Cinneah El-Amin (pronounced: sin-ee-AH el-AH-meen) is the founder of Flynanced, an online personal finance platform that teaches Black women who are blowing money fast early in their careers how to manage their money NOW. Since paying off $23,000 of student loan and consumer debt, Cinneah has amassed a net worth of $85,000, and she aims to reach a $1 million net worth within the next 10 years. In this episode, we discuss what inspired Cinneah to begin her debt payoff journey and the practical strategies she used to pay off her loans in one year.
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Welcome to the Thought Card, a podcast about travel and money. Where planning, saving, and creativity lead to affording travel, building wealth, and paying off debt. We are the financially savvy travelers. Cinneah El-Amin is the founder of Flynanced, an online personal finance platform that teaches black women in cushy jobs who are blowing money fast early in their careers. Any money clarity, confidence, and how to manage their money now so that they can effortlessly build wealth and gain the freedom to be in control of their finances and say yes to more travel and joy. Since paying off $23,000 of student loan debt and consumer debt, Cinneah has amassed a network of $85,000 and she aims to reach a $1 million net worth within the next 10 years. In this episode, we talk about what inspired Cinneah to begin her debt payoff journey and the practical strategies that she used to help her pay off her debt in 12 months. Now after listening to this episode with Cinneah, I want you to also go back into the archives in your favorite podcast player and listen to episode number two where I share how to start a travel fund and why you need one.
Hey, financially savvy travelers welcome back to another episode of the Thought Card Podcast. Today I have Cinneah from Flynanced and you know what, when I think about Cinneah I see so many similarities between our stories. So I knew that I had to have her come on to really talk about her debt payoff journey. She was able to pay off $23,000 of student loan debt and consumer debt in only 12 months. So welcome to the show Cinneah.
Thank you. Thank you so much for having me Danielle this is amazing. I'm so excited.
All right. So let's just jump into how did you amass this $23,000 of debt and how long do you think it took you to get to that point?
So that's a great question. When I think about my debt journey, it looked like a lot of living beyond my means. Granted I was fresh out of college and I didn't really understand what responsible money management looked like. So really the bulk of my debt came from credit cards, living off a credit card, just kind of not necessarily living luxury, but I think just not really understanding how to responsibly use credit in a way that wasn't going to put me into a hole. I also went to graduate school, I got a masters of science degree and during that program, despite the fact that I had a full-ride fellowship, I still somehow managed to take out over $16,000 in student loans, right. I feel like at that point in my life I had such a scarcity mindset around money that I felt that taking on more debt was a way of giving me access to things that I thought that I needed. So for example, when I was in graduate school feeling like, oh my goodness, the student jobs on campus are not enough to help me pay for gas, to stay in my lifestyle, Let me take out the student loans so that I don't feel anxious about how I'm going to pay my rent every month, etcetera, etcetera. Looking back, I understand now that perhaps some of the things that I did that kind of put me into debt, were definitely out of impulse. I think it was out of impulse. It was out of growing up in an environment where debt was totally normalized, right? And it really wasn't until I started following folks like you, I'm a hashtag debt-free community on Instagram that I started to really question what were some of these money habits that I had and were they really things that I wanted to continue kind of being a part of my adult life. So all in all when I first started my debt journey I had about $11,000 in student loan debt and yeah about 14 to $15,000 in credit card debt and consumer debt like personal loans.
You know, I can totally relate to that. I had 63k of student loan debt which is like, gosh when I first started I wasn't even making 63 K. And similarly to you like I took out extra money just to cushion because I didn't really have a good-paying job at the time and I said all the things that you said and I took out more money than I needed. I went to Disney with some of the money like just frivolous things. So I can totally relate. So did you have a wake-up call or something that really said to you? Like listen, I need to get started on paying down this debt. This is not sustainable or was it just like a gradual realization that you wanted to start this debt payoff journey?
