This Mom Paid off $23,000 in Debt and Now She’s Helping Others Do the Same

Rita-Soledad Fernández Paulino was struggling with student loan debt, but she made a plan to pay it all off. She's now sharing her best budgeting tips to help other parents.

Rita-Soledad Fernández Paulino and her two siblings grew up in Los Angeles, raised by a single mom who was a teacher from Mexico. Her mom struggled financially, as "she didn't necessarily know how to budget," says Paulino.

When Paulino was 16, she got her first job and realized she liked to have a savings available. "I think that really impacted my financial trajectory." Although she eventually accumulated student loan debt, Paulino gives herself credit for having "mastered the skill of saving" early on.

She also was inspired from a young age to become an educator. "I believe in people," says Paulino. "And I just thought I could really make an impact in my community. I can be the representation that I didn't always see." 

Paulino did become a passionate and engaged educator, but in 2019, upon finding that she had inflammation in her lungs, she was put on medical leave. "I was really, really sick," recalls the teacher. "For the first time in my life, I wasn't sure how I was gonna be paying all of my bills. I wasn't sure if my disability payments were gonna be enough to cover my monthly expenses."

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In the meantime, her husband was transitioning between jobs. So, Paulino began budgeting. "I decided that I was going to become debt-free before I turned 33," recalls Paulino. 

She and her husband paid off $23,000 in student loan debt with her disability income as they did their best to live on his income alone. 

But upon reaching that milestone, Paulino realized she didn't have anyone in her circle who would celebrate that with her. "In my family, no se habla de dinero—nobody talks about money, and so I felt really lonely in this journey," she says. "I was like, 'Well, I paid off all this debt. What's next?'"

That's when she was inspired to create Wealth Para Todos, an online community on Instagram to share her journey of building a $30,000 emergency fund for her family.

"I did not know how we were gonna do that," she admits. "I had paid off our debt by really cutting out a lot of expenses. And as I got healthy and I was no longer on bedrest, I thought, 'Well, I'm gonna start to live my life. I cannot live so long without extras.'"  

But Paulino was committed to learning, and as she became more financially literate, Wealth Para Todos began to morph into a company. "I was reaching different milestones, and people started reaching out to me and saying, 'Hey, can you coach me? Can you teach me how to budget?'" remembers the mom of two. 

That's when she decided to study to become a certified financial planner (CFP) and today, she's a successful personal financial educator and coach.

"I am so passionate about working with Black, Indigenous, and people of color, women, and LGBTQ+ folk because of the systemic barriers that they have to overcome to build wealth," she shares. 

She's also looking forward to launching a group program down the road to "spread the impact to have more people working in the community to build wealth." 

Here are Paulino's best tips for parents who want to up their financial literacy game. 

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Talk About Money With Your Kids

Paulino emphasizes the importance of having conversations around finances with your children. "As parents, we want to raise children who don't think talking about money is so taboo, because then, they become adults who feel apprehensive about walking into a brokerage firm or a bank," she points out. "You want to talk money with your kids, so they can start seeing money as a tool." 

One of the ways Paulino suggests doing this is by writing out a list of items you plan to buy. Then, have them decide what they think is a good price for each item. "Before stepping out, decide how much you think a backpack should cost? How much do you think a water bottle should cost? How much would you wanna spend on your uniform?" she explains. "They write it down, and then, they go, and they get excited and say, 'Oh look, my number was right.'" 

They'll also find out that some items are more expensive and might wonder if they can find a comparable item for a lower price. The exercise ultimately morphs into an engaging conversation, notes Paulino.

Start Investing With These 4 Steps

"Step one, you choose your brokerage firm—that's the place where you're going to open an account," notes Paulino. "Step two is you choose an account."

There are different accounts to choose from, including four she points to: Solo 401K, SEP IRA, Roth IRA, and traditional IRA. The Roth IRA is one of her favorite accounts for people to invest in, because you use post-tax dollars. "Then, it grows tax-free," she notes.

"Step three: You put your money in an account, and step four, you choose your assets."

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Begin Saving for Retirement ASAP

Paulino recommends setting up accounts like the Roth IRA and 401K to save for retirement as early as you possibly can. You can start by setting up small contribution goals and then building them as you go. 

"It is OK as a parent to make sure that you are taking care of yourself financially before you start continuing to give and give to your child," she says. "There are no scholarships for retirement. So, before you start thinking about how you wanna prepare your child to perhaps one day avoid student loan debt, or purchase a car for them so they could drive to a job, make sure that you have done the work to decrease your debt, build an emergency fund, get a retirement plan in place." 

She adds, "One of the best things that you can give your child is them knowing that in your old age, you're going to be taken care of and that you're not going to be a burden on them financially."

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