Aug 10, 2023

NGPF Podcast: Melissa Jean-Baptiste on her book So...This is Why I'm Broke!

Melissa Jean-Baptiste is a award-winning web series creator and author but before she was a teacher for 11 years! Melissa will share her own experiences as an educator and how you can get students to think about their relationship with money.


Ren Makino: Hi, this is Ren from Next Gen personal finance and you're listening to the NGPF podcast. Today on the show you Yanely is joined by award-winning web series creator, author, and teacher of 11 years, Melissa Jean-Baptiste. Melissa's mission is to help everyone specifically, Millennials and GenZ restructure the relationship with money, obtaining financial freedom and build generational wealth. Melissa walks us through how you and your students can achieve this by sharing her own experiences as an educator, as well as presenting many helpful financial resources. Enjoy. 

Yanely Espinal: Welcome to the NGPF Speaker Series. Melissa, how are you doing? 

Melissa Jean Baptiste: Good. Thank you so much for the welcome. Always so happy to join you in all our money conversations. I'm very excited for this evening. 

Yanely Espinal: Obviously you kind of do a little bit of everything. You're on social media posting content, you're an author now and you know, you've done so much in dig in terms of your digital presence with a, an online show and lots of different projects that you've had your hand in. But kind of, you started with classroom teaching right? And, and the New York City public school system for over 10 years being a teacher there.

So tell us a little bit about that experience and what kind of made you pivot away from teaching in a traditional classroom? 

[00:01:10] Melissa's Background 

Melissa Jean Baptiste: Yes. So I straight out of college, went right into the New York City Department of Education. I was a high school English teacher for 11 years. I taught 9-12 in all different types of capacities, AP literature, all types of fun, amazing things.

I tried to seek in a little personal finance here and there whenever the curriculum allowed. And then by year, like, 6 I kind of wanted to start doing something different, like, "Oh, I need to, you know, move outta my parents' house, right?" First gen, any first gens on the call with us tonight, we know like, okay, you go to school, you get a job, you move out and you go become an adult, a full blown adult.

And so trying to move outta my parents' house, trying to pay off student loan debt, I felt very alone and isolated and just... kind of depressed. You know, I got myself into this situation where I'm like, I'm in over $50,000 in debt and it's just ballooning and ballooning, and then it was $80,000 and then it was a $100,000.

I'm just like,"How am I gonna pay off all this money on this teacher salary?" But when I started having more conversations with people about money and really figuring out what their story and how they've been navigating it, I wrote it all down and I made it all funny, kind of like what I would do in a classroom with lesson plans and unit plans.

I made it funny, I made it accessible, I made it easy to understand kind of bite-size information and I turned it into a web series. And so I threw that up on YouTube and there was really just... this void where people kind of gravitated towards and were like, "Oh, this is funny, but this is also about money and I'm also learning something."

And a lot of people were asking like, "Well, where do we go if we wanna ask you questions? Or where do we go if we wanna like share our story?" So I was like, "Maybe start an Instagram, I don't know?" Kind of just like, "Let's see what happens." And deciding to make that Instagram kind of threw me into the life of digital marketing and digital creation and content creation.

And at year 11, after we were in like the second year of the pandemic year and a half of the pandemic I started looking to pivot into how I can use my experience in digital marketing and grading content and really figuring out how to grow brands and things like that outside of just my own platform.

And I pivoted into tech and I took, you know, my content and my platform and my audience with me on that journey and what I did to use my experience as an educator. And move into the world of tech. I move into the world of marketing. So I became the brand manager of marketing for a FinTech company. So still in my wheelhouse, still financial literacy, building content around finance.

And now I'm a full-time entrepreneur. So I have done quite a bit of things, but just kind of just mesh all well together. But really I couldn't have done it without my education platform and learning how to really teach an audience, right? 'Cause our students are our audience. So, that is my story.

And I, and I did end up paying off the a $100,000 dollars of student loans loans on the teacher salary. So where the main point in why the brand was created? It, it was accomplished. 

Yanely Espinal: Yes. That's amazing. I was about to ask, "Okay, so what happened with the student loan debt?" Because, you know, you can't say, "I had a over a $100,000 dollars of debt" and not tell us what happened to it.

Melissa Jean Baptiste: Yeah. I did. I paid it.

Yanely Espinal: That's amazing. That's amazing. And I'm sure that journey was like, not, not easy. It's, it's a lot of money and it's a big commitment. And, and I think one of the big things in terms of your experience is so much of the transferrable skills. Which I feel like that's not something that I kind of, heard a lot about, like in my early 20's.

It wasn't until recently, I feel like on TikTok and Instagram, I started hearing a lot of people talk about, you know, Transferrable skills. Right. And so tell us a little bit about what that looked like for you to be able to transfer the skills that you developed in the classroom and take that ultimately to entrepreneurship, but also to marketing and FinTech work as well on the way to entrepreneurship.

[00:04:40] Transferring the Skills.

