During our reign as the overlords of Bitches Get Riches, Kitty and I have met a lot of interesting and successful people: millionaires, rich startup founders, wealthy media darlings, best-selling authors. But every once in a while we meet someone way more interesting.
The first time we were booked to speak at an event with Yanely Espinal, we did a collective double-take as soon as she started talking (and not just because of her delightful Brooklyn accent). Yanely was talking about strategies for breaking the cycles of generational poverty, how to make wealth-building accessible, and practical ways to motivate, educate, and inspire normal-ass humans to reach their money goals.
Most folks probably know her as MissBeHelpful on YouTube and Instagram. But Yanely has been making a name for herself all over the place as a storyteller who makes financial concepts straightforward and blessedly non-boring. The Brooklyn native also left her job as an elementary school teacher to direct general do-goodery at the educational outreach nonprofit Next Gen Personal Finance.
And naturally, we dig her with a real big shovel.
I caught up with Yanely to talk about her new book, Mind Your Money, and find out what she has against exorbitant credit card interest rates.
An interview with author Yanely Espinal
Get the book!
Mind Your Money by Yanely Espinal is now available as a paperback, ebook, AND audiobook wherever fine books are sold. How’s that for an accessibility queen? We strongly recommend you buy a copy for someone you like, and request your local library stock it on their shelves!
For more on what Yanely’s up to, including events and her book tour, visit her website.
And if you’re curious about our other favorite personal finance books:
- Barbara Sloan’s New Book Dares To Suggest Service Industry Professionals Deserve Financial Stability Too
- Bitchtastic Book Review: Tanja Hester on Early Retirement, Privilege, and Her Book, Work Optional
- Bitchtastic Book Review: The Feminist Financial Handbook by Brynne Conroy
- Bitchtastic Book Review: Hand to Mouth by Linda Tirado
- Bitchtastic Book Review: The Financial Diet by Chelsea Fagan
Interview transcript (click to reveal)
Alright well, hello Bitch Nation! Joining us today is Yanely Espinal, author of the newly minted Mind Your Money book. Look how beautiful it is. My ring light is just so attracted to it. And Yanely is here to talk to us all about her book journey and why you should absolutely read it. I mean, I’ve read it. It’s gorgeous, I love it. But first, I know the people want to ask you the really important questions. So first, hard hitting question from the people. Fuck, marry, kill: credit scores, the mortgage interest tax deduction, or credit card interest rates over 20%.
Oh god, kill for sure.
Last one, interest rates over 20—kill them, hello.
I think, oh man, wait so the first one was credit card?
And then the mortgage interest tax deduction.
Okay well to be fair, I haven’t taken a mortgage out in my name yet cause I haven’t ventured into real estate on my own. So I will say, I can’t really marry you, I don’t know you yet.
So let’s say, marry my credit score and fuck the whole mortgage credit situation. Cause I’m sure it’s cute but like I don’t know you yet.
Yeah, exactly. They haven’t even bought you dinner yet. I love that. Okay, great. So in Mind Your Money, it is packed chock-full of stories about your upbringing and how you did not come from money. You did not come from wealth. You are one of us and I love that about you because it makes your work simultaneously super entertaining and also relatable. Like you open with these stories of your mom and your sister and I’m just like wow, that all sounds really familiar. I want to talk about, you know, without coming from this background of obscene wealth, what first inspired you to mind your money and spread the word?
Yeah, you know I gotta say, I wasn’t really inspired. I was like scared straight. You know, like it’s a difference of—inspiration comes from usually a positive place, that you feel good about motivating yourself to change. No, for me it was like I was a hot ass mess with my credit cards for so long. I remember there was a point where my parents kind of needed help from the kids. I mean they have a lot of kids, I’m one of nine siblings. So they were like asking us, you know, hey you know we’re getting older, income’s drying up. Help us, you know, pay the electric bill, one of you take the gas bill, the other one take the internet bill. Chip in. And when they started asking for help, I was like, oh yeah, sure. I can give two, three hundred bucks a month, I don’t mind. But once I started doing that, I realized that was the little bit of room in my budget that it took to ruin everything because from there I didn’t have enough money to hang out, you know, I couldn’t pay my credit card bill after I paid all my bills and gave them money that I was offering to help with. It didn’t make sense, how could just two hundred bucks a month throw me off so much with my finances and it’s because they were already on the brink of total collapse because I didn’t have a system to track my spending, I didn’t have a budget, I didn’t have any system for going through my statements for my credit card. I would just spend spend spend and pay it, the minimum or a little bit more every month, and that was my routine. So, when I finally started looking at my credit card statements, I started scrolling past the first page and looking at the actual—
There’s a second page?
