Erin Lowry: Personal finance for Millennials

erin lowry millennial

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First of all, how random that my colleague Erin Lowry, leading expert on Millennials and their money and author of the book Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping By and Get Your Financial Life Together, and fellow money blogger, lives across the street from me in Astoria, Queens?! When we're not hanging out, I sometimes bump into her on the street as she's walking her dog, or going to dinner with her nice boyfriend. Also, totally random, this year both of us have books out with the same Penguin Random House imprint, TarcherPerigee. Also, less random (see what I did there??), we both supported Hillary, and are resistance activists, and co-hosted a post-card writing party in the hood.

broke millennial


In this episode, Erin and I talk about what she knows best —

How Millennials can thrive financially.

This includes:

    • Get out of debt
    • Have an awesome career and financial future
    • Navigate tricky social pickles, like talking about money with your boyfriend or girlfriend, splitting the bill (or not!) with your friends
    • Unless you have a free ride or parents with deep pockets, don't finance a fancy college degree if it means years of debt.
    • How to network like a mo-fo
    • The critical reason everyone needs a “fuck off fund” (the reasons are more serious than you think)
broke millennial



Single mom statistics that will blow your mind

Single mom resource guide

Why are moms still feeling guilty about working?

How single moms can pay off debt for good 

Full transcript of Like A Mother podcast with guest Erin Lowry

Emma: Hey, hey, hey, ladies. Super excited about today's episode in part because it is in person live in my Astoria, New York Queens' studio. I'm with Erin Lowry who is a financial writer/blogger. And she is author of the brand new book out May, Broke Millennial: How To Stop Scrapping By And Get Your Financial Life Together. You know where to find books on Amazon. But go … Maybe purchase at Barnes and Noble would be a great option too. Erin, thank you for being here.

Erin: Thanks for having me.

Emma: And I think we need to say that you're here in my Astoria studio because you literally live across the street from me.

Erin: Yes. Directly across.

Emma: Literally across the street and we've co-hosted resistance parties and we're colleagues and friends and we see each other. I have my kids. She has her dog. And it's all very cozy.

Erin: Yup.

Emma: So okay. Broke Millennial. I think it's tongue in cheek, right?

Erin: Yes.

Emma: You're trying to help people not be broke Millennials.

Erin: Correct. It's not me whining contrary to what the title sounds like. And that's one thing that I've always tried to be very careful about is I've been very honest on the blog. Right off the bat in the book I talk about the fact that I actually have never been broke, personally. But it's more of the way that people talk about the generation. So kind of leaning into all the stereotypes about Millennials.

Emma: Right. Well, why though do Millennials need their own book about money?

Why though do Millennials need their own book about money?

Erin: I think part of it is there's not been much that's been written to our demographic. And a lot of the things that have been written are very preachy, very finger waggy, and we don't respond well to that because we were given lots of gold stars and trophies as children. I wanted to write something that was by one of us. It was a little bit tongue in cheek, sarcasm, humor. Also addresses the student loan debt crisis a little bit more. Not many books actually really do that. So it brings that a little bit more in depth. And then also about some of the more relationship aspects of it. I think that our generation you're seeing more people are co-mingling with partners because they're necessarily married. And that wasn't as common in previous generations.

Erin: So you know, like you've written about there's more single mothers in our generation. So it's kind of addressing different pain points.

Emma: Okay. Awesome. Okay. Let's first, let's define Millennial. It's like what's the age here?

Erin: Right now we are looking between 19 and 20 to like 36, 37. So a lot of people that are on the tail end of their 30s are like I'm not a Millennial! I'm like, sorry, you are.

Emma: See, I know those numbers because I am 40 and I really missed out in an awesome branding opportunity by two or three years. I can't call myself Millennial writer or Millennial mom. And I'm slightly bitter about it but I'm working with it.

Erin: You can … Well, we'll have you. You can just say it.

