If your New Year’s resolution this year is to get your sh*t together—specifically, your financial sh*t—Gaby Dunn is here to help sort you out. The prolific podcaster, comedian, best selling author, and TomboyX fan (especially our long johns) released a book this week called Bad With Money based on her popular podcast of the same name. She gets to the bottom of the world of finance and seeks answers to questions that many are frankly embarrassed to ask—the book is chock-full of unpretentious tips for anyone who wants to take better control of their money and make informed choices for their future.
We chatted with Gaby about New Year’s resolutions, demystifying money, and the best financial advice she’s ever gotten.
What business does a self-described “deadbeat” have doling out financial advice?
I like to come at it from a place of relatability versus from an aspirational place. I think a lot of financial experts come at it from where they own yachts and live on private islands. I worry that they're a bit out of touch. I'm still going through it, so I can't really judge you, but I’ve spent the past few years learning a lot—I think it's just an ongoing beast. I’m learning in real time, and I'm sharing that journey. I think a lot of people don't share what they're going through until they've come out the other side. And I don't know that there is another side. I think you can get your shit together, as the title of the book proclaims, but I just don't know that it's ever going to be perfect.
Even as I get more financially solvent, I’m still on the phone with my investment guy getting everything explained to me as if I'm five-years-old, asking, "I'm sorry. Can you explain that again? One more time." When I go into my accountant, I record everything on my phone so I can listen back because I need to hear it a few times. I mean, I was reading through my investment statement that I have now for my retirement, and I had to read it for a few hours. And that's embarrassing because you want to be like, "oh, I get it." But I admit that I don't get it. And I think that makes people feel more comfortable. And I’m willing to do the work to sit there and get it. I, luckily, have the privilege and luxury of sitting there and reading through something for a couple hours that I'm sure other people don't have. So if I can do that, I feel like it's my job to then talk about that.
Do you think younger generations own being bad with money more so than previous generations? Why do you think that is?
Well, I think there is a social justice bent that our younger generations have now—Gen Z and millennials, especially. I think Gen X and Baby Boomers really had this thing about pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and having it be an isolating problem, where owning a home and having children were the markers of adulthood. I think that my generation doesn't feel that pressure as much. I know a lot of my friends go, "Yeah, I'm never going to own a home." And we just sort of accept that. I think there is more of an eyes wide open situation, where if our bosses treat us like shit, we might gather a group and try to fight back whereas I think a lot of older generations were just like, "you keep your head down and you work, and your boss is a dick to you and that's life." I think that we have a bit more transparency—we're willing our share our salaries with each other. We don't see it as an isolating problem. A lot of the people I've talked to are just more open about their situations because they know that it's more systemic than, I think, we were willing to talk about before. Which is great, because it actually allows for higher-up policy change and advocating for things that we need.
Are your book and podcast just for millennials? Or can anyone benefit from them?
I kind of thought so, but I've been shocked by how many older people listen to it. I think there’s some sort of perpetual adolescence that has come up. Not in a bad way, but people lost their jobs in 2008, or they lost their retirement funds, so they're sort of scrambling to figure out what to do now. Even people that are, not wealthy, but "put together" in a financial sense, or lucky enough to be making money.—they listen to the show, and they tell me that it helps them learn about what they can do to advocate for better policy for minimum wage workers or low-income people. Because I think those people often don't have time to get involved in things like the DSA or protesting because that takes time. It's almost on the shoulders of those people (with money) to do the work for people who are probably working multiple jobs or have children to take care of and can't really do that sort of legwork because it's just not in their schedule.
To be fair, your podcast isn’t so much about being bad with money as it is about financial literacy in the broadest sense of the term. What’s one topic you’ve covered that you were previously perplexed by that you’ve since demystified?
Investing has been better for me. I learned a lot about impact investing, which is when you make it a point to invest in places you believe in. I learned that, essentially, my investments and retirement fund are a form of gambling. I thought it was this very smart thing that you had to know a lot about to do. And now, I'm sort of like, you just make choices and hope it goes well. But you can make informed choices. I thought it was this untouchable thing. And I was like, "Wait a minute. You're not that much smarter than me. You're just thinking about it."
What is the number one best piece of financial advice you’ve received and how did it change you?
Just look at your stuff! It came from my girlfriend. She has a budget, and she sat me down, and I cried the whole time—lucky for her. She was like, "You need to write down when your bills come out and what account they're coming out of. You need to, at least, have a sense of how much money goes out every month. And you need to look at what your statements say." She's pretty into her budget, and so, she had me do it. I was miserable the whole time and I was such a brat throughout the whole process, and she put up with it. I printed out my bank statements, and I went through them with a highlighter and it took days. I was like, "What am I spending money on?" And then, I deleted Postmates—even though I used to work as a Postmate, so I have to support the gig economy, but I just deleted it off my phone. And I only knew to do that because I had printed out all my statements and was looking at what I was actually spending.
Do you do New Year's resolutions?
I don't really ever set them, I try to just say, "You'll be better this year." This year, I started working out more. A lot of times, I'm really depressive, just as my personality. And so, I go, "Okay. You got to be more positive this year." And I think that one sort of worked, actually, this year. My parents always say, and they've said this to me since I was a teenager. "When the good thing is happening, be in the good thing, and don't be like, 'Okay. What's next?'" And I always do this. Anytime something happens, they go "Are you happy?" And I go "oh...you know..." But you have to be happy about the thing right now. And so, I've really tried to do that, because they always go "You have to be excited about the thing that's currently happening. Take a day and be excited about it." I've actually really tried to do that more this year.
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Photo by Doug Frerichs. Book cover art by Atria/Simon & Schuster.