The personal finance expert and author discusses how couples can navigate earnings differences and asserts that fear can be a financial superpower.
Our guest on the podcast today is personal finance expert Farnoosh Torabi. Farnoosh is editor at large for CNET Money. She has also written several books, including When She Makes More and You're So Money. In addition, Farnoosh hosts the Webby-nominated So Money podcast, where she interviews leading experts and authors about their financial perspectives and answers listeners' questions. For several years, she has hosted the Webby-nominated web series Financially Fit on Yahoo. She has also served as a money coach on such shows as Remake America on Yahoo, Bank of Mom and Dad on SOAPnet, and TLC's Real Simple, Real Life. Farnoosh graduated with honors from Penn State University with a degree in finance and international business. She also holds a master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
So Money podcast
When She Makes More: The Truth About Navigating Love and Life for a New Generation of Women, by Farnoosh Torabi
You’re So Money: Live Rich, Even When You’re Not, by Farnoosh Torabi
“Jean Chatzky: ‘Financial Stress Is a Big Topic in Need of More Oxygen,’” The Long View podcast, Morningstar.com, Dec. 15, 2020.
Current Environment and Personal Finance
“3 Money Questions to Ask Yourself in a Recession, According to Financial Expert Farnoosh Torabi,” by Nick Wolny, time.com, April 11, 2022.
“Saving for Retirement at Every Age,” by Farnoosh Torabi, farnoosh.tv.com.
“The Best Financial Apps and Tools to Help You Save, Spend, and Invest Better,” by Farnoosh Torabi, time.com, Jan. 4, 2022.
Women and Money
“Why the World Is Better Off When Women Make More—With Farnoosh Torabi,” Marriage, Kids, and Money interview, youtube.com, Oct. 22, 2018.
“Americans See Men as the Financial Providers, Even as Women’s Contributions Grow,” by Kim Parker and Renee Stepler, pewresearch.org, Sept. 20, 2017.
“Equal Pay Day: One Bright Spot,” by Farnoosh Torabi, farnoosh.tv.com.
“Why Financial ‘Fairness’ Can Be a Losing Game in Your Marriage,” by Farnoosh Torabi, cnet.com, Oct. 13, 2021.
“Ask Farnoosh: Investing in a Bear Market, Changing Jobs and Earning More,” So Money podcast, cnet.com, July 8, 2022.
“How to Ask for a Raise in a Pandemic Recession,” by Farnoosh Torabi, washingtonpost.com, Aug. 31, 2020.
So Money Podcast
“Black Wealth Matters: Queen Latifah,” So Money with Farnoosh Torabi, June 10, 2020.
“Adam Torabi (Dad!): A Layoff Comeback Story,” So Money with Farnoosh Torabi, July 11, 2018.
“Ask Farnoosh: Your Biggest Student Loan Forgiveness Questions, Answered,” So Money with Farnoosh Torabi, Sept. 2, 2022.
Christine Benz: Hi, and welcome to The Long View. I'm Christine Benz, director of personal finance and retirement planning for Morningstar.
Jeff Ptak: And I'm Jeff Ptak, chief ratings officer for Morningstar Research Services.
Benz: Our guest on the podcast today is personal finance expert, Farnoosh Torabi. Farnoosh is editor at large for CNET Money. She has also written several books, including When She Makes More and You're So Money. In addition, Farnoosh hosts the Webby-nominated So Money podcast, where she interviews leading experts and authors about their financial perspectives and answers listeners' questions. For several years, she has hosted the Webby-nominated web series Financially Fit on Yahoo. She has also served as a money coach on such shows as Remake America on Yahoo, Bank of Mom and Dad on SOAPnet, and TLC's Real Simple, Real Life. Farnoosh graduated with honors from Penn State University with a degree in finance and international business. She also holds a master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
Farnoosh, welcome to The Long View.
Farnoosh Torabi: Thank you for having me. It's so great to be here.
Benz: It's great to have you here. We've wanted to have you on this podcast for a long time. So, I wanted to start by talking a little bit about your personal story. Sounds like you're in the process of writing a memoir that will be released next year. As you reflect on your life thus far, can you talk about what have been some of the most pivotal events leading up to and during your career as a personal finance expert?
Torabi: The book, it's coming out this time next year. You're one of the first to ask me about it on a podcast. I'm honored to be on this one to break the news. Essentially, it's a memoir-ish book that also focuses on a very big idea that is near and dear to my journey and one that I would really like to share with everybody because I think that it's an important lesson. And the lesson is that fear can be your superpower. We're often told that fear is a catalyst for disaster, that we need to run away from our fears, ignore our fears, fear nothing but fear itself. And honestly, in my life, and this gets to your question, fear has been my companion, and so much of the decisions that I've ultimately made, and unknowingly, I've now looked back on my life and reflected, and I find that I have somehow developed, I think, sort of an emotional intelligence with fear. It's not that I invited it into my life. That's not how fear works. It just shows up and you have to deal with it.