Emma: I'm an honorary Millennial. Okay. So your book is very practical. I felt like reading it, it's like okay, this answers the giant holes in our public education system when it comes to personal finance because it's really assuming that … It's great because if you are really at zero, like zero financial literacy, this is your book. If you're actually doing some things and you're on your way and maybe you just need to fill in some holes, this is also your book. Right? But it's spoken in very common voice. It's very relatable. But it's not too much. I hate those books, frankly, that are like hey homegirl! No.

Erin: I don't talk like that. Frankly, the book is written how I talk. I was narrating it for the audiobook a couple of weeks ago and the recording guy that I was working with goes, “You know, it's flowing really well. It sounds really nice.” I was like, “It's exactly how I talk.” It just feels natural to be reading it. And I think also to that point is it's written as a pick your own financial path because there's another common phrase that I'm no longer allowed to use. But you can extrapolate from there.

Emma: I'll say it! Choose your own adventure, right?

Erin: Yeah. I'm not allowed to say that in marketing.

Emma: Is it copywritten?

Erin: Yup. And they get a little litigious. So it's written so every chapter stands on its own. And it does kind of cover the arch and that's what I meant to do is if you're at totally zero I kind of think of it as you're graduating from college or maybe you're just in the middle of college and like oh crap! I need to figure life out!

Erin: And then it goes through all those beginner basics. And then gets in a little of the relationship, emotional stuff which I personally love writing and talking about. So you can't afford to split the dinner bill with your friends. Or you're just moving in with a partner and you need to get financially naked. And all of that.

Erin: And then it ends on planning for retirement, buying a house, picking a financial planner. So it does really cover everything. And you don't have to read it cover to cover. That was my other big push is each chapter, you can go to the bathroom and have a nice little read.

Financial planning is a lifelong thing

Emma: Right. I mean, because financial planning is a lifelong thing. And if you really … Well, okay, so I feel like the number one step is really just dealing with it because if you're not, you know you should be and you're super stressed out about it whether you admit it or not. So just even buying a book and reading a bit on the can every morning, it's huge. Even if you're not saving or even if you don't make a step, the fact that you're addressing it is dealing with your mental health in such a profound way. Only good things can come from that.

Erin: And I wanted it to be where if you only have five, ten minutes in the day, boom. You've got something. And it's also very story telling. That's how I write on my site. That's how I prefer to write. I think it's a little bit more fun and engaging. So a lot of it is stories from my life, especially my childhood, talking a lot about how my parents raised me, and how I kind of turned out based on that. And then of course some of it is also friends or people who are longtime followers of Broke Millennial that volunteer their stories as well.

Emma: Okay, awesome. All right. So let's get into it a little bit. Okay. You started with the student debt crisis. And it's a long chapter. I mean, you get into what it's about. If you're at the front end of it, maybe how to avoid it because you got through college without any student debt. Actually I would like to talk about that because for the adults reading this, whether you are thinking about going to college or helping your kid manage their college choices or maybe yourself are going to go back to school. So a lot of people that follow me, they're starting life anew. Maybe they're going through a divorce. Having kids, whatever. And they want a new career. And there's this assumption that more education is more. And the better the school … If you invest in a name brand school it will always pay off. It's always an investment.

Emma: And I have written a lot about that. And I feel very strongly that that is largely a myth. And it is perpetuating itself by profiting institutions, whether it's the schools themselves or the loan companies or whatever. So I think maybe if you can speak to that. Not so much managing the debt itself once you already have it. But when you're considering taking on student debt. Give me your top three tips.

Erin Lowry's experience with paying for college

Erin: Sure. I also give you a little bit background for your listeners about what my experience was and that was when I was going to college I knew I was going to have to pay for a portion of it. That's just how I was raised. Even though my parents could afford to pay in full, they weren't going to do that because both of them strongly believed I needed to have a little skin in the game and I was going to value it more.

Erin: So when it came time to picking my college education, I found out I had to pay 50% which is a conversation I think you should have with your kids slightly earlier. But anyway, I knew I had to pay 50%. So the option was this fancy pants liberal arts school in North Carolina that's a relatively well known school. But I'd have to pay full ride and it was going to cost me between $80 to $100,000 just for my half. Or going to a school called St. Bonaventure University which had given me just over 50% in scholarship money so I'd come out debt free.

