money talks

‘People Can Do Everything Right and Still Be Broke’

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Mena Darre

Dasha Kennedy started the Broke Black Girl as a Facebook group in 2017 after a disastrous meeting with a financial adviser. At the time, she was 29 years old, newly divorced, and navigating single parenthood with two young sons. She’d been working in finance for a decade, but most of the advice she’d seen in the industry wasn’t applicable to her or many people she knew. So she decided to merge her professional and personal experiences by sharing her own struggles in a public forum. 

Within a few months, the group ballooned to over 65,000 members. Today, Kennedy is a full-time financial activist, and the Broke Black Girl is a multipronged educational platform, offering online courses, budgeting tools, and support. Here, Kennedy speaks about creating safe spaces to talk about money, avoiding “shiny red ball syndrome,” and the strategies that worked for her.

What led you to start the Broke Black Girl?
I got my first job in the finance industry when I was 19. I worked in accounting, insurance, and debt management for about ten years up until 2018, when I left my job to work on the Broke Black Girl full time. Most of my education in personal finance came through my work experience, but a lot of it ran counter to my personal experience. As a Black woman with Black children growing up in a low-income community in St. Louis, I found that the strategies I learned from my employer just did not work for me.

In 2017, I went to seek personal finance advice. I wanted help with creating a budget, because I was working 40 hours a week in what is considered a lucrative industry, but I wasn’t seeing any cushion in my finances. So I decided to get some professional help. The adviser was an older white man, and he was completely disconnected from the decisions I had to make in my day-to-day life. I sat down across from him, he looked through my financial documents, and he started laying into me about how much money I was spending on food. He had no empathy at all. His attitude was, “You should know these things. Why aren’t you doing them?”

If he had just asked me, “Why are you spending so much money on food?” Then I would have told him, “I’m recently divorced. I no longer have transportation. I live in a food desert. The closest place to buy food is a local convenience store where the food is three times the price of a grocery store or fast-food places. So to make sure that my children and I eat, those are the options that I have.” Of course my food budget is going to look much higher than that of someone who has more resources and access to certain things.

But he never asked me. He just made assumptions. I knew after that meeting with him that I could not have been the only person who sat in that chair, who looked like me and had the same experiences as me, who heard the same things. And that was what pushed me to start the Broke Black Girl.

Prior to that point, what was your personal background, financially?
I was born to two teenage parents. My mom spent pretty much the first decade of my life trying to get into the workforce. So I knew that a lot of things that I experienced as a young Black woman, especially with children, were real. And I was aware that people act like those experiences are an individual problem — if you’re not where you want to be financially, it’s because you’re not working hard enough.

I knew there were obstacles I faced that had nothing to do with decisions I made with money, and everything to do with how our society views certain financial issues, especially within low-income communities and for people of color. So after my experience with that financial adviser, I wasn’t going to lie down and take it. I wasn’t going to let someone make me feel like I did not know what I was talking about. But it was scary to speak publicly about it.

I started the Broke Black Girl at six o’clock in the morning. I woke up and created the group on Facebook. I titled it the Broke Black Girl because, honestly, that’s how I felt — I had a good job with benefits and I was still broke. I wanted to share what I had seen, which is that the strategies promoted by the finance industry are created for people who are starting in the middle. What about people behind the starting line? Where do we fit into these conversations?

I wanted to ask these questions publicly, and share some of the strategies that were helpful to me. Within the first few months, thousands of people joined the community. They were looking for a safe space to kick-start their personal finance journey, but to feel seen in the process as well.

What were some of the strategies that were helpful to you?
I started breaking down all of my financial goals into small increments. Instead of focusing on monthly or yearly goals, I focused on actionable steps that I could do each day. This made them less overwhelming and easier to achieve. For example, I had a goal to save $1,000 in a year. I would break that down to $3 per day. That’s a little bit over $1,000 in the end, but it helped. I also made the goal to check my account balances for at least 90 seconds every day, to track my spending, and read one piece of financial material every day to continuously educate myself.

I reached out to service providers and lenders to ask about hardship programs, including my cell-phone company and electricity and gas company. I worked in debt collections for a few years, so I was used to asking companies about options for customers who had a change in income due to divorce, increase in expenses, etc. I would also inquire about flexibility in payment due dates or the option to temporarily suspend or reduce services without having to fully lose service or risk a negative impact on my credit.

What was the moment when you realized that your group had touched a nerve for people?
I kept seeing the group members describe it as a “safe space.” That made me realize, wow, I have really tapped into something here. It also made me wonder why people weren’t describing financial institutions as safe spaces. These are the places where we bank, the places where we invest our money — shouldn’t they be considered safe? But for many people, they aren’t.

