Five Biggest Financial Myths

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Think about the last time you received financial advice from someone. Was it your accountant? A grandparent? How did the advice resonate with you? Was it an exciting conversation? We’d bet not. But what if someone put finance in musical terms—what if they put it in rap? 

Enter Dyalekt, a St. Croix-born, New York artist and educator on a mission to teach people about finance (amongst other things) through rhythm and rhyme. You can hear him and his co-host on the podcast Brunch & Budget tackling topics like whether it’s more expensive to be single or in a relationship, and how to align your spending habits with your personal values. He’s also well-known in the conference circuit and has spoken at finance-focused events across the country. 

Recently, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Dyalekt to get his two cents on money management for everyday people. In the first of several interviews, he breaks down the five biggest myths surrounding personal finance. 

Pocket Your Dollars: Dyalekt, thanks for joining. 

Dyalekt: Thank you for having me. I’m excited to rock it.

Myth 1: You’re Not Working Hard Enough

Dyalekt: The first personal finance myth is, you’re not working hard enough. One, you are. I know you are. I know so many people and most of the folks that I’ve met in life, in all walks of life, in all areas of life, are hard workers. We value that—you see it on Instagram. I mean, on Instagram, where we’re having fun and bragging and showing off, half the people are showing off how hard they work. It’s an important part of I think, to most of our culture these days. It’s a requisite. It’s just where it starts.

One of the sad things about it is oftentimes, effort can be inversely proportional to recompense. If you look at the people who are doing the most, in a lot of companies and a lot of places, they are often people who are being paid the least. I’ve often said, if you ask a CEO and a fry cook at a fast food company to trade jobs, the CEO would probably fail before the fry cook made a bad deal.

They have the rhyme, work smarter not harder, which theoretically makes sense, but it’s a little condescending to assume that we’re not working smart enough either.

I even think the idea that you should know your worth can be a little bit condescending, because I prefer to think of it as knowing your work’s worth. We as people are people, and it should be the things that we create and the things that we make happen that are worth money. But it is important to know what your work is worth, because imposter syndrome is such a real thing that hits us in the head and tells us all the time, you’re not worth it. That’s compounded by the competition, the gatekeepers, the naysayers, who also say your imposter syndrome is right, and what you do isn’t worth it.

Even then, and still, as we put our stuff out there, and we try to make our financial lives work for us, we have to remember that as humble as we are, we must find a time when we need to make as much as our work is worth. If you’re a freelancer, this is done by setting your rates; if you’re a nine-to-five wage worker, this is done by negotiating terms of your salary or negotiating terms of a raise or a promotion. It’s going to be different for everyone. This is the thing about knowing yourself, checking in with yourself and making sure you’re tracking where you are.

There comes a time when you have to stop giving out your introductory rate. You stop doing the friend rate, and the homie rate for friends and homies. You take less work for your actual rate, rather than taking more work at less than your rate. That’s what I assume people mean when they say work smarter, not harder. 

Sometimes, we just have to let go of shame. Something gets pounded into our head about not being too cocky by asking for too much. But we need to be real with ourselves about how much our effort costs us–in all the ways that it costs us–and make sure that we get compensated for it.

Myth 2: You Need to Invest in the Stock Market ASAP

Dyalekt: My second financial myth is, you’re behind if you haven’t invested in the stock market yet. Now, mind you, investing in the stock market is great in terms of finances, and it’s probably something that most folks are looking to as a goal. But if you’re not there yet, that’s not a failure or a huge mistake.

The top 10% of people who have money in the country have about 84% of the stocks that exist in the stock market. It’s likely that unless you’re already doing really well financially, you’re not going to have too much in terms of stock market investments. And this is the thing about it: The stock market is not a get-rich-quick scheme. It’s a long term plan.

But one thing that my wife Pamela Capalad, a great certified financial planner (CFP), says to her clients is that investing is a way to maintain wealth, not a way to attain wealth. And that’s because it has a very high barrier to entry. One of the things about its high barrier to entry and one of the reasons why I’m cautioning people against feeling shame for not having already invested in the stock market, is that we have other priorities we need to take care of before we think about making those kinds of investments.

