Tag Archives: Intersectional Money

How Your ACE Score Affects Your Money Habits

This feature by Eugenié George is the latest in the Intersectional Money series. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek your physician’s advice or another qualified health provider with any questions regarding a medical condition. 

Economic inequity takes on many forms. One of the forms it takes is through trauma. This article will discuss Adverse Childhood Experiences and how they can affect Women of Color’s economic inequity. We will also cover steps to address the past with the present. 

Money Triggers

Imagine grocery shopping one sunny afternoon. You have all the right ingredients in your grocery cart, and you’re ready to purchase. 

But you have a taste for Honeycrisp apples. 

You look at the price tag and see that the apples are $3.49 a pound. That’s, like, a dollar more than any of the other apples! You have money to purchase the product, but you experience a weird uneasy feeling in your gut. Your brain is running several ideas: 

Girl, don’t waste your money on that! You can get cheaper apples at Kroger.

But on the other hand, apples are healthy, and you know what they say about apples and doctors.

You don’t have any money at all. 

If I had a man (or woman) who supported me, I could buy apples. 

I bet White people don’t have this problem. 

We can’t afford that because papa is looking for a new job. 

Now in the 35,000 thoughts that we run through our brain, which thought was the weirdest?

It was probably, “We can’t afford that because papa is looking for a new job.” 

Why was that thought in your brain, you might ask?  It’s because even though we are deciding on an action in the present, our minds can be triggered by Financial PTSD

Our money triggers can help us.

We experience money triggers from our traumatic experiences in the past. In many ways, these triggers help us avoid a lot of terrible situations. 

When I was little, my family told me never to walk in a check-cashing business because many of them engage in predatory lending. 

And I’m glad that they did because, according to the National Associates of Consumer Advocates, payday lending could ruin your credit and charge you five times more than cashing your check at a bank. 

This warning was given to be because my family did go to the check-cashing place and learned from their experience. 

Our money triggers can hurt us.

On the other hand, our money triggers can hurt us. They can stop us from getting the things we want. 

It can be as little as not purchasing Honeycrisp Apples — even though you can afford them. It could manifest as accepting less pay than you’re worth, even though you’ve attempted to negotiate your pay. 

Trauma and Money Habits

On a personal level, the most challenging thing as a writer is to convey to readers the urgency around money and trauma. Using trauma as a reflective-interactive tool can help Women of Color process their cultural beliefs around gender and race. 

As I was looking for more scientific research to support this case, I stumbled upon a TED Talk by Dr. Nadine Harris Burke entitled Adverse Childhood Experiences.  

What is Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES)? 

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are the traumatic events that occur during childhood between the ages of 0-17 years. Some examples of these traumatic events are: 

  • Experiencing sexual, physical or emotional abuse — including neglect. 
  • Witnessing alcohol and drug abuse.
  • Divorce or family separation.

ACE scores are formulated on a one to four scale. A score of one means you’ve experienced one form of childhood abuse. Four or more means you had many hardships to overcome. 

It’s also important to know that ACE scores don’t talk about racism. They don’t talk about coping strategies or how someone overcame adversity. 

So if someone has a high ACE score, they can also be dealing with environmental trauma, such as gender and racial inequity.

The Center for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente investigated childhood abuse and how childhood abuse and neglect can impact adults. It turns out that most adults have experienced trauma in their life. 

According to the Center for Youth Wellness, about two-thirds of study participants had experienced at least one ACE category. The higher your ACE score, the higher the likelihood of developing long-term health problems like heart disease or cancer. 

Could ACE Scores be the missing link to personal finance?

When I stumbled upon this research, I kept asking my personal finance friends if they had heard of ACEs, and many of them scratched their heads in disbelief. This research meant that we could find out adults’ long-term health habits if we learned about their trauma. 

It also meant that I could find the relationship between ACE scores and socioeconomic patterns.

A 2014 study explained that the monetary hardship on women who had an ACE Score of two or more had a history of economic adversity. A UK study found out that women with an ACE score of two or more have a higher risk of premature death than women with lower scores. Many of these women had premature deaths from lack of health planning and budget prioritizing.

