What it Really Takes to Support Your Family as
Single Mom + Solo Entrepreneur {Money Memoir}

written by Bari Tessler January 12, 2020
What it really takes to support your family as Single Mom + Solo Entrepreneur

Something magical happens when we dare to get real and speak the truth about money. In this intimate conversation series, Money Memoirs, I chat with people from all walks of life about their money journeys: the good, the tough, the soulful, and the nitty-gritty. We share this beloved series every year to celebrate the opening of The Art of Money, which you can read all about here. Curl up with a cuppa as we pull back the curtain … and get ready to get inspired.

Today I’m so honored and excited to introduce you to Toi Smith.

Toi is a Business Strategist and Coach for Visionary Black Women, founder of The Gamechangers Fund, and a single Mom of 4 young boys.

Let me preface this interview by saying that Toi is also tenacious with a capital T.

She shares so powerfully in this Money-Memoirs conversation: About the strengths that helped her get to where she is now in her business, the patterns she’s identified around money, her tough spots in life (including supporting four sons on her own)— and how she’s overcome them to flourish and find joy.

In doing so, we touch on some incredibly powerful points, including…

The socio-political context of money, and how the system is set up for so many to struggle to thrive (particularly black women and single mothers)…

Money as means for self-actualization, how she really supports her family of four kids as a solopreneur, and so much more.

Also available on iTunes & Spotify!

Transcription Here:

Bari
Hi, everyone. Welcome to my Money Memoir Series. This is a series that I’ve been doing for over seven years now and inviting dear folks that I know well or that I want to know or that are colleagues or colleagues of colleagues or friends of friends in my community. It’s asking everyone to share some open and honest stories about their relationship to money; the beautiful parts of it, the easeful parts, the challenging parts, stories of how they grew up and how that’s impacting them now – positively, negatively – stories about what they’ve had to overcome and, really, anything that they’re willing to share about their relationship to money at this time.

Today, I have the honor of interviewing Toi Smith. I have been aware of her and watching her for some time. I follow her on Instagram and love everything that she shares there. She is a growth and impact strategist.

Toi is one part strategist, one part project manager and one part mentor. She brings grounding, structure and form to ideas that are ready to fly. She supports the women who are doing the flying. Her mission is to use business as a catalyst to uplift, support and liberate women so they are able to do their very best creative work and, in return, reap the highest financial rewards possible in a non-oppressive, extractive way.

Toi is also a single mom of four boys. She lives in Denver. We share a very dear friend who is also both of our photographers, Danielle Coen. I’ve gotten to see beautiful photos that Danielle and Toi have done together. Welcome, Toi.

Toi
Thank you so much. Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited.

Bari
Thank you. Me, too. Me, too. Let’s begin by you please sharing a little snapshot of your family and work life at this time.

Toi
Okay. Like you said, I am a single mother of four boys. That always requires a little bit of context for me. My oldest son is 14 and he lives in Atlanta full time with his dad. They’ve been there for about three years. Then my youngest three sons – I have twins that are 11 and then a seven year old – they live with me full time. My oldest son is here for summers and he’s here for long breaks and then I travel to see him.

It’s kind of a mixed bag on my co-parenting. My older son, me and his father co-parent him. We have a really great relationship. We were high school sweethearts. We had him fairly young – I was 20. He is really supported. When he’s with his dad, he’s the only kid. His dad doesn’t have anymore kids, so when he comes here, he had three brothers. It’s really weird for him sometimes.

Me and his younger brothers live here in Denver. They are a handful. This is why… I’ve been doing this work for around four years/five years. I say “this work” meaning supporting other business owners/creatives/healers and their business and entrepreneurial journeys.

I started out as a VA and now my business is shifting more into being more strategy coaching for women who are doing big things in the world – meaning that they are visionaries and movement makers and creatives. They wouldn’t identify as entrepreneurs. They identify as writers or healers or creatives or artists or all of the other things. They are entrepreneurs by happenstance because they’re bringing this out into the world.

Because I’m really great at business stuff, I support them in that. That’s where my life is right now.

Bari
Okay. I have one 11 year old boy. I always give praise and bow down with anyone more than mine.

Toi
Yes. I always say I wish I had their energy. They wake up and I’m like, “Wow.” Once upon a time, I must have had it and it is just not there anymore. Especially the twins. It’s an interesting mix to watch my twins, who are very, very different and then have a seven year old brother… they have a really special bond as 11 years old and then you have this seven year old who is competing with that. It’s an interesting mix.

Bari
This morning, I just opened up one of your emails and wanted to move into that. Then we can move more into your personal money memoir. This is related and I think this will tell a story of your work in the world of how you’re doing this for other people. Of course, you have to be doing your own work as well. This article was all about coming up with the right fees and the right pricing. You didn’t say business model – I’m sure that’s in there too – but it was more about the actual dollar amount that you are charging per hour. In the article, you share that when you first started as a Virtual Assistant, you started charging $35 an hour, which compared to the $22 when you were working at a job – I don’t know if you were in the corporate world; I’d love to hear that – was a huge leap and a big difference.

Then you realized pretty quickly, as a mom of four and where you’re living, that $35 an hour wasn’t the right pricing. It wasn’t the right equation for money, time, energy, family, health. That’s my equation. Whatever your equation is. I’d love to hear more about your process around that and the fee that you’re at now. How do you come to that and what are the set of questions to ask yourself and other people in this situation?

Toi
This rate discovery has been a journey for me. When I started working as a VA, it was kind of by happenstance. I have always been an entrepreneur of some sort, but I’ve always worked in the corporate world. I need some stability. I had kids when I was in my 20s, so I was young and always needed a really steady job. Even with that, I would do some sort of side hustle, be it Mary Kay or Avon or trying the latest selling of something; trying to develop some sort of business.