There’s a lot of pages. There’s a lot of pages when you spend a lot on your credit cards. And I never looked at them. So I started seeing a bunch of like interest charges. And I’m like, yo what are these charges? Like I don’t understand. And they were so high! And so for me, I just sat there and I started doing the math, I’m like this is wild. I added up all my credit card debt that I had on all of my four credit cards and it was almost, it was over $20,000 and I was like, I can’t do this anymore. So that was what scared me straight, was the idea that if I don’t make a change now, I’mma just keep—this is just going to keep getting worse if I don’t get serious and actually control the situation from this point forward.
Yeah, absolutely. And I’m sure there was so much pressure to you and to all your siblings to be like, well, Mom and Dad need help, like looking at them and be like, I want to get to the point where I can not only help them but maybe you know, later on down the road, I won’t have to be in a position where I ask for help from future generations.
Exactly. And that’s the whole point of like creating new generational cycles and freeing ourselves from that negative cycle that kind of keeps you in that chokehold of relying on your kids to take care of you, relying on other people to take care of you. And I just think I hit that point where I want to be independent financially and I want to be to the point where I can take care of myself and even if I never have children, I’ll be all right. Like I’ll have enough money to pay for somebody to wipe my ass. I don’t need to worry about who’s going to do that for me. Like, I’m going to have money for quality care in the best retirement home. Then I’mma be sipping mimosas, I’m gonna be good. But I just knew like my parents didn’t have—they weren’t afforded access to opportunities, to investment vehicles, to jobs that gave them the chance to actually create that kind of Lifestyle for themselves. So they do rely on their kids. And I don’t want to do that to anybody. I want to be able to be self-sufficient.
Yeah, absolutely, I love that. That idea of breaking the cycle. We talk about generational wealth as this aspirational thing. But it does really feel like through your journey and through your book it’s not just aspirational, it’s like blood, sweat and tears to break out of that, get off the hamster wheel, and build—like you know, it’s not just like, oh I’ll forego mimosas today so I can have a mimosa in the nursing home. It’s so much more than that.
That’s a little part of it, but it’s definitely not all of it.
And it is a lot of mental—I mean you talk about blood, sweat, and tears, and that makes it seem like it’s just a lot of physical sacrifice and it is a lot of physical sacrifice but it’s also a lot of mental work. Like you know, almost like a therapy. I mean honestly, financial therapy should be much more popular in the limelight and discussions in the media and in public conversations than it is because I feel like for me, that’s what I had to do. I had to go through a financially therapeutic transition to really get to a point where I’m like oh, I don’t have to think that way anymore, I can choose these thoughts instead and use money this way instead of that way, and that takes time cause you’re basically retraining your brain and that shit’s hard. It’s hard.
Girl preach. Yeah. Well, let’s talk about like, once you got through that journey, you recommended all these fantastic tips. And one of the ones that really stuck out to me in particular—and I kind of get on a high horse about this—is don’t bank with mean girls. So let’s talk about what you mean by don’t bank with mean girls.