So what does this mean? 

It means that our trauma can have an economic impact that can affect our future lives. When we experience trauma as children, it can create barriers around future health and opportunity if not addressed early. 

The pathways associated with ACE scores could increase the likelihood of adopting harmful health behavior, impacting one’s ability to achieve upward mobility (i.e., education, employment, and income.) It also means that our ACE score can create an awareness of how vital social connections are to our overall health. 

Because we know that most Americans have experienced trauma, we must start the conversation around our behavior and emotions. 

My Family’s ACE Story

In my book, Our Money Stories, I go through a journey of understanding my ACE score through my father’s eyes. It occurred to me that my father had a high ACE score. Still, he managed not to endure all the adverse outcomes associated with high ACE scores: Violent behavior, incarceration, and premature death. 

But my dad did have one addiction that I was able to identify: His soda addiction. 

Coping with one’s emotion through addiction is a common practice. According to reporting done by Tulsa World, soda and cigarettes help people soothe and regulate emotions

The larger problem is that many adults with high ACE scores didn’t develop the ability to soothe and control emotions when they are stressed.  So as adults, they create ways to relieve their feelings either through food, soda, or cigarettes. 

On the economic side, the cost of any addiction is expensive AF. When I sat down with my father, it occurred to me that my dad spent money on soda every day. 

How ACE Scores affect your spending 

Prior to 2016, money was the number one cause of stress in America. The American Psychological Association reported that 72% of Americans stressed out about money at least some time during the previous month. 

ACE scores are the aspirin to your money headache. Why is this? 

It’s because the way we handle stress stems from our childhood. The adversity that we experience as a child — like divorce or neglect — can alter how our body reacts to all situations. In a recent discovery, ACEs Too High explained that our ACE scores could create long-term changes in our bodies without us even knowing it. 

Let’s go back to our example earlier in the article:

If I had a man (or woman) who supported me, I could buy apples. 

We can’t afford that because papa is looking for a new job. 

These ideas may stem from ACEs. 

ThoughtThe potential link to ACEs
We can’t afford that because papa is looking for a new job.Because the family dealt with financial insecurity, the child feels neglected.
If I had a man (or woman) who supported me, I could buy apples.You might be a child from a divorce who fixates on ‘what-ifs’.

Our past can unconsciously help us make decisions. Paying attention to our thoughts and behavior patterns with money can help us create reflective money habits. Sometimes we have to dig a little deeper to find what’s going on.

3 Action Steps to Understand Your ACE Score 

Take the ACE Test 

Let’s be real: Taking the plunge of learning your ACE score can be a traumatic experience. 

Sometimes many of us block our traumatic experiences. They can be overwhelming. If you are comfortable taking the ACE test, you can do so here. You can also take it with a therapist or a specialist. 

Write in a Journal

One of the most healing forms of understanding one’s trauma is by writing it on paper. Take out a piece of paper and start writing about your past. Hannah Brame, author of The Year of You wrote a series of money journal prompts, and we’ve found the best ones to get your ACE brain activated:  

How do you talk about money with friends and family? (Do you?)

What does it mean to you to have “not enough” money

What does it mean to you to have “too much” money?

Write a Money Brain Dump 

A quick money stress reliever is creating a money brain dump list. 

A money brain dump list is the act of setting a timer and writing down all of the things that are bothering you. You can make your brain dump money-specific and write out a list of financial stressors. 

Getting your fears on paper can relieve your current money stress. It can also help you make a mental note of why you are stressed, so you can work through it and process your stress in new, healthier ways. 

Eugenié uses her 10+ years’ experience in tech, education, and finances to lead high- achieving individuals to understand their money habits. She works as a financial wellness strategist and is the author of Our Money Stories.

More from the Intersectional Money Series

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How Your ACE Score Affects Your Money Habits

Our past can unconsciously influence our decisions. Paying attention to behavior patterns with money can help create reflective money habits.