About five years ago, I was working in the oil and gas industry and I had been doing that for probably five years. I was working on the HR side and I got laid off two times in a row. The first time I got laid off, I had been with that company for a while and I knew it was going to happen. I was exhausted anyway and I was like, “Fine. I don’t care. Give me whatever severance, whatever thing and I’ll take it.”

I did that and it was still hard. I’m a single mom with four boys. I don’t get child support. For me, I had to go back on food stamps. I was getting unemployment. What I got back was a lot of my energy and time and space and being able to think be with my kids and not worry about so much of the money stuff.

I did that for a little bit and then I was on a trip to New Orleans with my friends and to visit my family out there and I was coming back on the plane and thought, “It’s time for me to work, but I don’t want anything really stressful. I just want something like a get-by job, a bridge job to help me figure out what the next thing is.” I got back and there was a position offered to me at another oil and gas company as a receptionist. It was $15 an hour and I was like, “I’ll take it.” That is easy work. I can do that.

I did that and then quickly moved up there. They figured out what my skillset was. They had an opening in their HR department and that has been my history. I went into a position there. It wasn’t making a ton. It was $22 an hour, but it fortified my life at that time. Then I got laid off again.

I think I was in that position maybe six months before I was laid off. From there, I had no clue what I was going to do. I got a decent severance package from them and had unemployment, so I had some time. In that space of time, I was writing more. I was able to interact on the social webs more and there was a Facebook group that a friend invited me to and I became active in that group. The owner of that group said they were looking for someone to help them at 10 hours a week. They listed some things and it was $25 an hour.

I was like, “I can do that in my sleep.” Previously, I’ve run blogs. I used to have a really popular blog called Lessons from a Baby Mama where I would talk about my lessons in motherhood. I’ve always been really good with tech and developing websites and that’s been things that I’ve done my whole life. And I’m a really quick learner. I was like, “I can do that in my sleep.”

I sent her a resume and I was like, “This doesn’t show anything in the freelance world, but I can do all of those things.” She was basically like, “Hired.” I started working for her and I did really great work with her at $25 an hour. She said if I wanted to develop a website, she could promote me to other people and probably get me some clients. I did that and I set my rate at $35 an hour.

$35 an hour. If I had this many clients and I work this many hours, that can work for us and that can work for me. I did that and I started getting a lot of clients at that rate. What I quickly realized – I think it was about four months in – I was exhausted all over again. I was only selling packages of like 10 hours a month at $35 an hour, so $350 hours. How many clients do I need at that? I need a lot of clients. I need to maintain a really high workload and then I also have a business that my own personal business that I have to worry about as well, so there’s time that goes into that. Then I also have to mother and some self-care/self-love time as well.

I thought, “This isn’t working.” I started really starting to look at my numbers and what I needed to make. It wasn’t even at that time that I was like, “Aha, this is it.” There was no ah-ha moment. I just started really keeping tabs on what my business expenses were, what my home expenses were and the kind of life I wanted. I didn’t feel embodied in the rate and the life I was having working with that many clients at that rate.

What happened over the years is I started gradually increasing my rates to be more in alignment with what I actually needed to make. It’s nowhere near anywhere I can actually – if I could go back to corporate, I couldn’t make the amount that I actually need right now because what it costs to really live, for me to take care of my kids, for me to take care of my household, for me to take care of our family… just a living wage, there’s not really corporate jobs that pay that unless you’re at a higher level.

I had to really start to look at if I’m really doing business for myself and I want to be of service to myself and do this – not just by happenstance or charge what I’m worth… so much of what we are told all the time in the entrepreneurial space is to charge what you’re worth? What does that even mean? Our worth is tied up into so much. Financially, we need the black and white and we need the numbers, especially to really stay grounded in our rates when people are questioning why we’re charging what we’re charging. We need to really have roots underneath and understand why our numbers are personal to us and they make sense to us. We’re not just pulling them out of thin air. There may be people who challenge it and we want to be able to stand against that.

Basically, over the years, I have gradually, gradually, gradually gotten to a number that works for me. Not to say that’s been easy. It’s been really, really hard. I have been working with people and then been six/eight months in and at this time I need to increase my rates. That’s a conversation with your client. Not everybody likes to hear that. It’s a hard conversation.

Bari
Because it brings up their money stuff and your money stuff. It brings it all up to the surface.

Toi
Yes, all of it.

Bari
I love hearing this as a journey. This has been a long journey for you. You’ve come up with really solid fees at this time and I really appreciate hearing that it hasn’t been easy. It’s been a long journey to figure this out. 25 was a leap from 22 or 15. On the surface, it can seem that’s amazing – it was, until you realized this is not working and really getting in there to look at what your business and personal expenses are, the actual numbers for lifestyle that includes kids, household, self-care and so on. It’s a journey to figure all of that out and what is right for you. You’ll continue to fine-tune and to adjust.

Anything about when you go to have those conversations? Any inner/outer techniques?

Toi
I don’t know if I’ve been the best at it, honestly. I think I’ve been fortunate to have really great relationships with the clients that I’ve worked with. I’ve always approached this work where I wanted to build relationships. I’ve only worked with people whose messages and businesses and visions that I can really stand behind. In doing that, more times than not, we become more than just colleagues or working together. We become friends. I know so much.

That’s the nature of this work anyway. When you’re an entrepreneur and they’re an entrepreneur and there are no roadmaps. You’re a mother and I’m a mother. There are so many pieces of it. We don’t leave work at work and home at home. It’s all mixed up. We become more friends and so I think I’ve been fortunate enough for the people that I’ve worked with to understand my life situation and to kind of understand why my rates need to increase.