Yeah. I mean, it’s so funny. When I started writing that chapter, I was like, damn, this chapter’s gonna be boring as hell. Like who wants to learn about how banks work and, you know, credit union—difference between a credit union and a bank—and I mean, it’s just so boring. Like it feels like I can’t make it fun. And so I started really wracking my brain and how can I spice this up, how can I make it fun? And so I just started thinking and I was like, I need an analogy that’s gonna make it fun, like a hook to just get your attention early on, now you’re like, all right, this is gonna be better than I thought, you know, talking about banks. And for me, it was Mean Girls. Like it just clicked that I was like, the plastics, it’s kind of swiping plastic credit cards. There’s something there. Like I started with that. And then I started thinking about just like, you know, mean girls. Like, Regina George is the meanest freaking girl, the whole movie is called Mean Girls because it’s about her, and she’s so mean and her little clique of girls. And that whole ethos is pretty much how banking—the vibe of banking is these days. You know, like you see billions and billions of dollars in profit from overdraft fees alone, and it’s like disgusting! Like that’s the meanest shit ever. These are the people who literally do not have enough money in their checking account to cover these small purchases, they go below zero, and now you’re going to hit them with charges on top of charges. These are the people who need help the most and that’s where you’re making the billions of profits? I mean, it’s just, it seemed like the meanest industry, right? And I was like, how can I bring light to that? So what I decided to do is make the whole chapter about connections, or not the whole chapter, but there’s certain parts where I draw direct connections between the movie Mean Girls and the institutions in the banking sector that are straight up mean to us. And we don’t need to bank with them. You don’t need to hang out with mean girls. You don’t need to sit with them if you don’t want to. So we need to understand that that’s not healthy for us. It’s so toxic and once we understand that, we’ll be able to go find banks and institutions and credit unions and community banks that serve us and are good for us and are healthy relationships that we have with them. They want to educate us, they don’t want to cast us out and confuse us. They want to help us, they don’t want to charge us extra fees that are unnecessary, you know, that kind of stuff. So for me, don’t bank with mean girls just means don’t stay at a bank that you’re not like 100% gung ho positive that you picked that bank for a reason or you picked that credit union for a reason. You’re just there because it’s been like that for so long or because that’s just how it is. It’s the same bank my mom had, or it’s the bank I got when I was fifteen and I just never felt like changing it, it’s too much of a hassle, you know. We all end up banking with institutions that freaking suck just because of the fact that we think that changing is too hard and so that chapter’s to show you that it’s not that hard to change your bank. It’s not that hard, it just takes a little bit of time and research. And once you do it, that’s it. Just rip off the band-aid and your life is gonna be so much better cause you don’t have to deal with shitty banks that have shitty policies.
Yeah, exactly. I mean, we talk a lot about voting with your dollars. Like this is a great example of that. You know, if your bank is charging you fees up the ying-yang, like you don’t have to put up with that, you can take your money somewhere else, you don’t have to let them profit off of your poverty. You can go find a credit union, or an online bank, or somewhere, some other financial institution.
Yup, a community bank.
Exactly. And that way, you know, those institutions that are more community-minded or more compassionate to their customers—not only are you supporting them, but you are sort of showing those mean girl banks or those mean girl financial institutions that what they’re doing is not going to fly, and if they want to keep customers, they got to change their act. So I love it.
Exactly. And that’s so hard to do because obviously I’m one little fish in a giant sea of so many hundreds of millions of people, but at the same time, the more we get the message out, the more people get hip to this idea that yeah, you can leave, you don’t have to stay at that bank. Just because it’s more convenient, doesn’t mean it’s impossible for you to be able to find a little bit of convenience somewhere else. Or, you know, just something that might be a little bit less convenient, but it’s so much better for everyone, you know, that kind of thing. And I mean early on, when I was like a teenager, I remember like I didn’t think about the bank I had, it was just the debit card that I had, it was just because there were ATM machines everywhere, it was just easy. It wasn’t a decision that I felt I’d made consciously and that I, you know, that I was very selective about my choice. I wasn’t, it just was because it was. So this chapter was really me saying like, you know, if it doesn’t feel good hanging out with mean girls, then don’t do it. I mean if you want to do it, you’re probably a mean girl too. So question yourself on that. But like that whole concept is where I felt like I could just spice it up and really bring light to the fact that there’s a lot of new banks on the block, new fintech apps, new neobanks, challenger banks, you know, community banks, Black-owned banks. There’s so many different types of banks. If you want to support things that really affect positive change in small communities and large communities, you can do that with your money being held at institutions that align with those goals and values. And not feel like you have to just stick around with these big, major banks that tend to be the shittiest of all banks.
