The following article may contain affiliate links or sponsored content. This doesn’t cost you anything, and shopping or using our affiliate partners is a way to support our mission. I will never work with a brand or showcase a product that I don’t personally use or believe in.
What does it mean to lead a rich life?
You might immediately think of Jeff Bezos or other million or billionaires on private jets with every flowing champagne and houses with more bathrooms than bedrooms –– but what if it was simpler than that?
What if living your rich life meant taking an out-of-country vacation once a year? Or only having to work part-time so you can be with your family more often? What if it meant something as simple as getting to indulge your foodie desires and visit a new restaurant once a month?
Living your rich life has one important ingredient…you.
In this episode, Tori Dunlap is joined by financial educator Ramit Sethi to talk about what it means to live a rich life on your terms. With his background in psychology, Ramit dives into where people, especially couples, get stuck when it comes to finances.
What you’ll learn:
What it means to live a rich life on your terms
How Ramit uses negotiation techniques to negotiate everything from salary to rent (yes, really!)
Why Ramit is a millionaire who happily rents and does not own property
What couples are really fighting about when they’re fighting about money
Ramit Sethi, author of the New York Times bestseller I Will Teach You To Be Rich, has become a financial guru to millions of readers in their twenties, thirties, and forties. He started his website, iwillteachyoutoberich.com, as a Stanford undergraduate in 2004, and he now hosts over a million readers per month on his blog, newsletter, and social media. He has written about personal finance for The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times and been interviewed on dozens of media outlets, including NPR, ABC News, CNBC, and popular podcasts like The Tim Ferriss Podcast.
Tori Dunlap (00:00):
Hello, Financial Feminists. Welcome back. Cannot believe we are already at the end of August. Even me saying that makes me want to throw up. I’m like, “How is summer almost over already?”, but we’re slowly, surely sliding from Stock Girl Summer into Funded Girl Fall. We’re still workshopping the title. Let us know what you think, but either Fund Girl Fall or Funded Girl Fall. We’re figuring it out, because growing your wealth, learning how to be a confident, badass money bitch is a year-long endeavor. Today’s episode is straight up solid financial advice from one of my personal favorite money educators, Ramit Sethi.
Through talking with Ramit and reviewing his work, I can see a lot of how my work was shaped by him and his perspective on money, and it’s just a fantastic interview today. You may already be familiar with Ramit’s platform and book called, I Will Teach You To Be Rich. We have a lot of financial advice in common, but Ramit is really excellent when it comes to communicating about money, specifically in relationships, thanks in part to his undergraduate degree in psychology from Stanford. No big deal. Ramit has written about personal finance for the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, and he has also been interviewed on dozens of media outlets, including NPR, ABC News, and CNBC, and also popular podcasts like the Tim Ferriss podcast.
We dive into quite a few big financial topics, like renting versus owning when it comes to housing, which is a question we get all the time. A lot of the things that couples fight about most when it comes to money, so if you’re managing money with a partner, this episode is definitely for you. And, for everybody listening, we talk about what a rich life means. How do you cultivate a rich life, even if you’re not making a ton of money, or even if you’re not able to save a bunch of money right now? Without further ado, let’s go ahead and get into it. I would love to know your first money memory, the first time you remember consciously thinking about money, and how it informed your experience or your relationship with money.
Ramit Sethi (02:21):
I remember my parents driving us, all of us kids, in the back of a van, and we were going somewhere, and they stopped at a bank. They needed to get a money order, and they walked out of the bank. They left us in the back, and they walked into the bank and came back out about five minutes later, laughing. And we see them laughing across the parking lot, and when they get in the car, we go, “Why are you laughing?”