Melissa Jean Baptiste: Yes. I think in education a lot, a lot, a lot of people count out teachers, right? They think of us a lot of times as a one trick pony, like, oh yeah, they just, you know, they're off in the summers and they're off on the holidays, and they just go in and teach their same lessons every day, day in, day out. And we know that's not true.

As educators, we know that we have to pivot and we have to do so many things in the classroom, and all of those things that we are doing are in high demand elsewhere, right? And so I spent a lot of time wasting my time when I wanted to pivot, saying, oh yeah, I'm just gonna use my teacher resume as is and not change anything and just go out there,

'cause I've been, you know, a bomb teacher for 11 years and I didn't realize that. Yeah, I've been a bomb teacher. But, you know, transitioning into FinTech, I'm gonna have to talk about product management, project management, stakeholders, cross-functional, you know, collaboration. And I'm like, what are these words?

What are these terms? And when I learned about what the terminology and what these things were, I was like, oh. I am doing this in the classroom already. I am a product manager, because I have my lesson plans and my unit plans, and I was also a curriculum developer for my school. So I'm just like, "I've created a product and I have managed many projects."

I'm managing all these things and doing a lot of communication with parents and stakeholders. So stakeholders, I'm just like, "Oh, parents students, other, other teachers, the administration, those are all stakeholders in this academic world that I'm in," and just figuring out how to use everything that I've done with metrics, right?

We do all the professional development, we have all of the observations, we have the metrics to put onto our resume. But for such a long time I was just like, "Oh yeah, I teach, I write lesson plans... and that's it." And that's truly not all that we do. And so learning the terminology and learning how to take all of the skills and things I learned as an educator, moving it into a resume that's going to be applicable in the FinTech world and any other industry really was my strength.

But I think what I loved the most in transferring my skills as an educator was into social media, right? And a lot of people were just like, "Well, how do you do that?" And I'm just like, "Listen, I was the cool teacher," and I don't care how cringe it sounds, but I was the teacher using memes. I was the teacher using like the latest, whatever Super Bowl things were happening. 

Rihanna, anything that was happening, I'm like, "Hmm, how can I incorporate this into Beowulf? How can I incorporate this into Shakespeare? How can I incorporate this into, you know, the argumentative essay?" And so in doing those things, I learned how to navigate really difficult, complicated, or boring content and make it accessible and fun.

And so the doing those things in the classroom helped me to create reels and helped me create blogs and helped me create YouTube content. And so I don't think I would've been as great of a content creator without my experience in the classroom.

Yanely Espinal: I love that so much. Your story definitely stresses how no skill learned is wasted because you've been able to take everything that you learned from teaching and pivot it to entrepreneurship ultimately, but took it with you in so many other spaces.

But you're absolutely right. I mean, you have to analyze data, you have to collect data, you have to constantly be writing lesson plans. You have to be, you know, grading. You have to be communicating with parents, with teachers, with administrators, presenting lessons, communicating with your students, giving them feedback.

You have to, you know, problem solve, managing behavior is literally problem solving one-on-one every day, all day. And so the ability for you to recognize, first of all, that you had that skillset and, and let alone, I mean, You have to convince your students that what you're teaching them is actually cool.

So that's a little bit of sales there too. Yeah. So I mean, we have, we literally do it all. So I love that you really put that together and saw this clear vision of how you could take those skills and build upon them, not just ignore them, not set them aside and say that chapter's done, but instead say, how can I take this and really torpedo it, really turn it into something that, you know, is gonna allow me to kind of use those skills in a unique and creative way that I'm gonna enjoy.

Absolutely. Social media makes a lot of sense, you know? Yeah. To me, in terms of teaching and, and doing it in bite-sized ways that people looking online for content can find short little lessons from you hitting all types of topics and making it engaging and fun in a creative way. 

Melissa Jean Baptiste: Absolutely. I think that's what sets us apart.

I remember like one of my favorite reels that you ever made, you were making a smoothie and you were talking about like IRAs. I'm like, "I'm interested in this smoothie and this IRA," like, you know, so it's things like that where it's just like, "Oh, you've peaked my interest in, in health and making things, but you're also teaching me something that I might not understand if I went and Googled it on my own."

And so I think that's a lot of times that... like I said, people count teachers out, or teachers think like, well, I have to go pay $5,000 for a bootcamp, or I have to go get all these certifications. It's like, "No, you don't! You've been in this game for 5, 10, 15, 20 years. You have more than enough skills. Your skillset is elite, and it is exactly what these jobs are looking for."

We just have to pivot how we are bringing and presenting that information on our resumes and in our interviews. 

Yanely Espinal: Absolutely. And, and I see so many teachers doing that creatively, both, you know, in the classroom and also outside of the classroom, making money from businesses and entrepreneurial ventures outside the classroom, you know, when they're not teaching and which, and, and all throughout the summer, which is amazing, right?

It's like, first of all, allows you to use that creative outlet and take those skills elsewhere and also more money. So I definitely see teachers doing that creatively. And for you, being that you taught, English Language Arts, you know, talking about writing and the craft of writing, and then actually taking it and putting it into a book.

