What’s the one thing that makes the world go round, yet no millennial likes to talk about? No, not sex (we talk about that extensively) — money. At least, according to Jewish comedian Gaby Dunn it is.
The big secret about money is that no one knows anything about it, not even the experts, Dunn says. And that’s why millennials, who are notoriously bad with money, are afraid of talking about their personal finances.
“No one wants to seem stupid,” the 30-year-old told Alma. “Money and intelligence are too tied up with each other and they shouldn’t be.”
Fed up with managing her personal finances blindly, Dunn launched a podcast to get her “financial shit together.” After two seasons of bringing her queer, feminist perspective to conversations about money with celebrities, journalists, and “fellow deadbeats” on “Bad With Money,” Dunn wrote her second book (mazel tov!) to compliment the podcast.
We caught up with the New York Times bestselling author to chat about her new book Bad With Money, what’s inside her nightstand, and her epic bat mitzvah.
Why are millennials afraid to ask questions about money?
Everyone wants to feel like, “Yeah, yeah, I already know that.” It’s like this type of thing where everyone wants to seem like they’re in the know. I feel like there was some class that everyone took and I just wasn’t there that day at school. And it’s embarrassing to be like, “Hey, when did we learn this?” and everyone’s like, “Well, we learned it like 100 years ago, ya dummy!” and then you go, “Oh, yeah, no yeah, I was there for that, absolutely, yup, same!” So I think it’s like, no one wants to look stupid.
In Bad With Money, you share your experience hitting rock bottom in New York City with practically zero dollars to your name. Do you have any broke NYC girl tips?
I wrote this in the book but it got taken out. I said that you can go to a hotel, go to the front desk, and say, “Hi! I lost my umbrella [or phone charger] in the lobby. Can I look in your lost and found?” And then every hotel has a million umbrellas and phone chargers in their lost and found and you can just take one! You never have to pay for an umbrella or a phone charger. That’s my little tip for you. I wrote that in the book but my editor took it out because she was like, “You can’t tell people to do that!”
Well, you told me and I’m going to write about it.
Good! I think people should know!
What’s been the most rewarding part of creating Bad With Money?
How kind people are about it. They’re just so overwhelmingly positive because I think money is such an integral part of everyone’s lives and it’s so entrenched in like, emotion and your history and your past and your future. And it’s just stressful, like a constant stressor. And people are so overwhelming… it’s never like, “I listened to it and it was fine.” It’s always the people who are like, “This changed my life and I started a retirement account!” And I’m like, “Wow, okay, wow!” It’s nice that I’ve made something that you can see an impact that translates into real life.
Most people I know don’t feel comfortable sharing their personal finances with me. Do you think it’s rude to ask a friend how much they make or how they spend their money?
I don’t think it’s rude. I think you can choose to say you don’t want to talk about that. A lot of times people feel, like, so polite. They don’t want to say, ‘I don’t want to talk about that” or “I don’t feel comfortable” but you gotta learn that “no” is a complete sentence, as my therapist puts it. I think you can ask, but they don’t have to answer. But it would be nice if everyone would ask and answer these types of questions because the people around you are most likely statistically to have the best financial advice for you. Because if you hang out in the same economic bracket with the same income and rent… you know, a lot of your friends have similar money situations. You all pay for the same groceries and gas, and the data shows that it’s most beneficial to talk to the people around you, but no one does because it’s embarrassing.
You wrote a lot about growing up in a Jewish household. How does Judaism play into your identity today?
I think it’s responsible for all my neurosis. There’s just stuff that’s so inherently Jewish, like hand motions, or a way of talking, or being so loud. I grew up with the religious aspects and around the culture, so certain sayings… You know, my girlfriend is from Kentucky. And so I’ll be like, “You have schmutz in your eye! Shpilkes!” There are certain things she’s like, “I don’t know what word that was.” So I think that it’s so engrained in me and it informs my sense of humor.
A lot of Jewish people have really dark senses of humor (at least mine is) because we’ve been through a lot. So in my experience, my sort of dark humor and writing comes from Judaism. We have such a “laugh so you don’t cry” mentality. And the way that our parents guilt and stuff… it’s so dark. You know, my girlfriend’s parents aren’t like, “I guess I’ll just lay here and die and your grandmother survived the Holocaust for no reason!” It’s SO intense! So I tell my girlfriend just to ignore her ‘cause she’s gonna lay on the floor and talk about the Holocaust.
Did you go to Jewish summer camp?
Yup. So I really didn’t know that many non-Jewish people, and that was sort of weird. Now I have a huge mix of friends and the people that are Jewish, I don’t even learn about until later. I’ll be like, “OMG you’re Jewish? Cool!” I think it’s way different now than it was.
You wrote about your outer space themed bat mitzvah in Bad With Money, and it sounded EPIC. I loved the paper mâché spaceship and that you wore the astronaut jumpsuit you got from space camp.
I know! I said in the book that I don’t even need a wedding. I mean, I picked out my dress, I had my name in lights… I had the whole wedding experience, just for me, at 13. I mean, we hired dancers dressed as aliens. It was a lot. And so nerdy. We had more than nine tables because every person that my parents had ever met was there, and so we ran out of planets (Pluto was still a planet at the time). So we started using planets from like, Star Trek and Star Wars to fill it out. I was like, “Yes, this is cool, and the other kids will surely think I am cool for doing this.”
You’re known for your public bluntness and total transparency. Does that ever get you in trouble?
Yeah, with my exes. People have not wanted to date me because they don’t want to be talked about. I was upset, but I understand that they’re well within their rights. I’m not going to not talk about them, so they can sign up for it or not sign up for it. People inherently have different relationships to their partners. So sometimes, I’m not even talking about my partner, but I’ll say, “I, Gaby, am bisexual and non-monogamous,” and then because that person is dating me, their mother will say to my partner, “You’re non-monogamous!?” But I’m not going to not say I’m non-monogamous because I’m talking about myself. [My partner has] to be okay with assumptions about themselves, which I think happens to anyone who’s in the public eye at all.
What was it like coming out to your parents?
I came out when I was 18, but I had to do it a few times because they don’t really pay attention to me. Well, they do, but they didn’t quite get it. Coming out as gay is a little easier to understand, but with bisexuality I had to come out to them multiple times before they were like, “OH!” Even then, it wasn’t until I dated a woman that they were like “OH!!!!”
When I was 28, my mom asked me why I keep my nails short. I was like, “You really want to know?” So I told her and I was like, “Mom, I’ve been out for 10 years!” And she was like, “I know, I just didn’t think about it in terms of sex.” I said, “What do you think my girlfriend and I did? Like, hung out?” And she was like, “Kind of?” You have to take so many steps until they understand.
What’s inside your night stand right now?
Currently, I’ve got: eyebrow tweezers; Neosporin; bobby pins; and a phone charger. I’ve also got three books I’ll probably never read: Reese Witherspoon’s book club, Give People Money, and Dinosaur Bisexual Revolution. Actually, that last one is really on brand. I’ll probably read it.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Header images courtesy of Atria/Simon & Schuster and Doug Frerich.