No, I definitely had a wake-up call, I hit rock bottom in the fall of 2017, 2018 it was 2018. Yeah, in the fall of 2018 is where I really hit a rock bottom moment I had I guess before the term was coined, a hot girl summer in summer 2018 where I racked up over $10,000 of credit card debt in a single summer. So by September my credit card balances were looking at me and I was looking back at them and I was just like there's no way I can afford this. And all of that debt was on charge cards it was on American Express cards that were doing full and I never felt the amount of panic that I felt in that moment just knowing like at that point I don't even have $10,000 in savings. So it's just like where is this money going to come from? Just feeling like there weren't really many people in my family or in my close circle that I felt I could go to and kind of asked for that amount of money just as a hey, can you help me out? No, at that moment I felt a lot of anxiety and a lot of fear and I felt a lot of shame around the fact that wow, I did this to myself, there's really no one to blame besides myself for again spending more living beyond my means and really just not thinking about the consequences until now. Here I am with a $10,000 credit card bill due. So at that moment, I'm thankful that I did have an option which was taking out a personal loan. So I took out a personal loan for $10,000 and that really started my debt payoff journey because, at that point, my monthly payment was about $500 just to stay current and not default on that personal loan. And that was really the wake-up call for me and realizing that wow before I probably wasn't really managing responsibly, but now the fact that I have this like huge minimum payment, that I have to take care of every month I think really eliminated for me. This was not the lifestyle that I wanted. I was only 22 years old at the time. So I really felt like, wow, this is a wake-up call for me to say, is this how I want to spend the rest of my twenties? Do I want to struggle financially throughout adult life? And my answer was no. So that was what really kind of started me to say I have a spending problem and I probably need to work with a professional to help me figure out the mess that I'm in so that I can being a place where I feel more financially sound. Yes, and what do you think was the mindset that you had? which perpetuated spending and also perhaps maybe not even keeping track of your spending cause I know now you have a budget, you stick to your budget. So what was that like? And also did you have any anxiety around money or did you have any negative feelings? I know you mentioned scarcity mindset, so I would love to unpack why do you think that all these things created this situation that you ended up realizing in 2018? You're like, Okay, I need to really fix this. When I think about my past money mindset, I think that I had really internalized a lot of the things that I saw growing up. I'm originally from Baltimore, Maryland and I think just the space is that I've been in, I think conversations within my family, within my community, there really wasn't a sense of frugality that I feel like I grew up understanding. That's not to say that there weren't frugal people in my life, but I think in general, you know, I think it was totally normal to imagine a lifestyle where you live beyond your means, whether that was having a mortgage that you really couldn't afford, having car notes, you really couldn't afford, living off of credit card debt to be able to furnish or just keep up with the lifestyle that you wanted and the scarcity mindset part really set in when I was in college, right? When I was in college, I was probably the textbook definition of a broke college student, like I had work-study, but I also worked two other jobs. It was a point in my life where my parents really couldn't financially support me and here I was in new york city trying to figure out well how do I also balanced the number of meal swipes I have with the fact that I wanna go out and enjoy the city. It was a really financially stressful time in my life and time where most people are thinking about the fun that they're having, parties, whatever. I feel like I was thinking about how am I going to make enough money to be able to do things that I want to do in college? How am I going to find paid internships so that I can have some money for the summer, right? That was kind of the cycle that I was in. So if you compound the scarcity mindset where I was just on survival mode for four years in college against this background of what's the big deal and just kind of spending more than you really have. I think that created a dangerous combination when I did start making money in my first job, my first salary job was the most money I had ever touched before. So I think that those things together compounded in a way, I think for the first time I felt like, well I deserve these things right, I have money, I have very little obligations. I don't have kids. At that point, my debt was really just my student loan balances and how many of us really think seriously about our student loan balances back there, especially at that point, right? It was about Maybe like 12 or $14,000 that I had. So it was just kind of like, yeah, I'll get to it. So I think that really created a potentially dangerous combination where I just, I don't know, I think I just got really caught up in the lifestyle of living in the new york city lifestyle, brunching, ubering, going out with friends, feeling like, wow, I'm finally independent, I’m my own person. I can make the decisions for myself and opening up credit cards really for the first time. And I think not really understanding how to manage that responsibly turned into what felt like a hamster wheel where I vividly remember times in those days where I would get paid like. And it’s like, yeah, I got paid and then it seemed like all of my take-home pay was going to pay back credit card balances that I owe from the previous month. So I was definitely living paycheck to paycheck. But I was definitely not building wealth. That wasn't even something that was on my radar. So my money mindset was definitely full of anxiety around, okay, let me just make sure that I'm getting paid enough to pay back those balances and never really have anything to show for the money that I was making at that point. And all the hard work, right? All the hours you put in at the J. O. V. Oh my gosh, I can relate because I also went to college in new york city and I'm originally from the Bronx and I moved to the suburbs and I went to college in the city and it's hard, it's hard because you're in such a big city, there are things happening all the time and you want to have a life, you wanted to do good in school, but you also want to hang out.
