8 Qs with a Silicon Prairie Founder: Nicka Johnson, Budget to Success
Nicka Johnson is an Omaha-based social entrepreneur working to instill financial literacy through her business, Budget to Success. In this role, the North Omaha native considers herself part financial advisor, part teacher, part therapis—the latter being crucial to helping people of all ages overcome their money triggers (the emotional factors that derail us from our…
Nicka Johnson is an Omaha-based social entrepreneur working to instill financial literacy through her business, Budget to Success. In this role, the North Omaha native considers herself part financial advisor, part teacher, part therapis—the latter being crucial to helping people of all ages overcome their money triggers (the emotional factors that derail us from our financial goals and dreams, like owning a home or starting a business).
Her tireless activism and experience as a Black woman entrepreneur made her the subject of a recent feature article in Noise Omaha, a community-led news organization developed to address the information gap within North Omaha.
Yesterday, Johnson sat down with SPN to discuss how she gives back to the community by helping individuals overcome barriers to a strong financial foundation.
How did you get started?
I grew up in a single-parent home with a repeated cycle of teenage pregnancy. I have always learned while my family dynamics may shape who I am, they won’t determine who I become. What I mean by that is yes, I was living in poverty. Yes, I grew up on 21st Street in a fatherless home. I’ve seen a lot of gangs and incarceration and things like that. But my goal is to teach people that you don’t have to be a product of your environment. Only you can define the level of success you desire.
I always imagined as a kid that I’d be some big-time executive at a fancy corporation. I made that my dream; my dreams turned into a reality working at Union Pacific Railroad (where she worked in the Operations industry for five years); and then transitioned back to the financial sector. The reason I say “transitioned back” is that my first job at the age of 16 was at Jackson-Hewitt Income Taxes, where my mother was a tax manager for over 20 years, and I worked my way up from receptionist to tax preparer. This was when I was still in high school, where I was also in the Academy of Finance and the Future Business Leaders of America.
I was always budget-savvy. I learned how to budget off of food stamps. What I realized is that it’s not about how much money I make, it’s about managing the money I do make, and I teach that to my clients. I took a huge pay cut when I left the corporate world and went back into the financial world. But I soon discovered the gift of giving. That was my true passion: to be able to help others.
Last year, I went from employee to employer. Budget to Success had been a side hustle that I did for my friends and family, but I knew I had to share more of a glimpse of my personal story to be able to help others, because when you do business, you want people to like, love and trust you.
Is your job what you thought you would be doing when you were a child?
Yes and no. Yes in that sense that I’m an executive; I’m the owner and founder of a company.
My passion has always been giving. It didn’t matter how much money I made, I still gave. If I made $40,000 annually, I gave. If I made $60,000 annually, I gave. I gave when I didn’t have anything, and that tells me who I am at the core.
But did I think I would be making an impact and building a legacy? No.
What are you building right now? Why is it important to you?
I’m building a legacy. Some people say, “I want to build a legacy,” but what does that mean? What is your life operating at? If you die today, what are you going to be known as? I’m known as the credit lady in the community.
I don’t believe in excuses. You’re either going to get it done, or you’re not. When you want success as bad as you want to breathe, what does that look like? The only thing that’s stopping you is taking that risk. Sometimes you just gotta jump off the cliff.
What is your favorite thing that you have ever built? Why was it your favorite?
I’ve helped restore peace in my community. The reason why is that I lost my brother on January 6, 2018. He was in the military, he came home, and there was robbery at a club that turned bad. I went into a deep, dark depression. But that triggered something in me that wasn’t there before.
If you could improve one thing about your job or the place that you live, what would the change be?
I want to bridge the economic gap. A lot of people in North Omaha typically only make $20,000 annually. I don’t want us to always be in the struggle moment, just trying to survive, but to live.
Was there anything looking back that you would do differently?
Nothing will ever be perfect. (But I learned that) the biggest success is allowing your audience to come along with you.
What could the Silicon Prairie community do to help you succeed?
Just getting the word out there that financial literacy is so important. It has to start at home; we can’t depend on schools. But that is a long-term goal for me, to help pass a law that makes it a requirement for public schools to teach financial literacy in elementary, middle and high school.
If you could ask these questions to anyone, who would it be?
The first person I can think of is Warren Buffett. (In college, Johnson was a scholarship recipient of the Susan Buffett Foundation, which was established by Warren Buffett’s late wife). I love how he would read, read, read. All he did was read, and he would absorb so much information. A lot of people don’t like to read nowadays, but it really is a blueprint for success.
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