The book is called A Healthy State of Panic and how to use your fears to help you make the changes and the decisions that really matter in your life. And for me, ever since I was little—my parents are immigrants from Iran. They moved here in the late 1970s, early ‘80s. I was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, which The New York Times calls nobody's first choice. At the time, and still is, a pretty challenged city economically; there's crime. It's the second-largest city in Massachusetts. It's very diverse, which was a gift for me growing up, seeing all sorts of people, all different backgrounds. But I was raised with a lot of fear. My parents were scared of being in a new country. My mother and I were just 20 years apart, and she was a new mom at a very young age, didn't speak the language, was home alone with me many hours of the day, didn't drive. And so, as she says, the best way I knew how to protect you was to make you afraid— afraid of all the things—talking to strangers, eating other people's lunch at school, going to play dates. And she tried to keep me very protected. It was the best way she knew how to parent.
Now, that as a kid, as you can tell, was not always great, and I ran into issues and looking back may be funny, but at the time, traumatic. But I had a very intimate relationship with fear as a kid. I was the poster child for fear. But I also remember moments where my fear led me to a place of self-protectionism and really being determined to be independent and really realizing how much, for example, money can be a tool to navigate life even while you're scared. It can afford you a life that you desired/need in all moments, whether it's because you have to get away from a bad situation, or you want to provide yourself with more stability, or you want to protect yourself. And I also saw growing up a lot of people, women in particular, who didn't have economic security. And they may have been married, or they may have been single parents, but at the end of the day, they may not have had their own bank accounts. They weren't investing, they weren't working.
And that scared me straight, truthfully. It scared me to become a woman who recognized the power and value in having your own money. And so, I credit fear for really putting me on the right path, looking at my fears not as a barrier, but what is this fear telling me? I often say your fears tell you what you care about, the things that you value. When you're afraid of something, it's usually because you want to be really mindful and protective of something. So, what is that something? And lean into that as opposed to just saying I'm scared, I don't like this, I want to get away from this. Your fears can be very helpful to you if you can learn how to pay attention and look for the signs. It's always telling you to look inward. That's what fear is there for. It's telling you to hold on, check yourself, what's going on? And sometimes some of the fears, they need to be kicked to the curb. And I'm not talking about phobias—this isn't like a fear of flying. This is fear of money, fear of loneliness, fear of rejection, fear of failure—these biggies that seem to show up in our lives more and more, as we age in some cases, and how to turn it around and say, this fear has shown up again, what is it trying to teach me?
And so, to your question, again, fear has been there for me and with me. When I got laid off in 2009, I used that as an opportunity to use my fears then to guide me to what I really wanted to do, which was to be a financial expert on my own, not tethered to a 9-to-5 job, which I had learned quite surprisingly that those aren't secure, until one day I showed up to work that this is your last day. I also saw, as a young person in New York City trying to get by, how it was a scary place to be without money and with debt, which I had—I had no money and debt. And so, the fear drove me to make money, extra money, side hustles, invest the very little that I had to just be able to feel like I was making small steps toward building wealth and also recognizing that I wasn't alone with this fear—that there were millions of other people like me in the same boat and using that to see the opportunity in teaching what I had experienced and learned to others.
So, again, I think you're sensing the theme, but fear has been this constant thread throughout my life that has helped me professionally, personally. And as a financial expert, I feel like every question that I get from listeners and readers, there's usually an underpinning of fear. And so, I say, I'm not a fear expert; I'm a money expert. But I do think that my profession has made me just have this constant relationship with fear, not just my own, but the others who come to me with their questions. It's just something that I've been seeing and relating to on a daily basis.
Ptak: Clearly, you've made fear work for you. It's been galvanizing in its own ways. Maybe to turn this back to a personal finance perspective, especially focusing on somebody that's early in their journey or perhaps is financially insecure, it seems like fear could be somewhat paralyzing when it comes to things like trusting others to provide good counsel, or to have faith in institutions in which they would ultimately be investing in order to compound their wealth over time and become financially secure. So, how do you think that they can make fear work for them in situations like those based on the experiences you've had?
Torabi: I think there's always degrees of fear. So, sometimes we start out and we think, well, I'm afraid to invest because I'm afraid to put my money in a company and I don't know where it's going to go, and there's a lot of risk. And there is some truth to that. But I always say, with their financial fears especially, it's really helpful—and not to sound morose—but go to the dark place. There's probably an even scarier fear that you're not even contemplating, which I find can be the fear to catalyze you to make actually the healthier choice. So, the fear you're experiencing now, which is, well, there's a lot of uncertainty in the market, or I don't trust the institution. That can be paralyzing, because that feels powerless; I can't do anything about them. But what can you do that's within your control?
And so, the next step is to figure out, what's the bigger fear? And from where I stand, the bigger fear is doing nothing. So, are you more afraid of rolling the dice a little bit, or more afraid of perhaps doing nothing, which is guaranteed to leave you with less money in the future than you have today, thanks to inflation. That looking back at the market and how it's performed historically, we can be confident that if you invest long term, yes, there are going to be days where there is a lot of uncertainty and yes, there are institutions that are going to come and go. But if you follow that pattern of consistent investment for decades, you will historically do better than someone who just keeps their money in a bank account.
