How I Get It Done: Money Expert Farnoosh Torabi Splurges on a Personal Stylist

Farnoosh Torabi. Photo-Illustration: by Stevie Remsberg; Illustration by Lauren Tamaki

Get That Money is an exploration of the many ways we think about our finances — what we earn, what we have, and what we want.

Author, talking head, and personal finance guru Farnoosh Torabi started her career as a journalist at Money magazine — ironic, given that she was $30,000 in debt at the time and regularly smuggled toilet paper home from her parents’ house. Fifteen years later, she’s the host of her own podcast, So Money, and a best-selling author of several books, including When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women (and in case you were wondering, her debt is long gone). You may also recognize her from her regular appearances on NBC’s Today show, Good Morning America, and The View. On top of all that, she recently started a new company, Stacks House, a touring pop-up where women can get help managing their money (launching in April). She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two kids, ages 2 and 4. Here’s how she gets it done.

On a typical morning:
I wake up between 6:30 and 7 a.m. to the sound of my 2-year-old daughter — “Mommy?” She’s so consistent that I don’t need to set an alarm unless I have to be somewhere really early, like if I have a Today show hit and the car’s coming at 6 a.m. I’m a big night-before preparer. Typically I pack lunches after dinner so that the morning is just a matter of getting kids dressed and cereal in a bowl. My daughter’s nanny comes at 8 a.m., and my husband takes my son to the bus around the same time. Then he always brings me an Americano with steamed almond milk from a café across the street. I know some people who are like, “My husband always makes me coffee and brings it to me in bed.” And I’m like, “Shut up. You’re lying. Who drinks coffee in bed on a Tuesday?”

On recording her podcast:
I have a hard stop for recording at 3:30 p.m. because that’s when my son comes home and the house is no longer quiet, so that forces me to stay on schedule. I record at a little desk in our bedroom. I’ve found that the sound quality is okay, or at least no one’s complained about it. When I started the podcast four years ago, I would go into the closet with a blanket over my head to cut out ambient noise, but now I just have a good microphone and it’s fine. A lot of people think you need a studio all kinds of equipment, but I’ve found it’s not necessary.

On getting wardrobe help:
Normally my uniform is a button-down shirt and jeans and boots. I can wear it to the kids’ school, I can wear it to the grocery store, I can wear it to do Facebook Live. But I went to a Dress for Success breakfast the other morning and when I walked in, I was like, “Wait, does everyone have false eyelashes now?” There were some celebrities there, and I just felt so shabby next to them. I have nice clothes, but I was like, “Hm, maybe I need to upgrade.”

A couple of years ago I hired a personal shopper and stylist. I pay her, obviously, but I think she ultimately saves me money because she gets me things I actually wear. Her name is Amy Salinger and she will come to my house, see what I have, and augment the stuff in my closet. She’ll add accessories, belts, a blazer, some new color, and suddenly my wardrobe potential goes from five outfits to 50 just because she bought me eight new things. And of course, the convenience is really where the value is. I’ll meet her at a department store for 45 minutes, and she’s already been there for two hours pulling things for me. I just go in, try it on, say yes or no, and then the clothes will get delivered to my house. I do that once a year or so.

Amy also saves me a lot of time in the morning when I’m trying to figure out what to wear. Part of her service is that after she shops for me, she comes to my home, styles ten to 12 outfits, and then takes photos of me on my phone so that I have pictures that I can scroll through when I’m trying to get dressed.

On teaching her kids about money:
Money was one of my daughter’s first words. We were at a restaurant and she pointed to the bill and said “money” with a big grin, and it was awesome. I was like, “My work as a parent is done!” For my son, who’s 4, we teach him about money at the grocery store. He’ll grab a bitty cart, and then he’ll fill it up and we talk about what we need, what we don’t need, what we already have at home. He may not understand compound interest, but he’s learning about how to make choices based on needs versus wants. It’s hard to explain to him what happens at the cash register because credit cards are not very concrete, but he knows there’s some kind of transaction — we don’t just take our groceries and leave.

On managing her inbox:
If I flag an email to return to later, it never works. I have to respond the moment that I get it, otherwise it’ll get lost. I prefer talking to typing, so I use the Gmail recorder to voice transcribe my emails. I also talk into my phone constantly. I’m always telling Siri to remind me to do things. And the Notes tool is basically my planner. If it’s not in my Notes, it doesn’t exist. At this stage in my life, I can’t retain things in my brain. Unfortunately, there are some things that live on the list forever. Like, getting a new P.O. box for my business has been on there for months.

On taking comedy classes:
Stand-up comedy was one of those things on my bucket list, so I took a six-week course last summer at the Manhattan Comedy School. I laughed a lot, but more importantly, it taught me to look for the joke in everything. I was constantly trying to come up with material. It was also great for situations that would otherwise make me want to cry, like when my kid is tearing up my house like a naked Tasmanian devil getting acai yogurt everywhere. I don’t know if doing stand-up made me funnier, but it definitely made me sillier. It also made me looser — like, I can say the jokes in my mind out loud and be okay with people not thinking they’re funny.

On being obsessively tidy:
I’m a neat freak. I always make my bed in the morning. Always. If I don’t, I feel like I’m walking with my shoes on the wrong feet all day. At night, I need to make sure the pillows are fluffed, the dishes are out of the sink, and the countertops are clean. There’s research about how women who make more money than their husbands actually do more housework than wives who makes less or about the same, because they’re overcompensating. I don’t want to fall into that trap, but I just care about having the house in order. If I walked into someone’s house and it’s a mess, I would judge that person. My house isn’t 100 percent clean all the time, but it gives me peace of mind to go to bed knowing there aren’t crumbs on the kitchen floor. I think it’s better for my kids, too. When I was little and I came home from school to a clean house, I just felt safer.

On caffeine versus alcohol:
I really would like to go to bed earlier than I do, but I don’t think it is biologically possible. I am forever a night owl. The only time you’ll find me going to bed before 10 p.m. is maybe when I’ve had a glass of wine with dinner. I cannot tolerate alcohol anymore. If I have even a few sips of wine at 6, I’m out by like, 8:30 p.m. Other than that, sometimes my son convinces me to sleep in his bed with him for just a few minutes, and then that turns into the next 11 hours. That happens once a week or so, but usually I’m in bed by midnight, and then I’m up again at 6:30 a.m. Yes, I’m very tired. I drink a lot of coffee. Caffeine basically doesn’t affect me anymore, but I don’t know what else to take. I wish I had more tolerance with alcohol, and less tolerance with coffee. That would be my perfect world.

Last fall I tried the Whole30 diet and it was really not that bad. Since then, I’ve pretty much given up dairy. I’ll still have a slice of pizza now and then, but I’ve stopped putting milk in my coffee. I struggle with the alternatives, though. Every option has its own problem. A while ago all the baristas started shaming me about almond milk. They were like, “Oh … the carbon footprint of almond milk is really bad.” So I tried to switch to oat milk, which seemed good at first because it smells like a muffin, but as it turns out, it basically is a muffin, nutrition-wise. So now I don’t want the oat milk, but I’m embarrassed to ask for almond milk, and soy milk isn’t supposed to be great for you either. As a result, I drink my coffee black most of the time except for when my husband gets me my coffee with almond milk and I’m not the one being judged.

On splitting finances with her husband:
My husband makes less than me, but we split our finances so that his role is to save for long-term stuff for the family. He contributes to the children’s college-savings accounts and other education bills. He pays for all of our trips and vacations. And then I cover most of our day-to-day stuff. When there’s an income disparity in couples, it’s easy for the person who makes less to feel like less of a provider, and this is our way of working around that. It’s a reminder to both of us that his money still carries a lot of weight.

We have both separate and joint accounts, which I recommend. If nothing else, just keep separate accounts. If I go get my hair done, I don’t don’t want to feel like I have to tell my husband how much it cost.

On saving money:
When I was in grad school for journalism at Columbia, I lived in a tiny room that I rented from a married couple for $500 a month. I would do it again because it was so cheap, even though there were obvious downsides. My roommates ended up having marital problems and got divorced, so I was an uncomfortable bystander for some of that. On weekends, I would take the Greyhound bus back to my parents’ house in Massachusetts to save money, because then I wouldn’t be tempted to go out in the city and do all the things that people my age were normally doing on weekends. When I came back on Sundays, I’d bring toilet paper and clementines and anything that I could carry on the bus. That probably saved me an extra $25 to $30 a week, which adds up when you’re a grad student.

To save money now, I use a similar tactic of filling up my schedule with low-cost stuff like exercise and playdates for the kids so that I’m too busy to shop online or go out to eat. Another big thing for me is removing my phone from my bedroom at night. Otherwise, I’ll do a lot of shopping on Instagram between the hours of 9 and 11 p.m. if I’m not careful.

Money Expert Farnoosh Torabi Splurges on a Personal Stylist