The following conversation was conducted over email and edited for flow and clarity.
Acquania Escarne from Wealth Noir: Hi, Fo! Wealth Noir has been following you on social media, and today, we are glad to share your debt-free story with our readers. Before we dive into your personal finance advice, please tell our readers more about yourself.
Faneisha “Fo” Alexander of Girl Talk with Fo: I’m the creator of the Girl Talk with Fo blog and podcast. I created these platforms to teach women how to dump debt and build bank so that they can create the life that they want.
My passion is to help women—particularly women of color—realize that there is more to life than settling, and that includes settling in their finances. I want to show them that they can get this money thing right and leverage it to live their best life.
I’m a true southern girl, hailing from the dirt roads of South Carolina. I currently reside here with my husband.
WN: What a great mission. How did you get started in the personal finance space?
Fo Alexander of Girl Talk with Fo: I actually started out as a faith-based lifestyle blogger in 2012. I was in my early twenties, so I was sharing my journey in adulthood. A part of that journey was getting my finances together. In fact, I had over $78,000 in student loan debt that I was trying to work my way out of.
As I was learning more about personal finance for myself, I had the desire to share it with others. So as a contestant (and winner) of Miss Black South Carolina in 2013, I ran on the platform of financial literacy.
While I was working to pay off my debt, I used the pageant’s platform to teach financial literacy in the local community and schools. However, I never thought that I’d be at the forefront of what I do today.
After paying off the first $24,000 from undergraduate loans, I shared it with my audience on the blog. I was surprised at how receptive they were and how many questions I received. Nonetheless, I didn’t talk much more about personal finances beyond that post or after my reign.
Fast forward two years later. I was married and within the first six months of our marriage, my husband and I paid off the rest of the debt, which was $47,000. I decided to make a video about the journey and posted it on YouTube.
Well, the video went quasi-viral and caught the attention of Talaat and Tai Mcneely of His and Her Money. Our story was featured on their podcast and we eventually got picked up by a local radio station. That’s when I started to really pay attention to this whole personal finance thing.
I realized that there was a need for people who looked like me to be the face of personal finances. People needed someone they could relate to. They needed to know that they could do it, too.
So, in late 2017, I quit posting to my lifestyle blog and started writing about personal development and, ultimately, exclusively personal finance at Girl Talk with Fo.
WN: It’s so cool how many platforms you used to inspire people to pursue financial literacy. What was the greatest lesson you learned on your financial journey?
Fo Alexander of Girl Talk with Fo: The single greatest lesson that I learned on my journey is that you have to take ownership of your personal finances. Hence the term “personal.” This means using the resources available to you to learn and assist you, but not to do the work for you.
Unfortunately, this lesson came at a cost for me.
Before paying off my debt and really learning about finances, I enlisted the help of a financial advisor. I assumed that he’d help me get my financial life together. I thought that I’d be saving a lot of money and investing in all the stocks. To my ignorant surprise, none of that happened.
Instead, a year later, I found myself in the same financial state—only short $600 from his fee. From that point on, I realized that I had to learn to do this stuff on my own. I had to seek out knowledge and, more importantly, I had to apply it.
I made the mistake of believing that someone else could solve my problem when in actuality I was my own solution. So the one thing that I always tell my audience and clients is to learn for yourself.
WN: That is a powerful lesson to learn. Glad you learned it before sinking more money into other people or other things. So why did you decide to start a blog and podcast?
Fo Alexander of Girl Talk with Fo: I knew after our story of paying off $78,000 in less than three years went swarming across the internet that it was time to make a dedicated platform for personal finance topics.
Though I never intended on starting a podcast, the name Girl Talk with Fo became even more fitting when I did. Ultimately, I wanted a platform where I could just have girl talk with women who wanted to do better with money and in life.
Prior to starting the podcast, I had a growing YouTube channel associated with my lifestyle blog. Occasionally, I’d share some personal development and finance things, but it just wasn’t the right space for it. And, despite the fact that it was growing, it was becoming cumbersome to film and edit my videos.
Ultimately, I knew that people appreciated my personality and I realized that I didn’t need to be on camera for that to shine through. So after saying that I’d never start a podcast, I found myself doing it anyway.
I decided that podcasting was more conducive for my lifestyle and it still allowed me to connect with my audience in a more tangible way than a blog post ever would.
WN: Fo, sounds like you learned how to pivot your business without losing your audience. What is the most common question you get asked by your community?
Fo Alexander Girl Talk with Fo: The most common questions always pertain to getting out of debt. “How do I get out of debt?”
Though the situations are always different and people believe they are an exception, the principles and process never change. I typically direct them to my debt payoff email challenge, my book, or other recommended resources, such as books I read that helped me improve my finances.
The one thing that I would get everyone to do is to get out of debt.
WN: For some people, a particular person in their childhood influenced their financial habits. Do you have a childhood memory or influencer who helped you become the person you are today?
Fo Alexander Girl Talk with Fo: I’m probably like most people in that I wasn’t taught money management as a child.
However, I was able to observe how my parents managed money, which shaped things for me. Seeing my parents combine finances and manage money together is one thing that I knew I wanted to take into my own marriage.
My father was also frugal, which is definitely a trait that I inherited.
I also had the opportunity to see what ownership looked like. My grandfather owned several real estate properties. Although it didn’t mean much to me as a kid, as an adult I have an appreciation for what he was doing to build wealth.
WN: So most personal finance influencers find themselves somewhere on the Financial Independence and Retire Early (FIRE) spectrum. Are you a follower of the FIRE movement? How do you define financial freedom?
Fo Alexander Girl Talk with Fo: I wouldn’t say that I’m a follower of the FIRE movement. I am, however, working toward financial independence along with my husband.
For me, financial independence is having options. It’s working if I want to or choosing to stay home and raise a family. It’s also the choice to pursue entrepreneurship without negative financial consequences. That’s what I want.
I believe that “retire early” is a bit of a misnomer for most in the movement. Leaving the workforce and becoming an entrepreneur is just that—leaving the workforce and becoming an entrepreneur.
At the end of the day, I’m never going to completely stop working. However, I am likely to work for myself in the future.
WN: Ok, so tell us who follows Fo. Is there a particular niche or audience you focus on?
Fo Alexander Girl Talk with Fo: My target audience is me at 25 years old.
My mission is to reach the millennial woman of color and of faith who is burdened with student loans and other debt, all while climbing the corporate ladder. She’s the woman who wants more out of life but finds herself a slave to her finances. She was never taught how to manage money but knows that if she learns how she’ll be unstoppable.
That’s the woman that I’m trying to reach. I want to share my mistakes so that she doesn’t make them. I want to teach her how to work her way out of that situation and start living the abundant life.
WN: Fo, this has been fun. Before we wrap up, are there any exciting products or offerings you have coming up?
Fo Alexander Girl Talk with Fo: I am excited about my new book, Dump Debt & Build Bank: The Everyday Chick’s Guide to Money! It’s all of my personal finance lessons wrapped up in an easy to read, actionable book. I’ve gotten such great feedback on how this book is transforming lives, so I’m definitely happy about it.
My trademarked Dump Debt & Build Bank shirt was also recently shared on Dave Ramsey’s Instagram, which is dope! I’m excited about that and the movement that it’s creating. So I recommend checking that out and being a part of it.
Acquania Escarne is the creator of The Purpose of Money, a community of women building generational wealth for their families one dollar at a time. As an entrepreneur, real estate investor, and licensed insurance agent, Acquania has always been passionate about financial literacy. On her website, Acquania blogs about ways to help you improve your money habits, create wealth, and invest in real estate. Follow Acquania on social media for daily tips.