BY SJ McSHANE
Brittney Castro is a Los Angeles-based financial entrepreneur whose mission is to pave the way for ordinary people to become financially independent while still being able to enjoy life and not experience the common stress that comes with making important financial adjustments to one’s life.
Castro makes all things concerning money approachable, and fun while taking the “stuffiness” out of an otherwise not-so-fun conversation. That’s why she founded Financially Wise in 2013—to change the way people see money,and to make it a much easier subject to deal with.
Elected as one of the “40 under 40 “in 2020, as well as one of the 22 “Women to Watch” by Investment News, Castro also ranked 6th on INVESTOPEDIA’s Top Influential Financial Advisors list in 2017.
Working alongside top brands like Chase, Mint, Turbo, Investopedia, Altruist, and NextGen to promote financial literacy, As a woman of color (she is half Mexican) Castro wants to inspire others to not allow society to define what they can or can’t do based on gender and race.
Robert Irvine Magazine: Your business, Financially Wise, Inc., has helped a lot of people to master their finances no matter how much or how little they had to begin with. What prompted you to start this company and where do you see it going in the future?
Brittney Castro: I graduated from UCSB with a degree in Business Economics with a minor in Sports Management. I always knew I wanted to own my own business so when the job offer to become a financial advisor came as I was graduating college, I accepted, having no clue what a financial advisor was. But I learned what it took to succeed as a financial advisor and realized that I was really good at it, but also learned I needed to do it in my own way. That started my entrepreneurial journey of leaving that firm to go to an independent one, then eventually starting my own firm in 2013.
I think through the experience I learned I could offer people a new approach. One that was way more holistic and modern from the traditional ways of most financial advisors. My company has now become more of a financial education company providing private financial planning services, online courses, and brand partnerships to act as a spokeswoman/Influencer/financial expert to help brands spread the message of financial literacy. I see this side of the company being my future as now, more than ever, more and more corporations, brands, and organizations are putting marketing dollars and efforts behind financial literacy campaigns for their customers and need someone like me to help them with the financial advice and talk about financial literacy in a fun and relatable way.
RI: You have mentioned one of your missions has been to empower women through their finances. Can you unpack that a bit more for us and elaborate on the importance of women having control over their finances?
BC: Everybody needs help with their finances and women just need a different type of help. Women in particular haven’t always had the opportunity to manage the money and this goes back throughout history and the evolution of money management in society. Now, more women are the primary breadwinners of households, opening up businesses at twice the rate as men, and are responsible for 83% of the day-to-day spending. When it comes to explaining personal finance to women, a good financial planner knows that it is important to listen to the woman’s concerns, educate and empower her from a holistic point of view and create a space and environment where she feels comfortable asking as many questions as she needs.
This helps women overcome the specific challenges they face such as earning less than men, being out of the workforce for about 11 years on average—usually to care for children or aging parents—and the fact that women live longer than men. All of these challenges are why women need to find someone to help them manage their money wisely and become empowered doing so.
RI: Since the pandemic has caused a lot of people who didn’t previously worry about savings to suddenly look to the future, what advice can you give for someone starting out? Especially someone who lives paycheck to paycheck with little to no savings?
BC: It’s tricky when you’re living paycheck to paycheck but the best approach is to do your best to figure out your budget and how you can earn more income whether it’s a side hustle, asking for a raise, or to cut back on current expenses to free up money that you can reallocate for savings. It takes time and discipline to do this. You need to get honest with yourself but when you do, you feel more in control and it expands your options. You can start by asking yourself, “How can I make this better for myself?” “Can I earn more money? Can I ask for a raise? Are there expenses I could cut out so that I can save even if it’s $20 a month?” All these things are simple steps, but do add up over time to create financial success.
RI: Saving and investing are two things you encourage for those looking to be financially wise, what advice can you give on how to begin saving, or even investing during this current time?
BC: Start by educating yourself on the basics of personal finance and the different financial planning principles such as budgeting, saving, and investing wisely. I think online courses such as my Money Class or financial books are important for everybody to read. Everyone has to constantly improve or enhance their own financial education. It is way better to take the time to educate yourself and then set up saving or investing once you have that foundation of an education around what is needed for your specific financial situation.
RI: During the pandemic, do you encourage people to save their money or spend, and why?