And they go, “They told us that they would waive the fees only if we had $10,000 in our account,” and they were just laughing, because it was impossible. It was not a figment of our family’s reality that we would just have $10,000 lying around to get a fee waived. I kind of look back on that and I smile, because there’s so many lessons just in that tiny example of them walking towards the van in the parking lot, laughing. First of all, we didn’t have that kind of money, and that actually forced us to learn frugality growing up. I was raised by my two immigrant, Indian parents, and although my reputation these days is Mr. Anti-frugality, I grew up, it’s deep in my bones, okay? I grew up with frugality every day of my life.
Tori Dunlap (03:43):
Ramit Sethi (03:43):
The other thing is my parents had a sense of humor about it. They just laughed. What are they going to get, angry? Is that going to change it? No. They just laughed. “This is ridiculous. How would we be expected?” And the third thing I love is that they were looking for a deal, which they also taught to me, right? I love a deal. Sometimes I think people, especially in the frugality world, take it a little too far, but I appreciate that they were trying to look for a way to get their money order or whatever for free. That’s what I remember.
Tori Dunlap (04:15):
Yeah. I think one of my takeaways from that too, and I’ve talked with my team about this is unfortunately the systems that exist, in the hopes of aiding and increasing somebody’s net worth and increasing somebody’s financial stability, there’s so many barriers to entry. I know you know the stats around under or unbanked people, right? I think it’s 33% now of United States residents are either under or unbanked, meaning that they don’t have a bank account or don’t have access to a bank account, and one of the biggest things is because they can’t meet the minimum account threshold. It sounds like this was a similar experience of, “I can’t take advantage of something that the bank offers me, because I don’t have $10,000 in my account.”
Ramit Sethi (04:59):
Yeah. Exactly right, and so the irony is that I now would get all those things for free, but I don’t need it. It’s like, you know those celebs who go to the Emmy’s or whatever, and they get $140,000 gift bags? And, of course, they are the very people who can afford to buy all that stuff. Now, I remember after a while in my career growing, and somebody would take me out to nice dinner or drinks in New York.
I was kind of like, “How come this never happened when I was a poor, college kid?” It really would’ve been appreciated much more back then, but it’s 10 times worse or 100 times worse when you talk about those systemic issues about somebody who’s basically breaking even, and they have to commute three hours a day to get to work, right? That becomes much trickier, and it sort of shows that this idea of, “Just try harder,” while it is interesting, and while, yes, there’s a lot of truth in “Try harder,” and the American dream, but it’s not as simple as that.
Tori Dunlap (06:04):
No, and I think it’s also really expensive to be poor.
Ramit Sethi (06:08):
Tori Dunlap (06:08):
It’s expensive to be poor. If we’re already here, I want to keep diving into it. We, I think both of us, try to be among this breed of financial educators who are pretty frank about our criticism of capitalism, of the lack of acknowledgement of systemic oppression when it comes to a lot of personal finance advice, but we also unfortunately kind of have to play the game. While we’re working to change the system, you still have to pay your rent, and you still have to buy your groceries, and you still have to figure out how to pay off your debt. How do you personally grapple with that kind of dichotomy and tow the line between helping people build this rich life, which we’ll talk about in a little bit, but also recognizing that our systems are inequitable and not really all the time attached to our behavior?
Ramit Sethi (06:56):
I think you can simultaneously acknowledge that we have real systemic problems, and you can focus on your individual situation. That’s a core part of the, I Will Teach You To Be Rich philosophy. We can do both. It doesn’t take away from anybody to acknowledge that there are these barriers. It doesn’t take away from anybody to talk about these things, and I’m not intimidated by people who tell me to stay in my lane. It’s always the same type of person, always, and I treat them the same way that a nuclear engineer would treat me walking in and critiquing the way that they set up their nuclear plane.
“What are you talking about? Have you read one page of a book? Have you talked to one person outside of your own socioeconomic situation?” And I think that if you do that, you will realize these are real barriers. At the same time, what I teach is that we can acknowledge those things, and we can also improve our individual situation. We all start at different places in life for a variety of different reasons. We can’t change that today, but we can change some of the things that we do with our money, with our psychology, with our relationships, and that is very gratifying to me, to see that individual progress as well.