That being said, you might still be scared. So, the question is, are you more afraid of day-to-day volatility and some uncertainty that some companies may not do you a solid, or the fact that if you do nothing, you will not be able to retire, you will have to depend on your children—grown adult children—you will have to continue working into the unforeseen future. And for me, the latter is far more frightening, and it is that that actually will mobilize me to do something about it and actually break through that initial fear and use that bigger fear as a catalyst to do what ultimately needs to be done to build wealth, which is to invest, if that makes sense?
Ptak: It does.
Benz: Makes sense to me. So, I wanted to ask, as you embarked on your career as a personal finance expert and you began to write about and podcast in this space, who were some of your main influences as you moved into this area and developed your own philosophy? I'm wondering if there were any books or specific individuals who were really galvanizing forces for you personally?
Torabi: Christine, I would say that certainly there were the original gangsters, the OGs of personal finance, such as, I remember David Bach, who is the author of The Automatic Millionaire and New York Times best-seller, I think, nine books, or nine New York Times best-selling titles. He wrote a glowing recommendation for my book on the cover of my very first book. And David, just the other day, we were continuing to text, as we've become friends, and he is somebody who I idolized growing up in this world. He's somebody who was further along than I was at the time, and I remember interviewing him actually for my work as I was writing articles and doing segments for television, David was a go-to expert and never thought that he would one day become a mentor for me or even a friend. But he has become both of those for me, and I really credit him for so much of instilling confidence in me, teaching me a lot about the importance of personal finance education and how to do it in a way that feels accessible and feels approachable and easy. I'll never forget his “pay yourself first” equation and the idea of one extra payment on your mortgage a year and how that can help you basically get out of debt so much faster and build wealth so much faster. And I just thought he was for me, and early on, a huge help.
And I also was an assistant editor to Jean Chatzky. I put her in the same category of the original personal finance experts, of my time at least. This is before Facebook and before Instagram and TikTok. We just had books and magazines and the occasional television spot. And I learned so much under her wing. I was 20-something, like 21 years old. And with Jean, I learned how to be an entrepreneur in the personal finance field. Jean wore many hats. She was an editor, but she was also a speaker, a book author, a TV expert. She worked with brands, and she knew how to go direct to her audience as opposed to also working through the platforms to speak to an audience, and I thought that was an original way to go about journalism and thought leadership. I feel very grateful that I had these teachers early on in my career.
To be honest, though, as someone who was venturing out in personal finance journalism, as a woman, as a young person, there weren't that many people to say, I want to be like them. You had to find your own path. And I think that's true still, but today, the proliferation of financial advice is powerful. And it's not just certain people doing it; it's everybody. I feel like everybody who has a personal story to share, it's valid, they share it, and they get followers. And the diversity of voices today is not like it was when I was starting out. I was considered an outlier back then as a woman, and now, well, I still think that there's plenty of more room for women advice-givers. It was definitely a different thing back then, especially to be young and talking about money, whereas now I think TikTok has totally revolutionized the way that financial advice is given and who is giving it.
Ptak: And before I ask the next question, I will mention that we did interview Jean Chatzky for this podcast. I think it was December of 2020, so people can check that out. You mentioned TikTok. It sounds like you're upbeat on it. I think that one of the practical challenges is maybe one of curation, figuring out what is really worth following there, especially if maybe you have a particular personal finance interest or challenge you're trying to surmount. How have you gone about that quality control, and is there something on TikTok that you’ve found really resonates with you?
Torabi: Well, to be transparent, maybe I've spent a cumulative five hours on TikTok in my entire life—five to 10 maybe—and I'm increasing that right as we speak, because I feel like it took me a while to get over the hump. I don't know about you both, but I'm just so overwhelmed with work that just adding another platform to go and try to be consistently helpful on is—it's a trade-off. So, it's like, I'm going to do that but then at what price? What is not going to get as much attention? I can't pay attention to everything. But I am increasingly seeing the power in TikTok to not necessarily speak to your audience but find a new audience. My podcast listeners, I don't know how many of them are on TikTok. And the same goes with YouTube. I asked my podcast listeners, if I start a YouTube channel, would you come find me? And they're like, we love you but probably not, because we also have only so many hours in the day. And once the consumer dedicates themselves to a platform, that's going to be the majority of that person's attention span is going to go to that platform. So, there's people who are like Facebook lovers and then there's YouTube fans and Instagram. And someone is not on all the platforms, all of the time consuming.
I think TikTok is an opportunity for all creators and advice-givers to maybe find a new audience or an audience for the first time. And I think you're right, there's a lot of charlatans on TikTok as there are on all of the platforms. But TikTok is definitely the fastest growing right now and where we need to be most vigilant in terms of figuring out who is giving me the right advice that isn't necessarily tied to trying to sell me something and everybody else. And I think that it's like any other kind of sniff test you would want to do, which is to go off platform to search for these people—what else have they created, do they have books, do they have a blog, have they been cited in the traditional media as experts? What's exciting about TikTok is that literally anybody can go on there and start creating an audience, which is exciting, but also as a fear we do have to be careful.