So Melissa's book is called, So... This Is Why I Am Broke: Money Lessons on Financial Literacy, Passive Income, and Generational Wealth. A beautiful cover for those of you who haven't seen it before. It's honestly one of my favorite covers of all money books like so, so cool, and I think that the energy on the book cover, the energy that you bring on social media.

It is so captured in this book and you've done the structure of the book in such a unique way, which I wanna talk about, but first: tell us a little bit about the decision to, you know, put everything that you've been learning and, and creating content around for so long into this kind of capsule, this one book that you wanna then be able to share at least so far.

Maybe there'll be more books, but for now, this book that you, that you wanna kind of share with the world. 

[00:10:44] Melissa's Book.

Melissa Jean Baptiste: Yes. So I much like you 'cause we, I know we talk like online all the time. I didn't see myself in finance. I didn't see anyone that looked like me. I didn't see anyone that talked like me, that dressed like me.

Even recently, I spoke at this really big conference and I had on a pair of Converses and I'm like, you know, I wanna show up as myself and I wanna talk to people as myself, but I want them to learn something and I want them to feel seen. I want them to feel like. They're having a conversation with me, right?

So when they're reading this book, which has been one of the highlights of like all the feedback and comments when you're reading this book, I want it to be like, we're on FaceTime, right? So I want it to be like, you asked me a question, or you're struggling with budgeting, or You're struggling with saving, and I'm like, "I got you."

Like, "Let me, let me break it down for you. Let me show you how to do it. Let me give you the steps and tools so that you can now go and do it yourself and also teach someone else, right? Teach the next person." 'Cause that's the importance of generational wealth. It's not just like, "I take all this information and now it's just mine and I'm gonna build millions, and it's just me."

It's like, "No, I'm gonna build millions, but I'm gonna show my brothers. I'm gonna show my cousins. I'm gonna show everyone around me so that they can do the same thing." And that's really what I wanted to do with this book is put... because my dad's not on social media, right? Everyone's not on social media.

So I'm just like, I'm doing all these things on Instagram. They're cool, they're cute, but I wanna give this a way give this information in a way that anybody can have it. Anybody can say, "You know what? I wanna open an IRA, let me go get this book and find out," you know, "how to do it. I wanna build a, a high yield savings, let me figure out how to do it."

And they get practical because a lot of times the books that I was reading when I was 24, 25, 26, trying to get my stuff together, I was just like, "Well, I feel judged. I feel like I need to punish myself because I landed in debt, I didn't know what I was doing. I feel like I shouldn't reward myself. I should feel like all these terrible things.

And I don't want anyone who's entering the world of personal finance to feel like that. I don't want them to feel like, "Oh, nobody looks like me who's getting it done." So that's really the premise of why all, you know, the structure, everything in this book is the way it is because we're on FaceTime, we're chatting and you have the tools to, you know, build, build those millions, 'cause we all really do have that opportunity. 

Yanely Espinal: Yeah, and I love that because I do think that the topic of money's already A: so taboo and B: so dry or made to seem so dry, and 3: overcomplicated a lot of times. So the fact that you're, first of all simplifying it, and then second of all, making it relatable, engaging, and accessible so that it doesn't feel intimidating anymore. It's like it's so necessary. 

It is such a beautiful thing for me now to be able to see so many women of color in the personal finance space. But you and I both know that when you come into this and you start trying to find content around money, it's really hard to find it. And only when you get really into it as a niche and really deep into searching folks, that's when you start to see so much representation.

Finance in general is over dominated by white males, and so for you to find any other experience that's not... That, it can be tricky. It can be hard to find. So, you know, in your experience in many ways is definitely something that is gonna be relatable to a lot of people who maybe don't identify with the experience of the traditional, typical books in the personal finance space.

And you talk a lot about that in, in the book. So before we kind of get straight into, 'cause I would love for you to read an excerpt for the educators on the call today, but before we get into it and talk about excerpts from the book, talk a little bit about that background and how that influenced the book.

You dedicated it to your family and to like your siblings and that like being a daughter of Haitian immigrants and you know, growing up in an environment where you were acutely aware of like finances and having these conversations, how did that impact and influence your decision to actually focus on, on that topic for your book and eventually kind of focus on finance for your work too?

[00:14:21] Book's Background and Main Takeaway.

Melissa Jean Baptiste: Yeah, so I'm a big, big, big believer in we don't know what we don't know, right? And oftentimes it's just like, "Oh, I can't believe I made this mistake, or I can't believe I didn't know this. I can't believe I didn't do this." And so when I became more aware of all the things that I didn't know and all the things that I didn't do or could've done or should've would, all of those things, I really sat back and thought about.

Okay. Well my parents did the absolute best that they could do because they also did not know what they didn't know. And so jumping into this finance world, it is truly important for me to one, recognize all the work that they did do because everything they did put me in this position that I am today, right? 

And so that's extremely important, especially for people who are just getting into their own personal finance journey. It's important to realize that you got here for a very specific reason, right? And so if I didn't go into a $100,000 in debt, I wouldn't be here talking to you guys today with a book in my hand that I wrote.

