In a Nutshell: In 2001, Lynnette Khalfani-Cox decided to finally face her more than $100,000 in credit card debt, and three years later she was free of it. Thanks to the popularity of her book, Zero Debt: The Ultimate Guide to Financial Freedom, which details how she pulled herself out of debt, along with her prominence covering finance for multiple news outlets, she quickly became “The Money Coach.” Now, she uses her self-help site, AskTheMoneyCoach.com, to share useful tips to help other Americans reach financial freedom.
Lynnette Khalfani-Cox doesn’t need coffee; her energy comes from within. When she sets her mind to something, it just gets done (think Olivia Pope on Scandal — Lynnette “handles” it). She wrote her 254-page New York Times bestseller, Zero Debt: The Ultimate Guide to Financial Freedom, in only 45 days. “It just flowed out of me,” she said.
Just a few minutes into our call, I realized I didn’t need to ask any of my prepared questions because she was a seasoned professional when it came to public speaking. A graduate of the University of Southern California’s intensive journalism master’s program and veteran television reporter, Lynnette’s responses were poised yet peppy, and her energy was infectious — 80 minutes later, and it felt like we were hanging up as friends.
I quickly learned her story (OK, we did take a few detours for certain details) including how her children inspire her, how she was using credit as a crutch, and how much she loves traveling for business and pleasure (hint: it’s a lot).
Over the years, you might have seen her on TV covering Wall Street as a financial news journalist for CNBC or perhaps you read her commentary in various publications like The New York Times or Essence magazine. However, her outward success was not mirrored in her personal finances at the time.
“I was making good money and speaking with financial professionals every day at work,” began Lynnette. “But my spending was just out of control.”
She had racked up over $100,000 in credit card debt alone since college, but as she learned more about finance through her reporting career, she was also becoming more interested in the topic personally. In 2001, she decided to curtail her spending and get out of debt, a goal she accomplished in just three years.
Her book detailing that very accomplishment skyrocketed her to the national stage as she began to make appearances as a financial guru on programs like The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Today Show, and Dr. Phil.
Since then, Lynnette has continued to “spread the gospel of personal finance,” as she puts it, by helping Americans understand that there are really only four things you can do with your money:
- Save It
- Spend It
- Invest It
- Donate It
As “The Money Coach,” she tirelessly writes and speaks across the country to drill this money mantra into her audiences along with, of course, her suggestions for each.
Lynnette Wants to “Save” Us from Our Bad Financial Habits
Every month, Lynnette travels to speak to audiences ranging in scale from hyper-local, like a church, to national, such as syndicated shows like Good Morning America.
“I’ve already visited Good Morning America three times this year,” she said excitedly. “And I go back again this week.”
Whenever she is a featured speaker, she aims to fully address the financial topic at hand in the most easily digestible way. Much of her advice comes in the form of tips or quick lists of three to five items she can recite passionately at the drop of a hat.
She does have favorite topics, though, “credit and college,” she said quickly. With an archive of 1600 articles and 12 published books available on her self-help site, AskTheMoneyCoach.com, Lynnette works tirelessly to provide useful resources for her audience regardless of the subject.
“I know that the folks who take my advice and follow through on some of the recommendations I provide,” she began, “I know it is going to chart a different course for them, and that, to me, is exciting.”
Work-Life Balance: “Spend” Time with Family for Inspiration
Lynnette said she has been guilty of the work hard-play hard mentality, but that she always makes time for her husband and three children. Despite her frequent business trips, she has been able to instill in her kids the four money choices.
“Growing up, I’d drill it into them” — here she took on the voice of a cheerleader inciting a crowd to chant — “‘What can you do with money?’ and they’d say ‘save, spend, invest, and donate!’”
Educating her own kids led her to write a series of children’s books on personal finance called The Millionaire Kids Club that follows four kids who each embody the four money choices. “If a child can understand it, then an adult should be able to as well,” Lynnette reasoned.
In helping prepare her 18-year-old daughter for college, Lynnette was reminded of her own experiences with finance at that time in her life. That was when she first starting digging herself in the credit hole.
“You know this was back in the era where you signed on the dotted line to get a free shirt,” she said. “It was something that made me feel official, like an adult.”
But that was when credit became a crutch for her. She explained that she didn’t think of credit as borrowed money but rather as an additional source of income to help her buy whatever she wanted.
Not only does her passion drive her to help young adults avoid falling into the credit trap she found herself in during college, she also focuses on educating parents and students on how to finance an education without going into debt. One-quarter of the books she has written focus on this prevalent issue.
“I helped my daughter secure over $500,000 in scholarships,” she said. “So I know how it works and where to find the cash students need to fund their education.”
She “Invested” in Herself to Build Her Empire
So, how did Lynnette earn her title, “The Money Coach”? It wasn’t an easy path, and it began by striking out in her career, she said.
Her journalism degrees enabled her to work her way up into prestigious organizations like The Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal to cover finance. However, in 2003, she was laid off with 200 of her peers when CNBC downsized.
“When people leave corporate America, it’s either with a feather, when it’s a planned exit, or with a baseball bat, when it’s like BAM! upside your head and you didn’t see it coming,” she said, describing her experience as the latter.
Looking back, she knows it was for the better, especially since she had been considering entrepreneurialism for a while as she was sorting through her credit issues and getting her finances back on track.
When she was let go, she was more than halfway through the process of pulling herself out of credit card debt.
Once debt-free, her husband encouraged her to write her first book, Zero Debt, which, as he predicted, became a New York Times best-seller. In it, she detailed how to overcome debt through easy-to-follow steps. By achieving her own goals — slashing her $100,000 credit card debt and writing about the experience — she became the interviewee for the first time in her journalism career.
“Walking up to the stage was like in slow motion, and I remember thinking ‘Oh my God, I get to sit on the yellow couch where Tom Cruise jumped up and down,’ and it was definitely surreal,” Lynnette said of her Oprah experience, which opened the door for her to appear as a financial expert on other shows in the network family like Dr. Phil, The Dr. Oz Show, and Oprah After the Show.
The Advice Lynnette “Donates” is Actionable Now
Now that she’s made it as “The Money Coach,” she said she tries to make sure people understand a key fact about budgeting and personal finance: “There’s no level of income that can’t be outspent.”
Her point is not to focus on what you earn, but what you do with that cash. Lynnette was only able to pay down her $100,000 credit card debt once she made it a priority and factored paying off her credit cards into her budget. It may seem obvious and simple, but making small positive changes can make a big difference.
She also suggests that any “windfalls,” such as a work bonus or tax refund, should go toward paying down your debt. Another change you can make today is working through your credit report to find where improvements can be made, especially if you have limited credit history. “For example, you can actually add your rental payment history through a third party to a thin credit file,” said Lynnette.
Some recurring tips throughout her educational articles and books include communicating with your creditors to get better rates, creating a realistic budget, and just asking for help when you need it. That last tip is why she offers one-on-one coaching.
People reach out to Lynnette specifically because she made it through her own financial troubles and has lived to share it with others. Her advice comes from personal experience, which means she’s tested it and, at some point, likely incorporated it into her own life, and “The Money Coach” helps others do the same.
“For me, I’m always looking for more ways to make an impact,” and it is that fervor that keeps Lynnette plugging along spreading her gospel of personal finance.