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Why Representation Matters in Finance Media

Sometimes, all it takes to spark the confidence that you can be successful is seeing just one person who looks like you represeneted in the media.

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A Lesson Learned: The Black Tax

When I first heard of the Black tax, it was often described in the context of Black Americans and immigrants who are having to deal with the financial and emotional pressure of supporting family members. I connected with that assumption, but learned that I was wrong.

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The Intersection of Islamophobia and Domestic Violence

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Why Representation Matters in Finance Media

This latest installment in the Intersectional Money Series is by Jamila Souffrant.

We’d all like to think that success is attainable for anyone who has the proper tools, drive and necessary grit to withstand all the challenges that come, building wealth and accomplishing goals along the way. 

Unfortunately, not everyone has access to the same resources or begins at similar starting points in the money and entrepreneurship game. 

Why is it important to represent minorities?

Sometimes, the advantages that push you closer to success are tangible such as supportive parents or access to a well-connected social network. Some advantages are not as easy to detect because if you are not affected by them, they are somewhat invisible to you.

Personal characteristics such as confidence and courage are major intangible advantages any entrepreneur or business owner must have to succeed. If you were lucky, these personal attributes were first instilled in you by your parents. 

But we also receive this messaging of self worth and capability through mainstream media and from the world around us. 

In other words, seeing people who look like you, who talk like you and who you can relate to in positions of success matters when building your confidence. 

My experience with misrepresentation in finance media.

A couple of years ago, Entrepreneur Magazine picked up an article that I wrote for another site called Why Quitting My 6-Figure Job Was The Best Decision For My Family. When Entrepreneur first ran the story on its site, a white family was used as the stock photo. 

Once it was brought to Entrepreneur’s attention that the stock photo picture was a misrepresentation of me as the author, the image was changed to one that more closely represented my family — a black family. 

I don’t think Entrepreneur purposely used a white family as the story image knowing that I was a black author. I didn’t directly submit the article to the site and it was picked up as a syndication article from another site. Entrepreneur picked the image that they thought went best with the article. 

But why should a white family be the go-to image of happiness and success? This is an example of the implicit bias and systematic inequalities that exist in our society. The default image of success is usually white.

Representation reinforces that success is possible.

In a society where people of color, specifically black people, have been blocked from building wealth and attaining economic freedom, we desperately want and need to see more people who look like us achieving happiness and financial success. 

For so long, we didn’t see ourselves in the traditional happy and positive news stories. There is still a big discrepancy today in how black people are portrayed in the media. 

Sometimes, all it takes to spark the confidence that you, too, can be successful, is seeing just one person who looks like you. One person doing something you want to do, but thought was impossible.

I get excited every time I see someone accomplishing something amazing reported in the media who looks like me. Not only do I cheer them on like they are a friend in my head, but it creates a sense of hope that if it were possible for them to achieve it, it can be possible for me to achieve it, too. 

Why representation in financial media is important for everyone.

Representation does not only matter for people of color and other marginalised groups. It also really matters to everyone else. 

It’s important that non people of color see positive representation of people who don’t look like them in the media. This further reinforces inclusion, diversity and challenges the overall perception of what the typical success looks like.  

About the Author

Jamila Souffrant is a podcaster, writer and founder of JourneytoLaunch.com where she shares her journey to reach Financial Independence while helping others do the same. 

Jamila is considered a go-to financial thought leader in the personal finance field and is the resident financial expert on a weekly segment on News12 — the most watched local TV news-station in NYC. She has been featured in other notable media outlets such as ESSENCE, Refinery 29, Money Magazine, CNBC, CBS, Business Insider and more. The Journey To Launch Podcast was also named one of “27 Podcasts You Need To Start Listening To In 2018 by BuzzFeed”.

Jamila and her husband saved $169,000 in two years and are debt free besides their mortgage. She is also a mother of three young children and lives in Brooklyn, NY. 

More from the Intersectional Money Series

Black woman sitting in an altered background that looks like a vortex of wind, inhaling deeply.

How Your ACE Score Affects Your Money Habits

Our past can unconsciously influence our decisions. Paying attention to behavior patterns with money can help create reflective money habits.

