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Empowering your money

Gaby Dunn on personal finance advice that's 'a bit more grounded in reality'

When Gaby Dunn was starting out on her own, she found the majority of personal finance advice to be off-putting and only applicable to people who already had money.

Now a writer, actor, journalist, comedian, podcast host, and LGBTQ activist, Dunn vividly recalled the intimidation she felt when asking for help on her taxes and retirement contributions back when she was in her first few jobs out of school.

“A lot of the finance gurus that I was finding as I was looking for help were people who either came from means already or people who were very judgmental,” she said, calling out hosts who subscribe to a philosophy of beratement and deprecation.

“I've gone through it. I've had loans, I had student loans, I've cried in my bedroom about money,” she said. “I started from scratch. I had these odd jobs. I looked through my couch cushions or in my car for quarters.”

(Credit: Built By Girls)
(Credit: Built By Girls)

In 2016, she launched her podcast “Bad with Money” that explores all things money but in an environment that’s “a bit more grounded in reality,” free from judgment and one that acknowledges the privilege that’s associated with race, gender, and class.

During BUILT BY GIRLS Summit 2020: Get Ready for the Comeback, Dunn spoke in detail about how personal finance advice isn’t one-size-fits-all and how to take control of your financial future.

‘Be kind to yourself’

A lot of the popular budgeting tips and tracking apps are great, Dunn conceded, but said they really only work for a certain segment of people and don't necessarily apply to the self-employed or freelancers who sometimes wait months for payment on invoices.

There are lots of different strategies to employ, but it’s easy to fall into a budget trap of self-loathing when you’re overly granular and the unexpected happens.

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 07: Gaby Dunn attends the premiere of Netflix's 'Queer Eye' Season 1 at Pacific Design Center on February 7, 2018 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by JB Lacroix/ WireImage)
Gaby Dunn attends the premiere of Netflix's 'Queer Eye' Season 1 at Pacific Design Center on February 7, 2018 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by JB Lacroix/ WireImage)

“I would have a budget, and then my car would break down. Or I would have a budget, and then I would need a cavity filled,” she said. “I would beat myself up for not sticking to this thing when real life doesn't stick to the thing. If you're going to have a budget, at least be kind to yourself about it.”

Dunn said she’s found success with microsavings or apps that transfer amounts of $1 or $2 from a checking account to a savings one that can be earmarked for different purposes like a new pair of shoes or a vacation.

Her greatest financial success doesn’t come in an app; instead, it’s analog.

“I printed out my bank statements. I went through them each month. And I would highlight what I didn't know what it was, or what was repeating a lot,” she said.

‘Your job is literally to protect yourself’

The transition from school to the professional world is daunting as you learn a new job. Adding to the pressures of navigating a new company is how to communicate about your compensation, especially when you “don't want to make waves,” she said.

“I used to think, if I made any sort of trouble, or if I reminded them that I worked there, they would fire me,” Dunn said. “I was very, very scared.”

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The intimidation she felt held her back from crucial financial opportunities of growth like salary negotiation, retirement contributions, and health benefits selection. Dunn recommended to everyone who is starting out to swallow their pride and lean on their human resources department for assistance.

“That's what HR is for,” she said. “Sit down with HR, and ask them: ‘What's our insurance policy? What's the best one? Do we have 401k? Do we have matching? I need you to walk me through this paperwork, I need you to walk me through what my best options are.’”

“That's literally their job,” she said. “Your job is literally to protect yourself.”

Stephanie is a reporter for Yahoo Money and Cashay, a new personal finance website. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @SJAsymkos.

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