And so it was so important for me to say, "Okay, these are the mistakes I made. These are the things I didn't know. These are the things I didn't do, but let me acknowledge the grace and the opportunities that my parents and my family put on the table for me to pick up to get here." And so, I remember calling them on FaceTime and saying like, "Hey, I dedicated the book to you guys."

They're like, "Why?" And I'm like, "No like you really need to understand what you've done for me and how you've impacted this book and how because of you, you're, you know, I'm impacting other people's life." So it was really, really crucial for me to not only just write a book about finance, but, really, really highlight that where you are today is not your final destination, right? 

There is no, on social media was like, "Oh, if you bought a 1000 shares in Apple in 1980," I'm like "I wasn't born," right? Or like, I didn't know about the stock market, or I didn't know about all of these things.

And so it's really important for me to highlight, listen "This is where we are. This doesn't mean that's where you're going to stay, but you wanna make sure like you're thankful for getting to this point," right? So a lot of times it's just like, "Oh, do you wish you didn't go to private, you know, university?" I was just like, "I'm sure it would've been easier to not have all this debt, but I wouldn't, I wouldn't have learned." 

I wouldn't have understood what debt was. I wouldn't have understood money management. And so that is really what this book, that is what I set out with this book, right? To be relatable and make sure people understand, but also just to make sure like where you are today doesn't mean that's where you're gonna be in, in 10 years. When I was 22 years old, I was depositing $121 into a 403B, right?

And last year I invested $50,000. I was just like, "Who am I? Who is this girl?" Right? So it doesn't, where you are today is not the end. So that, that's what I want people to take away when they, when they read the book. 

Yanely Espinal: I love that. Okay. So you definitely make it... so fun to read. Just like the puns.

There's so many puns. Every, every chapter title is a pun, which I love. Like I, I was getting all of them and laughing and I was mad when I didn't get like one of them and I had to go look it up. But most of them, I was laughing right there with you. Now you start the book by talking about money dates, and you say like, this is the first, you know, you open the book, you get past the instruction.

You on chapter one, and you start talking about money dates and how this is so important to do. Tell us about that concept of a money date and why you started with that and you think it's so important. 

[00:17:34] Money Dates.

Melissa Jean Baptiste: So I, at 25 years old, I wanted to buy a house. I don't know who I thought I was. I didn't even have a savings account.

And the real estate agent, he was just like, "Girl, you have a really high debt to income ratio," I was like, "I don't, sir. I don't even know what that is, all right?" And so after I spoke to him and I spoke to my loan provider for the first time, I sat down at 25 years old. I didn't call it that at the time, but I sat down with my money and it was... traumatic, like that is the best word I can think about to explain it. 

It was, I was crying. It was horrific because I had never looked at my financial landscape as in a holistic view before. And doing that really helped to change the trajectory of my life because it gave me the opportunity to say, "Okay, you have a negative net worth. You don't have an emergency savings, you don't have a savings at all. This is how much..." you know, and just really look at the whole picture. And then in doing so, I'm like, "Okay, well I need to make a plan." And in making the plan for where I was at that time, I'm like, "Well, I need to know if the plan's working."

I have no idea if the plan's working, if I don't check back in, in the same way that I checked back in today. So that first money date is what helped me understand what budgeting was. It's what helped me understand what savings was. It's what helped me to figure out what I needed to do in order to pay off my student loans in order to buy my first home, which once I started going on those money dates monthly and they sometimes, even now at almost 35, they're still sometimes painful.

And you're like, "Well, I definitely overspent in July," right? But that's what you... 

Yanely Espinal: I saw you post that on Instagram. You called yourself out. 

Melissa Jean Baptiste: But that's why it's so important to do them, because it's just like if you're just living, you know, swiping, swiping away, you're like, "Yeah, I'm doing fine. I'm paying my bills." 

You're not realizing what's happening to your financial landscape. And so I do the monthly. I suggest that you do them in, you know, whatever amount that you need to feel comfortable. Some people say they do them weekly. I can't do it that that often, right? And I know you were like nightly, you're like, I'm checking my, my investment accounts, right?

So you do what feels natural and what feels comfortable for you. But you need to check in with your financial landscape to see if the steps you're taking are working. If you need to adjust your steps, if you can make, you know, new savings goals, if you can make new budgeting goals. But if you're not checking, you're not aware, then you're not able to move forward and reach that financial freedom that you're looking for, so... 

Financial dates in the beginning will be uncomfortable. But they will become, I now have them as pizza dates. So my, my money dates are pizza dates. I sit down with some pizza. I'm relaxed. I have all my expenses, everything that I've spent in the last month, and I go through it and I make the plan for the next month.

And so in sitting down at the July 31st and saying like, "Oh child, like what? What happened to the plan?" I was able to adjust my August plan. And so now when I, you know, went grocery shopping, I was like, maybe we not gonna grab five bags of chips this time. Like maybe we're gonna grab two, right? So it's super important to really start there.