So I totally can definitely understand and relate to that and thank you so much for just sharing more of your mindset at the time. So what have been the strategies that helped you to pay off the $23,000 of debt and how long did it take you to do all of this?
Yeah, so when it comes to my debt payoff journey, I really feel like I used as many strategies as I could to make my goal a reality. My debt payoff journey really kind of started even before that official sprint to 12 months in 2020, I would say that again right. My debt payoff journey really felt like it started back in 2018, where I first kind of started acknowledging that hey, I have a problem, I need professional help. One of my mutual friends ended up connecting me with a financial coach and that was the first time I actually sat down with someone, and really thought about what are my financial goals. Like what are the dreams and aspirations that I have for myself financially and what's holding me back from that. And it was clear to me that my debt and my just overspending and not really keeping track of my money was holding me back from the things that I wanted, right. In those days I didn't really know about fire, financial independence, retire early, but I knew that I had this vision for myself that didn't involve me working to survive, definitely including me traveling more. So in early 2019 when I started working with my financial coach. That was the first time I ever really managed a budget and it was definitely a lot of trial and error. Definitely, I feel like I had to unlearn some of the poor money management habits that I had picked up along the way and at the same time, I also had to work on my mental health and self-esteem along the way. Right. So I started going to therapy and I started working with a life coach. Some of the reasons why I was overspending was to fill what felt like an emotional void that I wasn't really acknowledging, Right. That often we can use retail therapy or just not having that control in our finances can also be a reflection of other areas of our life, maybe that being emotional or mental that is also off whack. I think folks kind of see my debt paid off journey and think, Wow, that's amazing. You did it so quickly not acknowledging that I was doing a lot of work in silence behind the scenes. I wasn't public with it really since the end of 2018 before I got to a point at the end of 2019 where I felt, okay I've been working with a financial coach for nine months. I feel like I could stretch myself. I was kind of looking at my debt and feeling okay based on the income that I have, if I really tried hard and you know, I've been following a lot of people in the debt-free community and absorbing a lot of the tactics that they were sharing. I feel like I could become that free by now I learned about fire. It literally lit a fire under me to say, wow, oh my gosh, I think I am probably primed to be in a position to really take advantage of some of these things that I'm learning. If I just squashed my debt, I can really accelerate my wealth-building journey. So all of those things were kind of like on my mind and that was why I wanted to become debt-free. It was really a way of me saying, okay, if I get rid of this really big obstacle, what felt like a really big obstacle for me. Because I've always been in debt Since I really started my adult life, I'll have so much more room in my budget to be able to build wealth, travel more, and just have some of the freedom and flexibility that I was yearning for. So yeah, on January 15, 2020, I sat down and added up all of my balances. I had $23,022 of debt across student loans, credit cards, and personal loans and was able to become debt-free in 12 months by really a mix of things. I think the first thing is one, a caveat, I was a high earner. I'm still a high earner and I think that's important to acknowledge because I am part of probably that really small population of people who were able to pay off a lot of that in a short amount of time. And I definitely attribute that to being a high earner with no kids and very few obligations outside of my debt. So that allowed me to put up both of my, take-home pay towards my debt payoff. So that's the first caveat. The second thing that I did was actually increase my income. I think often as women of color as black women, we are not always encouraged to think about this as a strategy to get our finances in order, but that was something I felt like I needed to do right. If you, you know, do the quick math, $23,000 in a year is about $2,200 a month that you're paying towards debt. So I knew that it would be a lot easier for me to reach that goal if I was bringing in a larger salary. So I started networking and was thankful enough to land a higher paying job in Q1 of 2020 That helped me increase my salary by $30,000. And instead of increasing my lifestyle granted, we were literally at the beginning of the pandemic. So there were a lot of things that just were not possible. Instead of letting lifestyle takeover, I again put the bulk of that money towards my debt. Something else that I started doing was really getting intentional about where my money was going, following a zero-based budget. So when I would get paid or any time I would get money, I would make sure that I was assigning a job to every dollar. So the book of my money was going into debt at that time. But I wanted to make sure that I was also taking care of my bills and any other obligations so that I didn't fall behind in those other areas. And what really allowed me to do this was what I now call the glorious gap. So you know that gap between