Three years ago, Gaby Dunn, a freelance writer and comedian, discovered that the amount in her boyfriend’s savings account matched her credit card debt. The gulf shocked her into a financial reckoning, and as she struggled to gain control of her finances, Dunn, who is bisexual, says she bumped up against shame and taboos more crippling than any she had experienced as a queer woman. She addressed the conundrum first in a podcast and now in a book of the same name, Bad with Money (Atria, Jan. 2019).
How did you begin the process of—and this is how you put it in the book—getting your financial shit together?
I started asking questions. I mean, I cried first. But then I started asking my friends questions like, “What do you do?” and “How do you do your taxes?” I was still miserable, and I cried all the time, but I made myself keep talking about it, which led to the podcast. I needed to let people know what was going on with me, because I couldn’t just keep pretending that everything is okay, or that everyone is on the same financial playing field.
What was the hardest part of actually getting your finances in order?
Looking at numbers. I looked at my student loans and at how much I was paying for everything. I had a bunch of automatic payments set up and I didn’t know for what, so I would have overdrafts every month and be really confused. I printed out my bank statement and started highlighting stuff in different colors. I had a gym membership I hadn’t used in six months. I had multiple Dropbox subscriptions. I had so many parking meters on my statement. It seems like small, dumb amounts, but I was throwing dollars away every day.
Before Bad with Money you were known for frank talk, on the web series Just Between Us, about dating as a bisexual woman who practised polyamory. How did you make the leap to personal finance?
Money and sex are so intertwined. They are both taboos. I started thinking about, “What’s the actual thing we are ashamed of? What’s the actual thing that no one wants to talk about?” It’s money. When someone attacked me for being gay, it didn’t even faze me, because we all know that’s clearly wrong. But people who criticize you about money are usually really close to you—your friends, your family. Then the criticisms really do hurt.
You don’t talk about reaching your first million or retiring early. How will your readers know when they’ve gotten it together financially?
When they don’t feel shame or stigma talking about money. I want them to know that they feel that way because people in charge want to keep the status quo, and what better way to do that than to shame people? Shame is a powerful tool to keep people in their place.
Who do you hope to reach with this book?
I hope this is the finance book for the rest of us, meaning people who feel condescended to by traditional media. I want it to be for people who have tried to read traditional financial media and thought, “This doesn’t sit right with me.” The book is trying to be an intersectional finance book. I know what’s it like to walk into a bank with my buzz cut and rainbow flag pins and worry about being laughed at by a bunch of faceless white dudes. Anyone who feels like that should look at the first 50 pages of my book.