Exactly, exactly. And I know you talk about, you know, being just one small fish in this large pond. But I would kind of push back on that because you know, your handle and your internet presence is Miss Be Helpful and you have just this electric personality, you’re super inspiring, you’re super motivating and like I know I feel like I need to get off my ass and do something not only for my own finances but for my community, for my world, for my family. So, you know, I would just like, not to blow smoke up your ass, but I would just stay, like, you are doing the Lord’s work and I would love to hear more, like what do you think people can do to get involved and to effect their communities in a positive way?
Yeah, you know I got to say unfortunately, a lot of people that I’m around don’t like politics. But the truth is politics touches your life in so many ways, and you may or may not realize it, but it does. And so I think we just need to engage more civically. Like become engaged in local politics, local politics is where it starts. And unfortunately, most people are active in national politics. So every time there’s a presidential election, everybody wanna run outside—“I voted, here’s my ‘I voted’ sticker.” But that matters most for local elections because that’s where people have the most power over your actual everyday life. And so I didn’t really, you know, I didn’t feel like I was super engaged politically either when I was younger, but you know, in my mid-twenties to now I’ve become so much more concerned with, you know, who is my city council rep, who are my local senators, who are my local representatives in the House of Representatives, who is representing, you know, my local zip code, my city, right, the state that I live in? Not just our country at large because the truth is when you look at a lot of legislation that’s proposed, it’s going to be—most of the laws are going to be local laws, right? So things that affect where you live. And now, it’s so funny cause I have—it’s mixed, like I have some friends that take it really seriously and they see the value and I have other friends that are like eh, whatever, politics is gonna politic. Like I’m not getting involved, I hate it. And it’s so interesting I’m always trying to convince them like nah, you have to get involved because that’s how you actually create change that you can see and feel. So a quick example, like I have a really good friend in New Jersey that she and her husband are raising their baby in a way where they’re trying very hard to make it equal between the mother and father in that parenthood. They don’t want it to be like, mom does everything. So they actively make sure dad changes diapers, not just mom changing diapers, they want to do that, right? So they go out to a restaurant, Dad takes the baby to go change in the bathroom. There’s no baby diaper changing station in the men’s bathroom.
The diaper changing station is only in the women’s bathroom. So what does she do? She sends an email to her local, you know, the internal, the legal aid, right, for the local reps and she’s like, why is it that there’s a federal law that makes sure that restaurants have to have this or that, but here, for example at restaurants, there’s only changing stations in the women’s room. Oh so dads don’t change diapers? Like this is a problem and it’s so funny because she’s telling me the story and I was just like, this is what we need. We need people who see problems around us that are easy things to fix and address and even if it’s difficult to fix and address, to start the ball rolling, right? And to start talking about it, writing emails, tweeting at people, tagging them, all of these things are right at our fingertips that we can do. And I just feel like that’s what we need more of, is people speaking up about things that are problematic and how to fix them. You know, bank deserts. There’s so many banking deserts across the US. I learned this stuff when I was doing research for my book, for that chapter about banking with mean girls. And I was like I can’t believe there’s so many zip codes in our country where there’s literally not a bank branch in sight.
How could there not be a law that says that every this many miles there needs to be a financial institution serving that community? Like it’s wild to me that it’s 2023 and there’s still neighborhoods that don’t have a bank inside. They only have a check cashing spot or a Payday Loan Center. That’s wild. To encourage you to engage is really not—there’s no way I benefit from that, it’s for yourself, your family, for your own community. That’s the easiest way is to just start getting involved. Writing to folks in power in your local area about things that you want to see happen, changes that you want to see made, and make your voice heard. Because at the end of the day, they’re there to serve you. And they’re there to serve the constituents. So they need to know what you want, so that they can then fight to make it happen.