If you haven't started, that's the real great spot. And I always say if it's your first money date, you wanna calculate your net worth, right? And even if it's negative, you wanna see that number, right? So you know where it is that you're going from that point. 

Yanely Espinal: Yeah, that's a good point. I, I find that a lot of people are afraid of that number, especially if they know that they have a lot of debt.

And I think that you kind of have to face that fear. I agree with you. I think that you just have to know, and when you're in the know, you're gonna be able to actually start moving the needle first towards zero and then eventually towards a, a positive net worth. But I do find that a lot of people have that, have that fear, and I think that.

The more you know approachable, the more relatable, the more down to earth we are. When we talk about these things, the less fear people feel when they actually go to take a look at their finances. And to find out, you know, what their numbers are and take a look at it. So a book like yours, I think is so approachable because first of all, one thing I noticed here, chapters are very short and easy to read. So you start reading in chapter 1 you get the introduction chapter 1 next thing you know just to, you are already at chapter 4 because it's just so easy to keep reading, to keep turning the pages. So I like that you kept the chapters really short and you started with the really important stuff, the budgeting, the saving, the credits, like that's when I talked to young people, the biggest thing they tell me is like, I wonder about credit.

That's the biggest topic. And the second is investing. So credit and investing tend to be really popular topics among Gen Z. And so I wonder, you know, your kind of decision making process about structuring the book the way that you did. You have it in different parts and you break it down, you know, where you group certain topics.

Credit investing, they tend to be like more popular. Did you choose to structure it in a way where you, you put it like in a financial order that made sense? Or did you go by the topics that you wanted to start with and then end with topics that you felt like were gonna allow you to end on? Like, "Oh, that was a good hook. I'm gonna really remember the ending." 

Or did you structure it a different way based on, you know, your audience feedback or what you were thinking about the structure of your book when you were planning it out? 

[00:22:21] Structure of the Book.

Melissa Jean Baptiste: I love that question. Honestly. I, it's twofold. So I essentially wanted to structure it in the way that I grew, like in my finances.

Then I went back and spoke to my publisher. They were like, "Yes, that's cool, but you're not the only one in finance." I'm like, "Okay." And so they suggested that maybe I look at it from a point of where people start in their financing finances, which is obviously budgeting and saving, and then where they.

Grow and evolve in what they wanna learn. So that is why the last chapter is about prenups because it's just like you wanna learn how to budget and save and invest on your own before you start tying your money in with your partner, right? And you wanna learn about estate planning 'cause we're all getting older.

So you wanna make sure you have that set before you move into the, the pre everyone's just like, "Why is the prenup last?" I'm just like, "Because you gotta get the rest of your life together first," right? And so essentially that's how we structured it, is basically how people grow through their finances as they're learning personal finance.

Yanely Espinal: That's so interesting. I wouldn't have thought that would be your answer, but I really like that answer and I, and I like your inclination to start with like how it worked with your personal finances and obviously I think that, you know, the publisher is kind of thinking about what's gonna sell and what's gonna hit with people.

Yeah. But I do really like the idea of approaching it in a really personal way. So tell us a little bit about that chapter on prenups. I know it's the very last chapter. Yes. So we'll come back to something in the middle, but I do feel like, so that's chapter 12, which you call First Comes Love, Then Comes the Prenup.

Yes. So this is, I feel like this is such a controversial topic. More and more I'm starting to see that the internet is like really divided when it comes to this topic. And recently a, an influencer that I actually really like and follow a lot. It was, I like look at his content a lot. Posted something about how if you are getting a prenup, you're already setting up your marriage for disaster because you already believe that you are preparing to for it to fail.

And I was like, "I cannot disagree more with this." And so it's so interesting how I'm starting to see more people in the personal finance space talk openly about prenups and also like very divisive in terms of like opposite opinions. So you very much defend the prenup and talk about how you feel that "Yeah, we should have one if you're gonna enter a marriage."

Tell us about that chapter and what drove you to include it and leave it for last. Save the best for last, maybe. 

[00:24:37] Prenups.

Melissa Jean Baptiste: So essentially I'm just like, "Well, if you got to chapter 12, that means we're kind of friends at this point." Like you've, you've gone through all my embarrassing moments, like my chaos. We we're friends at this point.

So we're getting to chapter 12. We're gonna talk about some really big things and I think what people fail to understand when it comes to prenups is that marriage is a contract by law, right? Yes. Love, of course. Like I'm in a relationship, love, love, love, but I don't like leaving my money and my decisions up to the state.

And that is essentially what you're doing if you do not have a prenup, right? Because no one enters a marriage thinking like, "Yeah, we're gonna be good for three years, then we're gonna, you know, that's it," right? We all enter into a marriage thinking, you know, this is my forever person, but life... happens, things happen.

And when that does happen, emotions are high. A lot of things are happening. I don't want New York. I love New York, but I don't want New York saying like, yeah, all that money you have, this is actually what, what's going to happen to it? Or, you know, this house that you love, this is what's going to happen to it.

