By Chris Olsen
Tonya Rapley was a young adult embarking on a bright future. She had moved to Miami to attend Florida University International’s Public Administration Program. She immersed herself in her studies and received a scholarship for students of color engaged in extracurricular activities focused on public service. She was enjoying life in a new city and a new relationship. Everything seemed to be going well. And then things began to shift. She and her boyfriend were living together, but he wasn’t contributing to household expenses. He stole her credit cards to buy things for himself and wasn’t paying the bills. The relationship had become abusive—financially, emotionally and physically. It all came crashing down when he pointed a gun at her and threatened to kill her.
That traumatic experience was Tonya’s breaking point. She called her mom—whom she hadn’t spoken to for months—and said she was ready to come home. She was ashamed about her situation. She blamed herself for letting things get out of control. Slowly she began picking up the pieces of her life and untangling her financial mess. She’d been good with money in the past, so she knew she had the wherewithal to get back on track. Her realization: “It was time to stop acting like I had it all together and start getting it together.”
The first steps were looking at what she was spending money on, cutting her expenses, and working to pay down her student loan and credit card debt. Without full-time employment, it was slow-going at first, but Tonya kept plugging away at it. In 2013, she launched her blog, My Fab Finance, as a way to hold herself accountable to her long-term financial goals. At that point, she was working a ton of hours in a nonprofit job she didn’t love. After paying the bills, there wasn’t a lot of money left over to save for emergencies or retirement or things she wanted to do, like traveling. When her supervisor pushed back about Tonya taking vacation time, she knew she had to create her own path to achieve financial freedom.
Tonya began thinking about ways to generate income through My Fab Finance, which had become her passion. Rather than monetizing her blog through ad revenue, she began offering her readers the financial resources she’d created for herself as downloadable tools. Along with those tools, she started providing advice and encouragement to help them reach their goals. Soon she was able to quit her job and work on My Fab Finance full-time. As the platform continued to grow, she got more excited about helping women—and especially black women—break the cycle of living from paycheck to paycheck and build their wealth. She began speaking to groups and sharing her expertise, which became her greatest source of income.
In addition to focusing on people of color, Tonya is also known as the millennial money expert. She says her generation was told the path to success was college at a time when the economy was in trouble and tuition rates were rising. They weren’t given the information and tools needed to take on debt responsibly. Like her, many relied on student loans and credit cards without understanding the long-term implications. Today, millennials who carry debt report owing an average of nearly $28,000 in personal debt (credit cards and mortgages), and more than 20 percent don’t know what interest rate they’re being charged. The result is that millennials are experiencing a great deal of anxiety about money. Tonya is on a mission to change that. She is passionate about teaching her audiences the importance of writing their own financial success story with themselves as the hero. And she says debt, financial stress and embarrassment don’t have to be a part of that story.
While Tonya’s journey to finding her purpose was not without pain, she believes it has led to her greatest creation to date.
To learn more about Tonya’s business, visit MyFabFinance.com.
Photo: My Fab Finance
About the author: Chris Olsen is a radio veteran turned communications consultant, educator and author of “Whyography: Building a Brand Fueled by Purpose”. Through her work as a consultant partnering with startups, Chris realized her WHY—to support women-owned businesses in confidently communicating their purpose and impact, setting them up for entrepreneurial success. She created My Founder Story and Publish Her as platforms for doing so.