The following conversation was conducted over email and edited for flow and clarity.
Acquania Escarne of Wealth Noir: Jamila, I am so glad to have an opportunity to share your story with our readers. You have taken your passion for financial literacy and elevated it to the next level with your podcast being named one of “27 Podcasts You Need to Start Listening to In 2018” by BuzzFeed. But before we get into that, tell our readers more about yourself.
Jamila Souffrant of Journey to Launch: I am a Certified Financial Education Instructor (CFEI), podcaster, writer and founder of Journey to Launch, a website and podcast where I share my journey to reach Financial Independence while helping others do the same.
I am also a resident financial expert on a weekly segment on News12, the most watched local TV news station in New York City, and have been featured in other notable media outlets such as ESSENCE, Refinery 29, Money Magazine, CNBC, CBS, Business Insider and more.
My husband and I saved $169,000 in two years and are debt free except for our mortgage. I am also a mom of three small children and live in New York City.
WN: Jamila, you have had amazing success in the personal finance space. How did you get started?
Jamila Souffrant of Journey to Launch: I got started in the personal finance space because I was searching for a way out of my job. I was working in New Jersey and commuting from Brooklyn. It was a longer commute than I was used to it.
When I was pregnant with my first son at 31 years old, it took me four hours to commute home one day. I had a breakdown in the car and I knew I did not want to do that for the rest of my life. I wanted to find more options and have more flexibility.
So, I started googling “how to quit my job” and “how to retire early” and I came across personal finance blogs and podcasts that talked about financial independence and shared ways in which people were able to quit their jobs or to do things they loved by just being smarter about their finances. That really, really got me interested in trying to do it myself.
WN: Sounds like a commute from hell, but also a wake up call for you. Since you were just starting your journey to financial independence, what tools did you use to learn about personal finance?
Jamila Souffrant of Journey to Launch: I was addicted to podcasts. Since I had a long commute, I would devour lots of podcasts. I just started following a lot of the bloggers and podcasters in the personal finance space, especially if they focused on financial independence. That’s what caused me to start my own blog, because I saw all these people doing it, too.
It was typically white men, and their information was great, but I just felt like a voice like my voice was missing from the narrative. I said to myself, “I’m going to start something so that people who look like me, who want to have a more diverse outlook on things can have someone to relate to.” So, I decided to share my own journey.
Wanting to share my story with others turned into me teaching others how to do what I was doing. I started sharing how we [my husband and I] were saving and investing aggressively. We were saving half our income. Then, people started to ask how we were doing this. What primarily started out as an accountability thing turned into me wanting to help bring as many people along on the journey with me.
WN: Your story is so inspirational. How did you make the decision to go into business for yourself?
Jamila Souffrant of Journey to Launch: At first Journey to Launch was not intended to be my full-time job or my side hustle that was going to launch me to financial freedom. I really started it as an accountability tool and a way to share my experience. But when I saw how much impact it was having and got introduced to other people in the personal finance space who were making a living doing this, and making a good living, it really inspired me to say, wait, if they can do that? Why can’t I do it?
I saw that Journey To Launch and my message resonated with people who followed me. I like to call my followers, Journeyers. So I said, maybe this can be the thing that helps me launch to financial freedom and help me fulfill my purpose.
My biggest thing was not wanting to wait. I wanted to live my life and find financial independence. I wanted to get the benefits of financial independence without necessarily all the money in the bank, and Journey to Launch allowed me to do that.
So, when I was pregnant with my third child and Journey to Launch was doing really well–not necessarily well money wise, but well-meaning how much of an impact I was making, I said, what would happen if I could focus on this full time? I decided that I would try to save enough money to quit my job to do this full time and that’s what I did.
I made sure we had saved enough money for us to make this work. My husband’s income doesn’t cover everything, so we needed enough money to where we could support ourselves and pay our mortgage. Plus, we were going to have three kids and we didn’t want our lifestyle to change that much. So making sure we had at least two years of living expenses was key. I wanted to make sure that I could take this leap without putting our finances or well-being at risk.
WN: Wow, making the jump from corporate America to entrepreneur can be tough. Glad to hear you saved first to minimize the financial impact on your family. What are some of the challenges you faced in the beginning?
Jamila Souffrant of Journey to Launch: Some initial obstacles I had to overcome were understanding that I had to invest in myself and my education. When I first started, I did everything myself. I would edit the podcast. I was up doing literally everything so I didn’t have time to really focus on the big picture goals and tasks to move the business forward.
Truth is, I needed to hire people, and invest into systems and courses in order to basically get to where I wanted to go. Just like investing in the stock market, I needed to invest in myself and the business because it had the potential for exponential returns.
WN: What you said is so true. Sometimes we have to invest in ourselves and hire help if we want to be successful entrepreneurs. What’s your favorite thing about being a full-time entrepreneur?
Jamila Souffrant of Journey to Launch: I love being a full-time entrepreneur because I have three small kids. My kids are five, three, and one year old. When I was working, I was in the car a lot. I got home really late and I left very early. Now, I’m able to drop my oldest son at school and pick him up. Also, I’m able to go to any of the events he has at a school.
