New York Times bestselling author and comedian Gaby Dunn talks a lot about money. But not because she’s good with it. She’s the host of the popular Bad With Money podcast, with topics like “Who Can Afford to Have Sex? (aka Babies),” “Death Is F*cking Expensive,” and “The High of the Buy (aka Shopping Addiction).”
Now, Dunn’s first financial self-help book, “Bad With Money: The Imperfect Art of Getting Your Financial Sh*t Together,” is also attracting interest. Like her podcast, it’s comically candid and primarily targeted at millennials and Gen Z, but full of takeaway lessons for just about everyone — starting with this one: We all need to speak honestly about money.
I know it’s something I’ve not done very well these first 44 years of my life. I do a lot of reading on the topic, but I’m not good at divulging my hourly rates as a freelance writer, my credit card debt, or my plans for retirement. And even though my partner is (thankfully) better at the retirement piece, at least, I welcomed this opportunity to ask Dunn what contributes to our lack of communication around our financial situations.
“If I’m being my conspiracy theorist self, then it’s that the people at the top have made it seem tacky, taboo, or have created this aura of shame in order basically to keep everyone from discussing the reality of their situation, so that we can’t make it better,” she says. “The wealthy people don’t want us to have any sort of economic mobility so that we don’t talk to each other and make our situations better.”
Speaking as her non-conspiracy theorist self, Dunn says, “It’s embarrassing. It’s shameful. We take it as an intellectual or even a moral failing. We don’t see it as just a thing that happens or a circumstance that might be out of our control. How we were born, what our class is … how much we believed in the power of a college education and then how we graduated into a terrible job market. There are things that are somewhat out of our control but we beat ourselves up and say, we’re bad and we can’t let anyone know about this because it means that we have no self-worth.”
As with many things in life — from relationships and parenting to physical and mental health concerns — the only way to change the status quo is to be vulnerable and talk with one another about our situations. But, as Dunn notes, no one wants to be the first person to do that.
“The first time I had a friend say, ‘I’m saving money right now, I can’t go out,’ I was like, ‘Whoa.’ I thought she was the bravest person I had ever encountered.” After that first moment, Dunn told her friend that not going out or spending any money was totally fine, and so the two changed their plans to stay in.
When Dunn herself started opening up, she says she did get a lot of “primarily men” who told her she was a “little damsel princess” who needed saving and listed off all the things she should be doing differently.
“People will come at you with that sort of condescension, and so that sucks, but I think if you can just smile and nod your way through it, then other people will see what you’re doing and they’ll feel safe. All of a sudden now, because of what I do, all my friends feel safe enough to come and talk to me or ask me questions.”
With the podcast and now the book, people might assume Dunn’s got her financial life in tip-top shape. But that’s not necessarily true. “I don’t want to make it seem like, wow, the book ended and she really has her sh*t together,” she says.
“I mean, nothing’s totally fixed,” she adds. “I have an IRA, so that’s like the biggest change in my life. You know, I still will be like, how did this credit card get full?” And taxes, arguably as certain as death itself, nonetheless still find a way to surprise Dunn each spring. “I was saying to someone, it’s like your period, where every month you’re like, ‘What?!’ And you’re like, no, this happens every month, you dummy. So every year I’m like, ‘Taxes again?’ And they’re like, ‘Yeah, again.’”
Dunn has learned a lot by talking with more and more people, though. And not only does she put what she can into action, she continues to share what’s worked for her and what hasn’t. If you’re looking for a place to start (or start again), like I have been, maybe give one of these three tips from Dunn a try:
Dive deep into your bank statements: “Print out your bank statement at the end of the year and go through it with a highlighter, and highlight what doesn’t seem good to you. And I’m not talking about, like, the grandiose latte factor, everyone’s eating avocado toast, because that’s just not true,” she says. “I’m talking about like, ‘I paid a lot for parking this year. That seems strange. I shouldn’t do that.’”
Set up healthier habits from the get-go with automated savings: Dunn recommends setting up an automatic transfer to a savings account — something that’s come in particularly handy for those tax bills she always forgets about. “I like setting it up and never looking at it. It just takes money out for savings because I always forget about it, and I’ll look and be like, ‘Ooh, a little money pool.’”
Open up with your friends, and get them on board: If you’re looking to get better with money, see if your friends are willing to join you or have some tips of their own to share. “Talk to your friends and say, ‘Do you guys do anything specific? What do you do? Is there some trick, you know, or is your dad an accountant who can help me? Or what’s up?’” Dunn says. “You could have like a little group hangout money talk day where you, I don’t know, eat cheese and talk about it.”
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