By Je’Don Holloway Talley
For the Birmingham Times
“Never Go Broke” is a lifestyle, mantra, and business for Birmingham entrepreneur Tae Lee, who remembers when she graduated from college and couldn’t find a job.
“I did the ‘American Dream’—go to school, get a degree—but then I couldn’t get a job and my student loans started showing up, so I had to do something else in order to finance my lifestyle,” she said.
Lee, 31, said she became an entrepreneur because “I couldn’t live in financial poverty forever.”
After not being able to find work in her field, Lee took a job as a bartender to make ends meet. A fellow bartender helped get her started in the tax-preparation business, and Lee opened her own company First Alert Tax Services in 2014.
Today, the Ramsay High School alum owns and operates three businesses: First Alert Tax Services, her tax-prep business; Lee Enterprises, her real estate company; and Never Go Broke, her financial-literacy program.
Lee’s financial-literacy program instructs entrepreneurs, adults, and even high school and middle school students how not to go broke.
“I like to teach people how to increase income, decrease debt, create capital, stretch savings, and how to freestyle their lifestyle,” Lee said.
The goal, she said, is to help adults and entrepreneurs maximize their cash through smart investments, investment properties, and successful budgeting and saving.
“We have planners that give [students] a blueprint and books that give them guidance,” Lee said. “[We conduct] seminars that give continuing education and workshops that give step-by-step information to take successful money management to the next level.”
Middle and high school students can expect to learn “basic money-management skills,” she said. “The program clearly defines the mechanics of a budget and life skills: how to create and maintain a budget; the difference in basic banking services: checking and savings accounts; how to write checks; how debit [transactions] work.”
Lee also teaches high school students the differences between financial aid and traditional loans.
“That was also something I had to learn along the way,” Lee said. “All money is not grant money; some of those are loans that you have to pay back. Be aware.”
One of the most important lessons surrounds credit and debt: “We teach people about their credit and how to use it efficiently and effectively,” she said. “They learn about debt—how to apply and control it, how to minimize and eliminate it.”
Lee grew up in the Huffman area and has two brothers and two sisters. She attended Rutledge (Midfield, Ala.) and Huffman middle schools. Even though her mother was an entrepreneur, Lee didn’t see herself following that path at the time: “I wanted to teach and do radio, both of which I do now on a different level.”
She attended Ramsay High School and enrolled at Jacksonville State University, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in physical education. After graduating, Lee couldn’t find a job.
“I was told to try to find jobs out of state,” she said. “I tried, and in, like, three years, I got only two interviews, [one of which required] Spanish speaking for more than 90 percent of the job.”
Lee even earned out-of-state certifications “to teach in Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida,” but she still couldn’t find a job in the education field.
At age 23, in 2010, she began bartending and preparing taxes on the side.
“One of the other bartenders was doing [taxes] and asked … if I’d be interested in learning the business,” Lee recalled. “I was like, ‘Yes.’”
Lee opened her own tax-preparation company in 2014 and went to real estate school. Afterward, she moved back home and started saving money to start buying investment properties.
“I didn’t spend money I knew I didn’t have,” she said. “I put back and I saved, and I built a rapport with the bank, so if I ever needed money the bank was able to give me money.”
Lee made her first investment in 2014, at age 26, after a year of saving.
“I did research to actually find the property and how much it cost,” she said. “I moved back home to save up money to buy my first house because I wanted my first house to be a cash purchase. … I didn’t want a mortgage.”
That was the first of several real estate investments for Lee: “I already knew I wanted to buy multiple properties. It took me two years to buy the second property.”
Tae Lee Enterprises has four investment properties: two homes and an apartment complex in Ensley. She said purchasing that property was a different process because she bought some that were on tax lien and others through individuals.
It hasn’t been easy, Lee said. It takes time to build that kind of financial portfolio, and “being an entrepreneur has its ups and downs. It’s not going to be ‘all good’ all the time.”
“Never Give Up”
“You’ll have your good years. You’ll have your bad years. But the [objective] is to never give up,” Lee said. “Growing up, we were never taught what to do when it came to finances and money. We were taught to go to school and get a job. … [Being a business owner and investor] definitely came with trial and error.”
Lee combined her business and investment experiences to create her Never Go Broke curriculum.
“I was working with a lot of different people, and a group of entrepreneurs I work with were like, ‘You have a lot of knowledge. Put it on paper.’ So, that’s really where it came from,” she said. “Just being around different people, knowing business owners, and doing taxes showed me that a lot of people don’t know the basics and the fundamentals of building wealth.”
Lee has conducted seminars at the Dannon Project, a nonprofit organization that helps unemployed or underemployed at-risk youth and nonviolent returning citizens reentering society, and local churches.
“I do weekend seminars at Starbucks. I do live webinars,” she said. “The workshops show [attendees] which way they need to go and allows them to see what they need help with or if they need any help at all.”
For more information, visit www.taelee.money