Written By Leah T. Johnson/ ColorBlind Magazine
A vacant, ordinary two-family flat is much, much more to financial guru Aja Williams. This type of home symbolizes the birth of financial capability- a step above financial literacy.
The ownership of this cherished location is the vision for Aja’s Real Life Finances, a business spearheaded by Williams, to work with those who need assistance with finances, making smart money decisions and of course the “B-word”- Budgeting. Her desire to give back stems from a true understanding of personal financial woes.
Cutting Back and “Letting Things Happen”
Although Williams credits herself as being a disciplined person, the characteristic hasn’t always manifested itself in her dealings with finances. She believes her financial woes early on were caused by a “lack of wisdom.”
Williams recalls making the decision to purchase a home at age 22 for herself and her son, Vincent Long Jr. She worked at Ford Motor Company, drove a truck, and sent her son to private school. This was “Adulting” at its finest. However, things soon spiraled out of control. Her house note, home insurance, property taxes and finances increased and spun out of control within a year to 2 years.
“I recall going into a room in my house and saying ‘Lord, it has got to be more to life than this.’”
Moments later, Williams was creating her first budget at age 26 using an excel spreadsheet. Ironically, this is the same spreadsheet she uses today. She used the “Snowball Approach,” to pay off her debt, from the smallest to largest amount. Williams forced herself to shop at thrift stores, avoid going to the hair salon, and to save any money she received. That same night, Williams promised herself she wouldn’t borrow anymore money. Lack of finances resulted in utilities being cut off from time to time until payday.
“My heat was off, my son was sleeping in jogging suits, and the next day I was standing in line at DTE and my feet were freezing because I was cold the night before,” Williams recalls. “But I paid my bill, and I didn’t owe anyone afterwards! I didn’t have to go give my mom any money.” Despite an uncomfortable situation, Williams and her son endured and she felt the heavy debt slowly lifting.
“Sometimes that’s the problem; we need to just let things happen… you’re not going to die, you’re not going to go to jail… just let stuff happen so you can get to where you need to get to.”
The Birth of A Business
“Being in debt was one of the worst feelings I’ve ever felt outside of losing someone in death…you wake up everyday and all you think about is ‘how can I get some money?” says Williams. The stress from the debt was also damaging to her health as her doctor revealed that Williams’ frequent headaches could’ve resulted in a stroke or heart attack.
“But the fact I was in debt and able to get out of debt is why I have this business today.”
Friends of Williams sought her out for financial help and then referred her to other clients. The meetings at coffee shops became frequent and Williams began to enjoy assisting others with money matters. A former co-worker, Jill Floyd, who has a financial literacy business Each 1 Reach 1, asked Williams to create a Financial Workshop for Youths.
“Up until this point I’d never worked with youths before,” said Williams. Her financial workshop for youths at Burton International School was a success.
Through her business, Williams has helped several individuals – friends and referrals; spoken at several conferences ; and spoken at several high schools, detention centers and also taught at libraries and banks for Money Smart Week in April – which all equate to the ‘over 50’.
“Honestly, I’d kinda started running from it [the business]… my lack of education made my self-esteem go down. But, I’ve been told that people are coming to me because I can help them and because of my story and not because of my education.” Williams said.
The Unorthodox “Budget Betty”
On two occasions, Williams has been tempted to click the “Get a student loan” button on the webpage of Baker College. She even resists taking out a personal loan for her education. Williams has decided that whatever her grant money doesn’t cover she will pay out-of-pocket for her college education of which she will complete by Fall 2018 after having started in 1998.
“I’m willing to be different,” she said with conviction.
Aside from school and work, Williams is an avid reader and enjoys intense workouts. She spends a lot of time with her son, other family members, and her dog Kjai. Williams also enjoys volunteering, especially with at-risk youths.
Through the twists and turns of her life, the reliable budget spreadsheet that was created years ago, and the creation of a financial business, Williams remains humble, grateful, and in awe.
“I’ve learned that when God offers you something, open your hand and take it because you have been blessed.”
To reach Aja personally, email her at Info@reallifefinances.com