my income and my expenses was really where I was able to see that I had room and my budget right now, that I could be used towards paying off my debt, towards giving myself a savings cushion, and even saving in my travel fund because yes, I did travel during those 12 months of paying off my debt, I ended up spending two weeks in Mexico, I went to the Dominican Republic, so it definitely was possible for me to do that and that was really possible because I was able to see finally, for the first time, hey, if I knew where my money was going, I could actually direct it towards the goals that I actually had. Instead of just feeling like, oh my gosh, I constantly need more money, I'm spending frivolously because I don't know where my money is going. So if you're listening and you feel similarly around wanting to understand what money do you have right now, that could be helping you get towards debt freedom, towards traveling more that we're outside, definitely check out my free workbook and that's what the link in my bio. Another big thing that I did that I think really helped me also was sending windfall money to my debt. So for anyone who doesn't know what that term means essentially means anytime I was getting money that was unexpected. Whether it was like a tax refund, it was my birthday, stimulus check, or a random check that just came from my previous employer. I really much about the bulk of that towards my debt. So that was definitely the first time in my life where I was really delaying instant gratification to realize the goals that I had for myself. And I do want to say, even though yes, I definitely was able to pay off $23,000 in 12 months, I wasn't perfect. There were definitely some months where I came in a little under, there were some months where I came in over, right. But I think it was important for me to develop consistency. I had this big goal, I put it out there for the world to see and it wasn't necessarily that I was perfect every time, right. There were definitely times when I slipped up. I mean we were surviving a pandemic. There were a lot of things that were going on, but for me, it was important that I was just consistent that every month I was showing up for myself, every month I was sharing my progress, and through that that accountability allowed me to stay consistent month over month. So I would say that those are kind of like the main things Danielle that helped me.
Those are great strategies. All that I used minus the salary increase because I didn't do that. You really painted a holistic picture. You went to therapy, you hired a coach, several coaches to help you with the mindset and the inner works. You went after controlling your spending and budgeting and you also went after earning more money. So I feel like that's like the triple threat right there. Like you did a very great well-rounded job and making sure that you tackled all the areas and also I love that you were honest and said, listen, I also slipped up sometimes I went under, sometimes I went over and I love that you ended off saying you know what, what was important is that I was consistent and I showed up for myself because at the end of the day, who's going to ultimately benefit from all of this? You right? So I loved every single thing that you said and while you were talking, one of the things that I would see a lot when it comes to paying off debt is well you should only be focusing on debt and not traveling and I'm so anti that and I know you are as well, I was like no, I want to be the and. Like I want to work hard to pay off and crush this debt and travel. So I would love to hear your perspective like why was travel one of the things that you were not willing to give up? and did you see in the personal finance space people telling you that maybe you should give up travel to pursue your goals.
Travel was just such a non-negotiable for me. Travel, I feel like is life, I cannot imagine my life without traveling and it doesn't always look like hopping on a plane, but just having the room in my budget to just explore, to just bring more adventure and curiosity into my life. That's like what I see travel unlocking for me. So I knew that I would be miserable if I just tried to go cold turkey and not travel. I'm someone who travels often. I'm not someone who takes a yearly vacation. I'm traveling like once a month at this point. So coupling that with quarantine restrictions because of the pandemic, I knew that I had to continue to prioritize travel in my money really as I had been even when I started working with my financial coach. That was something that was front and center for us. So when I started paying off my debt, I didn't really see it as something that would need to change. I had already started saving in a travel fund before I paid off my debt and you know, a travel fund is just essentially, it's a separate account that I created for my travel expenditure so that I wasn't old me. Younger me would be kind of like pulling travel money from bill money from everywhere, right? Because all my money was going into one account. I didn't know where it was going, having that travel fund really allowed me to say, okay, If I'm going to X, Y, Z place in five months, let me put aside 50 or 100 bucks a month so that I can have that money by the time my trip comes around and not feel guilty, anxious or afraid of how I'm going to pay for that vacation. So you know, when I started my debt payoff journey, there were not necessarily people speaking directly to me saying, oh you shouldn't be doing that. But there definitely is a narrative, a very strong narrative in the personal finance