Black woman wearing a white shirt with black trim smiling. Background is blurry trees.

Why Representation Matters in Finance Media

Sometimes, all it takes to spark the confidence that you can be successful is seeing just one person who looks like you represeneted in the media.

Black woman wearing black sweater typing at a blue keyboard

A Lesson Learned: The Black Tax

When I first heard of the Black tax, it was often described in the context of Black Americans and immigrants who are having to deal with the financial and emotional pressure of supporting family members. I connected with that assumption, but learned that I was wrong.

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The Intersection of Islamophobia and Domestic Violence

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A Lesson Learned: The Black Tax

This is the most recent Intersectional Money feature.

When I first heard of and read articles that referenced the Black tax, it was often described in the context of Black Americans and immigrants who are having to deal with the financial and emotional pressure of supporting family members. As someone who is a twice immigrant, of mixed race and identifies as a Black woman, I connected with that assumption and for a time explained it as such when asked about the Black tax. 

I learned that I was wrong.

What is the Black tax, really?

In the fall of 2019, I began to learn more about what the Black tax truly is. I realized that many were talking about its emotional impact, but few correlated the historical context and quantified the economic ramifications of how Black Americans are systemically treated. Only after reading The Black Tax: The Cost of Being Black in America by author Shawn D. Rochester did it become clear to me how pervasive this tax is because it affects every aspect of our lives.

What is the Black tax? It is the financial cost of multi-generational economic disparity and discrimination against Black Americans due to explicit and implicit anti-Black bias. 

This prejudicial tax is found in virtually every sector of our economic landscape including:

  • Employment.
  • Real estate.
  • Auto lending. 
  • Business financing. 
  • Education.
  • Healthcare.
  • Government policies. 

To understand how the Black tax impacts nearly 50 million Black Americans today and the fact that they own only 2% of the wealth in the U.S. after four centuries, we must look in the rear-view mirror of history.

Note: The author of The Black Tax, Shawn D. Rochester, will be speaking at the first day of the Elevate conference. Grab your free ticket here!

History of the Black Tax

The Emancipation Proclamation issued on January 1, 1863 by Abraham Lincoln said that all slaves in the South should be set free. The reality is that it took several years for all Black slaves in the U.S. to be liberated. White landowners had no intention of giving up their primary source of labour —  i.e. black slaves — that easily. 

Former slave owners, along with elected officials, devised new ways to continue slavery by another name. Black codes, vagrancy laws, convict leasing, and sharecropping contracts, served as a legal means to continue to discriminate against Black Americans and ensure that former Black slaves would end up working their lands for little to no pay or be forced into debt servitude.

The Homestead Act

The wealth gap for Black Americans was exacerbated through measures such as The Homestead Act of 1862 which gave a combined 270 million acres to 1.6 million families until the legislation was repealed in 1976. 

Former slaves were also eligible to submit a claim. However, the filing cost of $18 plus $6 to receive an official land patent, paying $1.25/acre, and requirements that included building a home and farming the land was unaffordable for the vast majority. 

Over 99% of the 1.6 million who benefited were White families. It is estimated that up to 93 million Americans today are beneficiaries of this land allocation. 

40 Acres and a Mule

Special Field Order N15 issued by General Sherman in 1865, commonly referred to as the original reparations for slavery act which promised “40 acres and a mule” to former Black slaves, was essentially nullified when President Andrew Johnson issued a proclamation to return the 400,000 acres of confiscated land back to White southern owners. 

Jim Crow Laws

Jim Crow laws, enacted in the late 19th through early 20th century, entrenched racial segregation in every aspect of public life: Education, transportation, facilities, and workplaces. The laws also contributed to the financial inequality suffered by Black Americans and lack of access to land and/or capital prevented the creation of wealth building opportunities. 

Black citizens who were able to build a community that flourished, such as Black Wall Street in Tulsa, OK, and in Rosewood, FL, among others, were perceived as a threat to the White establishment. Their towns were literally burned to the ground and many Black residents were beaten and/or murdered.