Tori Dunlap (08:17):
Yeah. I agree, and I think even the acknowledgement that there are things out of your control, so you control what you can, I think, is really important, because unfortunately, there is a good chunk of personal finance that we will not be able to sway at the individual level.
Ramit Sethi (08:32):
Here’s a good example. There’s new legislation talking about 401ks being auto-enrolled for people who start off. Now, let me just tell everybody this. A lot of people think that education is the solution to everything. I’m an educator. The name of my business is I Will Teach You To Be Rich. I love education. I have a graduate degree; however, if it is mandated that 401ks will automatically enroll you, that will do more for Americans’ financial situations than 60 years of personal finance advice, which is bullshit.
Everyone’s like, “Oh yeah. They should teach this in high school.” I got two comments to that. Number one, they did teach it in high school. You just didn’t care. And number two, if you really want it to be taught, then start to ask these questions, “Who’s going to teach it?” Oh, the public school teacher who is already overwhelmed with curriculum demands. Oh, and then what curriculum are they going to teach? You think they’re going to go out and discover you, me, or other good, trusted sources? No, what they’re going to end up doing-
Tori Dunlap (09:32):
They teach financial peace university.
Ramit Sethi (09:33):
Exactly. They’re going to have things shoved down their throats, such as corporate automatons, Wells Fargo and Bank of America as one, or these sort of Christian-influenced financial, which doesn’t make any sense to have public school students be taught this kind of stuff. Then, look at some of the curriculum out there. Oh, how to balance your checkbook. People don’t balance checkbooks anymore, and they’re also being taught about things like what to do with an inheritance.
Yeah, that’s a really good idea. You’re going to teach an 18-year-old what to do about estate planning when they really don’t care at all. When I tell people this, they’re actually quite surprised that I would suggest high school’s probably not the place to focus on financial literacy. There are other things that matter more. Teach students when it matters, when it’s relevant, and change the structure of things like auto enrollment for 401ks. That will make a much better influence than anything else.
By the way, the one final thing I want to say which is hilarious about the people who go on Twitter, and they go, “Oh my God, Ramit. How could you not want people to be taught in high school?”
I go, “When was the last time you picked up a personal finance book and read it for fun?”
They go, “Oh, oh.”
Then, they disappear. If you don’t want to learn it as an adult when you’re paying taxes and making an income, it’s very unlikely that students are going to pay attention, even though they’ve had the option for many decades.
Tori Dunlap (10:59):
Well, and especially attaching it to a grade. I think about my motivation in high school was, of course, yes, I am committed to learning and I’m committed to growing, but I needed an A, and so I learned a bunch of stuff, took my test, hopefully did well, and then completely let that stuff go.
Ramit Sethi (11:17):
Yeah. It’s not relevant to learn about personal finance until you are making money. Now, I do think parents should teach children. I will teach children one day; however, to mandate it requires all kinds of tricky curriculum questions that most people have not grappled with. Who’s going to teach it? How are you going to measure it? How about the fact that they have measured financial literacy, and lots of studies, not all, but lots of them show that there’s no change in behavior when you teach high school students. Why would there be?
Tori Dunlap (11:51):
Right, because you have to start with financial trauma. You have to start with the psychology of money before you even get to how to create a budget.
Ramit Sethi (11:56):
Yeah. It’s a very tricky situation. Anyway, there are structural solutions that are really promising. I love seeing them. That’s why I’m such a fan of automation. Chapter five of I Will Teach You To Be Rich is all about automation. I love flows, not just because I’m a nerd. I love money flows, and that kind of stuff actually can be much more meaningful than, “I’m going to try harder to save money on cottage cheese this month.”
Tori Dunlap (12:21):
One of the questions that I know both of us get asked a lot, we are high earners who are renters. Why do you rent?