And I think that the smart approach to TikTok as a consumer of advice is to not take anything too seriously, do a little bit of research off platform of that person. If you really like the advice someone is giving, do some research on them. Do they have a Wikipedia page? Have they written anything? And pretty quickly you can also tell if they're trying to sell you something. And whether it's like a crypto something or an insurance product—there's a lot of bad advice on TikTok, too. But there's also a lot of bad advice on YouTube and Instagram and Facebook. I don't want to target TikTok and say this is the only place where you're going to get fed a lot of misinformation. The misinformation is everywhere. So, you have to do a gut check and you have to just maybe go down a little bit of a rabbit hole to search for these folks and what else they may be hiding that they're not presenting on TikTok. And I have, yes, started to explore a strategy on TikTok. I do think that it can be a great tool for creators and people like me who want to continue building an audience. And I know I have a book coming out in a year, so it's important to, believe it or not, now start to slowly build the audience around that thesis of your book so that when it comes out, it's not coming out of left field. They're like, oh yeah, I get that. Especially, this book is about fear, and if I'm a financial expert, you might not make the connection. So, I have to be very strategic about that.
I'm thinking maybe TikTok could be a place to start experimenting with some videos that are educational, that work in this concept of fear and debunking these fear myths. But like any platform, I'm learning there are approaches that work best—techniques; people speak fast; these videos can't be longer than three minutes, preferably shorter. They love the show and tells. They love when you go behind the scenes. And you have to see what's trending, because there's definitely trends, weekly trends. So, if there's certain videos that people are loving because of the way that they're being filmed or the filter that they're using or the music that they're using, leveraging that is also a smart way to go about it as a developer or creator. It's a lot of work.
Benz: It sounds like it. I wanted to pivot to get your financial advice for individuals, and I want to look specifically at this current time frame that we're living through. The pandemic we saw brought about meaningful improvements in personal savings rates, but those have reversed course over the past year as I think spending opportunities have opened up and we've seen inflation. So, are there any hacks that people can employ to help keep their savings on track regardless of economic environment?
Torabi: I think that the best advice, the number one tip, is nothing new and it's something that I have been utilizing myself since the very beginning, and it goes back to prioritizing your savings as opposed to looking at savings as the thing you do at the end of the month if there's anything left over. Paying yourself first as soon as you get paid, whatever you can do, 5%, 10% automatically to a checking account or a savings account. There are also apps that weren't around when I was starting out that I think this generation, the current generation, really has a benefit from. And things like, I believe it's called Digit, for example, which, as a smart app it will hook up to your checking account and see how your cash flow is working. It will start to monitor your cash inflow, cash outflow, and every once in a while, it will text you, “Hey, Christine, do you want to save $5 today?” And who can't save $5? Sure, let's do it. And little by little, these incremental saving opportunities it finds you by the end of the month, maybe you saved $200, and the app has saved users I think $5 billion or something over the course of its life, which is not even 10 years.
I think doing it automatically, making the decision once that you want to save and that you want to prioritize your savings and then committing to that and then going back to your life. We know behaviorally, it's the best way. As human beings, we don't like to save. It's not something that we prefer to do. We prefer to spend because it's more gratifying in the moment to spend. We get more enjoyment out of spending than saving. So, to make it as effortless and painless as possible, you automate it. And certainly, you can adjust this as you have fluctuations in pay. There might be months where you're making less or more. So, being on top of that and adjusting that savings rate to better accommodate where you are in your life is really key.
I think also one thing that is important to remember, particularly in times when you may be experiencing inflation and we also have wages not keeping up with inflation, that being your own advocate, your financial advocate, is really important—speaking up whether that's at work or with your billers. And if you need financial help, ask for financial help. It's not going to just show up at your doorstep. And I'll give examples: At work, it may mean that you talk to your employer about increasing your pay, asking for a raise. That's not a short-term win; that's not an overnight win. But something to start having those conversations or looking for a job that will pay you more. One of the bright spots in the economy right now is still the employment market. I don't know how long it's going to last, but if you are not happy with your benefits and how much money you are making, and you have not been able to have a successful conversation with your boss about that, start looking around.
And I think, again, I don't know how long it's going to last, but I think the power is still tilting in the workers' favor. We're seeing more people unionizing, for example, more workforces unionizing. But then, I would say, on the consumer front, if you have loans, if you have bills, talking to your billers, these monthly recurring payments, whether it's your credit card, for example, loan payments, talking to your lenders about reducing your interest rate or creating more amenable terms so that you can make those monthly payments. A lot of times consumers don't even know that they can adjust their billing dates. So, if all of your bills are coming due on the 15th of the month, that's hard no matter who you are. All of your money going out on one single day, especially if you're a freelancer or a contractor and you're getting paid not consistently, that can be very, very hard. So, you can sometimes just go on the website and change the due date for the bill. It still has to get paid within the month, but it doesn't have to always be on the 15th; it could be on the 20th or 25th. So, there are certain things that you can adjust to give more wiggle room in your budget.