Redlining

The practice of redlining was formalized in the National Housing Act of 1934 — an act which also established the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). Residential maps were created for cities across the U.S. and housing zones from the newest to the declining areas were outlined. The older areas tended to be where many Black neighborhoods were situated. 

These maps were used by government and private mortgage lending entities to facilitate racial segregation through the denial of loans to Black applicants who wanted to purchase property in new White suburban communities and refusing to insure mortgages in predominately Black communities. Redlining and the use of blacklists directly contributed to Black neighborhoods not being able to attract and keep families, and spurred a decrease in their property values.

The Wagner Act

In 1935, Congress passed The Wagner Act, legalizing labour unions. But it made certain to allow unions to exclude non-Whites until the late 1970s. As a result, many Black Americans did not have access to higher paying jobs with benefits and healthcare. 

Discrimination Continues into the 21st Century

Lest we think that policies such as redlining and other discriminatory practices against Black Americans have ceased, we only need to look at recent settlements. 

Big Banks Facing Consequences for Racial Discrimination

In 2015, the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) substantiated complaints that Associated Bank intently rejected mortgage applications from Black and Latino applicants. Another investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) proved that Hudson City Savings Bank also denied fair access to mortgages for Black Americans and Latinos. In both instances, in addition to a sizable monetary penalty, the settlements required the respective banks to open branches in non-White communities.

Just last year, in 2019, Wells Fargo paid $10 million in a settlement stemming from a lawsuit that alleged that they engaged in discriminatory lending practices which caused high foreclosure rates in Black and minority neighborhoods. In 2012, the same bank agreed to pay $184.3 million for allegations that it charged higher mortgage interest rates and fees along with issuing subprime loans to Black Americans and Latinos despite them having favourable credit scores. 

Racial bias against Black Americans persists to this day in corporate America. In the most recent bias allegation against Bank of America, the latter paid $4.2 million in 2019 to settle government claims that the bank discriminated against Black, Latino, and female applicants in their hiring practices. 

The Black Tax, Business and Career

Black men and women continue to lag financially and professionally compared to their White counterparts in the workplace due to factors such as: 

  • The pay equity gap. 
  • Lack of salary transparency. 
  • Biased hiring and management practices. 
  • Poorly implemented diversity, equity and inclusion programs that do not address issues that are specific to Black employees
  • Lack of career growth and advancement opportunities to senior management and C-suite roles.

Access to business capital and financing continues to be a hurdle for Black Americans. If they do manage to obtain credit it will likely cost them more, however the typical result is that they are denied access. Since the net worth of Black American families only accounts for one tenth of that of Whites, Black business owners are forced to use personal credit or borrow from family and friends to fund a start-up. The disparity of business financing results in Black businesses not being able to scale or employ others to further benefit their communities. 

Online survey results reported by TIME magazine regarding the 2020 U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) EIDL and PPP loans issued in response to the economic impact of COVID-19 further underscores the financial challenges that Black business owners experience.

The Black Tax Exists Today 

It is estimated that Black Americans have been deprived of upwards of trillions in today’s dollars due to anti-Black discriminatory laws and practices that instead benefitted the economic trajectory of White Americans. The latter are significantly more likely to receive inheritances and a larger amount of it than Black Americans. 

The Black population continues to pay the price for being Black in America and the cumulative effects from slavery to this day have led to a collective emotional and financial trauma that seems nearly impossible to overcome. Yet the words of the poem written by the late Maya Angelou, “Still, I Rise”, rings ever true. 

Black Americans are committing themselves in greater numbers than ever before to economic development and giving of their talents, time, and resources to their community. They have realized that higher education is not the only “pathway to success”– especially as there are serious racial inequities and financial obstacles regarding access to quality education. It will take a concerted and consistent effort on all fronts to make the necessary inroads for Black people to create intergenerational wealth.