Not to say that I’ve kept all of my clients when I’ve increased my rates. I haven’t. Even if we’ve been really great friends and have a really great working relationship. Sometimes I know that if I’m telling them my rates are going to increase, I know where their business is at. They most likely cannot afford what I’m about to start charging. It’s the hardest decision when you know you’re going to lose this client and you’re going to maybe lose this relationship. Those are conversations I’ve had to have with myself.

I lost one of my favorite clients, my favorite people, when I increased my rates at the beginning of this year. I got lost in that. She couldn’t afford my new rate and I knew that. It was hard and we both cried, but in that we both shifted. We have to decide if this is a true relationship. Was it just a working relationship? We became friends after that. That, I think, is a trade-off for me. Not to say it’s been easy. It has not been easy. I have to believe that what’s for me is for me and that those people that I’ve worked with, those women that I’ve worked with are in that space and time. Once I raise my rates, new people will come in that space and time. It all pans out that way.

I do it with grace. I’m not just like, “Next week, my rates are increasing. Get on board or get off.” It is, “This is what I’m doing.” I always write really long emails, this is what I’m doing, don’t be alarmed. If they want to have a conversation, if you want to negotiate something else, if you want to have a dialogue around it, I’m open for it. But most people have been like, “I love you. I understand. It’s not for me right now.”

Bari
Or it is. I love you; I love what we do together. My business can handle it. I know what you’re doing is, at this phase in my business, going to help me get to the next place.

Of course, there’s grace with you. You can hear it in how you’re describing this and saying you’ll give them notice and you send them a long email and offer dialogue. This is something you’ve really thought about. You share all of that. You’re willing to have the conversation or conversations that are needed so that they can make the right decision and then you’ll go from there and see where the transition takes you.

I have no doubt that people keep showing up and saying, “I’m ready. I want to work with you.”

This is, again, an on-going journey. Does resonate with you? The money/time/energy/family and health? Would you name those differently?

Toi
Yeah. They do definitely resonate with me. I also look at my social/political identities as well. When I work in the corporate world, I already know that I’m making less than most people in that sphere. I am making less as a black woman. There has to also be an acknowledgement of that when I’m looking at my rates. That’s when I say, “Charge what I’m worth?” If that’s the messaging we get when we’ve inherently not been charged what we’re worth, it’s hard to be like, “What am I actually ‘worth?’ What is my rates?” When we take away that emotional stuff with it and just be like, “This is what I need to make. This is really what I need to make.” Not just survive. I think that paradigm is done, making enough to make it to the next week. I know so many people who have lived that way. I know so many entrepreneurs who really live that way.

I look at that as well. My political, my societal identity, those come into play for my rates as well. For someone like me – there are a lot of people who do the work that I do. They don’t have the same perspectives, introspections or ideas because my history is different. I bring all of that. It’s a whole different way of being, so my rates are different. If you pit me against someone else, their rates may be less than mine, but I’m okay with that. I know inside of that, I charge more maybe because I’ve always been paid less.

Bari
And for all that you bring.

Toi
Yeah.

Bari
I love hat. You would add in social/political for you in that as well. Great.

Let’s move into a little bit about your personal money story. I know we’re just going to begin here. I would love to hear the main emotions or set of emotions that come up around money for you. It could be emotions that come up now versus what they were when you were younger, when you were in your 20s. Share a little bit about that.

Toi
I would say it’s really complex. I feel like I come from a mixed class background. That is compounded on me. I was raised by a single mom and also my grandparents who “had a little bit of money.” They were pretty stable people. We never really wanted for anything when we were with them, but my mom was raising two kids as a single mom. I had that upbringing as well.

I would say in my history I have been fearful of not having enough money. I think, not from childhood though. I always knew we were going to be taken care of. My grandparents did so much for us. My mom as well. My mom worked really, really hard. I never felt as a child that we were going to go without.

When I got pregnant and starting having kids in my 20s and I wasn’t in secure relationships. Those relationships ended and I was single mom without getting child support. That’s when my fear and worry around money really started. We’re talking about 14 years ago. It’s been really deep.

I’ve always been a really hard worker, so I worked really hard through my 20s to make care of my kids and to take care of me. It wasn’t always enough. We made it and we made it beautifully. I think I’m really great at weaving things together. I did that a lot. The scarring of having to weave things together so much still weighs heavily on me. That feeling like there’s not going to be enough, but also feeling like we’re taken care of.

Now, as 36 year old me who has done a lot of healing, had a lot of therapy, worked around her money stuff, really meditates and prays every day and understands that we are all inherently taken care of. I relax some of that trauma around it.

Also, what has served me so much now is my deep learning and understanding of capitalism and how it forms how we work, who it takes from, who it benefits and how so much of our money systems extract from black and brown people and how we are just made to work.

Having more of that awareness has also alleviated some of the pain that I feel around money. I always look at, “I could be making more,” because if you look at the grand scheme of things, I am raising four boys. I don’t know when enough is enough. That’s when I get scared. I don’t know.

When I’m looking at how I’m going to retire. How hard do I really have to work to retire as an entrepreneur? I’ll be working forever. That’s not a bad thing. It’s the kind of work that I want to do. How am I going to build a life for my kids, be able to have financial grounding for me as they get older and have different needs? How do I do that in this work?

How do I do it as a single mom? I don’t get any child support right now. That’s pretty difficult. It’s really hard to navigate that space of raising them by myself financially. I used to be like, “I’m just going to work harder. I’m just going to work harder.” Now, it’s not even work smarter. It’s work more embodied and have more embodiment in my work and really dig deeper into what I’m here to do. My spiritual practices really ground me to be like, “Okay. This feels scary. You feel like you don’t have enough. You’re taken care of. There are systems that are making it hard.”