Within the group, we were having conversations that I had never seen publicly online. People were talking about the effects of incarceration and teen motherhood on their family’s finances. We were able to have those conversations transparently, free from shame. And that was helping people take steps forward.

What are some meaningful financial goals that you’ve reached?
The very first one was paying off the car that I purchased after my divorce. To buy it, I had to improve my credit to actually get approved for a car loan. I paid it off about a year ago. That was a huge financial goal for me, because it was the first time I had ever successfully gotten a loan and paid it off every month without deferring. And when I did pay it off, it freed up $354 per month for me. Now I split that money between my two sons and invest it for their future. To be in a position to be able to do that, I was very proud of myself. People may not think that $354 is a lot of money, but where I came from, being able to put $354 a month to a future goal for my children is major.

Another financial goal that I accomplished recently was moving 600 miles with my children to a new home in Atlanta, which we rent. A lot of people push the idea of buying a home. But for ten years, I stayed in a very small two-bedroom apartment, even when I could afford to move. I didn’t leave until it absolutely made sense. And when I did move, I chose to rent again. As a single mom, raising two sons on my own, I value flexibility. I’m very open about that, because homeownership is not something that you have to buy into. Renting makes sense for me, and for a lot of people it is a good and safe option.

Especially as someone who talks a lot about money on social media, you must feel some pressure to prove that you’ve “made it” and present an aspirational lifestyle. How do you manage that?
Being on social media and having a large platform, there is a lot of pressure to show glitz and glam and luxury, to prove that you have money through materials. I try to show other priorities. That car I paid off, it’s in my garage now. I didn’t go out and buy a new one. If I wanted to purchase a home, I could, but I still rent because of other things that are more important to me. When it comes to big-ticket items or just big financial decisions, it isn’t just a question of “Can I afford these things?” The question should be “Is this the right thing for me?” It has to align with your goals and your morals and what you actually want to do with your life.

We have to make sure that we don’t get “shiny red ball syndrome.” Once you see something so many times on social media, you start to want it. That’s why it’s important to establish financial goals that align with the vision that you have for your life, so that you are able to stick to them even when those shiny red balls come up and you want to chase them.

Speaking from personal experience, it can be really hard to resist that. What are some ways that you do?
It can be very hard to see people showing things that they have been able to purchase or do as a result of their financial success. I have nothing against their content, but if it becomes too enticing for me, I will take a break from social media, so that I’m not feeling pressured to do things that I don’t want to do. Or I’ll clear my feed and fill it with things and people that make me happy and align with my goals. We should fill up our social media with what we want to see. We’re in control of it.

What was a moment when you realized you weren’t broke anymore?
This is going to sound funny, but for me, it was the last year or two when I was able to put bills on autopay. I used to have so much anxiety over paying bills that I had to be hands on and actively pay each one and make sure I had the confirmation number. When I got to the point that I could put bills on autopay, because I knew that I had enough money to do it, I felt a sense of relief that I had never felt before.

Still, I never had a lightbulb moment of “Oh, I’m not broke anymore.” It’s more gradual. I look at my finances every Friday. I take a quick look over all of my statements and transactions. It puts my mind at ease because I know that if something does happen, I’ll catch it and I can correct it before it impacts my credit. And week by week, I am slowly but surely feeling more and more secure.

As someone who is your own brand, what kind of criticism have you faced and how do you deal with it?
One thing I dealt with a lot in the beginning was that people did not like the word broke in the Broke Black Girl. That was a tough conversation, but I felt strongly that it was important. Even if we don’t like the word broke or don’t want to claim it, broke people exist. People can work full-time jobs and be broke even when they get their paycheck. People can do everything right and still be broke. No amount of luxury financial content or grind culture or hustle culture can erase that. If we refuse to acknowledge and talk about broke people, then we’re no better than a lot of the institutions and policies and systems that keep broke people broke. So even though it’s not a popular term, not liking it or disagreeing with it doesn’t make it disappear.

I’m so glad you said that, because it really bothers me when people act like money is all about your mind-set. 
I agree with you 100 percent. I think that actually upholds a lot of obstacles that keep people broke. Because being broke is not a mind-set, it’s a reality. Do people have financial trauma? Do people have financial beliefs that can be damaging? Absolutely. We all do. But the mind-set shift is not the cure to everything. It doesn’t change what a lot of people experience when they try to pursue financial goals.

When I’m creating personal-finance content, the salary that I have in mind is $36,000, which is the average salary for African American women in this country. Most personal-finance content does not center that salary. But I want my content to be useful to my audience, and I want them to feel seen. So that’s the lens that I use in everything I do.

The Cut’s financial advice columnist, Charlotte Cowles, answers readers’ personal questions about personal finance. Email your money conundrums to

‘People Can Do Everything Right and Still Be Broke’