I’m able to take the little ones to the park, and I don’t have to ask to take time off. That was my biggest gripe about working in corporate America. I have such a free spirit and I hated asking for permission to take time off from work to go to a doctor’s appointment. Now, I create my own schedule. It’s amazing! I love having control over my life and being my own boss.
WN: Sounds like in your search for financial freedom you freed up your time too. Took back control of your life. Now that you have been in business for a few years, who are your typical Journeyers?
Jamila Souffrant of Journey to Launch: I realized that I have a pretty diverse following and that has always surprised me. I relate most to black women because I am a black woman and I love that. But I think because I talk about the aspirations of most people, many people relate to what I’m saying.
I feel like I’m talking to a friend when I’m talking on the podcast. One of the things that I really had to figure out–and I’m actually still in the process of refining–is being as true as I can to my audience.
A Journeyer is someone who is a self-starter, who doesn’t make excuses for themselves. Even if they do have moments where they’re not feeling all into it or things are hard. We all have hardships, but I am speaking to someone who has a growth mindset, who believes that they can accomplish what they set their mind to. They just need a plan. They just need support.
WN: Jamila that’s great. What do new clients or followers commonly ask or say they are struggling to do when it comes to their finances?
Jamila Souffrant of Journey to Launch: Most of the time when people start listening to my podcast, they love the idea of financial independence where work is optional. Everyone wants that, so ultimately the question is how do they even get there?
A lot of times people are starting at different starting points. Some people have a lot of debt, some people are still living paycheck to paycheck, some people are earning six figures or more.
But they still just don’t realize how they can get from where they are right now to this goal of financial independence. So, I like to breakdown the steps that people need to take.
While the ultimate goal is financial independence–meaning you have enough money saved and invested to cover your expenses to not have to actively work again–if you’re just starting, financial stability and making sure that you are out of that paycheck to paycheck cycle is the first step. Then, the next step is paying off debt. After that, its focusing on investing and saving. I take people through these stages. Giving them that clear path is important.
WN: If you could flip a switch and get everyone to do one thing related to their personal finances, what would it be?
Jamila Souffrant of Journey to Launch: One step everyone needs to do before they can improve their personal finances is to make sure they have a positive mindset and a growth mindset. It all is about the mindset.
Honestly, it’s not a fun thing to work on at first because everyone wants to go straight to the numbers. I understand that because you do need to understand where you are, and where you want to be, but you’re not going to get there unless you have a winning mindset because there are going to be setbacks.
There are going to be detours on your journey so you have to really have that kind of internal motivation and mindset to know that. If you keep putting one foot in front of the other you can win.
Since so many of us were not taught about money or have grown up with just negative connotations around money, we don’t have the proper support in our life around money. So my suggestion is to work on your mindset first and really dig deep down inside about what’s blocking you from moving ahead.
WN: Mindset is key. So tell our readers, how are you building wealth?
Jamila Souffrant of Journey to Launch: I’m doing a lot of things to build wealth. When I was working full time it was aggressively saving into retirement accounts. We were able to save $169,000 in two years.
Entrepreneurship is another big way in which I am bringing some more diversification to our wealth because Journey to Launch and whatever business that I venture into can have the potential to exponentially grow and create a generous income.
WN: Who influenced you the most when you were a child? How did that impact your journey?
Jamila Souffrant of Journey to Launch: My mom was a single mom from Jamaica. I was born in Jamaica, and I have memories of how hard she worked to provide for me and how much she poured into me.
My mom worked hard and instilled in me the importance of hard work, too. I knew I wanted to be successful. I remember when I was five or six years old, she took me to the bank to open my first savings account. She always told me to save my money and I have been a really good saver thanks to my mom.
WN: Your mom sounds amazing. So, everyone is so crazed about the movement inspiring people to seek financial independence and retire early. Are you a follower of the FIRE movement? How do you define financial freedom and when would you consider yourself retired early?
Jamila Souffrant of Journey to Launch: Yes, I am a follower of the FIRE movement, but I really believe that everyone’s journey is unique. However, by starting the journey to reach financial independence, you can only improve your situation and not hurt it.
But, I don’t consider myself retired early. When it comes to financial independence, I think there are different stages. There’s that financial stability stage, getting out of debt stage, financial security stage, work flexibility stage, and then ultimately the financial independence stage where work is truly optional.
I think for most people having work flexibility is a great goal. When you accomplish it, that means you can choose the work you do. I haven’t reached complete financial independence, yet, but because I started down this path, we saved a lot of money and I was able to quit my job and take a drastic income cut so that I can live a life of freedom today.
WN: That’s wonderful. Anything you are currently working on now that you want to share with our readers?
Jamila Souffrant of Journey to Launch: I definitely want everyone to follow and to subscribe to the podcast Journey to Launch wherever you listen to podcasts and become a Journeyer on this path with me. I also have the Journeyer Launch Club which is a membership community for Journeyers looking to take their finances to the next level and get the tools, plan and community they need to really make major strides with their finances. Enrollment opens again soon so sign up if you want early access.
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.