Erin: If you know Bonaventure listening to this podcast, I'm really impressed. Not many people do. It's a very small school. So unless you're from upstate and I mean Buffalo, real upstate New York, you don't know it. Or maybe if you watch basketball, that's the only other reason. But I ended up picking this school even though it's not a big name brand, it's not my top place. And I'm so glad I came out debt free because that gave me so many opportunities out of college. And it should be noted I still interned at CNN. I got at the Late Show with David Letterman. It didn't keep me from being productive. You know, I'm 27, almost 28 and have a book out. Things still happened for me.

Erin: So I think my first thing is don't focus on the name brand. I get so frustrated by that as well. It doesn't mean that you're going to be successful. Every school has a good network. I would argue smaller schools almost have a more intimate network. I'm going back to my school to talk and they sent out a press release and I had somebody from the class of '92 whom I've obviously never met, I was class of 2011, who works at JP Morgan Chase and was like hey, I saw that you're a Bona grad. Love to talk to you. I'm like this is the kind of thing that doesn't necessarily happen at a lot of the bigger name schools.

Emma: Well, I just want to add it makes my blood boil when people are like oh, but the network. I don't network with anybody. I went to the University of Illinois in Champaign, which if you're in the Midwest, that's a good … It's a very good school. And it's a lot more name recognition than on the east coast where I live now. But the bottom line is network is LinkedIn. Network is going to happy hour in a neighborhood where there's a lot of people in your industry. Honestly, I've gotten more business from Facebook than I have from my … University of Illinois is a ginormous school with a huge network. So networking 30 years ago when our parents were making college decisions is completely different because of technology which completely leveled the playing field. And PS, LinkedIn is free. It's free.

Internships, student loans and networking

Erin: I will argue on the other side though. I got my CNN internship, and my Late Show with David Letterman job, and my PR job all out of networking within my own alumni network. But that was also just a strategy I went with. You don't have to go that route. But the other thing two with student loans, one, name brand isn't everything. Two, especially as a parent, there are not loans for your retirement. There are loans for your children to go to school. So I always get anxious at the prospect of a parent who is going to seriously gut their retirement savings. Or any other savings they have to send a child to college in the hope that the child comes out debt free because it kind of goes back to that whole put on your own oxygen mask first before assisting others.

Erin: I understand wanting to help your child. But at the same time you also have to think about your health and your financial health. And the conversation I would also have with your child is if you're not protecting yourself as well financially, you eventually might need that help from your child. And that's something your child should know.

Emma: You should. You become a burden on your children. I think it was Alliance did a study a couple years ago and found that parents are very guilty. It's very prevalent that they basically ransom their retirement for their kids' college. And single moms are the worst. Like two acts more guilty of that. And they're poorer. So yeah. Don't do that! You're giving your children a gift by taking care of yourself. But big freaking deal if you have to pay for your own college. There are much worse things in the world. It is not that bad.

Erin: And especially if you have that conversation early with your child. I would say by sophomore year of high school if you're kind of having this open dialogue about hey, maybe you have $10,000 that you set aside that you can afford to give to your child. And that's beautiful. And say, this is how much you have. Keep that in mind when you apply. Apply for every scholarship. Apply for local schools. Try two years of community college and then transferring.

Erin: The other thing is college is not the right fit for everyone. And that would kind of be my third point. I get really frustrated by this mantra that you have to go to a four-year school. It is not the right fit for every single person. So one, see if that actually makes sense for you in your career. Maybe just community college makes sense. Or maybe trade school makes sense. Or maybe go and learn how to code. There are just crazy skills out there right now. And our market in technology is changing everything. So don't just focus on that traditional four-year degree anymore.

Emma: Yeah. And if you are going to take on debt, don't do it for like English literature.

Erin: No. Don't.

Emma: Yeah.

Erin: Yeah, sorry. No, I said no, god, don't. Please.