I still also think that shopping around for a discount is always something you can do. And right now, there are so many sales, not just because we're filming this around Labor Day, but because retailers are struggling, and department stores, especially, have a lot of excess. So, it does pay to research and shop around and comparison shop and use as many tools available to you to get those discounts, whether it's an app, or a lot of times we have those desktop widgets, like at CNET we have seen CNET Shopping. I'm the editor at large at CNET Money, and we have this app, or rather, it's a desktop widget. You can add it to your browser, and whenever you're shopping, it will tell you whether you're getting the best deal on that site or where else you can get the better deal. I think that the common theme here is maybe leaning into technology, whether it's an app or it's an automation that you can take advantage of to create, to build more flexibility and accessibility in your financial life is always usually a good thing, I think.
Ptak: Those all seem like prudent recommendations, really good hacks. I wanted to widen out a bit and talk about something that might be called mindful spending. You've been at the forefront of that movement, this idea of helping people align their spending with what matters to them. What exercises should people undertake, generally speaking, to help align their budgets with what matters in the here and now, and what they might like to achieve in the future? How can they ensure that their spending really aligns with those things that they would like to achieve in the future?
Torabi: It seems such a simple exercise. Of course, I want to only spend on the things that I care about, and we think we're doing just that. But the I think the truth is, especially for young people that are coming out of the gate, whether that's out of college or their parents' house, and they quickly jump into a job and they quickly start to accumulate bills and then they realize six months in, two years in like I have nothing to show for it. And what they really are saying is that I feel like I'm not building toward anything that's meaningful to me. I'm just going through the motions of financial adulting. I'm paying my bills. If I'm able to do that, I'm grateful. But above and beyond, I don't feel like I'm building wealth, or I am able to have an experience or build the things that are important to me into my day-to-day life. I used to go on vacations, or I used to paint, or I used to do all these things that I don't do anymore and what's going on. And I think that what was missing was really a moment where they didn't stop and go, I have this opportunity, I have a job now, I'm making money. I have, for the first time in my life, maybe this opportunity to design my life in a way that really speaks to me.
And so, the questions that you really need to ask yourself before you start spending is where do I want to be this time next year? What are my goals? What's actually important to me? If I could think about when I was younger and the things that brought joy to my life or made me happy, what were those things? And are there ways that I can re-incorporate them into my life? Sometimes they don't cost anything, sometimes they do. But really mapping it out and creating this, I don't want to call it your bucket list, but what would make you feel fulfilled in your life? And what are some of the goals that you want to achieve short, medium, and long term so that you can really put your money to work with those priorities in mind? And long term, maybe that's, I want to make sure I have enough for myself in retirement. So, that means you contribute to the 401(k). Medium term, maybe you want to buy a house. But that's not for another 10 years. So, maybe you could put a little bit of money in a brokerage account or in an investment portfolio and take a little bit of more risk with that medium-term savings. And then, short term, maybe it is that you want to build in some vacations, or you want to invest in another degree, or a skillset that you want to learn. What do you want to invite into your life that would help you feel not just successful on paper, but really successful inside, that you feel like you're doing you? And that's the exercise—what does it mean to afford doing you and not what your friends are doing or what your parents told you is important necessarily, or what you're seeing on social media.
Again, we think it's so easy, but it's not because life is so distracting, and life moves so quickly. It's very hard to make decisions. We also have so many choices that we can feel overwhelmed by the choices. So, it's really about reining it in, and this is meant to be mainly a solo exercise. And, of course, if you have a partner, invite them into this exercise. But this is not something where you're inviting your college friends and your parents and everybody to give an opinion on. And that’s I think also where we, not to our fault, we think it's the right thing to do maybe because we want to assess and we want to weigh all these opinions, but that can create more confusion. So, really, it's about taking a moment for yourself and figuring out what's important to you, your values reflecting, too, on what may not have been working for you over the last few years. What are the pain points, and how can you maybe course-correct going forward and what is that going to cost? I always say that money is meaningless without goals, but goals carry price tags, remember. So, it's important, as you're thinking about what brings you fulfillment and what your goals are, to understand the costs associated with them. But the good news is, is that you're foreseeing this, and it's a plan in the future. So, what can you do now to engineer those goals coming true?
Benz: So much of personal finance seems focused on urging people to save for retirement, but I think we all know how hard it is to talk to 25-year-olds about saving for their 65-year-old selves.
Benz: Do you think we need a different pitch to young people to get them to save for the future that maybe the conversation should be refocused on financial freedom more than retirement or maybe saving for those shorter and intermediate-term goals first and foremost before you try to get them focused on saving for retirement?
Torabi: I think you're on to something there. I definitely think that words like retirement and all that goes with that, like Social Security and pension, I think that that certainly served my parents' generation and even my generation, I would say, to an extent. But I do think that the rising generation—and talking more like the younger millennials and Gen Z—they have a different financial love language. They're not super excited about retirement because, yes, it is abstract, and they are in touch with reality. They know that maybe you're not going to retire at 65 because you graduated in a recession, or you have student loan debt and that's going to keep you behind for some time, and that goalpost of retiring at 65 is not necessarily what's in your cards. But that doesn't mean that they don't want to save or should save or invest for their future.