“And also” is so much a part of my language because I understand that I am sovereign, and also… I exist with people. I exist in the community. I exist in culture and so I have to work and weave that through how I negotiate money, how I understand money, how I feel about money.

Bari
Do you feel that, in your 20s and continuing forward, that the biggest challenge has been that you have not received child support and all that that’s impacted/effected/resulted and that journey that I hear has been so challenging that lead you to therapy? I love hearing that you’ve been in therapy and that it’s been helpful for you.

One of my questions is always: what is the biggest challenge around money that you’ve had to overcome? I want to hear more about this. You’ve shared a lot of how you have overcome this, but I want to hear more about how this impacted you. For so many women, making their own money is so important to them. It’s such a challenge for some or so easy for others and just so essential for surviving and then thriving. It sounds like there’s been this weave of spiritual foundation for you and practices that have woven in throughout this a well

Toi
Not receiving child support is two things. I’m a full time single mom to my youngest three. That means that I don’t have freedom of time or money. It’s really difficult to have – to financially be responsible for these souls and also not have the flexibility or freedom to be away from them to creatively or just rest. It’s a double-edged sword there.

Not getting the financial help makes it so I oftentimes feel like that they aren’t getting – there is a nurturance that they are lacking because what I’m focused on is making sure that they have the essentials, that they have a really great home to be in, that we have heat and water and food and clothing and all of the things to actually live and be safe in this world. I’m making sure that they have it.

I always look at Maslow’s hierarchy of need. At the bottom where it’s all of your basic necessities are taken care of, that’s what I’m always worried about. If I had more money, if I had child support, if I had help financially, then we could move up that ladder of needs and I can begin to be future thinking for them. What extracurricular things do they want to do? I see that my son is into art. I want to put him into this art class. Being able to save some money for them, not to go to college, but just have money to gift to them when they start entering the world. Just being able to eat a little bit better.

Since I’m financially taken care of everything, also what has been really hard is I used to describe it as me trying to climb up a mountain and they’re all on my back. I can’t really go anywhere. I’m going to take care of them first, so I come last. That feels shitty. That probably has been the hardest thing that, as I’ve increased my rates, that I’ve been able to get out of that box a little bit and being able to see myself as still a woman who wants to do things in the world like travel and hang out with friends. But that costs money. I don’t have a huge community around me. I have some family here and I have some friends. For me to go out and do things, it costs money because I need to hire a sitter. There was a time when I could not afford that at all. I just didn’t do much. That’s hard to deal with. That’s hard. It’s more than hard; it’s emotional depleting.

My body can dip back into that feeling of being like I’m in a box and I have no other choices. There is nothing I can do. I know in choosing to have my sons, I have to take care of them. It’s not an option right now, so I have to forgo the things I want to do. That was crushing because I didn’t have the money to do both. I couldn’t take care and do things I wanted to do and do the things like take care of them.

I think that’s the saddest part for me. It’s feeling like no one – it’s not true that no one cares about me but feeling like I can’t really self-actualize. That’s probably the best way to put it. I still have dreams and wants and desires and pleasures that all of these things that I wanted to explore. But I felt like, “I’m never going to be able to do that shit,” because I don’t get financial support. I don’t get time away from them. That’s just never going to happen. That was so hard.

I was in therapy because I was so depressed about that. Feeling I had all of these things that I wanted to do, but also being like, “I’m responsible for them. There’s no way I’m going to make them ‘suffer’ for me doing things,” but then being really angry at their fathers for like, “Are you serious?” Honestly, that’s been the toughest thing.

Bari
It sounds like it’s been a slow, slow unraveling or shifting. All these little baby steps of you – as we talked about earlier – shifting your fees, looking at all of the areas that you need to cover. How do you move from basic needs to the next level? I really appreciate you saying that you thought you couldn’t self-actualize. Is that shifting? It sounds like it is. It really is, but I don’t want to jump too far ahead. But it seems like that’s what you have been making slow, but huge, huge significant strides towards as a single mom of four, both through the work that you want to do in the world –

This may be a leap to go into. Is there any positive hear? I don’t want to dishonor.

Toi
Yeah. There’s tons of positives. It’s the light and the dark. That’s what keeps me really fortified to know there is a reason for all of this. Me having to come through all of these years and build my life and my business really helps other people. I would say that the last two years have probably been the best for me as an adult woman that they’ve ever been. I always say I spend my whole 20s – typically you’re finding yourself or hanging out or partying. I was a mother. Full on, taking it seriously, in college while mothering, having twins, in really shitty relationships, dealing with what that trauma was. I moved so much in my 20s.

When I think back to my 20s, it was so chaotic. But my sons don’t know that. They feel like our world was perfect and that it’s been great. But I know what the chaos was. Now, when I look at m y 36 year old self, I’m like, “I’ve done well.”

Everyone is always surprised. Like, “You work for yourself and you have four kids? How do you do that?” Honestly, part of me doesn’t really know. There’s a tenacity that I feel like I was born with. I actually know that, but that doesn’t make it easy. It’s really, I feel happy now. Happiness can be fleeting, so maybe happiness isn’t the right word. I feel joyful that I’m in the spot that I’m in. Yes, it’s been that I’ve been able to make more money, but it’s actually been more that I’ve been able to be in more community and relationship with people. Doing this work has allowed me to spread my arms in a way that I haven’t been able to do.

Being a single mom is isolating. You normally – the way our systems are set up – you’re not making enough money. You go to work, you come home and most of your money is going to daycare, or childcare. Maybe you’re working two jobs, so there isn’t time for you to actually think about who you want to be and who you want to be with.