Emma: Don't do that. Okay. That is awesome advice for college. Talking about relationships you have a great thing. Get naked with your partner. What does that mean?

Getting honest with your partner about finances

Erin: Getting financially naked is just the act of going through all of those awkward financial discussions though it's really important for you to have. So, how much debt do you have? What's your credit score? Those really nitty gritty things. And then also stuff about what are your goals? What's your relationship to money? Are you a saver or a spender? What does retirement look like for you? All of these big picture things that aren't necessarily deal breakers, but it's important for you to know about your partner earlier rather than later.

Emma: Why? I mean, why is that so important?

Erin: Money is a leading cause of tension in relationships. And not just romantic. Platonic, family. Money can cause a lot of tension. So if you can have and create this open, honest, transparent conversation about it early on, then it's one less thing that's going to cause a significant burden later on. Possibly. It still could come back and bite you in the ass.

Emma: Well, it's the leading cause of divorce, breakup. Financial infidelity is a huge problem. I mean, do you want to define financial infidelity?

Erin: Financial infidelity is the act of making or doing financial decisions without your partner. It could be as insidious as you're hiding money in an account because you're preparing for a divorce. Or you're preparing to leave. Or it could be as small as you have a credit card they don't know about, and you're spending even if it's fifty to one hundred bucks a month on that, and they still don't know and you're hiding something from your partner. So it's really the act of making financial decisions that you're hiding.

Emma: Right. So what's the advice. It's interesting. People that are financial advisors and planners that I know, they see a trend of younger couples tend to keep their finances separate more than earlier generations, which I consider a huge success. But what do you think about that?

Should you keep your finances separate from your partner/spouse?

Erin: I have mixed feelings on that. I do have a very team mentality in a marriage when it comes to money. But I understand from a couple different angles why that would happen. One, my boyfriend and I moved in together recently. All of our banking is separate. Part of the reason is we're not married. I'm not sharing that information with him. So I can understand why if you move in together first for it to kind of naturally just stays that way because you never really bothered to properly co-mingle.

Erin: And because if you get married later or you're used to “handling your own money”, you don't want to go through the process of sharing because it's a lot of work. I will be honest. Going through having to co-mingle your assets with someone else. But I think you can still have separate but together thought process where you can have your own bank account. But I still think you need to have regular money meetings. I still think you should be showing each other what's in these accounts. And you need to have transparency about how you're spending. Because if the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing, the left hand might be creating a crap ton of debt without the right hand knowing. And that's just breeding ground for resentment and arguments and divorce.

Emma: Yeah. Okay. But you think everybody should know exactly what everybody is spending? Even if it's in separate accounts?

Erin: I think that if you have an amount in mind where you say, you make X, I make Y. Each month we can spend six hundred dollars and don't have to justify it to each other. You don't have to be showing receipts. But I think if you're spending two grand, and the agreed upon amount was six hundred dollars, then you need to be having a conversation.

Emma: Right, right, right. I just know friends that have found ways that work for them. I mean, some variation of that but let's say they each chip in a couple thousand bucks for shared expenses into that third account or whatever. And then everybody else is just free to spend their own money as they see fit. Like a friend of mine, she just likes to shop. She likes nice clothes and cosmetics and all this stuff. And she's like I just don't want to have to talk about that with my husband because he doesn't understand why I need to spend four hundred dollars on a belt. He just doesn't get it. But I earn that money. It's my prerogative. And I want to do that. And it works for them.

Erin: I think that's the big point though to is you have to find what works for you as a couple. There is no rule book about how everyone should handle their money. And as long as you're having open, honest conversations about it and you're still setting goals together, and you're reaching those goals together, then spend and operate how you will.

What is a “fuck-off fund?”

Erin: But I still think there needs to be open communication about the bigger picture items as well.

Emma: Yeah. Agreed. Fuck off fund.

Erin: I love that.

Emma: Yeah. Explain what that is. Because that's like a term now, yeah.

