Frisky Q&A: Rich Bitch Writer Nicole Lapin On Personal Finance For Modern Women

Like most Americans, I learned absolutely nothing about money in school (save for that time we had to buy and trade fake Apple stock in the sixth grade), so I’ve made my fair share of half-assed attempts at reading personal finance books, most of which I retained nothing from. When I opened Rich Bitch, however, it was clear I was in for something different – something in actual English instead of the complicated financial jargon I’d always been mildly ashamed of not knowing. In the book, anchor/CNN veteran/money expert Nicole Lapin breaks down getting your financial life together into 12 steps, aiming her advice at young women. She decodes the buzzwords of the finance world’s old guard and encourages readers to just plain ask when they have a money question (what a novel idea!) instead of the age-old smiling and nodding trick that so many of us employ when we’re in a confusing conversation

Lapin knows her readers are smart, and challenges them to rise to their own intelligence and put serious thought into their financial lives instead of just settling for handling their money “the way it’s always been done.” She also instructs readers to get serious about their dreams, because big life goals take financial funding, and those savings won’t materialize out of nowhere. Along the way, she shares silly anecdotes from her own younger days before getting her own finances together, including her many years of paying for everything in cash and confusing hedge funds for gardening.

Millennial women are woefully underserved when it comes to financial advice. We’re encouraged by predatory advertisers and credit card companies to spend 24/7 without looking back, and then lead to believe that talking about money with those close to us is “inappropriate,” which does nothing but keep all of us powerless and in the dark. In this post-recession world, true money expertise sometimes seems like something that’s only available to those who are already wealthy, but Rich Bitch reminded me that you control your money, not the other way around. The book isn’t just about your bank account, it’s about creating the life you want, which means getting real about what you want for your future and taking control. The Frisky chatted with Nicole about learning personal finance the hard way, challenging conventional money wisdom, and budgeting tips for the everyday woman.

The Frisky: I loved Rich Bitch, especially as a recent college grad just getting started in my adult life. What made you first want to write it?

Nicole Lapin: What first made me want to write it is to talk to my former self, who was smiling and nodding during money conversations and not able to join the conversations. I grew up in an immigrant household where there was no discussion about money beyond cash, and like a lot of first-generation Americans, there was never a Wall Street Journal on the kitchen counter, there was no discussion about bonds or stocks. I didn’t learn this stuff in school. My boyfriend in high school said he wanted to be a hedge fund manager and I thought that dude wanted to be in gardening! So I was totally clueless until I got a job on the floor of the Chicago Merc, which is the stock exchange in Chicago, and I actually had to learn this language really quickly. So I didn’t get my MBA – I say that I got my MBA at the school of hard knocks – and I didn’t work in a bank so I didn’t speak this jargon. I speak like me, a normal person who didn’t grow up in this [finance] world but figured it out the hard way. Once I figured out that it was just a language like anything else, I could join these conversations, and I felt so empowered. So I just realized that I didn’t have those tools, I didn’t have the Rosetta Stone, so to speak, to learn the language of money. I wanted to create something for my former self who wished she had something like that but didn’t.

What’s the very first thing you did when you got real about making headway in your financial life, and what do you think is the very first thing other young women should do?

I think the very first thing that you should do is get the only LBD that doesn’t go out of style, which is a Little Budget Diary. It allows for you to have success with your budget, which actually should be a sustainable spending plan, similar to a regular diet, which can only work if it’s a sustainable eating plan. So [a good LBD] allows for the extras and small indulgences in your life that prevent you from binging later on. A diet that’s so restrictive, like a master cleanse or a grapefruit diet or some nonsense, will only keep you starving and you’ll end up binging because you’re so hungry. The same thing goes for a financial diet. If you allow yourself the equivalent of a Hershey’s Kiss within the diet you won’t end up binging on a big old hunk of chocolate cake in the middle of the night from the refrigerator because you feel so hungry. For the Little Budget Diary, I advocate that you put 70% toward essentials, 15% toward your endgame and 15% toward your extras, with extras being whatever does it for you – your morning latte, your mani/pedi, your yoga, your whatever. Allow that into the budget so you can actually stay on track for the longterm.

That’s refreshing to hear, because I feel so often the financial advice given is essentially “no fun allowed” and “don’t buy yourself lattes, nothing but the essentials.” That’s just so hard to wrap my head around. It doesn’t seem very feasible!

I agree 1000 percent. That’s why I would never tell people to not have fun, because that would be the worst life ever! Budgeting sucks, but so does being broke. You need to make [your budget] something you can live with, and ultimately it will help you not binge on a purse or something big later on if you allow yourself something like a morning latte! I make the case for the morning latte all the time. Your time is money. Even if you’re just out of school, think of yourself as someone who has billable hours like an attorney. If you spend 30 minutes fussing with the filter, even if you’re making minimum wage, that time of your day is more valuable than the $3.50 or whatever that you would have spent on your fancy morning coffee that actually makes you happier, puts a pep in your step, gets you to work earlier and hopefully gets you a bonus that would trump the amount of money that you would save by depriving yourself of a small indulgence later on. Time is one of the only things you can’t get back and you can’t pay for, so I encourage young women especially to start thinking differently, to rethink conventional financial wisdom and start thinking for yourself when it comes to things like that. So, time and again you’ll hear so-called financial experts saying “don’t buy a latte, buy a house,” and I don’t know if that actually makes sense for a generation like ours, where I would rather probably buy a latte and rent a house, and I think that’s okay. I went through all the financial certifications and I can tell you that nothing is gospel. It’s about understanding the language and the world and making your own decisions that make more sense for you. In a lot of cases, especially for young women, that’s buying a latte and renting.

