Brokenomics! Q&A with Author Dina Gachman

Advice & Stories, Featured Article, Living & Spending
on April 9, 2015
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Ejen Chuang
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Bored with the same old, same old of personal finance advice? Welp, good news, folks. Dina Gachman, the mind behind Bureaucracy for Breakfast, had the good grace to share her wit and wisdom on real-life money matters in a new collection of essays—Brokenomics: 50 Ways to Live the Dream on a Dime.

And we’re smitten. It’s smart, practical, and really, really funny. So in honor of the recent release of Brokenomics, we caught up with Gachman and asked her to speak to a few of the finer points of her personal finance philosophy. Check out her insights below, and don’t miss The Joy of Haggling, an excerpt straight from the pages of Brokenomics!

On when it’s okay to splurge…

Brokenomics_web[1]Dina Gachman: I’m all about balance, so if you’ve gotten a raise or promotion or finished a big project at work, go out to a fun dinner or get yourself those shoes you’ve been lusting after (as long as the dinner and the shoes won’t bankrupt you). If you’re going through a breakup, retail therapy can work wonders, so that’s a pretty great reason to splurge on a sexy skirt or some courtside seats to a basketball game. Especially if your ex hated basketball–even better. It’s good to reward yourself for milestones so you don’t feel like you’re constantly denying yourself. Just make sure the splurge is still within your means. Don’t go buy a private jet just because you woke up and brushed your teeth that morning.

On when it’s time to suck it up and save…

DG: If you look at your bank account and have a minor panic attack because you realize you’ve been living above your means, that’s an obvious clue that you need to start saving. If you’ve decided to go back to school and money is tight, you should definitely start a fund because you’ll need to pay those loans back somehow. I don’t think enough people think about retirement until it’s too late (I didn’t think about it in my early twenties–I was too busy trying to figure out what to do with my life). It always feels so far away, but then one day you’re 35 and you realize you don’t really want to toil away until you’re 90 years old. Honestly, you should always be saving, even if it’s just a tiny amount. I know that’s a lot easier said than done, and sometimes it feels impossible. Even $50 a month can help, though.

Essential dos and don’ts for being a grownup about your money…

DG’s Dos:

Take full responsibility for your finances. Learn when to splurge and when to save. No matter how scary it is, check your bank account regularly—avoiding it won’t magically inflate your balance, sadly. Understand that money is important (unless you want to go off the grid and into a hut), but it also shouldn’t become an obsession.

DG’s Don’ts:

Don’t ever assume—don’t assume your parents will take care of you. Don’t assume you’ll one day marry a billionaire and everything will be perfect. Don’t assume you’ll immediately land a lucrative job just because you got a diploma and you think you deserve it. I think “don’t assume” is just a good rule to live by in general, whether it’s about money or jobs or love. It doesn’t mean you should walk around in a funk, thinking nothing will work out the way you want it to. But to me, assuming means you’re probably not putting the work in. Most of us have to work very hard to make things happen. If you stop assuming, you’ll be pleasantly surprised more often than you’re terribly disappointed. That sounds pretty harsh, I know, but I think it helps. It’s tough love.

On her own personal finance philosophy…

DG: Money isn’t the end all be all, but it’s naïve to think that you can get by on your dazzling personality and devastating good looks. Like politics, love, work, and waiting in line at the DMV, you have to have a sense of humor about finances. Obviously getting laid off isn’t hysterical, but if we can’t laugh sometimes in life, we’re screwed. I think my philosophy can pretty much be summed up by this Langston Hughes quote: “Humor is laughing at what you haven’t got when you ought to have it.” You have to keep it all in perspective.

Her best advice for those in need of a perspective overhaul—specifically, resisting the need to keep up with the Joneses (or the Kardashians or the Carters)…

DG: Having a sense of humor, for sure. The “keeping up with the Joneses” phenomenon happens all the time, and I think you have to remember that if you don’t have a ton of money, buying whatever your co-workers or neighbors or some celeb in US Weekly has is dangerous. Plus, you never know what someone else’s bank statement actually says. They might own five mink coats and a yacht, but they could have a huge amount of credit card debt—it happens.

I would just say try to sit down and calmly think about why you’re feeling the need to buy a bunch of things and keep up with the Joneses. And if that’s not helping, then force yourself to stop swiping your credit cards if it’s plunging you into debt. Seriously, cut those cards into tiny pieces and get yourself and your finances together. I hope you get to the point where you can buy a yacht or a mink coat, if that’s what you want. But until then, step away from the credit cards!

Don’t miss Gachman’s essay on The Joy of Haggling, an excerpt straight from the pages of Brokenomics!

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