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Total financial freedom and a debt-free life was always the end goal for me and now that I’m here, let me tell ya candidly, it feels real good. But also, let me be the first to check my privilege — I know debt-free living isn’t the norm, and I am very aware that my financial situation is different.
So here’s my new goal in this area: Regardless of your financial situation right now, whatever your debt, income, or the balance in your savings account… My goal is to bring you experts and resources to reach WHATEVER financial freedom looks like for YOU. With that, let me introduce you to Berna of Hey Berna, your new financial hype woman.
If you don’t know her name, you’re soon to be acquainted with the super smart and super funny financial hype woman who will get you thinking differently about debt and finances. I was just watching one of her hilarious YouTube videos about paying off $38,000 in student loan debt with the help of a budget journal and she had me cackling with her celebratory twerk as she walked me through “Felicia’s Wallet”.
Tune in right now with the player above and follow along with these show notes for the full scope of what Berna brings to the financial table.
How It All Started
Berna is the daughter of Filipino immigrants, she has a degree in communications, and as she likes to start every speaking engagement, workshop, and podcast interview, “There’s no legal reason you have to listen to me.”
Berna sees herself as the financial bouncer at the door to let you in on financial knowledge, and the translator who helps you make sense of it all.
When Berna got into the space as a broke 20-something, the first thing she noticed that really fired her up was that no one looked like her. “So much of the information was written by older white men,” she found.
The language they used, the way they taught, was totally inaccessible to Berna and she felt it was probably inaccessible to others, too. That’s the point where it clicked. She could maybe be the voice that reached other people who felt unseen and looked over in the personal finance space.
One thing that always worked for Berna was words. When she started a new full time job and wanted to take her finances more seriously, she popped open a Word Doc and started journaling. Each time she got a paycheck, she wrote about what it felt like and what she was doing with it. She called it Felicia’s Wallet… You’ll have to press play to hear about how it got its name.
Berna started talking about budgeting online and shared about her debt on Instagram. Felicia’s Wallet was the start of her personal finance journey and the start of her simply talking about money online. The response, particularly from women and people of color, was MASSIVE.
Felicia’s Wallet opened Berna’s eyes to reasons why women and people have color have been left out of money conversations in the past. For one, Berna explained, the Equal Credit Act wasn’t passed until the 70s. Up until that point, women needed their husband’s or father’s permission to open a credit card. Isn’t that nutty?
Face the Numbers
Berna mentioned at the start of our conversation that she had $38,000 in student loan debt. And student loan debt was precisely what I wanted her to cover in this episode. So step one: Where do you even begin to tackle any amount of student loan debt?
Berna tells it straight. You have to face the numbers. “The fact that you don’t know exactly what the number is, is making the fear so much worse,” Berna explained.
Find out how much you owe to the cent right now. If the website for your student loan servicers doesn’t make it easy to figure out, you have to get on the phone and ask precisely how much you owe. “I know, I probably already lost a lot of millenials. We don’t like to call people!” she laughed.
Customer service at these companies work for YOUR money. No question is stupid. Ask them: How much do I owe? How much of that is principle? How much of that is interest? Get the breakdown, write it down, and look at it.
Where to Start Paying it Off
If you’re just paying the minimum on your student loan debt every month, Berna says chances are the majority of that money is going towards interest. You need to get that principle number down to see a real decrease in what you owe overall.
“You need to work as hard as you can to make overpayments,” Berna advised. Find a loan repayment calendar online and experiment with the numbers. Find out when your loans will be paid off if you continue making only minimum payments. Then, put in a goal payoff date. The calculator will show you how much more you’ll have to contribute each month to reach that goal.
Berna explained a realization she had in her own student loan debt journey. She said, “[Student loan debt] is a numbers game. And if I wanted to pay it off sooner, by a certain date, the game is that you overpay and you need to overpay by a very specific amount. Those calculators will help you get to that overpayment number.”
If you’re in your undergrad, try to pay $10 or $20 per month towards your student loans. If you’re not in repayment, those loans aren’t being charge interest, so that money goes so much further in paying down your overall balance. “You can shave off years, literal years, of paying off at the end,” Berna encouraged.
Money is Emotional
One of the most surprising things Berna has realized in coaching people on personal finance is how tied money is to emotions. She shared that we get to adulthood thinking that money is numbers and budgeting is numbers and it should be only numbers, but it is so connected to how we learned about money in our childhood and the emotions connected to it throughout our lives.
“Financial trauma is just as real and just as lasting as any other kind of emotional trauma,” Berna said.
When Berna unpacked her financial baggage, she realized that her family’s paycheck to paycheck lifestyle paired with the immigrant family culture of “showing off” your money, really set the tone for how she viewed money as an adult. Seeing her parents spend money on things they couldn’t afford but still be frugal at home was very confusing.
Berna had to unlearn a lot of money habits like this so she could get on track with her personal finance and budget. Can you relate to unlearning money habits you may have seen growing up? Press play to hear the full story behind this because it’s truly eye-opening.
More from this Episode
Berna began Felicia’s Wallet in 2016 helped her recognize patterns in her money habits, set spending challenges, and record her feelings about all things budgeting related. Press play on this episode to hear how a similar money journal could work for you in your personal and business finance journey. There’s so much more to this conversation, too, including a look at the shame associated with talking about money and why we should start asking the questions that will make money an acceptable topic of conversation. Berna is smart, hilarious, and such a stellar guest. Press play right now.