Your ebook and audiobook for Scribd, Stimulus Wreck: Rebuilding After a Financial Disaster, is sound advice for anyone who has deeply felt the monetary effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. What’s the main takeaway you’d like readers to have in this post-pandemic world?
Gaby Dunn: The main takeaway that I’d like readers to have from the book is that a lot of this was unpredictable. And I mean, by the average person. Obviously, the government fumbled their pandemic response. We know that there had been a lot of ways in which they could have had better systems in place for if something like this happened. But for the average person, there’s no way you could have seen this coming. How could you have predicted this? How could you have known that while you scramble to pay your bills or deal with unexpected medical costs or figure out your student loans — maybe you’ve just graduated — how were you supposed to know that you were walking into a global pandemic?
It’s unprecedented. It hasn’t happened since 1918. On a micro scale, the same thing can be said for an unexpected death in the family, an unexpected diagnosis, a house burning down, all kinds of unexpected emergencies — from an appendectomy to a flood. There are so many things that can happen that affect your money that are not within your control because most of life isn’t in your control. So it doesn’t have to be necessarily one defining life altering moment. It can be a series of life circumstances and all-over-the place events that you live with day to day.
Obviously, you can’t predict a car accident or a cancer diagnosis. But I want this book to also be for people who have a crisis every day. I think a lot of money media puts shame on people for that. So I would honestly love [it] if people could take away from this book that there is no reason to have any shame about this, from an unexpected pandemic to even something that maybe is a mistake. Maybe you forgot to pay a bill, and now, it’s gone into a debt collector and now it’s on your credit score. People make mistakes. There’s no world in which you can be perfect at all times. So even things that are unprecedented or are not predictable can be thought of on the same level as things that you’re like, “I should have known better.” Those are still things that I don’t think you should beat yourself up about. If you weren’t affected by the pandemic, specifically, in a monetary way, I think I would just like people to take away that there is a pandemic for every aspect of life. You can’t predict any of it. To try to control all of it just makes you miserable and takes away from the actual, tangible steps you need.
As host of the Bad with Money podcast, what have you learned from experts you’ve interviewed or listeners you’ve interacted with regarding their financial concerns after the last two years?
Gaby Dunn: As the host of the Bad with Money podcast, I’ve learned that there are two different types of experts. I try to have a good mix of both on the show. Some are people who have broad systemic ideas for change, people who want to talk about UBI or reparations or white feminism or the problems with disability benefits. Then there are people who take a more micro, personal finance look at things where they provide different ways to budget, or they have stock tips. I think I try to merge those two together. The pandemic has been really good for more people understanding that you cannot have financial advice without those two forms of experts. You can’t talk about budgeting without talking about student loan debt. You can’t talk about saving for a wedding without talking about how disabled people are not allowed to get married, really, because it may cut into their benefits. You can’t talk about mortgages without talking about racism. To give any sort of financial advice after the last two years — without taking into account what the world looks like — I hope will be seen as almost silly now.
Is there anyone whom you haven’t had as a guest yet on the Bad with Money podcast whose insight you’d really enjoy sharing with listeners?
Gaby Dunn: There are so many people that I’d love to have on the show. My list is so long and there are so many guests that I would love to have that I haven’t. Obviously, the celebrity answer is maybe Oprah, but I have really mostly enjoyed talking to academics and not celebrities or financial personalities. I enjoy anyone who has studied something for a really long time. One of my favorite guests was UMass Amherst professor and gambling expert Dr. Rachel Volberg, who has studied gambling and winning money for decades as an academic. It was an episode about winning money. This person is such an expert, but when would they ever be on a podcast?
I enjoy having people on who have never done a podcast because I think there are people that dedicate their lives to researching economic trends and the ways in which the financial system could be better and they’re ignored in the popular narrative for people who just have really good talking head-type personalities. So I’ve really enjoyed having academics you’ve never heard of on the show and I’d love to have more. I don’t know if that sounds pretentious.
What is the single best piece of financial or investment advice you’ve ever received?