Or that debt that you avoided, but now you gotta take on this debt for your partner. So a lot of things in my life, I wanna make the, you know, the decision for it. And so if we look at it as a, for a way of protecting not just yourself, but your partner from the state coming in and deciding things that you will have no control over.

And I think if we approach it in that conversation, maybe you'll be a little less divisive. I don't know, we're trying out here, but like you said, it's very, people view it as a, "Oh, you are just," you know, "you're just making sure that if you get divorced that you don't get money or you don't get this, you don't get that."

It's like it, it's really just a form of protection and we have a very skewed view on how we protect ourselves sometimes when it comes to money. And I think we just need to, you know, understand like you're keeping the state outta your business, right? If we looked at it that way, then maybe we would be a little less defensive or less aggression. 

Yanely Espinal: Yeah, I mean, I tend so agree and I feel like if you can answer the question, "What will happen if you get divorced, what will your state do?" Like are you a community property state? Will you be splitting everything 50 50 or will once the higher earning spouse have more responsibility to give assets to the other, the less earning earner of a spouse?

If you can actually answer that question for your, the state that you're married in and you agree, then you probably don't need a prenup because you actually agree with the way your state's gonna handle. But most married couples, they don't even know. They don't know. They don't have a clue what their state would do. 

And so I, you know, I tend to agree with you in terms of switching the perspective and actually looking at it from the angle of this is a way to protect yourself and make sure that your interest, the way that you actually want things to be handled is how it would be handled. And, and I love that you include the misconception in this chapter right up front, you say, "From the get, most people tend to think that prenups are for wealthy people only."

Melissa Jean Baptiste: Yes. 

Yanely Espinal: You debunk that, which is really important. So I'm glad that you included that part.

Melissa Jean Baptiste: It's media. Media has kind of trained us, like when we watch the movies, the shows like, it's always like, "Oh, the really rich people and they wanna put..." it's like, you know, every average person deserves protection financially, so gotta reshape the narrative.

Yanely Espinal: I love that. Alright, what was your favorite chapter to write? 

[00:27:41] Favorite Chapter to Write.

Melissa Jean Baptiste: That is such a good question. 

Yanely Espinal: It's a hard one, I'm sure. 

Melissa Jean Baptiste: No, because I think every chapter has like different emotional ties to it. And so honestly, I really think that, I know it's not a chapter. I think the introduction was my favorite and most emotional.

And it was the first thing I wrote and it was really like, Me sitting down realizing like, "Oh crap," like my thoughts and my words and my feelings and my knowledge are about to go into a book that is going to be in other people's hands that they can read and, you know, judge and use and figure out. And so I really wanted that introduction to be like, "Oh, you know, this is my home girl. I'm gonna read her" like, you know, "her book, and really understand that this book is for the culture." I say this a lot. And people are like, "Well, what does for the culture mean?" 

And so in the introduction, I really explain what it means "for the culture" where people that look like you and I can go into, you know, a conversation and talk about a Roth IRA, talk about a 401K, talk about a 403B, talk about financial literacy and really know what we're talking about. 

And so not just feeling lost in the sauce. And so that's what it means to do this "for the culture". And so the introduction really, I just was like, "I'm writing a book," like I, I'm so emotional. But yeah, so each chapter has a different poll, but the intro I think is my favorite.

Yanely Espinal: Yeah, I really like that. I mean, I, so I recently saw the Barbie movie, so no spoilers. If you haven't seen it, I probably won't. I, I promise I won't spoil it. But there is just one part where savings account comes up and one of the Barbies says like, "Oh, like all of my money is just sitting in a savings account. I don't know what to do with it." 

And it's like, that idea that any woman anywhere would not have a clue what savvy moves are to make with money or not. You know, or feel afraid to kind of like ask questions or talk about money and so just quote it in an account at the bank because they don't know what to do with it like that.

Yeah, that mission is definitely one that I feel like your, your book directly addresses that and makes sure anybody that reads this book like you will not be in that situation. So I especially love that. Do you wanna read a little excerpt from the introduction? Or you can pick another part, but since you said introduction was your favorite part, maybe you'd want to read that.

[00:29:52] Reading an Excerpt.

Melissa Jean Baptiste: Intro was my favorite. I was afraid at the beginning because I was just like, and I told my parents, I'm like, "Listen, anything you you read where you're like, Melissa, just keep, just keep going. Like, I ignore," I'm like, "there's a point." 

So we're gonna start off with, "At 21 years old, I was a first generation college graduate with not one but two degrees. Yet everything I knew about money could fit on an index card. Four years later when I attempted to buy a house, I quickly learned everything I actually knew about money could be summed up on a post-it." 

I'll read one a little, a little more. "As a Haitian American woman, former New York City high school teacher and self-proclaimed wonder list, I can say a hundred percent I have lived and I have the stories to prove it. Taking public transportation in New York City alone has provided me with an ample supply of, 'you won't believe what I just saw' moments, for a lifetime, I jumped out of a plane, wrote an award-winning web series, visited 16 countries, traveled to 25 states, bought a house and paid off a hundred thousand dollars in student loan debt all before 35 years old. Of all the unique things about me. My lack of financial literacy was not one of them."

