Dream and Hustle

Top Professional and Financial Survival Moves for Black Folks over 40

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

One of the things I’ve seen in my 25+ years of professional career is watching the slow marginalization of Black professionals once they start pushing 40 or 50 years old. If you have been around that long or you have just been in a work environment for a few years, you see the same trend as well and you know it. You see our folks aged 40-60 are just “around” and there is no real growth and they are stagnant and just waiting to be pushed out.

I have seen the same pattern, I see Black folks over 40 and hair turning grey show up at work dressing the part but they holding a senior title but is not that important to the firm; they are just there. When it’s time for layoffs, guess who going to get it first? Then you find out that Black person over 40 did not have their financial situation together and you find out they broke, losing their home and not going to find a job like the one they just lost.

I worked at homeless shelters, I volunteered at food banks – I see the same profile of someone who held a professional job with a nice title and either they laid off or had a health problem or family situation and now they don’t have an income and ran out of savings and everything going down fast. This conversation is not a joke – this is exactly what happens to these older Black folks once they are out of a job when they are over 40 years old, it isn’t pretty.

But there is one thing you should realize as a brotha or sista – that’s going to be you if you don’t get your personal act together by the time you turn 40 or 50 and still working a professional job that is just tolerating your presence. One thing I saw here at Dream and Hustle is we have older Black folks coming here thinking they going to learn coding and blockchain and have a new career in tech when they are 40 or 50 years old – ageism and racism are not going to allow some 45-year-old Black person start working at a tech company after getting training or certificates, let's be honest about the landscape.

At 40 or 50, Black professionals need to be taking new directions just like every other professional who hit middle age. You have to move beyond the 9-5 and start focusing on value-creation and value-contribution to stay relevant. You also need assets and hedges to be resilient and make moves when you need to make moves. So let’s talk up some points that Black folks in their 40s and 50s better start pivoting towards to stay relevant and resilient and not become marginalized like the other Black folks we have been seeing at the job.

Leverage your 401k wisely. When you enter any professional career, you better contribute to a retirement account and fund it well. I see videos of Black folks talking about they worked on Wall Street for 20 years and they were in a food line and said they ran out of their luck – that’s some bullshit; that person had plenty of opportunities to buy investments and fund their retirement in those 20 years that could have been a backup plan to move from one situation to another. Second, do not cash out your 401k to start a business – a lot of Black folks are doing that as they move to Dallas or Atlanta from up North. Use your 401k for only two purposes – to retire or to liquidate as a nuclear option if you are facing a dire economic position. You can also borrow against your 401k if you have to and this is a leveraged asset.

Move toward consulting. When you are 40 or 50 years old and a professional, you should move to a practice-based career of being an advisor or consultant. This means you use your years of expertise to advise and consult young teams, startups, or professional organizations. This is the natural order of your professional career and folks. Either start up your practice or work for another practice where you focus on clientele building and being able to offer professional and industry advice. You can attend trade shows or other networking events to recruit clients and promote yourself. But if you are good, you can hire folks to train and they carry out your patterns and practices and you run a consultant firm. Your previous job may be your biggest clientele.

Move toward publishing and presenting. This means you start writing books, you give presentations at events, you write articles online and you give professional media interviews to expand on current trends and topics as a subject matter expert. You make revenue from your publishing or your appearance at different venues. Think about the challenges you faced in your career such as dealing with workplace racism, how to find a new internal position, what skills are in demand, and offer this knowledge to the new generation in your career field. Keep publishing, the residuals will last you a long time if you stick to fundamentals and that is your real retirement plan, not your 401k.

Buy only Liquid Assets. Throughout your career from day one – do not buy anything less than Louis Vuitton or Cartier or Burberry or Tiffany’s. You are buying leveraged assets, not clothes or accessories. If you want basic clothes then go to the mall and get some $15 season clearance items but you don’t get Gucci, Coach, or items that do not hold their value. You only buy items you can take to the pawnshop and don’t be afraid to lose them or sell them at a used luxury fashion platform. Men should focus on luxury watches as well – when it’s time to sell so you can pay a bill, you will thank yourself that you bought a used Tissot in original packaging that you can get $350 cash real quick to hold you over.  Gold and silver are fine as well but nothing moves faster than a Louis Vuitton bag for liquidation if you need funds real quick.

Declutter and Don’t Buy Anything Else. At 40 or 50, all you need is one big screen, a nice cell phone, and a tablet. You don’t need Netflix, watch old classics off Tubi or Bounce or the Grio. Get rid of the excess stuff in your house and buy only the essential items that you need and leave it at that – do not buy new furniture or new appliances unless you have to replace broken ones. Do not feel you have to drive the latest car unless the car is getting older and too expensive to maintain. Focus instead on lifestyle activities such as hanging out poolside, cooking and grilling, relaxing at the park or the beach, biking and walking, and going to Starbucks and sitting out on the patio and reading an e-book on your Kindle. The point is to avoid spending money and just enjoy living life. You should be able to go for several days without spending any money shopping. All that money can be saved and you start building up your cash reserves.

Research New Markets. Do not stay stuck where you are – you need to know the Seattle market, the Phoenix market, the Atlanta market, the Miami market, and New York market, and so on. You also need to know the London market, the Dubai market, the Shanghai market, the Barcelona market, the Bogota market, and so on. Do you know how many Black medical consultants I met at Narita airport headed to Thailand or Singapore? You need to learn about new markets and learn how to infiltrate these markets and position yourself so you can transverse global opportunities. This is one of the biggest slipping parts of midlife Black professionals who don’t realize our people are all around the world seeking market opportunities for themselves.

Notice what I did not mention as advice – I did not mention investing in real estate or starting a business that is your passion. The reason why is simple – these do not leverage the skills you have built up over decades of your professional career. Those options of real estate or starting a business require new investments and efforts that may not (actually most likely) will not pan out for you in a timely manner. Publishing based on the professional skills you already acquired is you leveraging what you already have and that is the recommended path.  

I see it all the time among Black professionals as they hit middle-age in their 40s and 50. They just have a nice title after working all those years but they are stagnant and just waiting for marginalization and have no real financial or survival strategy. I have seen over and over homeless Black folks who quickly lost it all in their 50s after working professional jobs their whole career because they failed to mature their career. You should not be repeating this mistake but a lot of our people are still going through this as you read this article.

As soon as you hit 40, learn to move into consulting, recruiting, publishing, speaking, and presenting on your career and industry. You can still work your job but you are moving in a new direction to start cashing in your years of experience as a subject matter expert. Focus on having a retirement account that is tax-free leverage until you need to access it before retirement as an emergency – gives you peace of mind. In addition, learn to have only what you need, purchase only luxury assets that you can quickly liquidate, and live a shop-free lifestyle so you can wean yourself off spending money frivolously. This is the strategy you should pursue to survive in the middle ages of your professional career. 


Ed Dunn

From Chicago West Side to Worldwide