Extremely well said. Like these public servants need to put an emphasis on the servant part. And you know, we’ve said to our readers and listeners before that the most important thing you can do for your money, has nothing to do with your money. It’s to go to the ballot boxes, to go to those Town Hall meetings, it’s to go to those city hall meetings and you know, talk about why the hell isn’t there a changing station in the men’s room, talk about why we’re in a banking desert, or you know, why we’re in a food desert. People should not have their only food option be the gas station and their only money option be a Payday Loan. Those are not healthy options for anyone. And if it’s the only option, then you really have no choice but to make that unhealthy decision.
100%. 100%. And then the funny thing is there’s this constant tug-of-war in our country about do we blame the systems in place or do we blame individuals who participate in systems. Honestly, it doesn’t even matter. You’re looking for fault and blame to put on someone when we should just be looking for solutions to problems. And so for me, that’s really what I’ve learned recently is like getting engaged in politics or in local civic engagement doesn’t mean that you’re going to be constantly picking sides at the end of the day. What you’re doing is just saying there’s a problem, let’s work together to find a solution. It doesn’t necessarily constantly have to feel so divisive. And for me, I have found a lot of joy in that because my kind of way of doing this is fighting for financial literacy to be required in every public high school in the country. But that can’t obviously happen at the federal level because education is a local issue. So you have to go state by state by state by state and convince each state legislature to pass a high school graduation requirement for personal finance. And that is hard. It costs a lot of money, it takes a lot of time and so, thank goodness, you know, I’m able to work with organizations that are passionate about this and have money to put down, put their money where their mouth is to fight to make this happen. And so with me, I’ve noticed that when you’re talking about certain issues in this country, they become very divisive very quickly. But you talk about financial literacy education in schools, everybody agrees. This is not political. This is not a political issue, it’s a common sense issue. Everybody agrees. Everybody’s on the same page like, oh yes, our kids need that. Oh yes, I wish I had that. I wish I had that. And everyone just like agrees. The problem is how to make it happen. Like, when is it going to be taught? How long? What standards are we going to teach? Who’s going to teach it? Is it going to be a math class or a social studies class? Or you know, the logistics is kind of where you start to get lost in the details of the bill language, but ultimately the topic is something that brings us all together cause we all know how important financial education is.
Absolutely. Oh my God, you are getting my heart racing. This is—you’re speaking my language here. Okay again, I don’t want to take up too much of your time, but I do want to talk about one more thing before we plug the book again, which is you have this amazing emphasis in your book on
doing things your own way. On how there is no one-size-fits-all solution to financial problems on the individual level. So you know, what is the reason for there being no one-size-fits-all solution? Why can’t we just say okay, everybody should do steps 1, 2 and 3. Boom, boom, boom. You all have equal success, mileage will not vary. Why is that?
Ooh I love this question. Okay, why? Because money connects to everything in your life. Your job, your family, your mentality, right? Psychologically, the psychology of money. Right so, and it has such a strong connection in our country to social status. So you know, all of these different things, all these different parts of your life—the type of food that you can eat, you know, access to the type of car that you have, the housing, where you live—all of these things are directly connected. It’s like you know, when you’re trying to solve a case and it’s like you’re pointing to the wall and there’s all these red strings and all these push pins in the wall, and you’re like it’s all connected! Like yes, it is literally all connected—to money! And so the only way that money could be the same for everybody, in terms of solutions and approaches and strategies, can be the same for everyone is if all of those points were the same for everyone. We all have the same job, we all earn the same income, we all have the same money mentality. We all have the same type of psychology around money. We all eat the same foods. We all have a similar standard of living, social status. We all have the same you know, desires for our children and the future, and goals for our futures. And ain’t no way. Ain’t no way you’re going to get 300 million people to all have the same of anything. So to me, that’s really the basis underlying why every single person needs an individualized approach to their money, because they have an individualized life. You know, everything about you is unique and so that’s why your money plan needs to be unique to you as well. And I feel like at first I didn’t understand