I do think that the better message, what really resonates with them and me, frankly, is this idea of affording yourself options in the future. Who doesn't want options and who doesn't want to have money in the future to afford those options? And I think that there is some merit to refocusing the message and maybe using the words that really hit this demographic where it means something. I see on social media a lot of times the terms like “affording your freedom,” “financial freedom.” For women, sometimes, too, I know what really resonates with them is this concept of having financial agency and power and money for them is a tool to ultimately break through barriers. And while there may be some systems and laws that don't work in your favor as a woman, as a person of color, money, while it doesn't solve all the problems and doesn't get rid of all the isms in the world, it certainly can be a tool for your advancement, your protection, your power, your ability to get out of bad situations. And these are the words, these are the terms that I think really feel more realistic to the current generation.
If you're a marketer, like a financial company, I think you need to be paying attention to that because that's how I see a lot of the, we call them fin-fluencers, the financial influencers online are connecting to their audience. They're talking about quitting their jobs and retiring on their own terms and this idea of FIRE—financial independence, retire early—which has many meanings to many people, I've learned. It's not just you have to have all of the money saved by 40 and then you're sitting on a beach. No. It could just mean that you're working for an employer, but you have so much money of your own that you could quit if you wanted to, you could take two years off if you wanted to. You have suddenly this financial license to do what you want to do that you helped to afford for yourself. There's a lot of power to that. And I think that you're right, that message is resonating, and I think it would benefit anyone who wants to help advance this generation to a place of more financial independence and wealth—those are the words to use.
Ptak: We also wanted to ask you about women and money. You wrote a book about when women make more than their spouses. As you point out, it's an increasingly common scenario, but it can also introduce problems in some relationships. Can you outline some of those problems?
Torabi: I'm a breadwinner in my marriage, have been since the start, and I wrote this book because I wanted to help a lot of the women who were coming to me with questions about how to thrive in their relationship when she was making more than him. The reality is, is that more and more women are in this role, playing this role, single moms and coupled women. But we don't grow up necessarily expecting this, and society certainly doesn't expect or watch this for us. If you look at Pew Research, a majority of men and women say that it is better for the man to be the breadwinner.
And we can spend another hour talking about why that is. But to answer your question, which is what are some of the issues that come up? One is that your money is often a topic that couples don't talk about. Wherever they are financially, who is making what money, the bottom line is, money is usually a topic that is very taboo in relationships. But then, you add on to this a layer of complexity and nuance, which is she making more than him, which is culturally unexpected and not necessarily supported; then there's communication breakdown, and there's a lot of assumptions that the couples can make about, well, who holds the power now in the relationship. Do we feel like that, if money equals power, then does one person have more power than the other? Does the wife have more power than the husband? There's a lot of unspoken assumptions that may be made, because we're maybe coming to the relationship with all these different understandings and expectations about the role of money in the marriage.
And there's also the complexity of ego. I interviewed a lot of men for this book, and what they would very honestly tell me is that they were groomed and raised to feel like as a real contributor in a marriage, as a provider in a marriage, you must. It wasn't just like a nice to have. It was the need: the man must provide financially. It was how he earned his title as a good husband, a good father, and it was an exclusive thing he thought to him. It wasn't something that his wife needed to do or should do. But if that wasn't the role that he found himself in in the marriage, it could lead to a lot of confusion and loss of ego and wondering what is my role, what is my role as a provider? And again, that can lead to communication breakdown, fights for who knows what reason and struggle. I found that when women make more in a relationship, there is a bigger chance for divorce. Money is, again, a leading cause for divorce as it is. But then, you add this layer of challenge, and it doesn't take a scientist to figure out why this is happening.
And so, there's a lot of emotional challenge sometimes in relationships where she makes more. But the book goes on to talk about how to level the playing field where each person does feel like an important contributor in the relationship, seeing money as really just a tool, a shared tool in the relationship. I would say the first half of the book is really just addressing some of these emotional challenges that come in these types of relationships. Then, a lot of it too is figuring out your system—how are we going to afford things? But those issues, I don't think, are exclusive to relationships where she makes more. It could just be in relationships where there is an income disparity.
Benz: The data show that women tend to earn less than men over their lifetimes. They amass less wealth during their lifetimes, and they're also more likely to be poor in retirement. Some of this seems structural. Women earn less than men, on average, and they're also much more likely to be caregivers for children, certainly, or their parents. But the data also suggests that women tend to negotiate less aggressively for salaries than do men. What advice do you have for women on that front, how to improve their financial wherewithal, how to negotiate for themselves for higher pay?
Torabi: Just do it. Don't second-guess yourself. I can completely understand why women may not feel empowered to negotiate and ask for more. It's because we have not been invited in this circle for a long time. And I'm talking the financial circle, the career circle. Work where you get paid is something that is relatively newer to women than men and it's because the laws didn't allow us to even have a credit card without a man cosigning for us up until the ‘70s. So, we're very behind not because we want to be, but because that's, again, to your point, structurally, systemically, that's how it's been set up for us. And so, it's going to take some time for us to feel the same level of confidence, perhaps, that men naturally do. But we know this now. We know what we're up against, and we know the cost that comes with not asking for more and not investing sooner than later. And so, we just have to do it.