Ramit Sethi (12:28):
Lots of reasons. I love renting. I rent, because it fits the season of my life. I moved from one coast to another. It required virtually nothing. I just ended my lease, started another one, and that was great. It is a better financial situation for me. Let me say that again, because a lot of people think I just started switched from English to Martian. Renting is a better financial decision for me. How can that be? Because, as I always say, run the numbers. In high cost of living areas, for example, Manhattan, LA, et cetera, if you run the numbers, you will discover that renting is often a better financial situation than buying.
Here’s how that can work. If you rent, it’s cheaper than buying an equivalent place. For example, when I lived in New York, if I bought the place just next door, same unit, same type of place, it would’ve cost me more than twice as much as I spent renting, so you know what I did? I took the difference, and I invested it. Over time, you can see in the data that those investments tend to handily outperform real estate. Again, run the numbers, because if you’re living in a different city, if you’re living in somewhere in Michigan, for example, it might make better sense to own. Then, just finally from a lifestyle perspective, I like being able to text someone and have them come and fix any problems. I love that. For everybody listening, I think here are the key messages I would take away. Number one, never be ashamed to rent. I can afford to buy today, and I don’t.
Tori Dunlap (14:12):
Ramit, can you say that one more time, because I felt shame when I first started, because I was told, “You need to buy a house,” and that you’re not financially stable until you buy a house.
Ramit Sethi (14:20):
You were told, as so many people, that the American dream is a white picket fence where you own a house in the suburbs, where you have to drive everywhere, where you can’t see your friends unless you drive 45 minutes, and you need more space for your dog, which in turn produces you feeling lonely, low social contact, high maintenance, phantom costs that you never considered.
Then, somehow one day, some day, you’ll magically sell this house for a profit, and then what? No one ever finishes that sentence. How are you going to actually make money from this? Oh. You’re going to move to Florida, downsize, get sun for the remaining days, and then die. That was not my rich life, so instead, my message is never feel ashamed for renting. You can choose whether you want to buy or not. You should run the numbers. Sometimes it does not make financial sense to buy, and I’ll also say this.
I have nothing against owning. I will own a house one day. I already have the money set aside. When I buy this house, it will be the biggest luxury purchase I ever make. It will not be an investment. In fact, it will be the worst financial decision of my life. I can tell you that right now. Imagine buying a luxury car or a luxury handbag times 100 or 1000. That’s what this house will be, and I will be totally fine with it, but that is the way I think about real estate, and my investments are totally separate.
Tori Dunlap (15:54):
I’ve taken the exact same approach. People have asked me all the time, “Why don’t you own?”
And I’m like, “Because the houses in Seattle, for a two bedroom, two bath, are going to cost you $900,000, and then you’ll be in a bidding war where you’ll
have to increase your offer by another 300K in order to get it.”
Ramit Sethi (16:09):
It’s funny, when you talk about it, and you start to pull on these threads of people’s beliefs in real estate. It’s so fascinating. The only time that you will hear words like generational wealth thrown around is tied with real estate. Why is that? Why is that? Now, real estate has been a good source of generational wealth, but there are other ways to pass on generational wealth, such as a large portfolio. That’s one way to do it. You will also hear people saying things like, “Well, what about when you get old and you stop working? At least you’ll have a paid off house.” That is true. That’s one way to go.
Another way to go would be to have a large portfolio that can pay any rent or even pay for a house in cash in perpetuity. Again, what you’ll find is that people who have bought into this message, typically propagated by the National Association of REALTORS, one of the groups that I will meet in hell, they have basically taught people that buying a house is the only way to become financially successful, and because of various structural reasons, housing has gone up in price. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good investment, okay?
You can buy a house for $200K, and everyone knows the story about grandma bought it for 200K somewhere in West Texas, and then 70 years later, she sold it for $500K. Everybody goes, “Oh my God. She made a killing. She made $300K,” but they never really factor in the phantom costs: the taxes, the interest, inflation, opportunity costs of what you could have made in a simple index fund. And so all I call on for people to do is to get a little savvier about the biggest purchase of your life. That’s the way to look at it.