community that you know, is I guess ushered in by a certain financial guru, who shall not be named who you know, kind of gives advice to their followers that debt payoff should be your only and number one priority and I agree with you, it's just not something that I could see myself doing right when so many things were so uncertain. I think for me having travel in the back of my mind right, not necessarily saying that I wasn't really sure when I would be able to travel, but I think for me even just putting aside that money knowing that at some future date I'm going to be able to travel and it's not going to put me into debt. I think gave me a lot of motivation and it helped me stay consistent. It helps me stay motivated to say if and when we are able to travel and I am debt free, wow, that's going to be such an amazing feeling to be able to celebrate and you know, I'm so glad that I did because actually while I was in Mexico, I was into Tulu,Mexico at the end of 2020, I actually became student loan debt free during that vacation and that was such a great feeling to make that final payment and be in paradise. So travel is definitely non-negotiable for me and I think even now that I'm not necessarily thinking about just paying off debt, I'm thinking about building wealth, it continues to be something that I prioritize and that I want to continue kind of flexing the muscle to be a traveler who also knows how to find ways to make travel affordable and fit within my lifestyle. That's the key lifestyle a lot of people are like, I travel a couple of times a year on vacation, and for me, I think what the switch that I turned on and realized is that travel is part of my lifestyle, it is embedded in the fabric of who I am and it is also part of my budget every single month. So I am unapologetic about the trips that I take and will take in the future because I did the work. Like I've been doing the work, this is not like a willy nilly thing, this is something that has been planned, and also when you put money away for travel, you are making sacrifices, you're taking the money that you could have been using on something else and you're earmarking it for this one particular thing. So yeah, I'm totally with you on board with that, I'm super like unapologetic highlight about that. Amen right? And then I also love that you mentioned that you will hear gurus out there and some folks may even look to us as gurus as well, but it's about customizing your plan right? Like people can tell you to do this or do that or what has worked for them, but at the end of the day, you have to sit with it and say, you know what, when I look at a plan, I can make this customizable and make it for me based off of my values. So if travel is a value that I do not want to give up, how can I find and carve out the time and space in my budget, my finances to make this happen. So thank you so much for that recap. I love this episode, I'm so happy. I feel like we're kindred sisters here because it's like everything you talk about is like everything that I lived have lived and living and it's just such a refreshing take on personal finance, so thank you so, so, so much. Now before we wrap up, I would love to hear from you.
What does being a financially savvy traveler mean to you?
Yes, so you know I love this term and I love that this is something that you really share with the world via your brand. You know when I think about being a financially savvy traveler, I think about the decisions that I'm making that allow me to travel without it being a financial burden to me that was really the reason why I started finance because so many people were asking me how do I afford to travel and at the same time me wanting to have more candid conversations with folks around building wealth especially for people that look like us. So when I think about being a financially savvy traveler, I think about what are the things that I can learn and that I can do right now that are going to allow my dollars when they go to travel to stretch as far as they possibly get. So I think we talked about one of those ways which are having a travel fund, you know I think another way that I absolutely love and I will shout from the rooftops for as many women and women of color and especially black women to also get on board with is travel hacking. I am someone who is a recovering over spender, I am someone who had five figures of credit card debt and yet I still am at a point now where now that I know how to use credit responsibly, I absolutely use credit cards and travel rewards credit cards to offset the cost of my travel. I see that as me being a financially savvy traveler and when I think of it this way right in terms of the travel industry benefits and capitalizes off of the fact of especially those of us who are in marginalized communities, not always being aware, not always being as informed in terms of how the industry works. Right. So when I think about being a financially savvy traveler, I also think about what are the things that allow me to understand better how the travel industry works and use that information to my advantage. Right? So that when things happen, now that things are kind of coming back to normal when there are moments where it seems like mm maybe there is some added benefit that's being left on the table. I can advocate for myself. I think a great example of that is in 2020 where so many of us had probably travel plans that were canceled or just didn't happen. That was a time where a lot of people were taking travel credits and just kind of like accepting oh well Delta, all these airlines are saying we can only have