Doing this work has allowed me to not live in so much isolation but do it in my home. I can still be mothering and be responsible for my kids but be virtually connected with people in LA doing great work and make those connections. I’ve built friendships where I can take my kids – that’s how I met Danielle Coen. Legit, we met online and became really great friends. I can take my sons to her house and hang out. Or she comes here and I hang out with her family. The collateral now for me is the relationships and the people who have shown up and been like, “I see you. I see what you’re doing and it’s magical and I want to be a part of it in any way that I can.” That has taken me out of the box that I feel like I was in.

Bari
What money and work lessons do you think you’re passing down to your sons, consciously, unconsciously, directly or indirectly? Obviously, there’s been a trajectory and a journey that they’ve been on too. They’ve watched you. What do you think they’re learning?

Toi
They’re very impressed that I work for myself. They don’t really understand it, they just know mom’s home all the time. My son today forgot his homework at home and he knew he could call me and be like, “Mom, I left my homework on the table. Can you bring it?” Before, I would be like, “I’m at work downtown. I’m sorry.”

I think what they gather is this freedom of time that they see me have and then, financially, I don’t share scarcity money stories with them. I don’t feel that way wholeheartedly, so I don’t really speak to them like, “We don’t have that money.” I try to really explain the context of how I make money and how that helps us live the life that we have.

I think what they learn from me is they see hard work. I don’t even know if I like the term “hard work,” but they see persistence and they see connection. They see me talking to people all the time. They’ve met so many people. They understand that that’s a way that you can possibly make money.

What I think what I’m doing for them – more than them understanding, “This is how much money you can make” – is the different ways that you can make money. A lot of schools teach that you want to be productive and get out into the world so you can get a job. At home, I counter that a lot. That is one path and there’s also this one path.

My son, Jayden, he’s going to be an artist. He’s phenomenal, he’s funny and he’s all of these things. I’m like, “If you decide that’s what you want to do, that can make you money.” What you need is the grounding, the persistence and the tenacity and the self-understanding. Those are the things that are going to help you make the money you want to make and make it in a way that feels good.

That’s what they see me doing; being able to travel now. Now it’s not a thing. It’s like, “Guys, I’m going to be gone for the weekend. I’m going to visit a client,” or something like that. “Here’s where you’re going to be.” Now they’re able to weave into their story that there’s a different way, a different model of the world. That, I think, is one of the biggest money lessons for them.

Bari
I love it. I love that you’re turning this concept on its head that we hear all the time of you don’t necessarily have to work harder, you just have to work smarter. I’ve said that, too. For me, I am really into hard work and I did for many, many, many years. I think there’s phases of that. When you’re starting any big project, it’s hard work. That’s what it is.

I love that you’re saying that it’s not necessarily work smarter. You said more embodied, have more persistence, create the connections, have self-understanding. You’re giving us so many other words and concepts of how to describe a different way of bringing your work to the world. I love it and I love that you’re teaching this to your sons. You’re saying that’s one path, here’s another path.

It’s the water they’re swimming in. Similar to my son. He doesn’t quite get it. I can bring the homework too or the lunch if we forget to make it in the middle of the day. He knows that other parents go to a job somewhere and they’re not home or they have different hours.

Can you trace some of these threads back to grandparents, family or upbringing and what everyone did for work or their relationship to work? Just a teeny bit about you growing up. Is there anything about grandparents, great grandparents around their relationship to their work in the world or who they were?

Toi
I grew up watching my mom. My mom is a force. That’s always how I describe her. She is so smart and just was always very clever and had a lot of tenacity. Just a presence.

When I was younger, I would say I wanted to be like my mom. I didn’t know what she did, I just wanted to do that job. What is that job? There was this purple dress that she had, I remember. It was so gorgeous. She worked downtown, so she would wear this gorgeous purple dress and then have sneakers on because she was going to work downtown, catch the bus and then change into her heels. I was like, “That’s the life.”

My mom always had great jobs. Just always showed up. I remember watching that. Me and my mom, our birthdays are a day apart. I’m January 3 and she’s January 4. We’re both Capricorns and both just… while I watched her do her thing, I was born with that too. I saw that in her.

My grandparents, my grandmother worked in education until she retired. I watched my grandmother get up and catch the bus every day and go to work. She really enjoyed that. I saw these women – these black women – in my world who were just doing it.

My grandfather was a veteran. When I came along, from when I could remember, he didn’t work at that time because he got hurt and got benefits. He was home. What my grandfather did was he really took care of us. My grandfather was the one that I would go to and be like, “All the grandkids want McDonald’s. Can you take us?” He would get in the car and take us. He was the one who decorated the house for Christmas. The house was clean. My grandfather kept an immaculate house.

There was a lot of weaving of the women who were working and my grandfather who had done service and he was now able to be home with the family. That was really beautiful to see.

Also, inside of that, my mom – like I said, she was a single mom. My mom didn’t get child support. I remember a lot of anxiety from her around that and my grandparents having to step up and help out because my dad didn’t and how that laid on her. Then as I’ve gotten older and been able to have different conversations with my mom and asking her how that felt, what regrets did she have around that and realizing what my mom gave up to mother us – financially. The jobs she couldn’t take or the places she couldn’t go. The box that she had to live in.

Straight out of high school, she met my dad and she fell in love. She says now that that was a mistake. She was like, “You guys weren’t a mistake, but I was so young.” She had a full ride scholarship to Howard University but she gave that up to stay with my dad. That’s one of the things where she was like, “Looking back, I would switch that because that would have changed my trajectory.”