Right? And so I think a lot... thank you, thank you. I think that every single person is unique and has amazing, amazing, amazing things that they have done. Even when you think you haven't, like if you ever did a mood booster, literally sit down and write down all the amazing things you've done, 'cause I guarantee you are. 

And that's why I was so embarrassed and ashamed, right? That's, I was just like, "I did this, I did that, I did this, I do this, I do this," and I don't know how to open up an IRA? Like that's really was so shocking to me. And a lot of the finance books and content I was reading kind of were like, "Yeah, you should be ashamed," right?

Those types of things. But I'm just like, "What is going on?" So it was really important for me to start off and say like, "Look, this is my accolades. These are all the amazing things I did. These are all the things I know. And I still didn't have an emergency savings account." 

Also, it's like it's not you're not behind as you think. It's, we are kind of set up in, in our education system to not know, and the work that Janelle is doing is like God saving. So that, that's really why I started off that way. It's just like, don't think that you need to be embarrassed and ashamed because you don't know this one thing or these two couple of things.

A lot of us. A lot of us don't. 

Yanely Espinal: Yeah, most of us don't. Honestly, you're absolutely right. And props to all of the teachers doing the real work. I mean, I'm honored to be able to support teachers in their work every day, but the reality is: day in and day out, who is teaching the next generation the financial lessons that they need?

It's not me, it's the teachers that do this work day in and day out. So in, in the context of all types of financial education classes, business, entrepreneurship, marketing, family, consumer science, personal finance, financial literacy, I mean so many different classes, financial algebra, where you see personal finance lessons being incorporated and the students light up, because they wanna learn about money.

They get excited when you start talking about money because it's something they can directly apply to their real lives when the bell rings. So I a 100%, you know, give the props to, to the teachers and educators doing this work. 

Okay. My last question -- for a teacher who is like, "Oh my goodness, I'm so, so excited that I have this book in front of me and I wanna be able to incorporate it into my financial education classes this coming fall," what would you recommend for them to actually pull, like which excerpts do you think would be best for a high school audience?

I mean, you've worked with high school students, so you know personally what they would respond well to, and you intimately know your book that you wrote. So what, from this, what would you advise for a teacher who's starting to do their unit planning or lesson planning now that you think would be like the best parts of the book to incorporate in those lesson plans?

[00:33:31] Best Parts of the Book to Incorporate for Teachers.

Melissa Jean Baptiste: Yeah, so in the back of the book you'll find a glossary. All about glossaries. I really, especially, 'cause I had freshmen and I was teaching them really big concepts and really big things. I always have a glossary and I'm like, "Okay look, we're gonna tackle one word a week or one word a day, whatever it is, but you have this and you can look ahead and..." right? 'Cause we have students at all different levels.

So it's just like, "I'm gonna give you this glossary of financial terms. We're gonna go over one a week. You're gonna become familiar with it. You're going to learn how to use it, you're going to understand it, but if you wanna go ahead a little more, you can," right? So absolutely, definitely use that resource in the back.

And then what I really, I know it's like tooting my own, what I really love about my own book is that I have structured it with tools and steps. I was a big checklist and steps kind of girly, especially in the classroom. And so if you're starting off with something as basic as budgeting, I have like different budgeting styles that they can try and then you can go in into savings and, "Okay, this is methods that you can do" and investing, I'm like, "Okay, this is the order of operations." 

And so everything that you're using, especially from the basics, you're going to have a tool or a chart or a graph in the chapter that you can Z Rocks, hand it out like, "Okay, we're covering," you know, "the order of operations for investing. Okay, you wanna open a Roth IRA you got a summer job, you have a little bit of money? Let me show you how to do this."

So I purposely did that 'cause that's how my brain likes to learn. I like the checklist, I like the steps, I like the, you know, order 1, 2, 3, 4. This is what I have to do. And so all my teachers, absolutely, please feel free, especially the glossary. I know. 'cause it's just like, "I don't, I don't understand what this word means."

Well, let me show you and let's, let's use it and implement it into our day to day. 

Yanely Espinal: I love it. Yeah. So the way the Glossary's set up, which I think is so cute, it's like, here's the term, here's the definition. Here's a a column where you have to explain it in your own words. And the last column is, "Put this term into practice."

So you actually have to use the word either in a sentence or in the context of an example from your life or from someone that you know, so it's direct application. And I really love the fact that you set up as a graphic organizer that anybody could just xerox, like you said, and print it off and, and use it.

Melissa Jean Baptiste: The teacher in me, I'm like, "it's gotta be a graphic organizer." That's how my brain is. 

Yanely Espinal: And there's so many graphic organizers and charts and visuals throughout the book, which is awesome. The investing chapter has one from, which is my go-to, compound interest calculator.

Like you've used so many really great visuals, so... props to you for that. What's the number one piece of advice you would give a high school senior?

[00:35:51] Number One Piece of Advice for a High School Senior.

Melissa Jean Baptiste: I love this question and my, my seniors always used to be like, what's, what do you want us to learn going on in the world?