Reducing the Impact of the Black Tax

The collective purchasing power of Black Americans is reported to exceed 1.2 trillion annual US dollars. There is a growing consensus of the need to direct more of that purchasing power towards supporting Black businesses. Some of the key ways to reduce the impact of the Black tax include:

  • Purchasing products and services from Black establishments. 
  • Hiring Black Americans for well-paying roles.
  • Banking Black.
  • Requiring that governments and corporations devote a larger percentage of their annual spend to Black companies. 

In closing, consider this article as a brief introduction to the Black tax. My hope is that readers of all races will further educate themselves on the topic. Also, that readers will be motivated to act upon what they can do to counter anti-Black bias, both at a personal and systemic level. 

Kassandra Dasent is a financial wellness engineer and speaker. Focusing on how emotional awareness can have a direct and lasting impact on one’s relationship with money, Kassandra provides her audiences with practical solutions to help them achieve holistic wealth. Kassandra is also a certified project manager (PMP/CSM) and Founder of BridgeTech Enterprises. She has been featured in numerous media outlets including Forbes, US News & World Report, Business Insider, Fast Company, Travel Noire, Thrive Global, Yahoo! Finance and News, and Glamour.

More from the Intersectional Money Series

Black woman sitting in an altered background that looks like a vortex of wind, inhaling deeply.

How Your ACE Score Affects Your Money Habits

Our past can unconsciously influence our decisions. Paying attention to behavior patterns with money can help create reflective money habits.

Black woman wearing a white shirt with black trim smiling. Background is blurry trees.

Why Representation Matters in Finance Media

Sometimes, all it takes to spark the confidence that you can be successful is seeing just one person who looks like you represeneted in the media.

Black woman wearing black sweater typing at a blue keyboard

A Lesson Learned: The Black Tax

When I first heard of the Black tax, it was often described in the context of Black Americans and immigrants who are having to deal with the financial and emotional pressure of supporting family members. I connected with that assumption, but learned that I was wrong.

domestic violence advocate

The Intersection of Islamophobia and Domestic Violence

Nour Naas shares her important story and perspective on domestic violence and how marginalized groups face additional barriers when it comes to reporting.

The Intersection of Islamophobia and Domestic Violence

Note: This post may contain triggers for those who have been in abusive relationships or been through sexual assault.

The month of October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. To highlight the issues that victims face physically, emotionally and economically, Femme Frugality will be discussing the issue every Friday. We will do this through a mix of stories, conversations and factual articles. To help raise awareness, please use the hashtag #DVAM when sharing these articles.

Wow. I never thought about how outside prejudice might affect a woman's ability to report domestic violence. This is such an important read.

Domestic abuse is an epidemic-level problem in our society. The complexities of the dangers you find yourself in when you are being abused make it hard to leave. To report. To recover.

These problems are compounded, however, when you’re a member of a marginalized group. Today, we’ll look at some excerpts from The Feminist Financial Handbook.

In this section of the book, I was honored and humbled that Nour Naas–a survivor and advocate–shared her story and perspective as a Muslim woman who has lost her mother to domestic violence. Here are just some of her perspectives on how Islamophobia compounds the problem of reporting–both within a community and to authorities–and the economic effects of abuse.

“After my mother passed away, I didn’t want to talk about it,” says Naas. “The Muslim community is already targeted in so many ways through stereotyping and policies. I didn’t want to add to it. There are really obvious ones like invading all these Muslim countries and occupying their lands, speaking about people from or in those countries as primitive, saying things like, ‘We’re there to save them,’ and giving people this concept that these people are different from us, living in a backwards culture. But there are also stereotypes about Muslim men and women that make it hard to talk about. Men are supposedly violent and patriarchal; women submissive and in need of saving. You don’t want to reinforce any of that.”

Naas notes that Islamophobia is at times also in evidence at the institutional level, creating a mistrust of law enforcement that affects victims’ decision to report. In the Muslim community, mosques have been surveilled by law enforcement. Racial profiling is widespread. The police haven’t been on your side so far—why would they help now?

“Not having finances to leave your abuser is the number one reason women don’t leave,” says Naas. “They would have nothing to survive on. It’s a source of a lot of people’s depression when they’re in that situation. When you don’t have resources to leave, it just makes people feel hopeless.”

