At Equities.com, we’ve always been focused on building an active community among the leading voices within the world of finance.
As with many other fields, in finance, we’ve noticed a significant shift away from traditional sources of financial news, tips and predictions, and toward a growing number of financial bloggers.
In this series, we profile some of the most distinct and noteworthy voices in the world of financial blogging. Here, you’ll find our recent interview with Erin Lowry, founder of the site Broke Millennial. Read below to learn about Lowry’s early introduction to finance selling Krispy Kreme doughnuts at seven years-old, and how to master your money even if you’ve never mastered math.
EQ: Thanks for taking the time to meet with us today, Erin. To start off, what originally inspired you to start Broke Millennial?
Lowry: It's a bit of a long story, but here’s the short version. I was fortunate enough to be raised in a household where money was never a taboo topic. My parents were always open to talking about money with us. In the first post that I ever wrote, I told a story about how when I was seven years old, I wanted to make a little money. My mom was having a yard sale, and so instead of selling lemonade I decided to sell Krispy Kreme doughnuts. I made a pretty decent amount of money and I was all proud of myself.
At the end of the day, though, my dad came over and said “Okay, I spent some money to buy the donuts in the first place, so you have to give me back that money, and then you need to pay your sister because she helped you, and what you have left is your net profit.” At seven years-old, I had that sort of “Aha!” moment, and I realized that there was a lot more to money than we understand. From then on, my parents were always very hands on with teaching us about money.
EQ: Wow, that must have really made an impression on you! How else did your parents impress the importance of money upon you?
Lowry: When I was a kid, my sister and I had to pay for 50% of toys that we wanted, which really taught us how to curve impulse buying. Then that went all the way through to our college educations. Both of us went to where we got scholarships – and came out debt free.
When I graduated college, I had the opportunity to move to New York City, and I worked for The Late Show with David Letterman. Had I had debt, that probably wouldn’t have been possible, because on a good week, we made like $230. While I was doing that, I worked at Starbucks and I was babysitting during my first year in New York City.
All throughout that time, I never truly felt stressed about money, because I understood it. Fast forward, after a year living in New York, I was talking to a friend of mine that I had met at Letterman. She was bemoaning the fact that she wasn’t doing what she wanted in life. We had both since left Letterman, and she was working at Viacom. She was an assistant, but she really wanted to be an actress. At the time, we were 23. I said, “Well, you're 23. You don’t have any dependents. You don’t have any debt. It’s New York City. You can be a nanny, plus wait tables and do what you've got to do to make money. This seems like the ideal time to try to be an actress.”
She then said, “I just don’t want to have to deal with money.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“It’s stressful to me. I just kind of bury my head in the sand and hope at the end of the month I have enough.”
That was the moment when I realized that not everyone understands and relates to money the way that I do it. Obviously I always knew people have different socioeconomic backgrounds, but it was surprising to me that somebody who was also debt-free, who, if worse came to worse her parents would be able to help her, had this sort of anxiety about money.
So that's why I wanted to create a space that I felt was funny and irreverent and sarcastic and would sort of appeal to millennials, and wasn’t just going to be boring, drab advice about finance. So, a lot of it is storytelling. I really focus on using personal stories and I try to make it entertaining so people actually stay engaged. I like to say that I try to trick people into learning about finance.
I also try to let people know that you don’t have to be good at math in order to be good at handling your money. Math is not my strongest subject, but I still love money.
EQ: What did you study in school, then?
Lowry: I was originally a journalism and theater double major in college. Pretty much as far away from business as you can get.
EQ: I’m sure you've seen there are many other finance blogs out there. What have you done to make sure that it's a different experience for the reader at Broke Millennial?
Lowry: The biggest thing that I try to do is have a true voice and opinion. You’re really not going to read anything on my site that is wishy-washy or middle-of-the-road. Even if you completely disagree with what I’m saying, it's still going to be a strong point of view, which is what I find engaging when I read other sites – whether it's reporting, or whether it’s a blog.
I really want a point of view, and especially when it's personal storytelling. I like when people actually tell a story. I try to do more creative writing and make it a pleasurable experience, so that it doesn’t just sound like the CFP is giving you advice. That can be really boring for people, and not to knock anyone who writes in that style, because there is certainly a need for that as well. It’s helpful if you have a step-by-step guide for “How to Set up a 401K,” but the way that I would write would be to detail my personal experience of setting up a 401K.
EQ: That definitely makes sense.
Lowry: People seem to be drawn to posts that are relationship focused. One of the most popular posts on my website is “How to Financially Handle a Long Distance Relationship.” Apparently, people google that regularly. I also have one called “Dear Parents, Charge Your Kids Rent.” That also gets a lot of hits. Anything that has to do with relationships in life, whether they’re romantic, platonic or family. People really like to talk about the psychology of money, which I think I focus on a little bit more in some of the other sites as well.
EQ: Have you received any specific feedback from your readers in terms of what they appreciate about your site? Do you read comments and communicate with your readers?
Lowry: I always read comments and I try to respond to them as well as emails that I receive. People usually like it if they feel as if they know me once they read my blog. I always find it funny, especially with other bloggers who I meet people in person. They’re like, “Oh, you’re different than I expected.”
I respond with “Maybe it's because, unlike the blog, I’m not constantly taking a strong stance with everything that comes out of my mouth.” I think the other thing that I have heard is that it sounds like we're just having a conversation. I forget what he posted on, but one reader recently wrote “Wow, it's like an actual story. You don’t really get that often on these things. Thanks.”
