Op-ed: First-generation Black wealth builders must embrace their success and put themselves first

The wealth gap between Black and white Americans has been persistent. That gap, of course, reveals the effects of accumulated inequality and discrimination.

Despite certain gains in income and wealth for Black families in America, white families often have a net worth up to 10 times higher.

Discriminatory financial practices such as redlining or credit discrimination have increased the wealth gap and held Black families back from being able to create generational wealth.

Times are changing, however.

Black millennials are one of the first generations to push beyond that wealth gap to find financial success. These first-generation wealth builders tend to be hard workers, and they’re incredibly appreciative of everything that they have. However, as their success grows, the pressure and obligation they feel grows, as well.

As a certified financial planner, it’s my job to help my clients who are first-generation wealth builders.

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Many of these wealth builders must learn to embrace their success, build positive financial habits and navigate the many pitfalls and roadblocks that they’ll face throughout their financial lives.

It’s not a secret that success isn’t always a walk in the park for these first-generation wealth builders. To that point, as their success grows, so do the responsibilities and obligations that come along for them.

First-generation wealth builders may put an added level of pressure on themselves as their wealth continues to grow. Many individuals are the first in their family to go to college, earn a high salary or have some disposable income.

Instead of enjoying their success, many feel a sense of guilt. This guilt drives them to step up and find ways to provide for their family (parents and grandparents, for example) and the loving wider Black community that helped guide them over the years and get them to where they are today.WATCH NOWVIDEO02:27Racial pay disparities hinder black women, who are paid $.63 for every $1 a white man makes

While there isn’t anything wrong with this, of course, it can at times cause financial tension if the person allows the giving back to community to override smart personal financial decisions they need to make for themselves and their own family.

It’s for that reason that I urge these first-generation Black wealth builders to “put on their own oxygen mask first.”

I’m always reminded of how this well-known instruction for airline passengers also applies to our own financial lives. Before we can help our communities, we have to help ourselves.

This means that before you can financially support that loving community, you have to make sure you’re taking care of your own financial needs. Whether you have a mountain of student loan debt you’re paying down, or savings goals you’re trying to reach, put a plan in place to address those needs in your own life before trying to financially support others.

Statistically, individuals in the African American community are significantly more likely to become a family caregiver over the course of their lifetime.

As a first-generation wealth builder myself, I understand the drive to give back to your family and your community. It’s important that we remember our roots, and to celebrate the people and the culture that makes us who we are.

The best way I’ve found to simultaneously put your own oxygen mask first while still making room to support your community financially is to plan ahead — and to automate the process.

For example, with each paycheck you receive, budget for a specific amount to be automatically deposited into separate savings or checking accounts that have been earmarked for family support. Having these funds already set aside gives you the flexibility to support family members when they need it without having to dip into your personal budget or savings to do so.

This system helps you to continue growing your wealth as a first-generation wealth builder in your family, while still lifting up your community in a way that satisfies the emotional responsibility you feel.

Acknowledging the responsibility you feel as a first-generation wealth builder is the first step toward creating a balanced strategy for giving your resources to the community you love.

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