“You’re not in a state of mind to do anything because of those psychological scars,” Naas explains [about returning to work after escaping abuse]. “There’s a stigma attached to what a victim goes through. It can impact a person’s work performance or their ability to bring in an income at all. Women who are in these situations will sometimes resort to drugs or drinking, etc., to cope with the pain. That ends up being where all their money goes.”

Today, Naas is a political science major at UC Berkeley. About a year ago, she took her first training to be a domestic violence advocate and has been serving as a volunteer in her communities ever since. She has a special place in her heart for marginalized women— especially Muslim women. She is launching a new effort to create safe spaces for these survivors to share their stories and get help.

“Talking about domestic violence and making people aware can help get rid of the stigmas we have around it,” she explains. “That way, if this is happening, you know you just need to tell someone that it’s happening. We need a community of people who will help— who know it’s not okay either. That attitude is not really there in the Muslim community or in most of the country, for that matter.”

To learn more about Nour, read her story. You can also get more of the context of her comments and some potential financial recovery solutions in the book.

If you purchase, please leave a review on Amazon! It will help us get Nour’s important story and perspective out to more people.

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How Disableism Has Affected My Finances

In honor of Autism Acceptance Month, Femme Frugality is running a series of Monday articles focusing on the triumphs and challenges autistic people conquer as related to their finances and careers. Today I’m so happy to introcude to you Kristine–a Norwegian money blogger at ecoFrugals–who is here to give us first-hand perspective on what it’s like to face disableism in the workplace as an autistic woman.

Didn't realize autistic people faced so many barriers to entry in the workplace! Passing on to my HR rep so my employer can be more aware of these issues.

Hi, there! My name is Kristine, and I mostly write about frugality, sustainability and personal finance over at ecofrugals.com. I am also autistic–diagnosed in my early twenties with what was then known as Asperger’s. A classic middle child in many ways, my two siblings demanded attention, so my parents were overjoyed to have a child who mostly sat in a corner reading books or solving jigsaw puzzles.

When Femme approached me about writing a post for Autism appreciation month, I was honoured. I had recently written a post about autism and personal finance, but to be honest, I also felt a bit apprehensive. As I do whenever I poke my head out about my diagnosis. I was only diagnosed as an adult, after all. My condition was not such that it warranted special education or speech training.

Still, my experience is also a valid one, so here follows some of my experiences regarding disableism.

Getting A Foot Inside

It starts with the most obvious yet insidious of adult milestones: Getting a job.

I had done “everything right.” At least as far as I understood it. Society and my family told me school was important, so I attended school. They told me science was a safe profession (they were non-specific as to what kind of science), so I studied science. Environmental chemistry, to be specific.

I was told my degree was highly relevant and sought after–it had been requested by the industry after all–and I had several relevant internships. I had followed the rules. Surely, a meaningful job would follow?

That is not what happened.

Privilege & Disableism

While the job market is challenging for everyone at the moment, it is even more so for people with disabilities. I am privileged in that I am white and educated, but lack privilege in that I am autistic.

It can manifest in multiple ways. For instance, my thinking can be rigid. I have internalised that lying is bad, so I do not embellish my CV. In a world where “everyone” embellishes their CV to get ahead, this puts me at a disadvantage before it even gets to the interview.

Once at the interview, if I am lucky enough to get one, there is the risk that I might come off as a little off. No matter how much I practice social skills, I still struggle in high-stress situations with unexpected questions.

In many ways, disableism means I have had to accept that I am never the preferred candidate, unless the job involves a windowless archive with near-zero social interactions (in which case you’re probably one of the only qualified candidates).

No Data, No Answer

As an example of this, I once dropped a grade at an oral maths examination, because the teacher wanted me to calculate the weight of the air in the classroom.

I told him I did not know the weight of a cubic meter of air, and asked if he could provide an estimate. He told me to guess.

I had absolutely no frame of reference for how much a cubic meter of air weighs. I had no way to guess. He insisted I guessed, and I told him I could not. I could have calculated the volume of the air in the classroom if that was what he wanted, but the way he framed the question meant I was missing a variable, and that made me shut down.