And I know there are lots of studies out there that say there's a penalty for asking. And my thesis, my theory is that the penalty exists because we're not doing it enough. When you're the only woman in an office of men asking for a raise, yes, you are the outlier, and yes, you may be looked upon more negatively than your male colleagues, because it is a factor of numbers. But as soon as more women get hired—so that has to happen—but then when we collectively do this, and we do this at any cost, and we're going to ask for it, and we're going to know maybe there's a penalty, but we're going to do it anyway. But more of us do it, I feel like we become a force that has to be reckoned with. And we're not yet there. We're not this force that has to be reckoned with, where sometimes the one woman in the office that's doing it and then we're trying to encourage the others to step up and voice and ask for more. And the more that we can stick together, that we can mentor, that we can be advocates for each other when we're not even in the room. There's mentorship, and then there's actual advocacy for someone that you want to see grow in your office, in your company who is not even there, but you're speaking up on her behalf. I think that men can do this too.
And so, this advice is not just for women. It's also for men, too. This is not just something that women need to focus on, that alone women cannot solve for this. We need everybody to recognize that when women are paid fairly and when women make more, everybody wins, everybody wins—households win, companies win. There's more likelihood that she will stay on the job. And by the way, women are excellent employees. I had a friend of mine who runs a newsroom. He said my favorite person to hire is a mom, because she knows how to prioritize her time, she is super productive, and if I pay her right and I keep her happy, she will be with me for the long run, and that is a value-add to my team and our company.
And not to make this all about the money, but sometimes you have to speak the love language of capitalists, and that is that women will make you money, but you have to learn how to pay them right and pay them fairly and provide them not just with money but with the benefits that they need. And if we know that more men are employers, this is a message to men. So, my advice is, ask anyway, ask in numbers, keep your community of women and female mentors and male mentors tight; be not just a mentor, but an advocate. And message to men: When women make more, the world becomes a better place. This is just as much your game as it is a woman's game.
Ptak: We wanted to ask about your podcast. You've, I believe, now recorded more than 1,400 episodes of your podcast So Money, which is really remarkable.
Torabi: Thank you.
Ptak: I think we've done around 180. So, 1,400, that is quite an achievement. What have been some of the most memorable episodes that you've done?
Torabi: I certainly will never forget interviewing Queen Latifah. She somehow agreed to come on my show. The podcast barely scratches the surface of all the wisdom that she has to share and provide. But I will never forget the generosity on the show, just telling me some of her failures and some of her regrets, but also how she has trailed ablaze for women in show business, of all types of show business—music and performing, and producing, and entrepreneurship, and all of that. And so, she was definitely someone I will not forget.
I remember interviewing my parents, and you might be surprised, but even interviewing them in my late 30s at the time, learning a lot about my parents on that particular episode and the things that they were going through as they moved to this country to build a new and better life. And I actually invited my father back later when he got laid off in his 60s, and how he actually invested the next year in teaching himself a new skill to then go back into the workforce and get a job. My dad is like a careerist and loves to learn, and I'm a lot like him. But I was like, would I ever do that? Wouldn't I just call it, throw in the towel in my 60s if I got laid off, and just say, well, here's early retirement. But he is so passionate about learning and working and applying himself that he did that and got an incredible job in his mid-60s and still has that job.
I think sometimes the best interviews are the ones that are a little unexpected like that. But also, I love interviewing my audience. I sometimes invite audience members on the show. I think that we don't have to reserve the financial advice giving to just those who have the MBAs and the Ph.D.s and the Ted Talks under their belts. But sometimes everyday people have the best device because they are living it, and they may not consider themselves experts, but when they come on my show, sometimes we're able to really spotlight the ingenuity and the strategy that they've applied to their financial lives to get themselves out of debt, to save more, invest, and retire early, whatever the case may be. I think those are the most inspiring stories because listeners really see themselves in those guests, and more than even the celebrities, those are the most successful and most-listened-to shows, the everyday people.
Benz: You have a couple of different formats for your podcast. You do a lot of interviews with people, which you were just discussing, but you also do a Q&A mailbag-style pod as well. So, I'm wondering of those two formats, which of those is the easiest and most fun for you?
Torabi: Definitely, the Friday Ask Farnoosh episodes are, I always say, the easiest because the audience produces that show. They send the questions and then I answer. There's not a whole lot of prep. I like to keep it a little off the cuff. And certainly, some things I'll research, but for the most part, it's like we're sitting down, we're getting a cup of coffee and you're asking me questions, and I'm going to give you my honest first takes. And I know that this is the most popular because I can see the numbers. They do a little bit better than the Monday, Wednesday shows, which are more interview and topic-focused and topic-driven, whereas the Friday episode is everything but the kitchen sink, all sorts of questions. And sometimes I bring on experts for those episodes, too, because I don't have all the answers, especially when it's, for example, a student loan debt-focused Ask Farnoosh where I sometimes try to time the Friday episodes with what's happening in the world and currently, we have the news about the student loan forgiveness plan. But there are a lot of unanswered questions. And I'm not the expert necessarily on all of that, so I brought on the show recently some experts who were more focused on those developments who could answer a lot of the questions that we've gotten over the week about will I qualify, what if I've already paid off some of my debt, what if I have private loans, things like that. But, I think the Friday shows could be their own podcasts, certainly.
