and what you bring to the industry will be as well.
Do you have a family? If so how do you balance your business and personal life? Did marriage/kids provide an unexpected shift in your financial approach? If not do you think your systems can be applied to families in general? Did your parents give you any feedback on how they themselves handled finances with a large family?
I do not have children of my own, but still have to balance business with family and friends, as well as my nonprofit. Balancing the various aspects of your life and responsibilities requires systems. Almost everything needs to be systemized. Your time management and tasks must be carefully planned out to accommodate all the pieces in the correct proportions. I create excel sheets that map out weekly tasks. I create a general to do list (a brain dump) and a daily to-do list that list the important items that must be accomplished and a few would be nice tasks. I make sure to schedule in time to spend with family and friends.
As for the financial systems, yes. I work with clients who are married and have children. Organizing your financial data and designing budgets are going to be very similar for those who are single and those who are married. The line items of the budgets may differ but the creation strategy will be similar. Systems I’ve developed in my Pocket of Money Master Class and Grow Your Savings Kit cater to both.
My parents made sure I knew the importance of saving and spending on things that I find important. For instance, I’ve always had a piggy bank. I had Sebastian from The Little Mermaid. Before, I even knew what it was really for I knew it was there and I could put coins in it. Once I was putting in coins and taking out the stopper to get them back, I was doing it over and over again, you know how little kids are at times. My Mom came and told me that I’m supposed to leave the money in there so that I’ll have more and more money and can get something that cost a lot of money later. That’s one of my earliest memories of lessons on money management.
So many children are not taught to save their money or avoid debt unfortunately. What is the best advice you would give to parents, even those who struggle with financial stability themselves, on what to teach their children and when?
Yes, unfortunately personal finance is not officially taught in our society and parents often don’t think they should have frank conversations with their children about money. However, children can learn about money at a very early age. Parents should consider what concepts about money are important to them and their culture. What do they want to make sure their children understand? For example, make sure your children understand that they exchange labor, time or energy for money. Then follow this up with what they should do with the money that they have earned. Set up three jars or piggy banks for each child, one jar will represent money for spending. The second jar will represent saving and have a third jar that can represent charitable giving. Parents can then talk to their children about why they have each jar and what percent of their money should go into each jar and why. This will establish good money management skills early. This will also bring home the important concept of saving up money in order to purchase what they want, which will help them avoid over using credit and the credit-debt cycle.
Recently, there have been articles concerning collegiate student athletes going to bed hungry and the debate over athlete unions and colleges profitting off the athletes. What advice would you give college students in general about getting through their college years when they may not any parental/family financial support system to fall back on?
College is a tricky time. For many it is the first time they are learning how to rely on themselves to get basically everything done. During this time, money management strategies and money monitoring tools are very important. College is when I truly started designing budgets and strategies to keep track of my money. I learned to take the money I earned during the summer and stretch it over 10 months of school. Students should start with design a simple money strategy that includes a spending plan and a way to track where that money is actually going. Some free tracking options are to use online software like Mint or set up a spreadsheet in Excel. Besides efficiently tracking their money, college students should also employ tips and tricks to cut costs. I strongly believe in cutting costs without cutting quality. There are many ways in which college students can achieve this. Another important item that will help them track and stretch their money is knowing their money mindset. Your money mindset is your ideology around money and how you spend it. Upon determining your money mindset you will be able to better work with it to achieve your financial goals.
Tell us about your non-profit organization Heal a Woman to Heal a Nation Inc. and how it empowers women?
I co-founded Heal a Woman to Heal Nation (HWHN) because of a drive to empower others and see our communities thrive. HWHN empowers women and girls by creating a platform for women leaders to not only grow their network, harness their skills and ability as an expert, but to also maintain their physical, mental and emotional health. Every April we host the Heal a Woman to Heal a Nation Conference, we just finished the 11th annual conference. At the conference we bring together dynamic speakers to provide knowledge and skills that women leaders need to make a positive impact on their lives, the lives of their families, and their communities. April 13th is Heal a Woman to Heal a Nation Day in the state of Maryland and city of Baltimore. We also conduct workshops and seminars throughout the year.
We also host an ambassador program. HWHN Ambassadors share a common goal; they focus on efforts that promote holistic health, financial wellness, and lifelong learning for individuals in their local communities. As a movement we will work locally for global impact. Ambassadors uphold and embody the mission and vision of HWHN in their communities.
What first advice would you give someone who can not afford Obamacare or their family coverage at their job? How can save and prepare for these potential expenses out of pocket?
Individuals who cannot afford health insurance should take a look at Medicaid; they are likely eligible for that program. Those who are not eligible for Medicaid can apply for the hardship exemption, which allows you to prove you genuinely, cannot afford to pay for health insurance. There is also a children’s health insurance program under Medicaid that will provide health insurance for children for free in families whose incomes are too high for them to be eligible for Medicaid.
To prepare for out of pocket expenses, every individual and family should have an emergency fund. An emergency fund is money saved up to take care of the bumps in the road, the unexpected events that happen in life. A complete emergency fund is 6-8 months worth of bills stashed in a savings account. It’s placed in a savings account so that it can be accessed quickly in the event of an emergency. Of course this equates to thousands of dollars, which may take a while to build up. Start where you, add to it five dollars or one dollar at a time if you need to. Work on getting at least $1,000 – $2,000 saved first ($500 saved up will help). This will be able to handle most out of pocket costs.
