Lule Demmissie knows how to get her money’s worth… and she wants you to learn her secrets. As the President of Ally Invest, Lule’s job is to help you achieve financial security—even right now. We spoke with Lule about budgets, investments, and the empowerment that comes from knowing the truth about your savings.

Financially, what do we need to know right now?
It’s a nerve-wracking thing to try and be opportunistic in crisis—especially if you don’t have a trust fund or job security. And while you can never predict the market, when you see it compressed at the level that it’s compressed now, you’d be hard-pressed not to think that someday, this may be an opportunity.

Do you mean we should be investing right now?
Yes. This is no doubt a crisis… but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good time to invest. The people that are coming in to buy are a higher number than those who are selling, and that’s a good thing. It is moments like this that actually create opportunity if you’re a long-term investor. If you’ve got more than 6 years [before you need retirement assets], this is an opportunity to look into investing.

What if you’re in debt or you’ve recently been laid off?
You have to make sure you can pay the bills, but just because you have debt doesn’t mean you shouldn’t invest. If all of us waited until we were out of debt, we wouldn’t be able to partake in one of the most important mechanisms for building wealth in America—investing.

How important is investing to a person’s overall financial security?
Unless you have a trust fund, there are few ways you’re going to have personal wealth. Investing is one of the most important tools a regular person can use, and to opt out of investing is to forfeit that tool.

What are simple steps that everyone can take to become financially stable?
Part of financial success is habit. But the other part is not psyching yourself out. People need to shed any source of embarrassment or shame about their starting point, because there’s no shame in where you’re starting!

Do you have any tips on how to prepare for financial security?
– Put your money toward your future first. Put money in your 401k, and if you can, go all the way to the match.
– Then you should open an IRA. (I learned that the hard way.)
– Spend in a way that is prudent. Sometimes that means cutting out the Starbucks you indulge in, or the shoes you love. It’s also important to stop framing those purchases as “guilty” spending and instead, create a budget and allocate for those purchases.

Is that how you budget for yourself?
I set my own budget through a “happiness quotient,” rather than a cost metric. I make a list of the things I spend money on each month, and rank them by how much happiness they bring me. Then I remove the items that fall at the bottom. So maybe your daily coffee brings you a lot of joy, and your Netflix subscription doesn’t. It’s different for everyone.