Erin: Yeah. I mean, it's an emergency savings fund dressed up in really fun language. But I think that the fuck off fund has … Sorry if children are in the car. But it's stronger because you know exactly what it's for. Emergency savings is kind of bland and oh, a tire blew out in the car. Or whatever. Where a fuck off fund is like oh shit, my partner hit me. Or my boss just felt me up. And I can get out. That's more of the mentality behind the fuck off fund. Men can have them too. But it's been written primarily with women in mind.

Erin: And the other thing too, and this is just a good idea with savings accounts in general, nicknaming your savings accounts actually really helps keep you honest. And I think that's one reason that people like using the term fuck off fund as opposed to emergency fund is it's a little bit more specific. I would argue the more specific you can be on your funds, the better. So if you want to take a family trip to Disney World in September of 2018, then put that on your actual savings account if the bank lets you do it. Because you're less likely to pull money out. So I think that's the other reason that … Even if you went to pull money out of your fuck off fund and it wasn't for an emergency, it kind of is telling you what to do right there in the title if you're not using it for an emergency.

Emma: Well, yeah. So the fuck off fund, just to back up a little bit, it's an emergency fund. And we think emergency fund, like your car goes out. Or there's a fire. Okay. Yeah. You need it for that. But it gives you options. So there was an essay written in Billfold which, yeah, it's a really great blog. And it was detailing a woman. Was it her … I think it was sort of fictionalized.

Erin: Yes. Based on real events. But that wasn't her exact story.

Emma: Okay. And so it's like yeah. So you're doing everything right. You're a young woman, professional woman doing the thing. And your work situation gets really hostile. Right? If you don't have some cash in the bank you might sit there and suck it up and take it for far too long. Or maybe you're living with your boyfriend who seemed really great and now it turns out he's a raging dick. You're going to stay in that relationship if you can't afford an apartment on your own. And you're going to basically compromise yourself and maybe even into dangerous situations.

Financial confidence and security allows you to make smarter decisions

Emma: But I want to take it to always take that conversation to another step because I just couldn't speak anecdotally from my own life. Like when cash is flowing, I make better financial decisions. So I will, for example, not be inclined to sit around and take underpaying work because I feel desperate to make the mortgage that month. It will allow me to say no. Not to dangerous situations or scary situations. But situations where I will be stuck financially/professionally and seek out higher risk but higher potential ROI decisions. And just take those calculated risks.

Emma: So money, I can't say it enough. It gives you options. It gives you options to stay safe. Okay. We know that. We know financial abuse is like in 80% of physically abusive situations. Money is a part of that. So ladies, get your own freaking money. Never give up your earning power. Have your own money. Have cash accessible to you because it is seriously linked to physical abuse. But more than that it's just like well, it's making decisions from a place of abundance rather poverty. Poverty mentality.

Erin: Yeah, that scarcity mindset versus the abundance mindset for sure.

Emma: Yeah.

Erin: It's a big part of that.

Emma: Right. What are some common challenges when it comes to relationships whether they be platonic or romantic for Millennials specifically?

Erin: It's a mix of … I mean, generations across the board have debt. I think it's interesting that in our generation there is more of an assumption that everyone has it because of student loans. I think more people are surprised when I say I don't have student loan debt. I get a lot of, “Really?” And I like though that it's becoming a little more commonplace to talk about debt because it's so pervasive in our generation. So I regret that it's there for people but at the same time I like that it's breaking down a little of the taboo. Because there is less of a societal pressure to have to be married before you live together and that kind of dynamic is definitely changing for us. And even having kids. People are certainly having kids without having to be married. And there's not as much stigma as there were for previous generations. It is changing the game, how we talk about money with our partners and how we react.

Erin: One thing that I always advise people on, if you're going through the process of getting financially naked with a partner, you have to have a good poker face because if somebody laughs at you and you get physically naked in front of him or her, you're never going to do it again. And it's kind of the same with money. If your partner admits something to you and you're like, well shit. That's a really bad situation and you say it or you look like it, they're not going to want to be honest with you about money moving forward. So have your poker face.