Something that I’ve noticed in my own shopping habits is that sometimes there’s an emotional baggage to impulse shopping or the way I look at money. Would you say that’s a pattern you see in a lot of spenders?

Certainly. There’s a lot of emotional eating, there’s emotional shopping, there’s a section in the book that’s called “Bitches Who Are Always Broke” and that’s in it. By the way, I use “bitches” in a very empowering way, and a very friendly way. If you search on #mybitches Instagram, you’ll find best friends, it’s not in a derogatory sense. I’ve been called a bitch in a derogatory sense throughout my career and I’m taking the word back and owning it. I’m using it in an empowering way, as someone who’s strong and confident and that knows exactly what she wants and grabs her life and her career and looks it in the eye. So, with that said, yes I certainly think that there’s a lot of emotion behind it. If you’re online shopping, for example, I would suggest for women to clear their cookies in their computer settings. Cookies are just a fancy way that advertisers remind you of the stuff that you looked at but didn’t buy. So it’ll pop up if you looked online at you know, RueLaLa or something, which I was on today, I looked at a pair of shoes but I didn’t buy them. So if I’m signed onto my email or another website, I’ll be reminded and tempted of it. So it’s good to clear cookies so you don’t be cookie monster and you don’t blow your budget.

What do you suggest for a young woman who’s trying to be more conscious of her budgeting and wants to cut back on expensive nights out? How does she stay true to her financial goals without alienating people in her social life?

Well, I don’t know, those are friends that I don’t want to have! Judgey friends are no friends of mine! So I don’t know, I don’t really have friends that make me feel bad about wanting to get my financial life together. So I would get other friends if you find friends who make fun of you for saving money. I think it’s important to talk about money, studies show women would rather admit their weight than their salary, because both are taboo things to talk about. I think that’s crazy, especially for women who can help each other by being open and honest. In the book you’ll find that I admit the salary I made at CNN when I moved to New York. It was important for me to put my money where my mouth was and be open and honest and say “here’s the situation.” The only way to talk about this stuff is to do it honestly. So I encourage friends to not be judgey and be supportive. Talking about it will only help all of us.

I’m so glad you were open about that, because I find money talk to be almost paralyzing for people at times. Our financial lives seem to blend with social aspects of our lives.

Totally! Money is cultural, absolutely, and I think that once we stop feeling scared and like it’s taboo then we can start living the life we want, because it’s really all about the life you want, it’s not about just numbers in your check book. Money is about goals and realizing that you’re going to come up to those goals in all aspects of your life, not just your career, that they all have to be in sync and that you need money for those goals. Big goals – which you should have – have price tags. So it’s really about figuring out our goals together, this is what I do in Rich Bitch, and then figuring out how to get the money to live the life you want.

What do you think is the single most dangerous money myth?

I think leasing a car is ridiculous. I think it’s so annoying that it’s perpetuated as such a great thing to do. It’s probably the biggest scam ever. The car companies think it’s amazing, that’s why they came up with it, but you’re essentially buying a used car for a new car price which in no stretch of the imagination when you actually think about what you’re doing makes sense. My suggestion, because cars depreciate after a few years of ownership, is to get it after that massive depreciation period. Buy used cars cheap and run them into the ground and then sell them later on. 

The downfalls of leasing were something I hadn’t considered before reading the book. My family frequently leased cars growing up, so I always thought that was just what you do.

You fall into the habits of what your parents did, and I know a lot of people fall into the mores of “just how it’s always been.” For me, it’s like how I was raised eating meat. My family is an immigrant family, we ate meat, that’s the way it was always done, until I became 11 or 12 and I was like, “Do I need to eat meat? Do I actually want to eat meat?” And the answer was no. I became a vegetarian then, and I became a vegan like ten years later. So I’m still a vegetarian/vegan right now, and that was a point in my life where I stopped accepting the way things were and started thinking for myself. So I only tell that story, it’s a silly story, to make the analogy to money too. There’s a time in your life where you have to say “okay, things are not the way they’ve always been. This is my life, I’m going to put my big girl undies on and I’m going to live the life that I want and that I think is right.” It’s really about starting to rethink conventional wisdom and start thinking for yourself.

If readers were to take just one thing from Rich Bitch, what would you want it to be?

I would want it to be knowing that a Rich Bitch is a good thing. It’s not about mingling in private jets, it’s about confidence and living the life that you want by getting the financial part of your life in order…I’m an open book. My publisher was like “are you sure Nicole, you want to talk about all of this stuff? Do you really want to admit all these crazy stories that you’ve gone through?” I was like “YES,” the only way to change the perception of money and finance and business for young women is to change the language, because the language that’s been used before is really boring, frankly (laughs). Even to me, someone who loves money and finance and thinks every story goes back to money. I was anchoring the forefront of the greatest financial crisis of our time, and I can tell you that if you want to get to the heart of any story, you just follow the money trail. So that’s why I’m on “The Insider” talking about the business of Hollywood and I’m on “Wendy Williams” talking about saving money. At first blush, that doesn’t look like money stuff, that looks like entertainment or fashion, but really it’s about saving money – on “Wendy” for example – or it’s about following the money trail in the business of Hollywood, because every story goes back to money. So I think when you start changing your perception and your mindset then it becomes a lot more interesting. So even to me, who’s fascinated by all things money, I would just be so bored by a lot of money books that I would read and I said, “There has to be another way!”

Rich Bitch is available now! Check out more of Nicole’s finance tips on her website.

This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.