That’s part of my money story as well with what I carry for me. My mom has never been out of the country. My mom hasn’t traveled extensively. Not to say that’s ever been a goal of hers. But when she sees me do it with my four kids, she’s like, “Okay. You’re doing good work.” I think part of that is healing for her, too. It’s as if the sacrifices were for something.

Bari
She could have so many different responses to that, but she’s having the response of, “You go. I’m so happy that you’re getting to do this.” Her story/journey was different because of the choices.

It sounds like there’s a lot of open lines of communication with her to talk about money and history and choices and regrets.

Toi
Yeah, definitely. I think where I’m at now is there are certain conversations around money that my mom didn’t have with me. I think because she didn’t know. She didn’t have a lot of money and she didn’t know what to teach us. What I’ve been learning as an entrepreneur and working for myself an having to really be in it, really look at what I’m making and if I can cover stuff, it has required for me to learn more about money and institutions, credit and all of those things.

This next couple of years, that’s where I see myself really having these conversations with my sons or getting them involved and people who do this work for younger kids. I want them to, yes, have the grounding of the embodiment of this is what I can do. But I also want them to have the technical knowledge of how to move in the financial system. What are investments? What are these things that I think a lot of black children don’t have access to or don’t know? They don’t learn it. I want them to learn that stuff as well. As I’m learning that, I still want to weave that into them as well.

Bari
Great. This is a very practical question, but what are the systems that you’re using? Weekly, monthly – what are the rituals? Are you on QuickBooks? Are you on spreadsheets? Is someone doing this with you, for you? Is that next steps for you?

Toi
Yeah. I think definitely next steps for me is I’m going to hire someone to… I feel like I need – I don’t even know what the word is. A money coach or someone to really help me look at some blocks. There’s still some behaviors, some shadow sides, to my money where because I was – like I explained the box – I’m like, “I’ll make more money,” so I spend. That’s one of the things that I’m really trying to get out of that season and really into a season of embodied financial planning; really looking at, “This is what I want to grow,” and doing it and not begin swayed by the gorgeous dress. That’s where I’m at.

Right now, I use Bench, which is a bookkeeping service. I’ve been with Bench for maybe the last two years. They do my bookkeeping every month. I don’t do anything. I look at the reports if I have questions and I connect with the bookkeeper.

I use a tax filing service called Tax File to file my taxes for the last couple of years. They work with Bench, so it’s a seamless process. Then I work with a CPA from there who looks through my stuff.

That’s what I do. Every year I tax file, every month I work with Bench. Bench has been lifesaving.

When I first started this work, I had a couple of clients and I didn’t know. I did everything myself and I got really confused. As I’ve grown, I was like, “I need someone to take this on.” Bench handles everything. They know how to expense all the stuff and they’ve been wonderful.

My monthly practices are I have a spreadsheet that I keep. It’s a Google Document that I keep where I just track so I know each month what my business expenses are, what my life expenses are and what revenue is coming in from clients. I look at that at the first of every month. Just for the current month to know if anything changed, if the expenses the same. On that spreadsheet, I’m tracking due dates for all the business things like use. Like Zoom and Squarespace and any of the little apps that I may have signed up for on my phone that help me build memes. I’m tracking all of that.

Then I reevaluate to see if I still need it. If that thing I still need for this month. If not, then I’m not keeping it. I know at the beginning of the month – and it usually doesn’t change a bunch – but I know where I’m at.

Doing that for the last few years, I know what my baseline is. My life is pretty well-kept at this point. I know I need to make $5000 a month to keep everything intact and to pay my rent, to pay my car, to pay the water and all of those things. That’s it. If I don’t make that, then we have problems. Anything above that, I can maneuver a little bit more. That’s my baseline. I always tell my clients when they’re talking about money, “What’s your baseline? What’s your number? What the number that if you don’t make that, shit is about to not be great.”

I think we all need to know this. Otherwise, you get in a panic and you start to make things up. “I can’t afford that. I can’t do this. If this client leaves…” It also allows me to be like – if something maybe isn’t working with a client and I know we’re going to part ways, it gives me the freedom to be like, “If this client leaves, I’m still going to be good. I know I’m fine.” It gives me more control of my work.

That is my practice. Beginning of the month looking at the spreadsheet, knowing how much I’m earning, knowing what my expenses are and then jigging that if need to as far as business expenses. Then working with Bench. That’s been wonderful.. I feel like that’s the above the line stuff.

Under the line, the more stuff that you can’t see, is when I get thoughts of, “I don’t know how I’m going to make it this month,” or, “I need another client,” or whatever the panic is, I try to change my quality of thought immediately. Everything is well. You’re good.

Honestly, I shifted my business at the beginning of this year and increased my rates. I lost a couple clients and there were clients who said yes. I’ve been fine. It’s been beautiful. But there were a couple moments where I don’t know what’s going to happen. When I changed my thoughts, things really seem to come full circle. Things seem to be fine. I get an influx of cash from somewhere. It’s either been people buy a course or someone signs up for a one-off. I can’t say that it’s just from changing my thoughts, but I think it’s the action that comes from really changing the quality of my thoughts and then being like, “What can I do to make sure that comes to fruition?” It’s both of those: the changing of the thoughts and the action that comes with it.

Bari
I love it. You’re describing what you do on money dates – the inner and the outer work. You’re describing your financial support team. You have a lot in place. I’ve heard Bench is lifesaving for so many. I have a bookkeeper instead of Bench, but same thing. They do so much. They do all the tracking; they print out reports and then you’ve got to read them – which you’re doing. It sounds like you really know your business expenses. Clearly you know what you need, your baseline – which is so essential. So true.

