Thursday, October 6“Racism never sleeps.”

BAF Disease — Coping skills shouldn’t be overlooked

Black America, is inflation deflating your bank account? My health has been on an upward swing following my heart attack last month, but the sticker shock I’ve seen this week at grocery stores and the gas pump (not to mention my medical bills) were enough to floor me. It was surreal looking at the cost of literally everything.

The panic I felt wasn’t another heart attack, it was a symptom of post-traumatic recall I’ll label BAF Disease. Only when you’ve been Broke As Fuck do you start routinely checking your account balance before you proceed with spending on anything, anywhere. (Unless you’re just CAF.) When you have BAF Disease, it may seem contagious as store employees who take your payments become ill. Suddenly they roll their eyes and take deep breaths as they count your payments with exact cash — and change.

Thankfully, my health and finances have been on an incline, albeit the latter is very modest, but any progress is appreciated as I climb out of the worst financial crisis of my life, which was compounded by health issues. Being laid off last year was the start as it depleted my savings — quickly.

We all make mistakes with our finances — and hopefully learn from them. My dedication to journalism — typically the positions that don’t come with a coveted salary unless you work in “the big leagues” or get an anchor position — has hurt my bank account before. I remember taking side gigs 10+ years ago to ease the pain. Since my career called for multiple skills, it wasn’t difficult to find freelance opportunities where those skill sets could be used without disrupting my schedule. Besides the occasional meeting, I didn’t even have to leave home. Unfortunately, letting those gigs wane over time by putting journalism jobs first was a mistake. I started out unhappy I had to maintain side hustles because I assumed my career is all I should need. But I was constantly chasing salaries and being underpaid compared to my colleagues — something many Black professionals can probably relate to. As hard as I worked and as much as I enjoyed some of the jobs, burnout and frustration came a lot quicker. I learned it’s a symptom of under compensation. Seeing it take a toll on my personal life should have been the first sign I needed a new strategy — and walking into an interview demanding X salary was not going to work. While I know my worth, I am also aware of my dispensability. That’s not a self-criticism — I’d apply it to almost anyone who wants to work in news.

I don’t regret a single mistake I made — I allowed these misfortunes, no pun intended, and they were results of my choices. I knew there were risks. The most important reason I don’t live in regret is because it brought me here: a much happier place where I can live, work and grow on my own terms with my financial future completely in my hands.

The signs of inflation all Americans are grappling with gave reason this week for me to pause and assess my current situation. It also prompted me to stop and lend some advice as a Black man developing immunity to BAF Disease.

Here are 5 suggestions.

  1. Keep multiple revenue streams. If you left high school believing all you need is one job the rest of your life, and that came to fruition, kudos to you. I hope it was as fulfilling as it was lucrative. But that’s not everybody’s story, even if they had that job doesn’t mean it was or will always be there. Many Millennials, and Gen Z’ers, can’t make ends meet with one job. If this is you, don’t be down on yourself! The “American Dream” (whatever the fuck that means) is not the picturesque house with two cars and a family of four living on the breadwinner’s income with cheery kids skipping off to private school. The real “American Dream” is financial security. In reality, for many of us that is maintaining more than one revenue stream, including passive income, in case your financial safety net starts to tear, or rips open. As I mentioned, I started my side hustles displeased that they were even necessary because I expected more money from my career. I had some colleagues that could achieve this, and I wasn’t living above my means by any measure, but it still wasn’t attainable for me, and I wasn’t the only one. Some of them scraped by until they finally had enough and went on to PR jobs where the money flowed. Now, after my second layoff last year, I am in love with my side hustles, and frankly never plan to drop them. I hope to always maintain multiple revenue streams. (I also like working, but if you don’t, you might want to reconsider your career goals as a whole — or marry rich.)
  2. Save. Save. Save. When you neglect your savings account (assuming you have one) and start dipping into your 401K or retirement savings to cover emergencies, it’s already late for you. Something in your monthly expenses is going to have to go. Sometimes confronting what can be alleviated seems impossible — until your situation gets so bad the decision is practically (or literally) made for you. The point is, humans are more adaptable than we give ourselves credit for. I’ve learned to let go of things that felt like pulling teeth when I was in my 20s and early 30s. Nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing is essential except food, water and shelter (and medicine, if applicable.) Everything else can be managed. Allocate whatever you can to a savings account (preferably with interest), a Certificate of Deposit (CD) or Roth IRA, if possible — and forget those accounts exist until it is time to re-up your deposits. Financial emergencies will happen, and you will want that cushion without any outside help to weather your storm.
  3. Don’t stay silent. Financial issues can wear you down, and maybe leave you feeling ashamed. Talk to someone. Share your plights first— then confront the issues. Reacting out of fear and anxiety before getting your mind together may be the first step in actually making the wrong decision because you are not in the right head space. Lean into talking to someone you trust, even if it’s just to vent. Not everyone we share our frustrations with are equipped to lend advice in every area — not everybody is an expert, and their advice might frustrate you more. Make sure you are talking to a listener and then set out to consult with someone who is appropriate for lending financial advice if you aren’t able to forge a path out of financial hell.
  4. Reassess. By the time you realize your career or primary job isn’t meeting your financial needs, it may be time to move on. Maybe it’s the wrong field. Maybe it’s the wrong employer. If you love your job, it needs to love you back. I don’t advocate for an abusive relationship. If it’s absolutely difficult to find another place, make sure you find side hustles that require skills that come natural to you. And if you don’t have those skills yet, find an online course or local college where you can test the waters to see how you feel with minimal investment. When you need money, it’s important to stay where you are happiest instead of clamoring for the next paycheck to help you sleep better at night and feel better about your life.
  5. Find gratitude. While external factors can present uncomfortable challenges, including financial, it is important to remember that happiness is a choice. We have to choose to maintain a good attitude. Finding gratitude probably sounds corny — if you are someone who is not emotionally mature (yet, I hope) — to understand the significance of appreciating the things we have that contribute to our happiness for free. It could be family, it could be your lover, it could be your children. Personally, one of the things I am grateful for is my future — being able to shape it and seeing it as bright and fruitful as it can be. Whatever you can be grateful for, find it now and hold onto it when life gets rough.

Yes, BAF Disease is nothing we want to disclose and most of us prefer to just get over it as soon as possible. But remember you’re human — and all humans are susceptible to getting sick at some point. If you have been, I hope this has some effect on helping relieve your symptoms.

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