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A comfortable retirement: the Knights secured their financial future by going back to the basics.

THERESA KNIGHT AND HER HUSBAND, JOHNNIE, ARE proof that slow and steady wins the race. The couple paid off the mortgage on their New Orleans home 10 years ago, has a new car, and take trips to Europe or cruises to the Carribean at least once a year. The Knights also paid for their three children to attend Catholic high schools and paid half of each child's college tuition.

Theresa, 66, and Johnnie, 67, are both retired teachers. They weren't earning extraordinary incomes nor did they hit the jackpot with some fabulous investment. They earned about $80,000 between the two of them before they retired in the mid-1990s--and they didn't subscribe to fancy investment plans. They've accomplished all they have by going back to the basics--setting goals and saving their money over time to attain them.

"I've always been a person who saved." says Theresa. "When we got married, we tried to live within our means. We bought the house and other things, too, but we made sure we didn't get bogged down with too many bills."

The Knights made their children's education their first priority and were able to set aside about $200,000 in various accounts by following DOFE Principle 5: to engage in sound budget, credit, and tax management practices. Even before they were married, the couple started saving money so they would have something to start off their new life together. "We saved so that we would have enough for a down payment for a house," says Theresa. The Knights bought their home for $26,000 in 1966, a year after they were married. Today the house is worth more than $100,000, and they continue to make improvements to the property.

In the early years of their marriage, when Theresa was making $4,300 a year, the couple managed to put 2% of every paycheck into their credit union account. They were able to save $60,000 in that account over 20 years. When Theresa retired in 1992, she was earning close to $40,000. She continued to work for two more years through a special program that allowed her to receive her pension and continue to earn her regular salary, about $2,500 each month after taxes, which was then set aside in a special account. "I did all this for my children," says Theresa. "I knew I needed money for weddings, since I have two girls, and I had my little boy late in life and needed to know I could send him to college even if I was retired."

Needless to say, the Knights consider DOFE Principle 10, to ensure that my wealth is passed on to future generations, to be of great importance, and the in the investment in their children has paid off. Their daughter, Arlene, is producing her first movie, and Theresa and Johnnie put up $10,000 to help with the cost. "It has always been hard for black people to start businesses, as we typically don't have money that can be passed down from generation to generation for startup capital," says Arlene. "But my parents were my capital. They led a simple life to that we didn't have to, and they gave us what little they had."

Today the Knights are able to enjoy their retirement, having spent a lifetime budgeting wisely. While they sacrificed, Theresa says, "We didn't do without. We just worked and paid off things before we bought more." The couple is less stringent about saving now that their youngest child, Johnnie Jr., is a graduating college senior. They spend their monthly $5,000 retirement income as they please.

Theresa taught her children to follow the same methods she used to amass her wealth. The principles appear elementary, but simple motherly advice is often best:


"Don't try to keep up with every Tom, Dick, and Harry if you can't afford it," says Theresa. "Do your own thing at your home pace at your own time." Through their children urged them to buy a new home, the Knights have remained in the same house throughout their entire marriage and instead chose to spend extra money on their children.


"Don't overdo it with credit cards," advises Theresa, "and if you have debt, double or triple up on the payment until you pay it off." The Knights have $23,000 in credit card debt from helping Arlene produce her film and lending their other daughter, Shelita Compton, money to pay off her loans. Always ahead of the game, Theresa pays at least twice the minimum payment on her credit card each month.


Perhaps one of the smartest things the Knights did was allocate a percentage of their income to a credit union account, making it an automatic savings device that allowed them to establish an emergency fund and an investment vehicle for the future.

Many people use what they consider to be a less-than-average income as an excuse for not saving money. Even when their joint income was just over $30,000, the Knights saved. "No matter how little you make," says Theresa, "always try to save something for a rainy day."

Declaration Of Financial Empowerment

From this day forward, I declare my vigilant and lifelong commitment to financial empowerment. I pledge the following:

1 To save and invest 10% to 15% of my after-tax-income

2 To be a proactive and informed investor

3 To be a disciplined and knowledgeable consumer

4 To measure my personal wealth by net worth

5 To engage in sound budget, credit, and tax management practices

6 To teach business and financial principles to my children

7 To use a portion of my personal wealth to strengthen my community

8 To support the creation and growth of profitable, competitive, black-owned enterprises

9 To maximize my earning power through a commitment to career development, technological literacy, and professional excellence

10 To ensure that my wealth is passed on to future generations
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Title Annotation:Black wealth initiative
Author:Armstrong, Lisa
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Nov 1, 2003
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