What do you do to relax and get completely “finance free” for awhile? Where is your favorite place to travel to?
I love to read a good book or watch movies with family and friends. I can get lost in a book for hours. I pick a comfy spot, grab a cup of tea and get ready to sit or lounge for a while. When watching movies, I prefer at home than the movies because my friends/family and I like to talk and laugh it up as we watch. It’s half the fun. My favorite travel spots are definitely to the Caribbean. I am a warm weather person and love to relax in a nice breeze on a warm day. Of course the absolute favorite place to visit is St Croix. Nothing beats being able to relax and hangout with family, catch up and talk. The food is pretty delicious as well. I know, I’m a little biased.
Your business Pocket of Money, LLC provides financial advice and management ideas that will allow individuals to thrive financially. What do you think is the biggest hurdle for people struggling with managing their finances? What advice would you give newly married couples? Someone trying to restore their credit after job loss, bankruptcy etc.?
Wow, this is a loaded question. To properly address each of those scenarios I would need several pages a piece. However, generally a major problem that I see with couples is that there is a breakdown in communication when it comes to the finances. Couples should schedule a finance meeting just like they schedule date night, at least once a month. This is a check in meeting so everyone is on the same page as to what the current situation is regarding the finances. Both individuals need to be working from the same plan to be successful.
A big hurdle that many people struggle with managing their money is creating a comprehensive plan which includes: organizing financial data, knowing where the money is supposed to go, tracking where the money actually goes and then streamlining the process. Start by organizing your bills and other financial data (I have some articles that speak to this on my blog) and then create a spending plan. This will be a good start.
If your credit score took a severe drop, which can happen for any number of reasons, you’ll need to repair or rebuild your credit. In order to repair your credit score don’t close any accounts or this will cause your credit score to drop even further. However, don’t use the credit cards. Get a secured credit card from a trusted bank. You’ll deposit money into the bank that will be the amount allowed for your credit line for your secured credit card. Be sure to check the fees so that most of your money is used for fees. If the company tries to make you get an insurance policy to get the card, RUN and check out other banks. Once you get the card pay the balance off every month and make sure your payment history is reported to the credit bureaus.
Do you have any specialized programs for groups like stay at home moms, single moms with no other financial household support or retirees who want to maximize their retirement/savings or who want to gain general knowledge about their household finances?
Any individual who has a financial question about their specific situation should feel free to reach out to me. Even if I do not have a program that highlights that specific situation, one of my colleagues may be able to assist.
Jewelry, spas, clothing, shoes or handbags. What’s your financial poison and how can we avoid those overspending pitfalls while also allowing ourselves an occasional treat?
I’m not a big shopper, but I like coats (I hate being cold) and technology. However, I always do my research before making a purchase, especially if it will be a big one. I turn it into a game, how low can I go, where the best deal is. I like researching and determining where I’ll get the most for my money to get what I want. It’s like a puzzle and I like puzzles, one of the reasons why I love science.
It’s ok to treat yourself, matter of fact you have to treat yourself or you may start to feel deprived. A rewards budget is important. Every month determine how much you can put towards your rewards stash. Come up with a rule or a goal as to when you can cash out the rewards stash, is it every 3-6 months, a certain time of the year like summer vacation, or once you’ve reached a milestone in paying down debt etc. Having a rewards stash allows you to treat yourself without feeling guilty or taking money away from something else.
You are known as The Money Scientist. Tell us about The Wealth Protocol and a basic summary of how you apply that to your client base or what they can hope to gain from working with you.
You know people always ask me about my story when they hear finance and science. They’re intrigued. Money and science, how does that work? Why did you switch? To me I never switched. I’ve always been in both worlds. For me it’s one. I affectionately call it The Money Lab. It doesn’t seem weird to me, but that’s usually the case when it’s your passion. My passions leads me to do what I do. When going through my journey of making progress with money, I developed money management strategies and money monitoring tools that allowed me to save up $10,000 and travel around the U.S. and abroad while still on a stipend of $23,000 after taxes. These strategies and more have developed into The Wealth Protocol. A seven step action plan that I use with my private coaching clients. I help busy individuals design money strategies that help them get their finances healthy and robust so they can live their best life. I like to work with individuals who are ready to step into financial success, who want a higher net worth, who want to stress less about money, and build wealth.
What makes you a connected woman?
I’m a connected woman because I strongly believe in sisterhood and empowering others to be their best selves. I do this through my work with Pocket of Money, LLC and Heal a Woman to Heal a Nation, Inc.
How can our readers reach out to you?
They can easily reach me through several avenues via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, through my website (www.pocketofmoney.com) by using the comment form and social media. I’m on Facebook at www.facebook.com/PocketofMoneyLLC and Twitter @UrPocketofMoney. I love getting questions, comments and feedback so please feel free to contact me.
Is there anything you would like to add?
Wealth is attainable. Everyone can get the resources and develop the habits needed to achieve wealth. Believe in your dreams and keep striving to reach them.
Dr. Maria James is The Money Scientist. She applies strategic planning and scientific analytical thinking to money management. She is the founder of Pocket of Money, LLC and the creator of The Wealth Protocol™.
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