Podcaster and comedian Gaby Dunn never thought she’d write a book about money—let alone become a voice of financial literacy among millennials.
For most of her adult life, Dunn didn’t understand her finances, mostly because she didn’t take the time to look at them. Weighed down by student loans and credit card debt, it was easier for her to leave mail unopened than face the grim reality inside the envelope.
“I never looked at my bank account or student loan account, and I barely opened my mail,” she said. “It was always bad news. Why would I bring that negativity into my life?”
Soon, though, money became a topic she couldn’t avoid. After an article she wrote about the economics of YouTube went viral, Dunn launched her podcast, “Bad with Money,” with the aim of starting conversations about this topic that makes so many of us feel alone, anxious, or ashamed.
And therein lies Dunn’s M.O. for personal finance.
Released January 1, 2019, “Bad With Money: The Imperfect Art of Getting Your Financial Sh*t Together,” captures her refreshing approach: You don’t have to be a financial guru. But if you don’t talk about money, you can’t fix it.
While Dunn focuses more on mindset and context than specific tips and tricks, the lessons she learned on her own journey of facing her finances ring true for those of us who would rather leave credit card statements and bills unopened.
Not sure where to begin on your own personal finance journey? Here are a few non-intimidating steps to start with.
Sit down with someone at your bank
You know those bankers who just hang out at their desks all day? Start with them. You may be surprised what you can learn about your accounts—and the perks that come with them—if you take the time to ask.
In a 30-minute appointment with a banker at her local branch, Dunn learned that not only did she have year-old cash rewards sitting on her credit card account, but she made enough money to upgrade to an account without fees—two things that could have benefited her much sooner.
Audit your student loans and credit cards
Dunn’s $30,000 in student loans felt overwhelming to her, so she just split the payments evenly and forgot about them. But when she opened up her accounts, she realized one of them had a much higher interest rate than the others. “I never would have known I had a loan with a 15 percent interest rate if I wouldn’t have checked it out,” she said. “So instead of making all my payments evenly, I started focusing on that one.”
The same principle applies to credit card debt: If there’s one with a much higher interest rate, her advice is to try to knock it out first while maintaining the minimum payments on the others.
Keep track of your bills
After being repeatedly pummeled by overdraft fees from recurring bills, Dunn decided it was time to hunker down on what was coming out of her account and when. The basic knowledge of when recurring payments came out of her account empowered her to make better financial choices the rest of the month.
It may feel overwhelming, but tracking your own bills doesn’t have to be complicated. “I just went through all my autopayments and wrote down how much they were and what date they came out, then put them in a note on my phone.”
Choose credit cards that actually benefit you
If credit cards are inevitable, then be intentional about them. While zero percent interest cards are beneficial for those who can pay them off quickly, the interest rates often skyrocket after the first year—which Dunn had no idea about. “I had the same credit card for five years; the interest rate was zero for one year, then it was 16 percent after the offer expired,” she said. “So I went and got a different credit card and just put that one away.”
When opening up her new card, Dunn tried to be more thoughtful about how the spending could actually benefit her, asking herself, “Do I want cash rewards or travel rewards? What’s my actual lifestyle? What’s the best use of my points?”
Go through your bank statement annually
Seeing what she she spent money on was a huge step for Dunn to reduce unnecessary spending, and to feel less anxious about money in general. “I printed out my bank statement for the year, then went through it with a highlighter to see what I spent the most on and what I could get rid of,” Dunn said.
In her audit, she noticed a few trends: She’d frequently overpay on parking meters and she ordered food delivery a lot. Rather than overhauling her whole budget, she took some simple steps. On top of canceling a duplicate Dropbox account, Dunn deleted the Postmates app from her phone and started being more intentional with how much she plugged in parking meters.
“I didn’t realize how much money I was spending on little things,” she said. “Looking into stuff really changes what you focus on and what you do.”
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