Gaby Dunn: The best advice I’ve ever received is to look at everything. Many people have told me that: Vicki Robin talks about it in her book, Your Money Or Your Life. “The Budgetnista” Tiffany Aliche talks about it. Basically, the idea is you cannot bury your head in the sand. You must look at everything. You must open all your mail. You must look at what everything in your life costs.
How much does your desk cost? If you had to sell this lamp next to you in a pinch, how much would that cost? Is there some sort of credit card offer that you’re not taking advantage of that would actually benefit you? Do you have airline miles? The thing with “bad with money” is that it’s a phrase that we throw around towards people that are low income or poor. What it actually means is people who don’t pay attention.
What about the worst advice?
Gaby Dunn: The worst I would say is the Dave Ramsey approach of cutting everything in your life. Also, I think sometimes when gurus say, “Don’t do this, don’t do that,” in terms of lifestyle, when they’re telling someone to save money, they don’t realize that the people they’re advising are already not doing any of that. Experts don’t take that into account. A lot of financial advice is only aimed at cis, straight, white, able-bodied, middle-class people. And there [are] assumptions about what kind of lifestyle that person is leading and then the advice only fits that small subsection and comes across as ignorant for anyone else.
You’ve spoken about the importance of representation when it comes to how relatable advice is for an individual, particularly regarding money. Can you talk a little bit about why representation is so important?
Gaby Dunn: The reason representation is important when it comes to money media is the same reason I tell people that they should have a financial advisor or an accountant who is from their same group, whether that’s socioeconomic class, race, or gender. It doesn’t have to be a Black person because you’re a Black person, or a queer person because you’re a queer person. It can be someone that you interview and find out that you are both from similar backgrounds. Maybe you both grew up in the swampy areas of Florida, or you both grew up in towns with less than 10,000 people; someone who understands where you come from, the way that you think, your background, and any unexpected expenses that might come up for someone specifically like you.
It makes more sense to listen to financial advisors who don’t presume that you live a life that you don’t live, or that you want things you don’t actually want, or presume that everybody wants to get married, everybody wants to own a home, everybody wants to have children, or that everyone wants to work the same type of job.
What’s been great in the last few years is the rise in Black women financial advisors. I’ve seen so many more Black women speaking out about what to do with money and about how they view money. Watching that rise has been so educational for me, and also so incredible to see these resources being shared. Broke Black Girl is an incredible financial advisor; her Facebook community has, like, 70,000 Black women in it. It’s an audience that is not targeted by traditional money media, so it’s people [who] need to be represented and need this information and are just not catered to — in a way that they should be.
Finally, NFTs are mentioned very briefly in Stimulus Wreck. What are your thoughts about the current excitement around non-fungible tokens?
Gaby Dunn: I had one opinion about NFTs and then it changed entirely because I just interviewed Klara Vollstaedt, who is an NFT fine artist and a trans woman. We had a really interesting talk about NFTs, as two trans people, because I had not considered it previously to be so similar to the mainstream art world. I had not previously considered NFTs as a way for artists to find accessible clients outside, for example, being the privileged child of a gallery owner in New York City. I do like the democratization of that. Then, Klara even made some good points about the PFP projects, which are the profile picture projects that are largely run by people that are the more annoying NFT-type people that you see on the internet. But we talked about it as trans people wanting to control how we’re viewed on the internet, wanting to be able to control our images, and that being able to do that through NFTs was actually really exciting for her and is probably exciting for a lot of trans people.
There is a large trans community, actually, in the NFT space, which doesn’t surprise me because I think a lot of us are consumed with perception, and the internet allows us to control how we’re perceived. NFTs are terrible for the environment because it uses so much energy, so we’re actually about to have two Bad with Money episodes coming out: One is with Klara about the fine art world of NFTs and the democratization of the art world as such and her ability to, honestly, afford all of her trans surgeries by selling her art. Then we’re also going to do an episode that is more focused on the cons and NFTs, and cryptos’ climate change issues.
If stagnant wages and rising inflation have you worried about making ends meet, this sympathetic money advice will help get you on the right track. Bad with Money podcast host Dunn has invested years learning how to get their finances in order and sought all avenues on the path to financial stability; in Stimulus Wreck, they guide you through the myriad of resources they find helpful.