‘Bad With Money’ podcaster Gaby Dunn tells us how she’s helping women overcome their personal finance fears.
There is no financial topic too embarrassing for Gaby Dunn.
The 31-year-old host of the podcast "Bad With Money," now in its fifth season, has attracted a huge following, with 5 million downloads and counting. She’s forthright and funny about her own money mistakes, including one that “haunts me,” Dunn said. (She rented a house and then had to move out almost immediately because she couldn’t afford it).
Dunn also encourages her guests -- from big names like former presidential contender Andrew Yang to like-minded pals -- to open up.
In the process, she's helping dismantle the stigma of financial mismanagement, a topic she encourages her followers to face without shame.
At the same time, her show explores how badly the personal finance deck is stacked against women, minorities, the LGBTQ community, immigrants and the disabled. “If you’re black, brown, queer, trans, living with disability, etc., you’re working within a system that doesn’t cater to you, which just makes life even harder,” she told Vanity Fair in January.
Dunn, a Florida native, brings a bevy of accolades to the airwaves. She’s a New York Times best-selling author, a comedian, an actress and the co-host of the YouTube series "Just Between Us,” a self-described “odd couple comedy channel,” in which she and her best friend, comic Allison Raskin, talk about sex, relationships and other subjects.
Dunn, a feminist activist who’s openly bisexual and polyamorous, published her first graphic novel, the racy noir "Bury the Lede," in October.
We asked reporter Sara Stewart to speak with Dunn, and the interview occurred shortly before the recording of a "Bad With Money" episode featuring aerospace engineer Kathleen Howell at Stitcher’s Studios in Hollywood.
myWorth: We’re in awe of how many gigs you've got going. Will that continue or do you plan to eventually focus on one thing?
Gaby Dunn: The way I grew up, there's this scarcity mindset: It's never enough, this could go away at any time. So it's been really helpful to have four or five things going at once. If they all go, amazing; if they don't, I can just hop to this other thing. But I always feel like it's never enough.
MW: So no downtime for you?
GD: If I'm relaxing, I'm like, I could be making money. I think [seeing] the meaning of life as synonymous with work has happened to me, and has happened to many of us in my generation. But I do see a little bit of pushback, where some people are like, "I wasn't born to work for the man and then die."
MW: Many women have a tough time finding the right mix of work and play.
GD: There seems to be a little more consciousness of that. People don't feel they need to be working 24/7 at multiple jobs just to barely scrape by. Season five of ["Bad With Money"] has been very international, and other places prioritize work-life balance a lot more than we do.
MW: Do you still consider yourself bad with money?
GD: I'm way more on top of things than I used to be. I still get anxious when I get a paycheck, that this is the last one I'll ever get. My parents say, "When you get the check, put some aside!" And I'm like, "No!" I'm resentful of day-to-day expenses, but I'm not bad with money in the sense that I [no longer] bury my head in the sand. It sucks to pay attention. It's a full-time job. I had no idea how much time paying bills and taxes would eat up.
MW: What are the main factors preventing young women from getting their finances straightened out?
GD: Student loans. There was this assumption that you needed to take out so much money to go to school, and now it's, you know, our fault, for some reason. Medical debt is huge. It's also the anxiety of talking about money with friends. Because sometimes social media makes you feel like you have to be keeping up. It's hard to talk about what's going on with your finances because you want to seem as if things are going really well.
MW: You dealt with this yourself.
GD: My biggest problem was lying to myself, and not ever looking into anything. I absolutely cried when I had to go through my bank account and figure out a budget. I cried for three days, no joke, crying on the floor. It sucks. But you just have to start. I used to be very scared of opening my mail, and now it's like muscle memory. You start checking your credit card bills. It becomes second nature.
MW: Your podcast looks at our financial system through the lens of social justice. How are some people getting taken advantage of?