And I would always, always, always say, start small. Because we have, especially Gen Z is really big on social media and they have so many advantages and opportunities that they can be overwhelmed. And so they could be like, "Oh, I have to put this in here and I have to do this, I have to do that. I wanna get a Bugatti."

And I'm like, "Okay, let's start small," right? If you have a part-time job, if you have a summer job, let's start by putting in $50. A check into an IRA, right? And so I was so fortunate that our AP classes ended in May, and I still had them until June. So once they finished taking their AP courses, I would teach them about finances for those last six weeks of school.

And I'm like, "You got a job, you're opening an IRA, you got a job, you're opening IRA. And so starting small is always way, way, way better than trying to say like, "Shoot for the moon," like you'll get to the moon, but we wanna start today. And that $50 always got them motivated to go. So start small. 

Yanely Espinal: I love that. I love that.

And just creating a contest in your classroom to see, you know, who, who can create the Roth IRA, the, the fastest. You know how many of us can make a Roth IRA? That's amazing. Because the thing is, it's free to open a Roth IRA and it doesn't hurt you at all. It doesn't hurt your financial aid eligibility at all.

It doesn't affect your FAFSA, it doesn't affect anything. It's so, I, I, in most cases, people would think, "Oh, I don't wanna start investing 'cause it's gonna hurt me in X, Y, Z way." The answer's gonna be, "No", it doesn't hurt you in any way. And it, and it's free to open the account. You don't even have to put money in it.

You just open it because the earlier you open it, the more likely you are to be able to take advantage of it. So I absolutely love that. What financial strategy would you say contributed the most to you paying off your student debt?

[00:37:29] Financial Strategy That Contributed to Paying Off Student Debt the Most.

Melissa Jean Baptiste: Good. Fantastic question. I'm a firm, firm, firm believer in multiple streams of income, passive income because you cannot save your way to wealth and there are no millionaires that have become wealthy on one stream of income.

Right. And so I, I had to increase my salary some way and I had to do it strategically. And being a teacher, I'm tired. I don't wanna do a lot of side hustles. So what I ended up doing was I sold my lesson plans and unit plans on teachers, pay teachers. I was like, I'm already spending 40, 50, 60 hours smart.

I'm lesson planning all this stuff. And so I just, you know, adjusted. And that's also helped me learn how to use digital products, right? That's what I'm saying, like, as a teacher, I used so many of my skills to be where I am now, and so by implementing and updating my lesson plans, my unit plans, my handouts, I'm like, "Oh, digital products. Okay..." 

And so I ended up at once, I had like all my, my lesson plans up there. I was making about $10,000 a year. On teachers pay teachers. And what I would do is I would just take that money straight from the teachers, pay teachers I put into a separate account, and at the end of every annual year, I would pay off one loan.

So I'm just like, okay, this money, don't touch it. Don't look at it. It's not for you right now, and just throw it there. So I think building multiple streams of income as an educator and using my skills as an educator to do that really was the big financial strategy that helped me pay off my loans. 

Yanely Espinal: That that's very real.

I definitely think the more passive the income can be, the easier, but also just thinking of how to make money in a way that doesn't require a ton of time. Yes, a ton of your time. You're already investing so much time creating resources for your students. That's so smart. Why not? You know, sell it to other people, help them save time.

And also you make money off the time that you invested building all of those resources. 

Melissa Jean Baptiste: Yeah. I was just like, I can't, and I tried. I was like, "Oh, I could go walk dogs after work and I could do this," I'm like, "Girl, when you gonna sleep? When are you gonna sleep?" 

Yanely Espinal: Walk dogs? Are the dogs gonna grade my papers?

Melissa Jean Baptiste: Yeah. So I like get a little more strategic here, but that was more helpful. 

Yanely Espinal: Yeah. Yeah. Thank you so much, Melissa. This was amazing.

I cannot wait for us to invite you back again soon because this is such a great conversation and I know these lessons in your book are directly impactful for students.

You know, so we we're so glad to have you and thank you again. 

Melissa Jean Baptiste: Thank you. Thank you for, thank you all for being here. It was so much fun. 

Yanely Espinal: Thank you. Thanks everyone. 

Melissa Jean Baptiste: Bye.

Ren Makino: I hope you enjoyed this episode with Yanely and Melissa. I have a few final housekeeping items before we go. The show notes and full transcript can be found on You can also join these sessions live and ask the speaker questions by signing up for the NGPF speaker series sections that occur on Thursdays at 4:00 PM. Pacific time, you can sign up to attend on Please be sure to subscribe to the NGPF podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, wherever you get your podcasts better yet. Leave us a review. We love hearing from you and it will help us reach a broader audience. On behalf of Yanely and Melissa thank you so much for tuning in to this NGPF podcast

About the Author

Ren Makino

Ren started interning at NGPF in 2014, and worked part-time through high school and college. With his knowledge growing alongside NGPF, he joined the team to work full-time after graduating from college in 2020. He is also the producer of the NGPF podcast. During his free time, he likes to try out coffees from different roasters across the world.

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