Growing up, Esperanza Lebron never learned about personal finance. But in 2015 she came across the Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE) movement, which focuses on saving up to 70 percent of your annual income in order to retire early. She was intrigued. The newly single mom of then two school-age old sons, was in around $45,000 of credit card debt at the time and ready to get her finances in shape.
Lebron first became a mom when she was 15 years old and had her second when she was 17, but she didn't let that deter her from her goal of getting a high school diploma and did so at age 21. "That was the pivotal moment in my life when I knew everything is possible," she remembers. "So I just kept going to school and kept chasing that same feeling."
To make ends meet while she was in college then graduate school, Esperanza worked part-time jobs, making about $14,000 annually. Then after graduating, Lebron joined the military and watched her salary jump to $50,000—more than anyone else in her family had ever made—but still did not feel like she had enough to be financially secure because of her debt.
That's when the FIRE movement came into her life. While living with her sister, Crystal, the two created personal budget templates to help figure out their finances each month. At first their Excel spreadsheets and Canva templates were just for personal use, but they were ultimately driven to share them to improve the lack of Latinx voices in the personal finance industry. "We were listening to the [FIRE movement] podcast and we couldn't completely relate to all of the bloggers and the advisors that were out there because there weren't very many people who look like us," Lebron explains. Their small budget-making business turned into a resource platform and personal finance coaching service, Latina Money Moms.
Now, Lebron earns six figures annually and feels inspired whenever she hears success stories from the Latinx community she's so dedicated to serving. "It's so important that our community is educated and really just inspired to create change and massive action." This is something she also wants to instill in her sons.
Feeling inspired? Lebron shares her best money advice below.
1. You can't out-earn bad spending habits.
"Trust me, I tried," Lebron says. "I learned this when I was 26 and was making about $50,000 a year. I was still budgeting, but my budgeting method back then just involved making sure I was covering my bills." Though she did have $5,000 in a savings account after she paid her bills, she spent the rest of her money on pretty much whatever. It was beginning to use zero-based budgeting, a method that allocates every single dollar earned for a specific purpose, that helped her get started on her path to financial freedom.
2. Having debt doesn't make you a bad person.
Debt can be scary. But the concept of money being neutral changed everything for Lebron. "It's helped me upgrade my mindset and appreciate my money from an abundance perspective even when it comes to debt," she says. "If you're trying to crawl your way out of debt very quickly because you feel guilty, you're really coming from a place of lack, and it will make it that much harder for you to do so. And you will feel miserable the entire time."
When she was paying off $45,000 in credit card debt, Lebron sat down and thought about not why she had to pay off the debt, but why she wanted to. "So many good things came from doing that," she says. "I learned to love my relationship with money." From there, she took action from a place of abundance, using the idea that there's always more than enough money, it's just a matter of finding it in your budget. "That helped me really zone in on clearing out the credit card debt. I actually did it very quickly, and the best part was that I felt great about it. My actions weren't being driven by shame or guilt."
3. Mindset matters most.
No matter how much money you make, you can make bad choices, Lebron says. "You can have the most carefully and well-planned budget in the world, but without a strong money mindset, the budget and income will do nothing for you." So how do you do that? First, be realistic with your budget. What will you actually be willing to do?
Second, don't forget to live while you are either working your way out of debt or coasting to retirement. "For my family, I don't say we can't do things, instead we just do them in limited amounts," she says. "When I was making $14,000 a year, two Sundays out of the month were date days with my sons. I would budget for $23 for us to go to Denny's no matter what. That was so important for the relationship with my sons and they would look forward to it for an entire week."
And most importantly: "Don't feel bad because other people in the FIRE or debt-free communities aren't doing this," she says. "You have to do what works best for you and your family, otherwise you will lose the motivation to continue."
4. We learn our money habits young.
"Our beliefs about the way the world is are formed from the ages of 7 to 12 years old," Lebron says. "So we have to be very careful about what we are teaching our children to believe about money." She and Crystal have been careful to stop saying things like "we can't afford that" and instead, pivoting to things like "yes, I know you would love to have that and I want that for you too, so we can work it in next month's budget."
"I also believe it's paramount to teach our kids how to be givers and savers, so they can always give out of love and feel abundant in being able to do so," she adds.
5. How you do money is how you do everything.
This is one of the truths that made personal finance click for Lebron. "Back when I was telling myself that I just wasn't good with money, I found myself hiding from my bank account. I would get a gut-wrenching, sinking feeling in my stomach that would make me want to just run far away," she says. But when she heard this concept, she realized she was showing up in the world in a way that didn't express her true abilities and potential.
"Once I stepped into a feeling of control over my finances, I showed up differently everywhere. I began to question everything, like earning more." Esperanza negotiated for a six-figure salary once she transitioned from the Army, and now how she does money is really she does everything: confidently and with integrity.
"Something special happens when you own your money story," she adds. "There's this aura of confidence and clarity that starts to drive within. It's magical, and every one of us has the power to ignite it."
- How This Single Mom Went From $10 an Hour To $100,000 a Year
- These Moms Are on a Mission to Help Families Take Control of Their Kitchen and Wallet
- This Mom Turned Her Money-Saving DIY Beauty Products into a Business and is Now Teaching Other Parents to Do the Same
- This Mom's Breastfeeding Experience Led Her to Create a Breast Milk Delivery Service for Traveling Parents