Photography by Tracy Van Dover

By Shannon Santchi

Meet Ashley Jeffrey, a mom, nurse and small business owner, who attended a SWSM Conference in Little Rock, Arkansas in February of 2020.  The Conference has inspired a dynamic change in Ashley’s financial perspective and habits. At just 28 years old, she’s actively working toward and looking forward to retirement! 

When I asked Ashley Jeffrey about her motivation to attend the 2020 Smart Women Smart Money (SWSM) Conference in Little Rock, Arkansas, she promptly replied, “My mom. It was definitely my mom. She made sure I was off work, she got my ticket, and then because I was feeling a little lazy that morning, she made me get out of bed and go…and I’m so glad she did,” she added, laughing. “It was really fun, and I learned so much!”

Ashley and her mom, Christine, learned about the conference from a friend at church. Christine had a goal to be debt-free before retirement, and she knew her daughter, whom she describes as a “go-getter”, would also benefit from the experience. Together, mother and daughter attended workshops on budgeting, saving and investing, and starting a small business. 

The Save 10 workshop hit home with Ashley. Although she was saving a little, between being a mom to her 5-year old son and her job as a registered nurse, she had not set aside time to research how much she’d need, nor ways to save more efficiently.  In just 50 minutes, the workshop opened her eyes to “free money” she was leaving on the table through her 401k plan. After the session, Ashley pulled the presenter, Sarah Catherine, aside then upped her contribution from 3% to 10%. In making this leap, Ashley bested what most American women set aside from their paychecks. According to Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, most women invest 7% of what they take home, while men are investing 10% of their pay. That 3%, paired with the kinds of investments made over time, can represent a huge difference as retirement nears: men report median savings of $115,000, while women report having only $34,000 saved. 

At just 28 years old, Ashley’s investments have ample time to undergo the magic of compound interest and grow. “Even with markets fluctuating [due to COVID-19] and my employer’s contributions down, I’ve been able to save quite a bit,” she says. 

For accountability and inspiration, Ashley also began following Sarah Catherine, on Facebook. “I consider Sarah my financial mentor but I also get encouragement from the success of others. It’s exciting to think about how my account will grow over time. At retirement, I’ll be able to collect and then I can relax.”

The other workshop that struck a chord with Ashley was the women’s panel on entrepreneurship. She found Erin Leigh’s testimony of starting E. Leigh’s Boutique particularly inspirational. “Right after the conference, I texted my girlfriends and told them we had to ‘go for it’ and start the business we’d been discussing,” she says. Shortly thereafter, Ashley and her friends opened a virtual store, Smoke & Smudge on Shopify. The virtual store features soaps, oils, and other home and beauty products the friends enjoy crafting. 

This new enterprise fits nicely with Ashley’s philosophy that women need to have “back up plans, on back up plans, on back up plans”. “I love being a nurse, but attending the conference made me realize there’s more than one way to get money. I don’t want to get boxed in financially so I’ve set a goal to have at least four different streams of income in the future.” 

To women who have never attended but have the opportunity to participate in a SWSM Conference, Ashley offers this encouragement: “We all want to be financially smart, right? Get together with other women who want to advance financially. Smart Women Smart Money was informational and So. Much. Fun! You will learn valuable information no matter your age. Just go. Don’t “think about it”, just go!” 

Shannon Santschi is a contributing writer for Smart Women Smart Money Magazine. Comments or questions can be sent to [email protected].