We have to have wealth that we need to maintain. And what that means is prioritizing, taking care of our debt and taking care of our savings—making sure that we have savings. Because when you’re looking into investing, and you’re looking into long-term investing, if you have more liquid cash available to you, you are more likely to be able to weather storms, both financially and emotionally. You have to remember, even though investing is supposed to be  a mathematical thing, it is very emotional. Investing is affected by emotions. What was that thing where Elon Musk smoked a joint on a podcast, and his company stock went down? The stock market itself reacts emotionally. If you have liquid cash available to you, you’re more able to weather the storm.

We want to make sure that you build up your savings before you start thinking of investing. Build up your wealth and remember that this is a long game.

Myth 3: You Should Never Have Debt

Dyalekt: A third personal finance myth is that you should never have debt. Having debt is not the reason why you’re not where you want to be financially. Again, before we prioritize taking care of our debt, we want to make sure that we have savings. There’s the old adage to have three to six months of expenses in savings. But when it comes to having debt, debt is another thing that is emotional by nature, and we feel great shame for.

Part of it is a language issue. We talk a lot about being in debt, which sounds like you’re drowning in some morass of quicksand. There are also people who say, I have debt and I use debt, and you can tell the difference in both how people feel about debt and how they deal with debt. We need to be able to take ourselves away from feeling like we are in debt and put ourselves in a place where we have debt. 

Debt is leverage. You are spending money later so that you can get a little bit of time now. Folks who are rich also have debt. They use debt. To be very simple and put super broad numbers out there that no one should try to specifically replicate, if you plan on buying a million-dollar house and you have a million dollars in the bank, it doesn’t make sense for you to just buy the whole thing in cash.

I know a lot of folks would like to do that because it removes a lot of other entanglements. But financially, if you’re looking out for yourself, think about having liquid cash available to you. Even as you make investments, like buying houses, which is not the same thing as investing in the stock market but it’s often seen as an investment, you would want to have a lot of that cash available to you.

If you can put $200,000 down, and have $800,000 available to you while you take on debt, that’s actually going to work out for you. There are also other considerations I’m not going to get into because that’s a whole other mess about how debt is used to build credit. And the system of credit and debt is how most of this stuff in this country works.

Don’t feel shame for using debt. It’s the system that we’ve created to build this little juggling thing. If it seems dangerous to be juggling it all, don’t worry, we’re all doing it together.

Myth 4: The Avocado Lattes

Dyalekt: My fourth financial myth is what I like to call, “the avocado lattes.” We often spend money in an effort to feel like we’re in control. A lot of companies prey on that,  inventing the illusion of control. We’re convinced to spend money on vices or escapes, things that take us out of the place that we’re in, for a short period of time. But as humans, as mammals even, we enjoy routine, we need routine, we need to have some sort of rhythm that allows us to think clearly. I don’t know enough about the science for why we do, but we certainly do.

In the desire to serve this routine, we often will spend money on things that make us feel like ourselves, things that center us, and allow us the clarity of thought to accomplish and to advance. This is actual control. I think we spend a lot of time being so concerned about these illusions of control that we forget that sometimes, we spend money to have control.

Sometimes, for those coffee drinkers out there, you have that image of yourself where you’re sitting there in your room with your coffee, picking out your stuff, and getting your life and your plan together. When you deny yourself that, it often causes stress. The funny thing about that stress, is that stress helps you make worse decisions, including financial decisions.

Not taking care of ourselves and not spending money on the things that we value–often they’re called “wants”–oftentimes causes so much stress and uses so much time and energy that most of the time, we end up spending that money anyway.

We aren’t supposed to live our lives super sparsely until one mythical safe point comes around. We do need to live now, and we do need to feel like ourselves now. Think about when you don’t dress like how you like to dress, or you don’t eat the thing you need to eat, or you don’t participate in the activity, the group thing, the game that you play at the Y with your friends. When you can’t do that thing that makes you you, how hard is it to get through every other point of the day? Think about that in terms of your efficiency.