Every so often I dabble in creative writing, so I’ve done two versions of a post where I personify the stock market. One was “Dear Millennials, Let's Be Friends. Sincerely, the Stock Market.” I write as if I am the stock market, talking about why millennials should be investing. Whenever I do something like that that’s just completely out there, people seem to respond well to it well.
EQ: That's great. I can certainly attest to having read many very dry financial blogs, so that creativity is very much appreciated. Do you have a long term goal for the blog at all?
Lowry: I was very naïve. When I started this, I actually didn’t even know that the personal finance community existed. I had never read blogs before I started blogging. For me, it was just that I wanted a creative outlet, and I wanted to create what, in my mind, was going to be a safe space. I really just kind of dove in without thinking about anything long term. I started on a WordPress site. I wasn’t even willing to pay for anything. I just thought that it would be cool if I could reach a couple of people and maybe communicate back and forth with a couple of people via email about how to handle their money. I really didn’t think it would reach too far outside of friends and family. It’s been a very pleasant surprise to get quoted in the press from several national publications. That has really been mind-blowing for me. At this point, I would love to just keep building it into a bigger brand, and also just possibly look at how to become more of an authoritative speaker and writer, which would probably include me having to get more credentials on personal finance.
EQ: Really? What sort of credentials do you think you would pursue?
Lowry: CFP is definitely something that I’ve been flirting with. I looked into money coaching, as well. There isn’t a lot out there in terms of certifying. A lot of people just kind of decide to be one. You just have to be really careful that you aren’t giving specific investing advice, because you're not allowed to do that without a license. So really, it’s just kind of deciding which way I want to go, and if I do decide to go towards money coaching, that I know exactly what I can and can’t say.
EQ: That's quite a trajectory from starting as an actress and potential journalist to becoming a certified money coach or CFP.
Lowry: Yes. Had anyone told me when I graduated college that this is where I was going to end up, I would not have believed them.
EQ: Do you have a specific philosophy or piece of advice that you'd impart to your readers? Maybe a single philosophy that you utilize in your financial life?
Lowry: Everybody says “save,” and I guess that is one of the biggest things that I do, and that I try to impress upon millennials. I try to get people to think in a saving mindset. Not just that you need to be focused on retirement in the long term, but if you're just constantly living in the present, it's going to be a detriment – not just in 50 years, if you want to leave the workforce, but if you want to buy a house or if you want to have kids in a few years.
There are so many benchmarks that you'll need now in your early 20s, and at 59, 65, whenever it is that you want to leave the workforce. So many millennials are struggling with debt, and that's part of the reason that I’m still trying to express why it's important to save. If you don’t have an emergency fund, you're just going to sink further into debt. The car is going to break down. A pipe in your house is going to burst. Something is going to happen that is going to require money. If you don’t have it there, it's always a big problem. But that's also privileged advice, because there are certainly people at the lower end of the socioeconomic totem pole who can’t even get out of overdrafts at the bank. They can’t escape the short-term borrowing.
The other thing I really just try to impress on my readers is that if money is intimidating to you, find a way to make it enjoyable. You don’t have to love it. You don’t have to be a personal finance nerd by any means. If it's listening to podcasts, if it's watching financial shows on television, if it's just reading blogs, or other helpful sources like Forbes, or USA Today, Money or Fortune. Find what’s a fit for you and then keep at it, learn more about it, because I think part of the reason that money is so intimidating for so many people is because they don’t understand it. The more you can just understand it, the less scary it's going to be.
EQ: Do you have any relationships with other financial bloggers? Do you correspond much, and have you noticed any changes in the blogging landscape since you started?
Lowry: I actually have been fortunate enough to get to know a lot of the New York City bloggers pretty well. We do meet-ups here semi-regularly, and there are some of them that I’m even friendly with outside of the blogging world at this point. I’ve also been able to attend FinCon, a personal finance bloggers conference. It’s amazing to me how supportive the personal finance community is. Like I said, this is my first blog, and I don’t dabble in any other realms, but from my understanding, the mommy bloggers, the travel bloggers, they all get a little competitive with each other. The personal finance bloggers are really supportive, though.
I can’t even tell you how many times I get emails from other bloggers asking for suggestions or I’ve reached out myself for help. Whether it's setting freelance rates, or inquiring about an outlet that's reached out to me, or just asking how to create a banner ad on my site, or something like that. People are wonderful, and even some of the guys that are really big deals, that have huge amount of visits, and big traffic, that are making good money, are still really willing to help. To me, that is just unbelievable.
One thing that has certainly shifted in blogging – I’ve been blogging for just over two years, and in that time, personal finance has just exploded. The other thing that I really like, when I started, there were a lot of married couples in their late 20s, early 30s and I didn’t feel like the single person's voice was getting heard much, but that has started to shift a lot in the past two years.
EQ: Is there anything else that we haven’t touched on that you think is worth noting or mentioning?
Lowry: Hm…I think we’ve covered a lot, actually. Although, here’s one fun fact – you really don’t have to be incredibly technically savvy to run a blog. Computer science is not my forte. There was a little bit of crying and frustration when I migrated from WordPress to an actual dot com and had to do my own hosting, but I actually just reached out to a bunch of other bloggers that are really helpful, and there are a lot of great YouTube instructional videos.
For more financial advice from Erin Lowry, visit her blog at Broke Millennial.
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