I honestly can’t remember if I discovered Gaby Dunn or the Bad With Money podcast first, but I’ve been a fan of both for at least four years now. They published this book in 2019, a few season into the podcast. I purchased it then, as I had been very bad with money the majority of my adult life and was the only one in my immediate family who apparently had this flaw. I also am a massive procrastinator (not the only one in the family) so didn’t read the book until three years later. I’m not sure that I would have gotten any more out of it if I did read it right away as I had already aged out of a lot of the advice at that point.
If you haven’t listened to the podcast before, it started as a way to learn about righting one’s financial ship with frank discussions about making and managing money from different voices. After a couple years of too much research on the US’s financial sector, it also took on a political agenda to discuss the various injustices that occur in the system. Dunn has made a special point to ask guests from usually marginalized communities on the show, giving voice to folks outside the normal finance bro. The topics are incredibly varied, and with now nine seasons of episodes, you can hear discussions on probably anything, and repeating topics have different guests with varying viewpoints, so the conversation is robust. In addition, they’ve tacked on a weekly mailbag episode that shares listeners thoughts and perspectives on episodes. It’s an amazing resource if you want to have more inclusive conversations on all things money.
The book walks through Dunn’s life up to the point of writing it to examine the different ways the external factors affected their internal decisions about and relationship with money. They discuss the finances of higher education (both making school choices that make sense financially and of course student loans), credit cards, freelancing, budgeting, how mental health affects finances, retirement investing, paying for a wedding, and some other topics. They shared lots of their own anecdotes, as well as ones from people they interviewed or knew. I definitely wouldn’t consider this a memoir as is chock full of specific advice and next steps to take, each chapter ending with the key takeaways plus an extensive bibliography if you want to get into the financial journalism weeds.
The book is really great…if you’re under 25. Dunn wrote this as a 28/29 year old, so that makes a lot of sense. It doesn’t help me, a 33 year old, though, until Chapter 14 (of 16). That said: I whole-heartedly think this is a fantastic book for people in their early-to-mid twenties to read if there is a chance they are not going to have smooth financial sailing going toward their thirties (aka no high salary job, no affluent background, aren’t marrying rich), especially anyone interested in the arts and or forced into freelancing. Like with the podcast, they took great care to get a diverse collection of voices throughout the book.
I can relate with a lot of Dunn’s trajectory in their twenties, and I can guarantee I would have greatly benefited from this book were I a decade younger. The thing that is hard for me is that they put a lot on growing up with dysfunctional money models for parents, while my parents were frugal, and seeing as my brother is as well this is how I know my problems are a me problem. They addressed a lot of what to do to counteract the dysfunction, but there was nothing on what to do if you’re the one that sucks, so that was hard to relate or find sound advice for someone in my position.
The fixed experience perspective and the shelf life for relevance to the reader is why I docked a star. Otherwise it was a digestible and entertaining read that didn’t veer too far into “burn it all down” territory (though the final chapter would be the first chapter of the book that encourages us to burn it all down). Get this one for your high school or college graduate so they can make good choices about their money plus have healthy conversations with you about it and aren’t hiding $800 in medical bills from you in their 30s.