Talking about money with your friends

Erin: When it comes to talking about money with your friends, I'm a big advocate of the compliment sandwich. What I mean by that is when you maybe can't afford to do something with your friends. Or maybe it's not that you can't afford it. Maybe it's that you don't see value in doing that thing so you don't want to spend money on it. And that's just as justifiable of a reason not to do it. But I like to say that if you just say to your friend like “Hannah, thank you for inviting me to this fifty dollar boozy brunch. But I don't really feel like spending the money on that right now.” Or maybe you say, “I can't.” Or whatever. Inset excuse here. And then counter with, “But maybe we get bagels and go for a walk in the park.”

Erin: And I think giving them another option, explaining why you don't want to, and setting it up as a compliment like hey, I still want to spend time with you, most people are very amenable to that kind of a thing. Most people are understanding. You can't be resentful though if your friend is like, “That's awesome. We'll do it next weekend. I'm still going to get my drink on.” So you have to be okay either way as well. And it's just having these honest … And I just can't say it enough. Because honest and be open with people. Especially loved ones. About money.

Emma: Well, and then the more honest you are, the more you'll find that other people welcome it and they probably have money challenges. Or you help them address their own needs too. I remember a while ago a good friend of mine, we were planning to make dinner plans. She was going through all these life changes. She was going through a divorce. And a career change. And an apartment sale and all this stuff. And we're used to we're successful ladies of the city. We just go out for a nice dinner. We don't really think about it.

Emma: But this one time she is like, “Look. I want to see you. But I have to spend an absolute minimum amount of money. I'm on a super duper strict budget.” And it was just so not emotional. It was just where she was at that moment. And I could not have respected it more. And I find that the more honest you are, it's like I was having this conversation with somebody recently. It's like you get into this habit when you get in touch with your own emotional feelings around money. It's like when I'm feeling like I'm doing well, I just get the tab for somebody that might be struggling a little bit more because I know people have picked up the lunch and dinner bill for me many times when I was in not such a great place. And you just work it out in the spirit of the relationship and the friendship. And it becomes just an organic thing that's not stressful.

Erin: I agree. And that's another interesting point that I kind of touch on in the book is knowing your financial script or blueprint with your friend because not every friendship is going to be the same. And one of my examples is a friend of mine, her name is Hana. We both live in New York City. We met when we were in that not making a lot of money. I was living on less than $25,000 in New York which is, it was tight making ends meet. And so we met at that phase of our lives.

Have a financial script for splitting the bill with others

Erin: Now we've progressed to a point where we're both making four times more than we were at that early phase. But we still spend money the same way and it's very interesting. Any time we go out we always just pay for what we specifically ordered. And then just split tax and tip. Every time. And even though we easily could just go back and forth or we easily could split it down the middle, I can't tell you why we still do it this way. We just do. And why upset the apple cart?

Erin: Now my other friend, Sam, he and I always rotate buying drinks. And there's not … Maybe we went to a dive bar the one night and it's only ten dollars. And maybe we went to a craft cocktail place and it was forty bucks. We still don't penny pinch or count that. We just rotate back and forth. And live under the assumption at the end of the day it's all going to even out.

Emma: Yes!

Erin: And I don't stress out about trying to apply the Sam method to Hana, or the Hana method to Sam. I just know my financial script with my friends and stick with them because you just don't want to upset the apple cart either.

Emma: No, that's really great. And you're giving people the benefit of the doubt. I mean, some people really are miserly and sneaky about the bill. But most people aren't. They want to be decent.

Erin: Yeah. You will occasionally have that friend that always forgets tax and tip when they're splitting the bill with you or whatever. But for the most part, live by the idea that people are acting out of ignorance, not maliciousness. And it's never really an intent to rob you of your money. They just might not know.

Emma: Well, when somebody is sneaking around tax and tip, how do you deal with that?

Erin: I usually just call them out. Especially I feel like any time I'm with somebody that does that, it's usually a friend I know well enough to be like, “Uh, extra five bucks. You forgot tax and tip.” But that's also just me as a person.