We’re always fine-tuning. Every six months, every year, for years and years to come until we die. That’s how it goes. What do you need to fine-tune on an inner level, which you’re doing? An action level, which you’re doing. You mentioned something about the tendency of “I’ll just make more money.” You’re realizing there’s a little more fine-tuning to do with your personal expenses. You like the dresses. You might get to keep those purple dresses. It sounds like you want to do a little more work right there.

That is a money coach or a financial coach. That’s what they do day in and day out. They sit down and look at your values and priorities and what your numbers are, what you can adjust and what you can’t – and where you want to really be directing those funds.

Toi
People come to work with me because they need accountability in their business. The things they say they want to do, the things they want to get done and why they want to get it done. The clarity is really important and they need someone to hold them to it.

For me, it’s really been realizing because I can be stubborn and I can be like “I can do it all. I’ve done all this. I don’t need anyone to help me. I can do it.” Money, because I’ve had this feeling of being trapped for so long, that is big for me. I can just be like, “Spend and I’ll figure it out later.” Then I get in my body, feeling of… it’s great in the moment of, “I’ll do this now and figure it out later,” but when that figure it out later part comes, the nervous and the anxiety feeling I don’t want. I think I’ve had enough of that now. Sometimes I have a bad habit of delaying paying certain bills because I’m like, “Maybe there’s something else I want to buy.” Then the anxiety of if I can’t pay it, then I start to feel bad in my body. What I’ve started to do is when I sit down and I’m feeling like, “Maybe I don’t pay this,” I bring myself back and ask, “Do you want that feeling? Do you want that feeling?”

Cognitively, I have to remove it. I have to really bring myself back to my body to be like, “Nah, we don’t want that feeling, so we’re not going to do that. We are going to work another way.” What I realize is I definitely have to work in 2020 to bring on someone to help me be accountable to m y financial dreams. I can handle everything else. The money part, I’m really going to need support with. As my sons grow, I think that’s one of the things that’s hit me in the face.

My older son went to high school, he had homecoming this year. I realize he’s going to be going to college soon. He has four years left of being in our ecosystem where he can be like, “I want to travel, Mom. I want to do these things.” I so want to support that. I want to be able to do some things my mom wasn’t able to do for me. She did so much for me, but things like if he wants to do a gap year, I want to be able to be like, “I prepared for that for you.” I want them to understand that. In order to do that, I have to really be accountable to those goals and my financial choices.

Bari
Yes. It sounds like you could do all of this on your own very well. I love what I call the body check-ins of how you’re catching the moments where you’re about to hold back from doing something or postpone it or do something and then realizing that feeling is going to come, that very bodily feeling sensation, and you don’t want to go there. You don’t need to go there. You know that now, so how can you do this differently?

You’re doing that more and more, but to be able to have another support person who is by your side to help you hold where you’re at, where your boys are at, where they’re going, will just be so loving and supportive for you. Even though you can clearly do it all on your own.

Last money memoir question. I want to hear a little bit more about your work and game-changers. To complete the money memoir for now, how do you define money legacy? What does leaving a money legacy mean to you? Did you already answer that or do you feel like there’s other things you can say?

Toi
That’s really deep for me. My grandmother passed away in May. Where I live, I’m a block in one direction from my grandmother – was a block in one direction – and another direction one block away from my mother. I’m kind of in the center of where we grew up and so close to my family. The home that my grandparents lived in…

My family got to Colorado because my grandparents decided to move from New Orleans to Colorado. My grandpa was a veteran and he was at Fitzsimmons Hospital and then he started working at Fitzsimmons. He wanted a better life for his kids, so they moved from the south and from segregation and all of that to Colorado and brought their kids.

They built a home on land, from scratch. No one else lived in that house. It was just our family. This week, that house was sold and it’s going to another buyer. It’s been really tough for me because that’s been my home-home. That’s where I grew up. That’s where we’ve had Christmases. That’s where my grandmother played all the Jazz music. That’s where I learned about New Orleans and that’s where I learned about culture, in that home.

In that buying of that house, it created the opportunity for my family – my aunts, uncles and my mom – to sell the home and reap some financial rewards from that. The market is great in Denver. We could sell the house and make some money. Now, what that does is the money is passed down to my mom and she’ll pass it on.

When I look at money legacy, really now as a 36 year old woman who is really trying to do things differently to really be in relationships with the world, with people and create for my sons, for me it looks like being forward thinking with all of my money actions now. This is a realization I’ve had this week as this house is sold. My grandparents maybe knew, maybe they didn’t know, what they were doing in buying that home and raising their family there. It created some sort of wealth for us that they could pass down. I want to be able to have my grandkids, my granddaughter, look back and be like, “My grandma did that. Her choices made it so that I can be/do/have these things.” There is an inherent sense of wanting to be a really good ancestor.

That’s kind of what money legacy is for me. Yes, the here and now. Yes, I need to take care of the day to day. There is so much day to day. Also, wanting to build for my kids, wanting to build for their kids and wanting to create, not only the financial resilience but also the emotional and embodied resilience of how to be in the world in a better way. That’s all tied up into how I want to leave a legacy.

That is also why I have things like the Game Changers Fund. I think a way to counter the culture to say that we strictly make money to take care of me and mine – I get money to take care of my nuclear family and I give to charity occasionally. To combat that, I looked at how I can – as I’m getting more money and I know I need to make more money – still in that space, take what I’ve learned… How can I take the relationship that I created, how can we as a collected, change it for a few other people? What can we do? It doesn’t have to just be me?

