Kieli McKoy, a Brooklyn, New York native, started working at 14 years old. By 17, she was working at Starbucks and rose up the ranks to become a shift supervisor. "That's when I learned to start saving money," she recalls. "I opened my first bank account. I knew the importance of balancing your checkbook and making sure you have the finances available for what you need and just prioritizing money spent and money saved."
She worked as a telemarketer for years while raising three boys as a single mom, but the pay—no more than $25K a year—was barely enough to cover the essentials for her family. "Everything was coming from me," says McKoy. "There were times that things were really difficult. I just had to just prioritize my finances. I always made sure the rent was paid. I always made sure the lights stayed on, the kids always ate. But it was a struggle at one point."
She yearned to build a career that was more comfortable and that would allow her to provide for her children, but the road to get there wouldn't be easy.
In 2007, McKoy met her husband and, in 2009, the couple welcomed a daughter. At the time, McCoy was making $10 an hour and would barely get 40 hours a week. "When I had my daughter, we decided that I would stay home from work," says McKoy.
Two years later, tragedy struck when McKoy's husband passed away unexpectedly. She found herself unable to afford the home they were living in and had to go into a shelter. "I just felt everything I planned for the future was gone," she says. "That was very hard for me, but I also knew that I had to do it. I had to keep going for the children."
After getting approved for Section 8 housing and finding a home for her family, McKoy's cousin encouraged her to join a local program called NEW, or Nontraditional Employment for Women, which prepares, trains, and places women in careers in the skilled construction, utility, and maintenance trades. "I was excited, because I love physical work, so when she presented it to me, I just jumped at the opportunity," recalls McKoy.
That moment, in May 2012, was what the mom of four felt marked a turning point. "I felt like I started over, like hit the reset button, and I was ready to just go forward," she says. "I didn't want to look back. I didn't want to keep dwelling on my husband passing, dwelling on being in the shelter, dwelling on all the negative things."
After completing NEW's program, McKoy had the opportunity to choose from all different trades and was offered an interview with the New York City District Council of Carpenters—and got in. "I became a first year apprentice," she remembers. "I started out making about $19 an hour."
That's when she began saving. "I knew that every month, a thousand dollars had to be put aside for those bills," she says. And within a year or two, she got to the point where she stabilized her finances.
McKoy spent four years of working as an apprentice, after which she became a certified journey level carpenter—and hit the six-figure mark. "Ever since then, it's been increasing every year," she says.
Now preparing to buy her first home, the mom of four says she feels accomplished. "I feel like my work actually is worth the effort that I put into it," says McKoy. "Even with the first paycheck that I got my first year, it was a lot more than I got working in all the jobs that I've ever worked. So I knew from the first year that I was going in the right direction."
She adds, "I never thought that I would be able to make this amount of money, especially without a college degree."
Here, McKoy's best tips for working moms.
Consider a Different Schedule
McKoy works 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily, which allows her to be "home early enough to still get things done," she says. "You're still able to interact with your children. You still have a whole half of a day left when you're out of work."
She points out that starting work early in the morning does mean having to find suitable child care for that period of the day, but once that box is checked, "you'll be good to go."
Remember You Don't Have to Be Perfect
If McKoy could go back in time and tell her younger self anything, she'd encourage her to reject the idea that she has to be perfect. "You're not always going to get it right, but you'll get it right," she says. "It'll come naturally."
And in terms of getting it right with children and finances, McKoy's advice would be to "just lead with your heart."
Involve Your Kids
Keeping kids posted on your career can help everyone in the family get on the same page, says McKoy. "Make sure you keep your children involved in what you're doing," she advises. "Come home and explain your day of work with them. Let your children know, 'This is for all of us. I'm doing this for the family.'"
Lean Into Your Passions
A major takeaway from McKoy's journey has been to do what she's passionate about, and she encourages other parents to do the same. "Find something you love to do, get into doing it, and do it to the best of your ability," she says. "If you're doing something that you love, you'll be happy, and that'll take you far."
This also sets a positive example for children and helps them feel secure. "When they see you're stable, they're stable," she notes. "When they see you're happy, they're happy. When they see you're confident and you feel safe, they feel the same way."