GD: There's all these things we don't take into account. Women couldn't have credit cards until the 1970s. Or generational wealth. A lot of people don't have that, because they're coming out of slavery, or because they immigrated here and had to give it all up.
MW: You also point to cultural barriers and how mainstream media speaks to a limited audience when discussing finance issues.
GD: [They offer] a lot of advice about talking to your partner about money that, for me as a queer person, feels very gender-normative, very heterosexual. I think people make themselves feel so guilty about not being able to reach financial benchmarks they're never gonna be able to reach, because the advice isn't for them.
MW: Do you think the old financial guard is threatened by the new, diverse, pansexual community?
GD: I think they're perplexed. There's much more of an ability for different voices to be included in the conversation now. So the people of the old guard are confused as to why there's backlash, because they're used to just saying things without introspection or the need to include anyone else.
MW: The Supreme Court recently ruled that immigrants should not receive green cards if they are deemed likely to become a "public charge." Your reaction?
GD: That's thinly veiled ableism. That's very much tied to not wanting to allow disabled people into the country, which is its own form of eugenics. It's all under the guise of patriotism, or American work ethic, but it's just a way of dehumanizing and saying if you don't work, if you don't have means, you're not a worthwhile person. And that is something people my age are really pushing back against. People are slowly coming around to be like, that's actually f*cked up.
MW: Your episode with Suze Orman highlights differences in your approaches: You don't believe in shaming people. And that's kind of her schtick.
GD: We're both queer women, but I'm a different generation. I would never call people stupid. Probably it's better TV to call people stupid. But people in my generation and younger are looking into things a bit deeper. They’re like, "No, that's actually damaging." It takes the focus off blaming yourself and puts it onto wanting to be more politically engaged. [Orman] also does a lot of work with financial abuse victims, and she doesn't get a lot of attention for that.
MW: Debt, as you’ve said, is a big obstacle to financial wellness. How long did it take you to pay off yours?
GD: It was a long period, but I spaced it out based on interest. The [loan] that had the highest interest, I paid that one off first. I put them in order. I've paid them off now. But I don't know, everything could just happen again! You're one medical diagnosis away from bankruptcy. I don't take a lot of time to celebrate stuff. I get very in my head about what if it happens again.
MW: How did you find a financial adviser?
GD: I had a lot of trouble. I had this accountant, and I couldn't understand what they were saying; I couldn't understand the words they were using, and they would never rephrase it.
MW: So what did you do?
GD: My therapist was like, "You should not be having that problem. You should have someone who is talking on your level and isn't making you feel dismissed." I'm like, "He's my accountant, aren't they all the same?" She's like, "No, they're not. You can get a different one. Just like with a therapist. Vet different ones, until one gels with you." Asking for that doesn't mean you're stupid. You're trying to get more clarity. I feel so much better about the guy I have now.
MW: What about when you’re on the air? Do you worry listeners tune out when you use financial lingo? How do you combat that impulse?
GD: You have to share your own experiences. I did that with the "Bad With Money" book. I shared a bunch of my own mistakes and experiences. I think a lot of financial advice comes from people who are like, "I'm perfect, I've been perfect, and here's what I did to be perfect."
MW: How do you get past that?
GD: A lot of the pushback on advice is people saying, "You don't get it. It's hard." And I'm like, "I get it. I know it's hard." I try to interview different voices, people you wouldn't normally hear on money shows. I try not to book straight white guys. If you want to hear a straight white guy, you can hear them somewhere else. Everywhere else!
Sara Stewart is a film critic and features writer at The New York Post. She is the co-author of the memoir “Girl on a Wire” and a freelancer who’s written about cancer and the painkiller backlash for CNN Opinion, environmental activism for The Contently Foundation for Investigative Journalism/The Huffington Post, film critiquing while feminist for The Hollywood Reporter, television for Women and Hollywood, sex and love for Cosmopolitan, women and finance for Glamour, world travels for CNN Travel, NY Post, and Yahoo! Travel, and more. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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