I’m used to being a single mom and doing it all by myself. What I’ve learned over the last few years is that we’re better together, definitely, and if we have the same values, we can collaborate beautifully. The Game Changers Fund was built out of that, of seeing there are black women doing beautiful work in the world and there are more who just don’t have the finances to see their vision grow. What if all of this change and healing and evolution that we’re all going to through – we see it everywhere – what if we pull it back together and pool our resources a little bit here and a little bit there and say, “We see you. Take this and do what you need to do to bring your vision into the world because it’s going to make us all better.”

That’s what the Game Changers essentially is. I met some great people over the years, over the internet, in person. They’re enrolled into my vision. Let’s do this collectively and support a few people. That’s what we’ve been doing.

Bari
Toi, thank you so much for sharing some of your stories with me, with all of us. I’m very honored and very grateful for everything that you’re sharing. You don’t need me to be impressed, but I am so impressed with you as a woman, as a mom of our boys and everything that you’ve created and your journey and how deeply you explore all of this; how deep you go and how you’re always integrating the inner and the outer.

As soon as I saw the Game Changers Fund, it was such a clear yes for me for so many reasons. Thank you for doing that as well. Anything else that you want to share as we complete? Please share how folks can find you.

Toi
I can be found at ToiMarie.com. That’s probably the easiest website to find. I run a brand called Black Women are Loved. It’s merchandise and it’s a movement to support the love of black women. That’s at BlackWomenAreLove.com.

I am on all of the social media spaces at ToiMarie. They’re linked everywhere. I have a couple of other Instagram pages, but you can find them if you go to ToiMarie.

Really, I just want to thank you for the conversation. I think for so long, it’s been really one-sided in terms of how we make money or why we make money or the feeling of money and being able to be like…it’s so grey. It’s so complex. For people to understand that, I think it frees them. I know for the people that I’m in community with, who aren’t making a shit ton of money but who are embodied, sovereign people, it’s important for us to realize that it is the outer and the inner. It’s above the line and below the line. It all matters. Thank you.

Bari
Thank you.

Toi has done some deep, therapy-fuelled work on her relationship with money — as both a woman of color, and a single mom — and it is evident in our conversation.

Hit play and listen in as we talk about:

  • How Toi figured out her rates as an entrepreneur — and why charging $35/hr (a big leap up from her corporate rate) left her burnt out, exhausted, struggling to support her family as a single Mom of 4.
  • The practical and intuitive ways she uses to know when it’s time to raise her rates — and how she handles difficult money conversations with clients whenever she does.
  • The importance of knowing your basic needs, and your higher needs, as an entrepreneur (this applies to anyone looking to build a friendship with money, and get on top of their finances)
  • What it’s really like being a single Mom of 4 boys without child support — including the emotional challenges it creates as a woman.
  • How making more money from her business has helped Toi to define herself as more than just a worker and mother — but as a woman with her own needs.
  • All the ways gender roles in her family were untraditional throughout her childhood — and how her Mom and Grandma showed her two amazing examples of Black women doing it in their work…in a purple dress to boot!
  • Why she’s going to teach her kids that you don’t need to follow the well-trodden path in order to be successful & create financial stability. There is another way. And she’s modelling it right in front of them.
  • How she’s looking to support other Black women who have an incredible vision, but lack the resources to get ahead.

It was a delight to interview her — I’m in admiration of all she’s doing as a woman and a mother — and I hope you soak up some of her resilience, charisma, and determination.

Blessings,

Toi is a Creator, a Mother, and a Growth + Impact Strategist.

She helps business owners find the ease and flow required to create momentum that matters. One part strategist, one part project manager, Toi brings grounding, structure and form to ideas that are ready to fly. Whether she’s setting up systems that you’ve needed since forever or helping you find your center, Toi is the go to advisor and manager for the most mindful entrepreneurs on the web. Toi lives in Denver, CO with her four boys where Black women are love and taking that seriously is the only way through.

Toi’s website: toimarie.com
Instagram: @toimarie / @toimariestrategy / @blackwomenarelove

Money Memoirs | Bari Tessler | Art of Money

P.S. What’s a Money Memoir?

My conversation with Toi is the first of a fresh series of Money Memoirs: my intimate, truth-telling conversation series about money.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll send 7 of these conversations your way — my gift to you, dear community.

Basically? Hear real people get real with me about money (and life). The good. The hard. The heartfelt. The hilarious.

You’ll hear how they overcame their biggest financial struggles, what money messages they soaked up in childhood, and how they broke through money ceilings.

We get real about the impact of race, lineage, loss, coming out, and their parents’ money mistakes had on their money lives.

And they open up about balancing career, entrepreneurship and motherhood, claiming their value, forgiving parents, and creating new, kinder, and more conscious money legacies.

So stay tuned! These practical-soulful-intimate-unshaming interviews are heading your way over the coming couple of weeks.

We’re throwing this Money Memoirs party because we LOVE inspiring you … 

… And also to celebrate … 

The Art of Money 2020 is NOW open!

Art of Money 2019

Oh yes, oh yes! You can now sign up for my year-long global money school, The Art of Money — for a short time. The program begins on January 31st, 2020.

So, if you’re ready to create a more on-your-game and in-the-know, swagger-in-your-step and sleeping-like-a-peaceful-baby relationship with money in 2020 … this is for you.

I created The Art of Money to give you everything I’ve got:

  • My whole, 3-phase methodology of Money Healing, Money Practices, and Money Maps
  • Mentoring and laser coaching from me in monthly group coaching calls
  • Incredible Guest Teachers, TA’s, and a global community cheering you on
  • Weekly Love emails to walk you through every baby step
  • My entire resource library of interviews, worksheets, and so much more.

What could happen in YOUR money relationship if you spent a year bringing it smarts, mindfulness, and courageous compassion?

Find out what The Art of Money experience is like here.

You might also like: