Gaby Dunn may struggle with money, but it’s not all bad — the journalist-slash-comedian has turned her financial woes into a career. As the host of the Bad With Money podcast (which was named one of the “Best New Podcasts of 2016” by the New York Times and deemed an “essential” listen by Vulture) and author of the new self-help book, Bad With Money: The Imperfect Art of Getting Your Financial Sh*t Together, Dunn spends her days navigating the ins and outs of other people’s money issues as well as her own. With her comedy partner Allison Raskin, she’s also the co-author of the New York Times best-selling book I Hate Everyone But You and is about to launch a new variety-show podcast, Just Between Us. Here’s how she gets it done.
On a typical morning:
I wake up at 8 or 8:30 a.m. and I will usually make a coffee. I like it very strong, and my girlfriend doesn’t, so that’s a point of contention. Usually I’ll look at my phone and see what emails I’ve gotten and if there’s any I can just answer right away. Then I will go through Instagram. I don’t really look at Twitter because I don’t like like it very much; I don’t even have it on my phone. And when I wake up, I want to look at my friends having fun on Instagram; I don’t need to be like, “The government’s bad!” Then I’ll usually have some cereal or more cups of coffee, which is not recommended by my psychiatrist but I still do it, and I walk and feed my dog.
On working out:
This is the weirdest thing: I have a trainer at the gym, but at a huge discount — and I have that discount for being an “influencer.” But you only start getting stuff for free once you have the ability to start paying for it. I get $50 off. So instead of $100 per session, it’s $50 per session. But it’s so strange; my career is doing better, so I get money off? That doesn’t make sense to me.
On getting into podcasting:
I majored in journalism in school and worked in journalism for years — I was a reporter for the Boston Globe, and I’ve written for the New York Times — but then I started working on scripts. When I moved out to L.A., I met my YouTube partner Allison Raskin while doing stand-up. I took some time off from journalism to do funny video content, and when I started writing articles again, I had all these fans who were like, “Oh, we didn’t know that Gaby was a journalist.” It was funny to have to be like, “No, I was a journalist this whole time.” The podcast is the perfect marriage of those two skills — comedy and journalism. Money is such a dry subject, so I think it helps that I have an improv background, and I can be funny about it.
How her perception of money has changed:
I’m less scared of it now, but I used to just see anything about money and start crying. I didn’t know anything. I never looked at my bank account. I didn’t know what a retirement fund was. I would have never even considered looking at the stock market. I never thought about money unless it was to be like, “I don’t have enough,” and I would always just scrape by. If I needed $100 and I didn’t have it, I would be like, “What can I pawn?” Now it’s so different. I really look at my bills, I look at my bank account, I think about what I’m spending. I actually stayed on the phone for an hour trying to figure out retirement stuff. There was $15 stuck in my PayPal account, so I got on the phone with PayPal and got that $15. Before I had the podcast and the book, I would have been like, “I don’t know, I can’t deal with it, I’ll just lose that $15.”
On why people don’t talk about money:
It’s embarrassing! Everyone’s judgmental. If you’re rich, or if you’re poor or broke, either way, you’re getting judged because people are snotty. Why would you invite those opinions into your life? I certainly didn’t want to, and when the podcast first started, I hated getting emails — and they were almost all from men — being like, “Here’s what you need to do” and “This is why you’re bad with money.” When we think we’re wrong, we allow ourselves to be berated. But because we don’t talk about it, we don’t know what’s wrong or normal. So everyone’s judging themselves against this information that we’re either making up or we don’t have. We usually have no idea whose parents give them money, or who has two jobs, or whose salaries are higher or lower.
I barely made freelancing work. I would freelance for a while, and then I would freak out and get a day job, and then I would freelance, and then I would freak out and get a day job, and then I would quit or get fired. So I was not a good freelancer, and I never kept track of things. But what I do now is somewhat freelance, so I have a list of payments and when they’re coming in. I see friends of mine who have really extensive Excel spreadsheets with payments, acceptances, and rejections. When I was freelancing, I never had that, and I would feel ashamed of emailing a place twice. I’d be like, “Hi guys! It’s been six months! Where’s my check?” And inside, I’d be like, “I’m garbage, I can’t believe I have to send this email.” But nobody’s in a rush to pay you, so you shouldn’t be embarrassed about needing to get paid — because they’re wrong, and you’re right.
On affording therapy:
There are apps now for therapy, which I did for a little while and found it was more inexpensive. When I was in New York, I would go to a center that did therapy on a sliding scale because the therapists were students. Truly, what’s very expensive is having a psychiatrist; going on medication is very expensive. A therapist is less expensive than the psychiatrist I go to, which is an exorbitant fee but that can be covered by insurance if you have it. When I started with my current therapist, I said, “Look this is what I can pay,” and a lot of times they’ll put you on a payment plan. She now keeps me on that payment plan because she likes me.
I just had a girl message me to ask, “I just got some extra money. Do I open a savings account or go to therapy?” That was tough. I recommended that she go to therapy just because I thought, “You can’t know that your savings account will be safe from your own brain if you aren’t taking care of it.” It’s something that comes up a lot, and it’s really personal and shitty. Also, it sucks to go into a therapist’s office and say, “I can’t afford this.” It took me so long to get rid of the emotional weight of saying that in general. People don’t talk about how it takes a physical toll on you. It made me really exhausted.
On writing the Bad With Money book:
I got the book deal in 2017, and I was given a year to write it. I stared at the blank page for so long and finally I was like, “You just have to start typing. It doesn’t have to be good. Just start.” Because you can’t edit something that doesn’t exist. I wound up overwriting it, because I thought it would be better to give them stuff to cut than be struggling to fill pages. Whole chapters got cut; a lot of stuff was cut.
A nonfiction book is the toughest thing in the world. With the novel [I Hate Everyone But You, co-written by Raskin], we just rented an office and stayed in it for months and wrote. But with a nonfiction book, you’re traveling, you’re interviewing, you’re going through transcripts. It’s just way more intensive. Then you have to think about, “I love this part, but is this serving the chapters?” I turned in like 40,000 more words than needed, and then I let an editor go, “Okay, you repeat yourself here,” and “You don’t need this, you don’t need that.”
The best financial advice she’s received:
“Being afraid of it isn’t going to make it go away, so just look at it.” I know it sucks — it took so much emotional energy for me to even start going through my student loans and my credit card debt — but looking at the interest rates was so key. When I was paying off my student loans, I was initially paying them all evenly. Then I saw that one of them had an interest rate that was 10 percent higher than the others. I was like, “Fuck, this one is the one I should be focused on.” I could have gone through the next 20 years of my life never knowing. So you just have to look.
This interview has been edited and condensed.