that because I was reading all these money books and being like oh, I’mma follow this plan just like this, I’m gonna do exactly what this guru say, I’mma do what she say, I’mma do what they say. And then eventually I realized no, I need to take a little bit from this, that works for me in that aspect, then take a little bit from that, that works for me in there, in this area. And kind of mix it up and make this whole new hodge podge, this whole new soup, that works for me with my circumstances and that took a long time for me to first of all experiment and figure out what works, what I like, what I don’t, what works for me, you know ethically, what I actually am okay with, what I agree with, what aligns with me. There’s so much out there that, you know, you kind of just try things and figure out what makes you feel good and what doesn’t and what works for you and what you’re not succeeding with and then you kind of craft this like perfectly individualized concoction that just works for you and your loved ones. And that’s why it’s not easy. I say in my book that every time I kind of tell people I work in finance or that I post content about personal finance on social media, they’re always like oh yeah so you’re selling a course. Oh no, so then what are you selling? And again, I put in the book like, no shade to financial hustlers out there who are selling things or whatever. But at the end of the day for me, this is not about selling something that’s one-size-fits-all to everybody. The goal is to just get you to wake up and smell the coffee, like wake up and smell this idea that money really matters in your life and you need to start exploring all the different ways that you can approach money. That you can approach investing, that you can approach taxes, that you can approach in your credit, that you can approach paying for college or alternatives to college for your kids if they’re not interested in that, that you can approach insurance for yourself and your family. There’s so many ways to do it and you have to pick and choose the ways that work for you and the only way to do that is to learn by doing. And so the information is more important than anything else. So for me, that’s really the key. Like there’s so many gimmicks out there, there’s so many people trying to tell you just follow my plan, it’s going to work. And it’s like, it might just coincidentally happen to work. But chances are it’s not for you cause it’s not customized for you.
Exactly. Exactly. And I love that you use the word ethics in there as well cause it’s not just our circumstances that are different. It’s our intrinsic personal values. And I can’t think of anything more ethically concerning than where you spend your money, who you choose to do business with. And you’re exactly right. Like there is no one-size-fits-all in finance. Yanely, you are a perfect angel baby, and I love everything about you. Bitchlings, the book is Mind Your Money by Yanely Espinal. You can find her on Instagram where?
@missbehelpful. M-I-S-S-B-E-helpful. I’m pretty active on Instagram, like I post a lot. I also post on YouTube every now and then. I haven’t been as active on there because it just takes more time than other platforms. But like LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube. All of them. Just missbehelpful, M-I-S-S-B-E-helpful, and then if you want to get a copy of the book—I honestly, I love the book for everybody, like adults have been telling me it’s so amazing, oh my gosh, I love it. But I think the real target audience that I had in mind when I was writing it is like a fresh newbie to money. So like a high school kid, a college kid, a fresh out of college grad. Getting your first job, you know that kind of phase of life is when I wish I had this book. So if you love a college kid, a teenager in your life, that’s a perfect candidate to get this book. You can get it at mindyourmoneybook.com.
Perfect. And I was just thinking, I have some folks who are like, about to go to college. Like, maybe this is, this is a good thing to stick in their suitcase.
It sure is. Yes, it’s a great back to school gift, it’s a great graduation gift, it’s a great holiday gift. I’ve been having a lot of like college kids and teenagers and even high school students slipping in my DMs like, I’m reading your book right now, it’s so great. Like I’ve never had anybody talk to me about these things and I didn’t even know who to talk to about them and I’m learning so much and I’m just like, tears tears to my eyes because that’s literally who I wrote the book for! It’s like so sweet to see it.
I love that.
I really tried to write it in a way that didn’t feel preachy, that didn’t feel like a frickin’ thesis about personal finance. I wanted it to feel more like storytelling, like a narrative, like a memoir, like a style book about money and so I think that kind of makes it feel a little different and a little more enjoyable too, hopefully. Hopefully, so.
Yeah. And as a connoisseur of this kind of book—I mean I think I’ve read every single one on the market by now—like I can say, it is entertaining. It is different. Like the stories about your family are just adorable and cute and everything. So, once again, it’s Mind Your Money by Yanely Espinal. Yanely, thank you so much.
Thank you. This was so fun.