Ptak: For our last question, we wanted to ask you what's a personal finance question or issue that you think doesn't get discussed enough?
Torabi: I have been trying to discuss more things like the racial wealth gap and just all sorts of wealth gaps, frankly, whether it's like you have a disability and you're having challenges with making money and saving, or you're a single mom, and there are certain things that you're set up against, and the systemic issues that contribute to the fact as to why people are not where they really should be and could be financially. And I think that these conversations come and go. But I would really like for these to be more of a constant and really more at the forefront of why so many people struggle with personal finance. We tend to focus on the systemic issues when there's something in the news that reminds us of these issues and these problems, but these problems exist every day.
And I actually had a column at one point called “Closing the Wealth Gap.” And it was less about, here are the solutions, because I don't think that there are any best practices, because if there were, there wouldn't be a wealth gap. It's all about what are the new ways to think and do and what are the new products, the new systems that could help to reverse some of these losses for all these different groups of people, but really bringing to the forefront the problems that even exist. So, I talked about obviously the racial wealth gap in real estate to the fact that when you get divorced in this country, if you are in a heterosexual relationship, if you're the mom, chances are the court will de facto give you full custody. Well, that may be what you think you want, but did you know that that also leads to the mom having no time and the dad having all the time? And do you know that that does contribute to wealth gaps? And I can go into that, but the statistics show that our country has this mom is best mentality and they don't even consider 50-50 custody. Now, there are exceptions to this. Some parents shouldn't get custody. But the system and also culture has ingrained in us that in a divorce, children de facto full time go with mom, and that cripples her ability to be able to afford, not just her needs as a mom for her family, but to actually build wealth and go after the jobs that would help her to advance.
And so, these sorts of gaps, again, are daily in our lives. And I think that what we learned since the pandemic is that this idea of just working hard and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, that that's what's going to help you achieve wealth, is not true. It's maybe true for some people because they arrived in the world with a leg up. But for many people who arrived in a world that wasn't so accepting of them for all sorts of reasons, they just had a lot of closed doors faced along the way, and we need to talk about that. And I try to talk about it. I have podcast episodes dedicated to this from time to time. But I'm just one person and I would really love to see more newsrooms cover this and dedicate reporters to what I think is a widening wealth gap. At CNET, we're dedicating more coverage to this, as well as things like climate change and other things that are happening that we may not think carry a financial toll, but certainly do. And I think there's so many intersections that money doesn't have to be this siloed topic, but when you're talking about politics, climate change, relationships, everything has a financial sidebar to it or a financial integration that we need to talk about, because money is everywhere. Money affects us in all the ways.
And it still bothers me when I see some newsrooms, like, if you go on a website for The New York Times—I love The New York Times—well, actually, they do a good job of it. But there are some newspapers and media platforms that don't just have a money category. They'll call it business or entrepreneurship. But it's like, no, personal finance deserves its own category, and whether you're a lifestyle or a business magazine, I just think it's so important, and we just need to lead with it.
Benz: Well, Farnoosh, this has been such an illuminating conversation. We're really grateful to you for taking time out of your schedule to be with us today.
Torabi: My pleasure. Thank you so much. It's a testament to you that I'm sort of losing my voice now, but I think that's only because it's been such a good conversation and you've asked really, really good questions. I hope I was able to be of service to your audience.
Benz: You absolutely were. Thank you.
Ptak: Thank you so much.
Thanks for joining us on The Long View. If you could, please take a minute to subscribe to and rate the podcast on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.
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Benz: And @Christine_Benz.
Ptak: George Castady is our engineer for the podcast and Kari Greczek produces the show notes each week.
Finally, we'd love to get your feedback. If you have a comment or a guest idea, please email us at TheLongView@Morningstar.com. Until next time, thanks for joining us.
(Disclaimer: This recording is for informational purposes only and should not be considered investment advice. Opinions expressed are as of the date of recording. Such opinions are subject to change. The views and opinions of guests on this program are not necessarily those of Morningstar, Inc. and its affiliates. Morningstar and its affiliates are not affiliated with this guest or his or her business affiliates unless otherwise stated. Morningstar does not guarantee the accuracy, or the completeness of the data presented herein. Jeff Ptak is an employee of Morningstar Research Services LLC. Morningstar Research Services is a subsidiary of Morningstar, Inc. and is registered with and governed by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Morningstar Research Services shall not be responsible for any trading decisions, damages or other losses resulting from or related to the information, data analysis, or opinions, or their use. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. All investments are subject to investment risk, including possible loss of principal. Individuals should seriously consider if an investment is suitable for them by referencing their own financial position, investment objectives and risk profile before making any investment decision.)