Emma: Okay. So you write about money and personal finance and basically people's stupid money moves all day long. That's your career. So how does that play out in your personal life and your friendships? Do your friends wind up in your blog or your book? And how does that work for you?

Erin: Yeah, they definitely do. I've actually … My friend Sam, funnily enough, has texted me some mornings when I've published a post and he'll be like, “You're welcome.” Because it was definitely inspired by him. The only person that funnily enough gets sign off credit is my boyfriend. Anytime I write about our relationship I always let him read it first, make sure he is comfortable with it. And he's asked that I don't share his actual numbers. He does have student loans. I talk about that. But that I don't share the specifics which I respect. That's fine. But outside of that my friends kind of know that I mine our lives for ideas. If somebody says something off the record or whatever, they're like can you not share this publicly? I'm like, yeah, yeah, of course.

Money in friendships and relationships

Erin: But it's interesting too how it's changed how people talk to me about money where … And relationships are a funny part of this too, I will say. I've noticed that some of my friends when they couple up or when they get married, they used to be really honest and open talking about money. And then once they're married, they're no longer as honest. And part of it is maybe their partner, their husband isn't as comfortable with it. So they don't want to share his information. And some of them are still very open and honest. I know what a lot of my friends make. I know what a lot of my friends have debt-load wise. And a lot of them ask for help which I really love that we have that level of openness in our relationships.

Emma: I want to talk about sharing what you earn. Not necessarily you personally. But I was recently at one of the bazillion women and business events that they have in New York. You could go to 10 of these a night if you wanted to. Like panel discussion, networking, the same cheese spread at every single one, right?

Emma: But there was … This was at a bank that you know. And a young woman in her little suit stood up and was like, “How can you figure out how much to ask for?” She's like, “I'm fine negotiating. I friend totally confident. But I never know how much I should ask for.” And salary negotiations and the advice was, which I have shared, I believe this, is you have to talk about numbers. You can't say to your girlfriends, woo hoo, I got a raise today. It's so big. And not share what the raise was because that serves no one. A big raise to you might be five thousand dollars. But that might be a joke to somebody else. You need to share the actual numbers to really get down to it. So how do you do that when A, the other party might not be comfortable? Like breaking through your own, the social taboos that tell you it is impolite to talk about money. How do you do that?

Erin: It's awkward. I don't think there's another way around that. Especially initially. And part of it goes back to that financial script that you have with your friends and kind of it might be a bit of refreshing it and changing it to talk about that. If you're willing to share first, they are usually more receptive. And that doesn't mean they'll necessarily share with you right away. But you might get to a point where they do.

Erin: And I think the other thing that's helpful is to start with people who aren't in your industry. I wouldn't start with coworkers or friends that are coworkers. We work in the same company and you could therefore be kind of stacking up your value or your merit within the workplace. Start with a friend. Like, let's say that you're a writer and your friend works in technology. Completely different fields. You know you're going to be making different sums of money. It's not going to be a surprise if she out earns you.

Erin: So it's nice to have conversations with people who, it's not necessarily compatible. Now you need to get to the people that are within your industry because that's what's going to help you with negotiating. Because it's not helpful … One of my friends works in UX and she makes a hundred and five thousand dollars a year. Well, if I'm going into a conversation with a writing client, that's not helpful information for me.

Emma: No.

Knowing your value, your friends' value, is key in negotiating pay

Erin: But it's still nice to know. I think it's just good to know what friends make. You don't have to necessarily know their net worth. But it makes conversations about money also a lot easier. And I think that you can have better expectations about what you're doing. What events you're going to. How much you're spending. And you just have more empathy for your friends as well.

Emma: The financial landscape has changed so much in the last even 50 years. There's really interesting perspectives on it. Like once upon a time you socialized with people in your peer group, right? So if you're affluent … This is our New York City sound effects. The siren in the background. So you went to a certain church. Or you lived in a certain neighborhood. Or you went to a certain social club that you're a member of or educational establishments. All these things were social markers. And you got a sense of how much money people had.

