Money Isn’t the Worst! Seriously.
In the summer of 1996, a glazed Krispy Kreme donut changed my life. Well, okay, not just one donut: five dozen Krispy Kreme donuts.
It all began on a humid morning in North Carolina when my mom decided to engage in one of the most dangerous and cutthroat suburban activities: hosting a yard sale.
As my sister and I watched her spend the week leading upto it preparing to sell off our unused goods to flocks of women wearing elastic-band sweatpants and scrunchies (this was the nineties, after all), an idea began to germinate in my seven-year-old mind. If people were willing to hand over their hard-earned cash for a used Abs of Steel video at 7:30 in the morning, wouldn’t they be likely to fork some over to buy donuts from twoadorable children?
Suddenly, visions of Toys"R"Us store aisles—and, more specifically, a Nerf Super Soaker I’d been coveting—started to dance in my head.
I pitched the idea to my parents. After a little deliberation, my dad offered to be my backer and stake the capital required to fund my enterprise—as well as drive the car to pick up the donuts. (Again, I was seven.)
My four-year-old sister, Cailin (no, this is not a typo—that’s her real name), and I set up shop using our Fisher-Price picnic table as our storefront. I strapped a teal fanny pack around my waist to hold my earnings, donned my purple baseball cap, and we were open for business.
Cailin and I spent the morning of the yard sale calling out to haggard-looking shoppers, neighbors walking their dogs, and gaggles ofneon-track-suited moms. We implored them to purchase a glazed Krispy Kremedonut for the inflated price of 50 cents. And slowly but surely, the combination of my sister’s doe-like eyes and my enthusiastic sales pitch won them over.
Handing over those donuts to die-hard garage sale enthusiasts and kind neighbors felt like grueling work during an early morning of summer vacation. Finally, with the last donut sold, I peeked into my fannypack knowing the Super Soaker was mine. Feeling the weight of all those quarters, I imagined I could even buy two Super Soakers and be the ultimate warrior of water fights at the pool.
Then everything went horribly wrong.
My dad strolled over and asked to see the earnings. After having been subjected to seven years of his tyrannical “candy tax” at Halloween (he claimed first dibs on our loot because he chaperoned the trick-or-treating, which set me up nicely to understand taxes in my first real-world paycheck), I clutched the fanny pack to my chest, refusing to show him.
My dad took the fanny pack, dumped our earnings on ourpicnic table, and carefully counted out the coins. He then proceeded to give me my first lesson in economics.
“You have thirty dollars here,” he said.
“Yes,” I confidently replied. “I am going to Toys“R”Us.”
He looked at me and smiled in that all-knowing way parents do, which left me with a sense of foreboding brewing in the pit of my stomach.
“Well, it cost me eight dollars to buy the donuts you sold,” he said while he picked up eight dollars in quarters. “Then you had Cailin help you sell them, so you need to pay her.” He handed my four-year-old sister six dollars. “So, after expenses, your net profit was sixteen dollars.” He smiled while pushing the remaining piles of quarters toward me.
I had never felt so cheated in my life.
Rather than convincing me that my dad was out to swindle us, the Krispy Kreme experience instead has become the cornerstone of my personal finance education. What my dad’s lesson started was a long traditionof my parents teaching us essential lessons about money through the use o freal-life examples, which are still fresh in my mind 20 years later.
Even if you feel that taking a child’s hard-earned donut money is cruel—which, in retrospect, I no longer do, and I could very likely do the same one day to any future kids I may have (hey, apples don’t fall far from trees)—these financial lessons served me well when I eventually struck out on my own. For example, they enabled me to get off parental welfare only three weeks after college and muster the confidence to move to New York, knowing I would survive there as an independent early-twentysomething. And even when I wasn’t making much, my parents’ lessons instilled in me a sense of empowerment over the issue of money rather than ulcer-inducing anxiety.
I quickly learned many of my fellow twentysomethings (and even thirtysomethings) don’t have that feeling of empowerment.
Sitting over sober-up cups of coffee in the wee hours ofa New York City morning, my friend Lizzie began to complain about her job working as an assistant to two high-powered executives at a major network—a job she hated with a passion, but it was a steady paycheck and provided insurance.
“Okay, so why don’t you quit?” I asked. “The whole point of moving to New York was to try your hand at acting anyway, right?”
“Well, you’re twenty-three with no student loans, no debt, no kids, no husband—doesn’t this seem like the right time to be working crappy waitressing jobs and nannying some Upper East Side brats in the name of pursuing your art?” I pressed.
“I don’t know—money just really stresses me out!” she burst out. “I just don’t pay attention to it and then hope I have enough at the end of the month.”
Her terrified response startled me. If a smart, savvy young professional like Lizzie, who came from a family of comfortable means and carried no student loan debt, couldn’t handle her relatively simple finances without freaking out, what did that mean for everyone else our age?
Wondering if Lizzie’s experience was a common problemwith my peers, I started asking around. Without fail, everyone responded with some version of Lizzie’s protest: Money was stressful, confusing, scary, and not to be discussed. No one wanted to touch the subject, even while wearing a hazmat suit. But not only was this fear keeping my friends from trying to understand how money worked; it was also preventing them from taking risks to get ahead in their careers and even perpetuating the deadly cycle of living from paycheck to paycheck with no plan for the future.
As I thought about this, I wondered, Why don’t I feel the same way? Am I missing something?