That is how my mind works. Trying to “help” me in quiz or Trivia Pursuit just annoys me. I either know, or I don’t.

Keeping Your Financial House in Order

Nearly four years after graduating top of my class, I still do not have a permanent position. People seem to like me just fine, and they compliment my work, but I lack that knack for “chit-chat” and water-cooler talk that makes for great networking. People bring their newborn in to work and I try to compliment them as protocol dictates, but really, I just want to know if they’ve had time to look at x and y work-related subjects yet.

This means I do not feel financially secure in my employment. I hoard savings for the next time a contract will expire and I’ll be back hunting for jobs. In the end, I realised that I would never feel safe with someone else in charge of my paycheck. If I wanted financial peace, I would have to build it for myself.

If you are disabled in some way, but do not receive social benefits, you’ll know exactly what I mean. If you don’t look out for your own financial well-being, no one else will.

Note from Femme: In the US, if you are disabled and receive social benefits, the government hardly watches out for your financial well-being. Only recently have ABLE accounts allowed disabled populations to save without losing benefits. Other countries have more logical and less discriminatory social policies.

Oh, Brother of Mine

Mine is the story of autism from a highly educated and reasonably observant point of view.

My brother, on the other hand, might fit better into a different autistic stereotype. He lives a lot in his own world, doesn’t get the greatest grades, and really just wants to get on with his own life as a factory worker somewhere with rigid routines, playing video games at night and minimum amounts of fuss.

He is generous to a fault. More than once has he spent all his pocket money on gifts and tokens of affection, giving no regard to the fact that he has to eat tomorrow as well.

And I see the same struggles as he is trying his best to get a job. When and if he manages to get an interview, he is honest to a fault, and does not understand that an interview is a place to show off your best qualities.

I do hope he gets a job eventually. He may not be the most independent, but once you teach him something, he will work until you or the clock tell him to stop. In the right environment, he will be a great asset.

Just Pull Yourself Together

Probably one of the most hurtful comments to anyone with a disability–mental or physical–is the idea that it is all just in our heads, and that we can simply imagine away our obstacles with enough willpower.

If you feed off social interaction and feel invigorated at parties, that’s both incredible and alien to me. But please don’t try to assume I can do the same if I just “loosen up” or “let myself go.”

Social interactions with more than the select few people I feel comfortable with, can and will exhaust me. The office Christmas or summer party is my idea of a special hell, and no amount of practice can remedy that.

Act Natural

On a lighter note, I would suggest not trying to tell autistic people to “act natural” or to “be themselves.”

That might work for you, but myself and the other autistic people I’ve met laugh at this notion.

Acting natural for an autistic person might be sitting naked on the floor (because clothes itch or feel weird,) eating jello (smooth texture) while rocking back and forth or groaning repeatedly (“stimming”–repetitive behaviour that calms your down or shows joy/excitement.)

Trust me, I do not act “natural” in public, and you’re probably glad I don’t.

How Can You Create A Safe Space?

If you are hosting or employing autistic staff, hooray! Here are some easy tips to make them feel welcome and safe:

  • Make sure there is a retreat option. A place where we can be alone if we need a break. For most, this can simply be a bathroom that locks.
  • Many autistic people struggle with physical touch and eye-contact. Please do not force this.
  • Do not assume anything is “common knowledge.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made an ass of myself because no one thought to teach me the most rudimentary of behaviour.
  • Many autistic people appreciate honest, clear feedback on social mishaps. If you are in a position of trust, this could be relevant, but make sure it is in private and unambiguous: “Please welcome clients with a firm handshake,” (and then show them) not; “You’re greeting people a bit weird.”
  • If they want their work space organised a specific way, does it hurt anyone if you let them?
  • Educating yourself is great, but take the time to get to know the person in front of you as well. Meeting one autistic person means exactly that. You’ve met just one.
  • And please, do not make a public point out of behaviour you might find weird or if we excuse ourselves early. It’s not you–it’s us.