Emma: Well now, like UX. That's a brand new industry. There is no way to assume how much that is going …If you're outside of the industry you have no idea. And then meanwhile, because again of technology, the way the world … There could be a graphic designer who is a multi millionaire. A visual artist. Whereas lawyers are broke now. They're all working at Starbucks. Right? So everything is upside down. And then we aren't all living in the same neighborhoods anymore. And we all have access to consumer debt, whether it's a mortgage or a credit card or student loans. There's all these things that are upside down. So how are you going to decide where to go to dinner with your friends? There is no way to know unless you really get into the actual income.

Erin: Right. The other thing too is what somebody earns is not at all indicative of their overall financial picture. And I think we overlook that way too often. I know a man who … I don't know his exact financial specs. But he is in his late 40s. And he's worked at what would be a blue collar job his whole life. I guarantee you he is a millionaire. And that's because of how he talks to me about money. I know his saving habits. I see how he spends. He lives in a very modest home. He's never been lavish with his spending. His friends consider him miserly. I'm like I'm telling you. That man is a millionaire. And if he's not one now, he's very, very close. And I think that's a big part of it is you don't … Your friend might make a quarter of a million dollars and be half a million dollars in debt. You don't know people's financial pictures based on their salary.

Emma: No. That's a really, really great point. Okay. So if you were to leave young adults with like top three money tips, what are they?

Top 3 money tips for young adults

Erin: Talk about money is number one. Especially talk to your parents. Talk to your friends. I really encourage Millennials to have that conversation with parents. And be gentle with it. Don't go in and be like hey, am I your retirement plan? That's not the appropriate way to open that conversation. But you also should know if you need to in the back of your mind and practically with your savings and investing accounts, sort of be saving to care for your parents as they get older. So one would be to talk. Two would be to confront the numbers. If you do have debt, you have to know exactly how bad it is. You can't be actionable about anything without knowing the real picture and numbers. So just being like well, I think I have about $7,000 in credit card debt. And maybe $45,000 in student loans. No, no. You need to know I have exactly $42,172.45 in student loans. That's how specific I want you to be.

Erin: And then the third thing is to make an action plan. Set goals for your money. And figure out how to get to those goals. And when you set them, be super specific. If you want to have a hundred thousand dollars saved in the next five years, write that on a piece of paper and then work backwards about how you can get there down to what you can do every single month to put yourself in that position.

Credit cards and consumer debt

Emma: That's awesome. I want to challenge one thing that was in the book when you were talking about consumer debt. Credit cards, basically. And your tips. The first one was like get rid of the shame. You have a lot of peers. There's a lot of people in the same boat. Don't be ashamed. I'm actually a huge fan of using shame as a motivator. It keeps society … I mean, I don't think people really care about not littering. But the fact that somebody like me might come up to you on the street and yell at you if you throw your candy wrapper. Shame is an actually great thing that keeps people in check. So I'm like yeah. Like there's good reasons to be in consumer debt. But most of it is just bad decisions.

Erin: Oh, I agree. But I think if we have shame wrapped up into it we're not going to talk about it. And that's sort of my other part of that is that I don't want you to be “normal”, in terms of consumer debt. But if you have it and you're just too focused on self flagellation and beating yourself up mentally, get over it. Move past it. It's already happened. Let's move on to step two. And that's kind of what I mean more about no shame. That's probably the only touchy feely portion of the book. That exact … That one line. Is me saying no shame.

Emma: And I called you out on it. All right. Okay. I really enjoyed this book. Thank you so much. Erin Lowry. Broke Millennial. That's her blog. Broke Millennial and it is the book out May 2nd. How To Stop Scraping By And Get Your Financial Life Together. I think it should be get your financial shit together. Oh, and PS, we have the same publisher.

Erin: Yeah!

Emma: TarcherPerigee. We're neighbors, co-publishers. We're … Yeah. It's awesome.

Erin: We're going to be on a panel together. May 5th. If you're near Astoria, Queens. Come check it out.

Emma: Awesome. All right. Signing off.



About Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour,, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.

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