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Omaha Magazine

Budgeting Benjamins: Nicka Johnson's Journey From Food Stamps to Passports

Nov 28, 2022 08:14AM ● By Lisa Lukecart

Photo by Bill Sitzmann

For Nicka Johnson, it’s all about the Benjamins, baby. Well, that, and how to budget them wisely.  
The 31-year-old eyed this writer’s hot chocolate sitting on the table. She tapped the Starbucks cup with her light blue manicured nail, then cocked her head and focused her brown eyes. 

“How much did this cost?” she asked. “And yes (she answered, preemptively), the nails are in the budget.” 

The financial coach doesn’t hold any punches, bristling with inspirational intensity. No coffee. No tea. No soda. A fatter wallet equals a leaner body. 

“You don’t ever see a fat billionaire, right?” she declared.

After all, the survival of the financially fit merges with a healthy lifestyle. Johnson, the CEO of Budget to Success, holds her own life up as an asset. The North Omaha native switched food stamps for passports on her path to financial freedom. Her mother, Danitalynn Almonte, showed her children the value of making do with less. If the middle-schooler didn’t make smart decisions at the grocery store, the family would be chowing on noodles all week. Johnson learned to crunch the numbers in her head, discovering early that positive balance sheets equaled freedom. 

Johnson graduated with a degree in business administration and a minor in communications from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on a full-ride scholarship. Discovering a solution to financial problems blossomed into a wealth of financial jobs and expertise. Johnson “fired her boss” after working as a loan officer for Centris Federal Credit Union during the pandemic, a gutsy move she made with no regrets. Budget to Success, her side hustle since 2015, flipped to full time. Johnson continued pursuing her other income streams, such as real estate, and Snomaha, a seasonal shaved ice shop. 

“I don’t live life in fear. I now sign the paychecks,” she said. “I don’t focus on what could go wrong, but what could go right.” 

Johnson believes she can accomplish anything she sets her mind to. 

“Her transparency makes her stand out…she doesn’t act better than us. She will share hardships and good times. It showed me successful people are also human,” said Teaon Thortvedt, owner of lifestyle brand Krēt Collection.

Thortvedt reached out wanting to know how to increase traffic for her street clothing website. Johnson provided valuable feedback.

Budget to Success counsels clients primarily about credit analysis, savings strategies, and budgeting—the three essentials to financial fitness. Fees for consultations range from $5 to $1,000. One-on-one sessions on budgeting start at $199. Online classes give people like Thortvedt, who lives in Arizona, a resource from a distance. 

Tierra Washington, a Goodwill Industries compliance manager for mission programs, believes the knowledge she’s gained outweighs the price tag. After discovering the difficulties of obtaining a home loan, Washington realized she needed to boost her credit score and save a down payment. Her score jumped over 100 points in about 10 months under Johnson’s guidance. But cutting out wants over needs proved challenging at first. Washington had to work at holding herself accountable, asking what she heard her financial coach ask repeatedly: “Is it in your budget?” 
“[Johnson] is what I needed…someone hardcore who doesn’t sugarcoat it. She’s straight to the point…like a boot camp sergeant,” Washington said. “I needed someone like that, cutthroat.”
Washington, 38, closed on her first house almost a year later. 

Stories like these keep the hope for financial freedom alive for others. More money means spending more time with her daughter, Amira, and husband, Aaron. More money means trips with her friends to New Orleans (Johnson can show anyone how to travel for practically nothing.) More money means more room after closing on a half-million-dollar house. “Just know you have first-class seats to watching me become a multi-millionaire,” her Instagram stated of the purchase.  

“No one is going to make me feel bad for wanting more,” Johnson added before driving away in her 2021 BMW X 6 SUV. And others who want more? Johnson is here to help them pave their own golden road, so long as they commit to the journey. For more information, visit budgettosuccess.net or Instagram @budgettosuccess

This article originally appeared in the December 2022/January 2023 issue of B2B Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  
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