Myth 5: You’re Average

Dyalekt: My last financial myth is that you’re average. And what I mean by that is, you aren’t smart enough, or talented enough, or special enough to overcome the odds and beat the competition. Your people aren’t good enough. Where you come from, the people who look like you, the people who sound like you, the people who come from where you come from, aren’t good enough. This is all a myth.

First of all, our economy and any economy that makes sense is not a zero-sum thing. We are more cooperative than we are competitive. Yes, markets are oversaturated in everything, and everybody’s doing roughly the same thing that you’re doing. When I came up to the states and I wanted to be an actor, I went on an acting audition and saw that they were looking for someone who was my ethnic mix with my skill set. I was like, “Wow, they’re looking for a black Jewish rapper, actor, teacher from the Caribbean. I’m going to go up there and it’s just going to be me.” I walked into the room and–I guess this is New York City for you–there were 30 me’s in there. That’s cool.

Why are you doing the thing you’re doing? Is it because you want to be the only one? I doubt that. Whether it’s work that you’re doing for another person, whether it’s some dream, a piece of entrepreneurship, you’re solving a problem. By solving problems, you’re going to let go of a little bit of yourself, but also use a bit of yourself.

(Taken from https://youtu.be/iKYicJ9pjSE?t=66)

I like to say that it is not about you, but it must come through you. And on that tip, what is your unique value proposition, or your niche? These are things that people often like to ask. When it comes to your  unique value proposition, your niche, your target market, the thing that makes you different, that separates you—when you look at this great sea of everybody in your market, in your world, doing all the same stuff, look at what’s missing. Look at the thing that’s annoying to you. That thing that bothers you, that’s squeaking all the time. That page that isn’t colored the way that it should be, that song that has that one instrument that’s a little bit out of tune, and find your way into solving that problem.

You’re going to be good at solving that problem, because it already bothers you that the problem exists. You are not going to face a lot of competition in solving that problem, because if you were, other people would be busy solving that problem.

As far as you being smart enough, you being talented enough, or you being able to overcome odds, remember that the stories we hear of success are far from reality. Nobody’s doing it by themselves. Nobody does it by themselves. Whether it is some financial contribution that someone got either through inheritance, or through some mentorship, or through some scholarship, or through some larger entity that sponsors them, whether it is community support—nobody does it by themselves. And luck plays a huge role.

Education is important, but education is far from the key. We can show you statistics about things like the racial wealth divide, which is not overcome by education. White people who are high school dropouts still tend to make more money than black people with a college degree.

Financial literacy and learning and understanding finance is not so that we can overcome any of this stuff. It’s not so that we can be smarter, or better, or beat the competition. It’s about understanding the systems that exist, understanding the opportunities that are afforded us, and giving us training so that we can handle the storms that come. It’s so we can better ourselves no matter what situation we’re in, and find the next place. 

The thing that is sort of a myth just by omission that we never talked about when it comes to money is what’s enough; or do we have enough?

As we look at ourselves with the imposter syndrome, with all of the ways that we are denied, lied and marginalized, we can find what we see to be enough. That’s a seed we can build on and grow on. You don’t have to beat out any sort of competition. You just have to grow.

About MC Dyalekt

Dyalekt is an MC, educator, and playwright, usually all at once. He is based in Brooklyn, NY and has been a part of the NYC Hip Hop scene since 2003. He toured his first solo work, Square Peg Syndrome, throughout Europe, which led to him being named to The Public’s Emerging Writers Group in 2013. The album/one man show is also a 6-week curriculum on identity and literacy, piloted in 2008 in his hometown, St. Croix, USVI. He is the Director of Pedagogy for Pockets Change, a Hip Hop + finance youth organization, and has taught thousands of students. His most recent work, the Museum of Dead Words, is a Hip Hop theater show on communication and empathy in the age of the internet. He is a podcast host for the Race & Wealth Network and keynotes on how art, culture, and media are used to perpetuate racial wealth inequality.


Opinions & perspectives expressed in this article are those of the guest contributor and not necessarily Pocket Your Dollars.