Philadelphia-based financial services professional Shaquana Watson-Harkness accumulated over $169,000 of debt. In an Instagram post, she mentions that she racked up over $20,000 of debt while traveling the world.
On New Year’s Eve 2018, Watson-Harkness made a resolution to stop using credit cards to fund her lifestyle. Although she admitted that breaking longtime habits was tough, she was willing to do whatever it took to take control of her finances.
Less than two years after making a commitment to become debt-free, she paid off $169,000, according to a CNBC Grow Acorns article.
While on her wealth-building journey, Watson-Harkness received shocking news. In November 2019, her employer gave her the infamous pink slip, leaving her without a full-time job. This was the third time that Watson-Harkness experienced a layoff.
“Always prepare for the unexpected and maintain multiple streams of income outside your day job,” Watson-Harkness told Black Enterprise. “The multiple streams of income could be passive income such as investments or working on your business as a side hustle.”
Philadelphia Woman Tackles Debt
As a professional in financial services, Watson-Harkness was the person people would turn to for help with their personal finances. She was happy to give advice but she was also ashamed because she was dealing with her own financial struggles.
Watson-Harkness had her first interaction with credit cards in college, swiping her first card to cover a spring break trip. She unknowingly disregarded one of the top rules of credit card use: don’t max out your card. She also underestimated the cost of student loans which turned into a monthly payment stretched out over a lengthy time horizon. Over the next 20 years, she continued to rely on her credit card for lifestyle purchases and increased her debt load.
But what doesn’t break you only makes you stronger. These lessons became the foundation for her success today.
“I have been able to successfully build an investment portfolio worth six figures while paying my six-figure debt,” Watson-Harkness shared on Instagram. “I have made mistakes, taken learnings, and eventually perfected my process.”
Spending Less and Saving More
Her first step towards financial freedom was to acknowledge her problems and then change her habits.
In February 2018, Watson-Harkness signed up for a money management course. As she started to shift her thoughts around spending and saving, she started to make progress in her finances. She created her first budget and debt payoff plan to jumpstart her goals.
Next, she tracked her expenses. She noticed that she was overspending by $3,000 a month. She adjusted her spending habits to avoid living paycheck to paycheck. One way she reduced her expenses was through the use of coupons and savings strategies, reducing her grocery bill from $800 to $500 a month.
Two months later, she implemented the debt snowball method. This strategy focuses on paying off the smallest balances first and then scaling up to tackle the larger debts. Within 15 months, she paid down $160,000 worth of credit card debt, the mortgage on a rental property, and student loans. She even started paying herself first and funding retirement accounts.
“The biggest mistake I made prior to creating my first budget was that I never paid myself first,” Watson-Harkness wrote in the CNBC article. “I always paid my bills and everyone else before I put any money in my savings or set anything aside for personal purchases.”
Helping Others Reduce Debt and Build Wealth
Watson-Harkness understands the impact that debt can have on a person’s life — especially when you lose a job. Fortunately, she was able to pay off the majority of her debt before getting laid off. Now, she’s committed to helping other women build a financial cushion.
In December 2019, Watson-Harkness decided to leverage her money management experience to start Dollars Makes Cents – – a financial education company that helps millennial women achieve financial independence.
“Today, through my side hustle business, I strive to help women understand that building wealth can be achieved with consistency, discipline, and having a vision about how you want to live your life in the future.”