Then it dawned on me that growing up with parents who constantly used real-life moments to teach me about money (and deprived me of two Super Soakers) had prepared me to handle my financial affairs, and my fellow millennials hadn’t benefited from such preparation. But after seeing what money fears were doing to Lizzie and others, I needed to find a way to help other millennials experience what I had. So I decided to do what any slightly bored-at-work millennial would do: I started a blog about it.
BrokeMillennial.com launched as a place where I could take stories from my own life experiences and use them to talk about money as away to take the anxiety and confusion out of personal finance. It became my mission to prove that if I, a journalism and theater double major with a deep-rooted hatred for math, could become financially literate, then so could anyone else. While my parents were responsible for laying the groundwork for my financial literacy, I’ve always been intrigued by how money worked as well.Despite my aforementioned loathing of mathematics, numbers that were attached to dollar signs seemed to make sense to me. While I never focused on finance in college, I started reading books about personal finance basics like budgeting styles and credit scores and then moved on to studying economics and investing.These topics would find their way onto the blog as I continued to use a storytelling style to demystify basic financial concepts. Over time, I’ve cultivated and built strong financial skills and a deep knowledge of all money matters.
All of this occurred in the midst of trying to figure out my own financial life and dealing with common millennial scenarios, like notknowing how to negotiate properly for a raise, or working three jobs to make ends meet (I ate a lot of leftovers from a certain well-known mermaid-logo-using coffee chain), or trying to figure out how to set up a 401(k), or learning to stand up for myself in awkward financial situations with friends, or trying to handle moving home after college, an unfortunate reality many young professionals are forced to take these days. Not only have I survived all of these very real and important twentysomething life experiences,but I started sharing some of them on the blog, and now I’m laying my thoughts out for you in this book.
As the site began to gain a following—first by just friends and family, then a few hundred readers, and eventually thousands—my writing and thoughts on personal finance also started to catch the attention ofthe media. Since then, I’ve become a go-to expert on millennial personal finance, which has landed me on CBS Sunday Morning and gotten me quoted and interviewed in outlets including The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Marketplace, NBC News, New York magazine’s Web site The Cut, Mashable, and Refinery29, as well as a contributor position with Forbes.
Broke Millennial also led me to a new job at a Fin Tech start-up focused on comparing financial products for users. Under the guidance of the cofounders, who had illustrious careers in banking and a combined 30 years of experience between them, I began to learn the ins and outs of how banks make money and develop their financial products, and the common tricks and traps of dealing with financial institutions. Eventually, I even progressed to taking Certified Financial Planner courses to officially authenticate my knowledge on the subject of all things personal finance.
After writing the blog for four years and consulting both friends and complete strangers about basic personal finance topics, it’s clear to me how much anxiety about money still exists, especially for young people like you, and this needs to be fixed now. Failure to do so means you may not be able to afford the kids (or pets) you want to have, there will be no money for your 30-before-30 or 40-before-40 lists, or you’ll do those things in lieu of saving wisely, and then you’ll have to work until you kick the bucket because you chose to do your whole bucket list first. This may sound dramatic, but the point is that a lack of basic financial education sets you up to be sucked into the stressful black hole of the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle.
The good news is that you can break free of that (or avoid it entirely), and I’ll show you how. Despite what Wall Street and some media outlets want you to believe, money isn’t complicated, and it doesn’t require complex formulas. Financial empowerment does, however, require taking actionable steps toward improving your situation, and I’m here to help you figure out those steps.
I Hate Boring Financial Stuff, So Why Shouldn’t I Put This Book Down Right Now?
First of all, this book isn’t a boring lecture on money. (The world doesn’t need another one of those.) It’s more like a “choose your own adventure” guide to learning about personal finance. Whether you read it chronologically or flip through at random (it makes great bathroom reading material, believe it or not), each chapter will give you actionable advice on how to improve and further strengthen your relationship with money.
The first few chapters lay the foundation for you to embark on your journey toward building a healthy financial life. I’ll help you determine what your approach is toward money and what psychological blocks or pitfalls may surround it for you, as well as show you how to assess your financial know-how and improve it. Then we’ll tackle a host of topics ranging from budgeting to credit cards, paying down debt, and managing student loans.Many of the chapters address sticky situations millennials specifically face, such as negotiating your salary, navigating those awkward times when friendships and finances collide (like what to do when you can’t afford to split the dinner bill evenly with your pals), and getting financially naked with your partner. You’ll even learn a bit about investing, buying a house, and saving for retirement—and yes, all of those are possible, regardless of how much (or how little) you earn right now.
Though each chapter features stories of my own triumphs and failures in money matters, it’s not just me guiding you through this book.You’ll also hear from plenty of other millennials who figured out how to manage money successfully through their own missteps and industry, and financial experts offer lots of tips and tricks that will turn any financially clueless reader into a financially confident one.
You can take your sweet, sweet time with this book. Read a chapter at random when you need to spend some quality time in the Whiz Palace or flip to the retirement chapter when you start a new job and have no clue how to handle a 401(k). Maybe you just want to read about someone else screwing up and then figuring out how to make it right. There will be some financial jargon and charts and stats in this book, but it’s mostly a safe space for you to learn about money with more than a dash of humor. By the end, you’re going to feel confident instead of terrorized each time you balance your budget. Like I said, managing your money can be enjoyable . . . and even, dare I say, fun.
Before you start the adventure, and even if you eventually jump around and read chapters out of sequence, I encourage you to first digest chapters 2 and 3 to help you establish your money mental blocksand financial baseline. Okay, Broke Millennial, let’s get your financial lifetogether. #GYFLT