Cinneah El-Amin '12 Soars with Flynanced

Before the pandemic, Cinneah El-Amin ‘12 returned to campus to deliver a keynote address as a distinguished alum of the Samuel Ready Scholars, a program which she credits with making her time at Friends possible. Cinneah enjoyed a full day at Friends, visiting her former teachers and engaging the student body.

So much has happened since Cinneah’s return to Friends, including the rapid growth of her online personal finance company, Flynanced, which aims to educate and assist people, especially Black women, in the journey to achieve their financial goals while making travel a priority. We in the Friend’s Development Office were fortunate to join Cinneah to talk about what her journey to this point has looked like.

Read more about Cinneah’s latest in her conversation with Kwesi Billups, Development Associate, and Christine Pappas ‘01, Director of Alumni Relations & Engagement, below:

KB: I hope this isn’t weird. I took a look at your LinkedIn profile and saw that you obtained your Masters Degree in Business Management from Wake Forest, and before that you studied Africana Studies at Barnard College. Can you share a little about your academic journey?

It starts at Friends, where I first took an African American Literature class and started to learn about the canon of Black American writers. Felicia Wilks, my Upper School English teacher, opened my eyes to a lot of what I wasn’t necessarily getting at home. When I got to Barnard, I remember sitting in an Africana Studies Intro lecture, relearning things that Felicia taught us and that stuck with me. 

I came into Barnard thinking I wanted to do Urban Studies. Growing up in Baltimore, I saw my city changing, but didn’t have the language to describe what I was seeing - in terms of gentrification or questions like “why do we have to drive 30 minutes from where we live to where my school is?” It took me until sophomore year to realize that all the things that interested me about Urban Studies were really based in Africana Studies. I was really curious to learn about my own people - the history of Black Americans in this country and the African diaspora overall. It became more than a major, but more so a community that I felt connected to at Barnard.

Then I got to senior year and felt like it was really difficult for me to find a job and communicate the value of my liberal arts education. I had this vision for my career that didn’t neatly match up with what I studied in college. I was fortunate to have been in a college fellowship community called Ron Brown Scholars, and within their network they promoted a M.S.M program at Wake Forest. I was at Wake Forest learning, for the first time, finance, marketing, operations management, and it helped me tell a better story to get my foot in the door at AMEX. Since then, I feel like I’ve fallen into this career path that doesn't necessarily line up with what I studied, and I’ve been really fortunate to be able to embrace what I’m curious about and things I find intellectually stimulating to carve this mosaic path.

KB: It’s interesting how you describe how the pieces fall into place, especially with respect to how fast your platform, Flynanced, has grown. Before we hopped on the call Christine shared with me that you have something like 41k followers on Instagram - that’s insane!

It is insane, and it’s almost funny. I’ve had the idea for Flynanced since 2018. I had only been working full-time for a year, but I was really struggling with my money. I was living paycheck-to-paycheck even though I had this fancy job. I had all this shame around my money because I felt like I received so much affirmation from friends and family saying, “You did it, you’re working this fancy job in New York!” I felt like I couldn't really be honest with people about how much I was struggling with managing my money for the first time. Then, I looked around and realized that none of my friends were managing their money well either! We were all struggling and at the same time we loved to travel.

I actually met one of my best friends, Autumn Walker ’12, while we were students at Friends. She also loves travel and we were not making a lot of money at the time, but wanted to figure out how to do this. I had the idea for Flynanced, but didn’t go public with it until 2020. It’s funny to see how this idea has grown into a community, into a brand, a business, because I sat on the idea for two years because of shame and imposter syndrome. I thought, “why should anyone listen to me while I’m making money mistakes?” But, to see this growth in less than two years has been truly phenomenal. It's been helpful for me to be able to pass that on to other women and people who look like me who have amazing ideas but feel like they can’t put them out there. I hope that my story can inspire all of us to just do it! 

CP: Can you explain what Flynanced is? It seems like when you started Flynanced, you were still going through your student loan journey? What was it like starting Flynanced and making yourself so vulnerable in that way?
 

Flynanced really started as a space to hold myself accountable to achieving the big goal of paying off all of my debt in 2020. I started in January 2020 with over $23,000 in debt across credit cards, student loans and consumer loans. I wanted to hold myself accountable and meet other people who were on the same path. There was a community of other creators or just regular people who were talking about their money, and I wanted to be a part of that. But, what I felt was missing from that narrative was not shaming people for wanting to prioritize travel while they go about their money goals. I’m a young working woman and still figuring out, through all of this noise, what to do with my money. I couldn’t imagine saying “it’s gonna take me two years to pay off my debt, I can't travel at all during that time.” That just didn’t feel authentic to me.

Flynanced has evolved into an online personal finance platform that is helping millennials, specifically millennial women of color, make travel a financial priority. I am now in the role of educator, online content creator, and product creator to show other women how to go from step zero, where your money could be a mess, to see your self start building wealth, cut through the noise on what to do with your money, and make travel a financial priority. 

I host live workshops and in 2022 I will be starting group coaching to create that space for other women to come together and feel safe talking about their money, the challenges they're having, and build that community with other like-minded women who want to travel.

KB: Well, let me say that I appreciate the double entendre of Flynanced. You know, you’re flying around the world, but you’re also fly… I know that was intentional.

That was definitely intentional. A friend of mine actually helped me with that name. I was having a conversation with him about the idea and then a couple days later he texted me - and I still have that text -  like “you’re fly, you’re in finance.” And that was it, I felt like the heavens opened up. Once my friend gave me that name, it also started to feel really real to me. This was an idea that I was so protective of, but also afraid to put out there, and to have a friend give me a name that spoke life into this idea helped me feel like “I can do this!”

KB: How do you go about learning as you continue on your financial journey?

Right now, it looks like aligning myself with other women who are at those next levels where I aspire to be. Flynanced has shown me a community of other women who are millionaires today and people who are going to be millionaires tomorrow. For me, it’s about learning from those women that are where I want to be. It’s also about building personal relationships. I have built relationships with some of my favorite creators and can go to them as I think of next steps. I don’t necessarily continue to cast a wide net for information, but I’m really focused on learning directly from those women who are further along in their journeys because they’ve done it and I want to learn from people who have those receipts!

KB: You are very intentional about the audience that you educate and the people that you continue to learn from. Conversely, are there general tips that you think would benefit most everyone who is confused about what to do with their money?

There are a few steps that apply universally to anyone that wants to make money moves. The first thing is identifying where you are in your financial journey. A term that I coined is figuring out your “glorious gap,” the gap between your income and your expenses right now. We all have that gap and it’s our job to figure out how to widen it.

We are in such a volatile financial time when inflation is sky high and wages are stagnant. I think it’s really important to have an emergency fund. That is going to be our cash cushion when things happen. We are living through truly remarkable times and all of us can say that things aren’t guaranteed.

From there is figuring out, if you have debt, a plan to pay that off. And, most importantly, starting to put money aside to invest. I am someone who works a 9-5 and I’m really fortunate to have an employer-sponsored retirement plan. I recommend for anyone who is a full-time employee to start with the accounts that you have. As beginners, we can guarantee that the U.S. stock market continues to trend up, and that’s what I follow in my own plan. 

The most important thing to understand is that we should be living the lives that we want and our money should be helping us get there!

If you’re interested in learning more about Cinneah’s journey around the world as she makes financial freedom a reality, check out her platform at Flynanced.com. She’s also active on Instagram and Twitter @flynanced. Go Cinneah!