BC: Well it really depends on the person as there is no one way that is right for everybody. So, if someone is in a situation where they can save money or just keep saving money based on their financial plan and budget then of course. If someone is in a situation where they have a lot of excess cash flow and have been working strategically on saving for their goals, now they may be able to bump up a goal such as buying a home to take advantage of low mortgage rates because they have the ability to do so. There are many opportunities right now so someone who has been working hard on their finances and has a solid financial foundation (good income, no debt, adequate cash cushion, saving for retirement) might have fun during this time taking advantage of new ways to create wealth. The truth is you have to access your own unique situation and create a budget and financial plan that is right for you based on where you are at.
RI: For those who have suffered financially due to the pandemic, what is your advice on how to climb out of it and get ahead?
BC: Everybody needs to take this time to update their budget and financial plan and determine where they stand in relation to their goals. If someone was using their cash emergency fund to get them through a challenging time of no or lower income, then they might have to refocus on building that cash cushion back up. Or if somebody accrued credit card debt to pay for things to get them through a no or low-income time, then they might need to focus on paying off that debt. Everybody is in a different situation, so the important thing to know is you’re not alone. But update the plan accordingly, so you have a clear idea of what you need to do every month to either improve your situation or reestablish your financial foundation.
RI: For those who have a lot of credit card debt, should all debt be paid off before they begin saving?
BC: There’s no one right way but you can start by figuring out how much credit card debt you have, the interest of the debt, and where you stand in relation to your other savings goals such as having an adequate cash cushion, saving for a home down payment, and investing for retirement. Usually in financial planning one would do a combination of a few different goals at any given time. This is the art of money. Figuring out how you can best use your income and assets to pay for your current life and tackle all your financial goals. This takes time and usually the help of a certified financial planner, so you have clarity and you understand how to maximize your budget and cash flow every month to reach the goals that you have.
RI: As you know, we don’t teach personal finance in school. Shouldn’t we? How would you teach it to kids? And how young can you start?
BC: This question really annoys me as it is true that most of us don’t get a financial education growing up so instead of wasting our energy on complaining about it, it is better to decide to get what you need now that you are an adult. There are SO many free resources online to teach good money management. Also, books, workshops, webinars, free guides, you name it, it is out there. On my website for example (www.financiallywiseinc.com) there are a TON of free resources and education to help people learn good money management skills.
It takes the individual wanting to know this information. One is never too young to start learning about personal finance and you could teach your kids based on their age different things like budgeting, saving, and investing. More importantly, as a parent you should understand that your kids will pick up on the energy and behaviors YOU have with money. So, if you are constantly stressed and worried about money, then no matter what you teach your kid they’re going to feel that energy and they might carry that type of stress and worry about money into their own adult years, as well.
It is more important for you as a parent to get the tools and resources you need to create a healthy relationship with your money, understand budgeting, how to save and invest for your future, and communicate that often in your household. That type of experiential learning is the most valuable for our children and future generations.
RI: You’ve talked about your love for fashion and the importance of treating yourself. How can one find balance in saving and indulging?
BC: Budgeting. It is the tool that helps you determine how much money you have coming in and where it goes every month. It puts you in the driver seat. If you realize that you need more money to pay for your fixed bills, save for your goals and be able to save money on variable items, then calculate how much that is and figure out how to create the income needed for yourself. This could mean you need to improve your skill set or knowledge for the workforce to get a higher paying job. Or maybe you need to ask for the raise or increase your rates. Or look at the other side of the equation: are you spending money on things that are NOT important to you? Maybe there are subscriptions and fees you can eliminate so you do have money to spend on self-care like massages, wellness retreats, therapy and anything that helps you feel mentally and emotionally strong in life. The reality is you are in control of what your financial situation is, you are not a victim to your money and it’s up to you to find a way to manage it in a way that will serve the life you want to live.
RI: What is the most important financial advice you can give our readers today?
BC: The most important advice is to never stop learning about money management and always keep your eye on the money. What that means is no matter how many professionals you hire to help you whether it is a CFP, CPA etc. or how established you get in your financial life (assets, 401(k), multiple properties, business etc.) you still need to have your eye on the money. It is your money and your responsibility, and no one will care more about it than you. It doesn’t mean it has to be stressful. You can have fun managing it all with your team but never take your eye off the money and stay in the driver seat.