Gaby Dunn Is Here to Help Millennials with Money

The writer-comedian’s book, Bad with Money: The Imperfect Art of Getting Your Financial Sh*t Together, is out now.  

In addition to things like blue eyes, freckles, and generalized anxiety disorders, American millennials have inherited a bad economy from their parents. There are no jobs and there is no universal healthcare; they can’t buy homes or start families; they can’t afford to eat the desired amounts of avocado toast. (Not sure why I’m saying “they”—it’s me, too.) Is the system broken beyond repair?

Not according to Gaby Dunn, an LA-based comedian with a YouTube series (Just Between Us also stars her best friend and fellow ex-Buzzfeeder, Allison Raskin) and a podcast called Bad with Money—clearly a topic she’s insistent on exploring to the fullest. Dunn’s new book Bad with Money: The Imperfect Art of Getting Your Financial Sh*t Together could be classified as part self-help, part memoir: It’s full of useful, accessible, and surprisingly lively financial tips (as you all know, money is kinda boring), but it’s also deeply personal. Dunn shares stories about her childhood (she thinks all bad money habits begin with your parents), surviving on minimum wage jobs, and battling capitalism, depression, and post-college malaise. She recognizes this is a generation-wide affliction: “Far from lazy, we were all stressed, overworked, and underpaid. And we could still barely afford to exist,” she writes. No I’m not crying, you’re crying. 

No stranger to blunt (and public) sex-talk, Dunn noticed that asking casual coffee shop strangers about their favorite sex position got enthusiastic replies, but asking how much money they had in their bank accounts was offensive. That information is private!, most insisted. But when did money become more taboo than gettin’ it on, Dunn wondered?

We might be ashamed to get real about money because most of us have no idea how it actually works. Or what to do with it. Or what it…is. Well, fret no further. Dunn is setting out to challenge our cultural lack of transparency surrounding personal finances, and to expose the patriarchal power structures that are keeping you confused and in debt.  

Why do you think we’re all so embarrassed to talk about money and how much of it we make?

Because we view it as a personal, moral, and intellectual failing instead of just as a part of life. If we’re not doing money “right,” then we’re a bad person who is stupid. We need to erase the judgements and assumptions, on both ends, about both “rich” and “poor” people, because adding all of this emotion and anxiety to something that is a ubiquitous part of life doesn’t allow us to move forward. Conspiracy theorist–me says the people at the top also keep money in the dark as a taboo or tacky subject so the people below them don’t learn enough to gain economic mobility.

What don’t baby boomers understand about the (frequently bad) financial advice they give to millennials?

It is not one-size-fits-all. Also, time has passed. My mother paid fifty dollars tuition for Brooklyn College. I saw a Tumblr post by a millennial saying their boomer parent was mad they weren’t going into offices and dropping their resume off by hand, without understanding that the Internet is the preferred way to apply for a job now and if you did that, you’d seem like a stalker. It’s a much more complex world financially and jobs-wise.

In the book, you talk about being a writer too afraid to ask for compensation—often writers are working for bylines or prestige, not money. What are your thoughts on the “gig economy” and millennials who are forced into freelancing full-time?

“We view it as a personal, moral, and intellectual failing instead of just as a part of life. If we’re not doing money “right,” then we’re a bad person who is stupid.”

It’s unstable but it was also nice, when I was [working for Postmates], to have the freedom to make my own schedule. That being said, the danger there is that you don’t have work hours. Every hour is a work hour. That leads to burnout, and also this feeling that if you’re not making money then your time is being wasted, which is a sad way to live.

You’ve praised a parenting practice of Chrissy Teigen’s—she has her daughter pay for meals with fake money at home. You think that’s a good thing to teach kids early on?

It has the dual purpose of teaching the daughter the value of food. She knows, because she paid for it, she should finish her dinner; but it also it shows her that money is important to save and spend wisely. The dinner options have different prices, so if Luna wants to spend three dollars and save two, she can have one meal; but if she wants to splurge, she can spend five dollars on a different meal. It’s a safe way to learn spending and saving in a way kids can understand and I love it.

You talk a bit about dating and money in the book. Do you think millennials care less about financial security or finding someone to support them than our parents’ generation did?

I think there’s more opportunity for each partner to make money independently, hopefully, so that we fall less and less into “financial abuse”—meaning one partner has all the money and can control what the other partner does or even their ability to leave. There’s a writer called Paulette Perhach who coined the term “Fuck Off Fund,” which is a fund women should save in case of an emergency like a partner becoming violent or a boss sexually harassing you. Money to take care of yourself. So I think we’re more aware of protecting ourselves. Many of my friends are married but have not merged their finances. I’d say we’re more cautious.

You write a lot about mental health, but therapy can be expensive or hard to access. Any tips for lower income people on getting help?

There are apps that let you get therapy for a lower price. There are meditation playlists on Spotify. You can also find therapy on a sliding scale, which I used to do in NYC. If you just ask, sometimes therapists will work out a discount or payment plan with you. My current therapist did that for me. There’s a lot you can finagle if you just ask. Worst thing is they say “no,” and I know that sucks. (Any mental health–related “no” really takes a toll on a person, for sure. I cried every time.) But keep going, because you’re worth treating. FL

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