these e-vouchers. No, I was using that time to really advocate for myself to say no XYZ airline. I know what the Department of Transportation says is the contract of carriage, right? And I need my full refund. This flight did not happen, it's not my fault that it didn't happen. So therefore I need a full cash refund. So that was a great moment where again, that allowed me to be financially savvy the money that I would have just kind of been handcuffed by these airlines in the form of their digital vouchers came back to me in the form of cash that I could use to put towards, my debt, cut back into my travel fund or whatever else that I needed. All of those things I think have helped me be a more financially savvy traveler and it's something that I try to give back to others, actually, have an affordable travel force where I have pulled together all of the things that have allowed me to travel to what 15 countries in the last five years on a budget, right. Because we've talked about my journey, I have not always had a lot of money, they're were definitely during that time I was in debt, I was kind of figuring out my money and still was able to make some great travel memories happen. So if you are listening and want to learn more about some of those strategies that we've kind of already talked about in-depth, definitely check out my course. Again, it is that the link in my bio on Instagram at Fly.nanced, and I would love to help you with flying financially free. So that's definitely what financially savvy travel looks like for me. I love it and it brings it home, again preaching to the choir because everything you said is like that informed decision. Like when you are an informed person you cannot get stomped over, you cannot get trampled over, you're gonna know what's in it for you and you're gonna come with that energy, which I love, love, love, love. So financy savvy travelers. If you loved this conversation, I will have the link in the show notes to Cinneah’s course called fly financially free, and here's what you can expect when you take the course. There are three self-paced videos. Number one, how to effortlessly save on flights, stays, and more. Number two creative solutions to the most common hurdles to travel like money, travel buddies, and time off, and last but certainly not least is how to travel for free with travel hacking. There's resources, resource list, template codes, and over $700 in savings and bonuses. So I will have the link to that course and all of Cinneah’s other resources in the show notes.
Cinneah, Please let us know how we can best connect with you after this conversation. Yes, absolutely. Let's connect on Instagram I am at fly.nanced. Fly.nanced. That's probably like my main account where I'm doing a lot of chatting. I'm also, Danielle knows this, but I am active on Twitter. If you're on Twitter I'm at flynanced, one word and let's connect. Shoot me a DM if you heard me on the Thought Card podcast and let's work together to help you be a more informed traveler and wealth builder. Well yes, I love, love, love this.
Now listen up financially savvy travelers as with all of our interviews with all of our special guests, we have an extended interview with Cinneah coming up. When you join the Thought Card Club, and we're going to be talking about how to best prepare to take advantage of Geoarbitrage. Now, see I kind of mentioned it in the episode but she's actually living right now in Tulum Mexico and she's using Geoarbitrage as a way to build wealth, live in a foreign country, live her best life because I see you on Instagram, you like you're having a fantastic time in Mexico. So we're going to learn all about how to best prepare for that and what it's like relocating to another country. So make sure you head over to the show notes to join the Thought Card club and that is all for now. So I'll see you guys in the next episode.
I hope you enjoyed this episode, but don't forget there's way more where that came from. When you become a supporter of the show, you'll get bonus episodes, additional tips on affording travel, real-time updates, as well as strategies for building wealth, and creating multiple income streams. Head over to thoughtcard.com/jointosupport. Also, be sure to follow me on Instagram. I'm at thedanielledesir. Slide-in my DMS, and share with me your thoughts about this episode. What did you enjoy? What stood out to you? Let me know. I'd absolutely love to connect with you outside of the podcast. See you in the next one.
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How To Pay Off Debt & Travel Debt-Free with Cinneah El-Amin
In this episode we cover:
- How Cinneah amassed $23,000 of debt (student loans, credit card debt, and personal loans) and how long it took her to get to that point.
- What inspired Cinneah to begin her debt payoff journey?
- The mindset that Cinneah had to adopt to keep track of her spending.
- The strategies Cinneah used to pay off her debt and how long it took her.
- Why travel was one of the things that Cinneah was not willing to give up.
- What being a financially savvy traveler means.
- Fly Financially Free Course: Learn how to travel for the low, no matter your income or budget. This course includes (3) video tutorials, a resource list, templates, and codes that can help you save $700+. You’ll learn how to save on flights and hotel stays, how to travel for free by travel hacking, and more.
- Affording Travel: Saving Strategies For Financially Savvy Travelers: A how-to guide for saving money for travel and making it a financial priority in your life.
Connect with Cinneah
Flynanced Instagram: @fly.nanced