Tori Dunlap (17:54):
Yeah. I love that. And for listeners, when he says portfolio investments, right? Opening either a 401k, an IRA, a regular individual investment account, and then contributing money through that or to that over time. That’s the way I’ve gone. I’m like, “I can make more money investing and growing my wealth that way, than I could be when my roof leaks and I need a new roof.” Speaking of renting, you negotiated your rent in New York City. I don’t think a lot of people realize that you can negotiate your rent.
Ramit Sethi (18:35):
I loved it.
Tori Dunlap (18:36):
Can you take us through how you approached that negotiation?
Ramit Sethi (18:38):
I love negotiating. I teach people how to negotiate their salaries and how to negotiate fees from their credit cards and bank accounts, so rent is just a natural one. Because, for most people, rent is their largest single expense, it’s a high leverage point. This is just a typical way that Americans believe that they simply have to accept what’s handed to them, right? “Oh, my bank leveraged a $37 late fee on them.” Well, your bank works for you. Why don’t you call them up and ask for them to negotiate that? And they will. Chapter one of my book. Well, I did the same thing with rent. You don’t simply accept a rent increase. You want to understand the context around it. My building was quite aggressive. They would always try to raise rent.
Of course, they would. It’s a capitalist system. Of course, they’re going to try to maximize their profit. I get that. No hard feelings, but you need to know that I’m going to maximize my opportunity as well. I would always have my eye on articles on New York City rent, and I would just file them away. I would tag them, and then when time came for my lease, we’d have a meeting, and they would say something like, “We want to raise your rent X dollars.” First, I would understand the power dynamic. At a time like this right now, tenants have very low power, okay? Very low. You try to negotiate your rent, you have low power, because there’s a housing shortage and there’s more demand. That’s why prices are going up. Simple supply and demand.
Sometimes, especially during the 10 plus years I lived in New York, prices were going down. I would go in there, and I would use my briefcase technique, and that is a whole procedure of how you can present to clients or a boss, and you can negotiate $10,000, $20,000, $30,000 raises. And I would say, “I appreciate you. Tell me where you came up with that number?” And they would give me some bullshit, and I would say, “Okay, thanks. Now, let me show you my research,” and I would show them that the comps in the neighborhood were down 6% sometimes or flat. I would say, “So that rent increase isn’t going to work for me. In fact, I would like to discuss a decrease.” Now, landlords will almost never decrease your rent. They play lots of games. If they decrease it, it has to show.
What they would do instead, they would say, “We’ll give you a couple of months free.”
I said, “Great. I will take it.”
Of course, I took that money, and I float it through my chapter five automation system. Some of it got invested, some of it got saved, and some of it got spent on guilt-free spending. This is going to shock people. Over 10 years, I essentially paid the same amount in rent at the beginning and at the end. Let me say that again. It’s crazy. My rent went up-
Tori Dunlap (21:31):
Ramit Sethi (21:33):
And down, and that is how rent works. Everybody listen. Rent does not just go up. Rent is subject to the laws of supply and demand, just like chicken. If chicken prices go up and down, and gas prices g
o up and down, so does housing. The key is you have to ask. My rent went up sometimes, and I accepted it. I would try, but negotiation is a dance. Sometimes it stayed flat, and that was fine, and sometimes it went down and I took the win. Over the course of 10 years, it went up and down, up and down, but essentially it ended up with a slight increase, basically flat.
Tori Dunlap (22:09):
Yeah. I did the same thing with my apartment. I was at my apartment for almost four years, and in the pandemic she was telling me she was going to increase my rent. Actually, I did not know it, but basically used the same technique, which I was like, “I have paid on time. I have been a loyal renter. I have been very responsible, and here’s this article and this article that says that rents are decreasing in Seattle, so I would like to maintain my same rent price.”
And she was like, “Done.”
Ramit Sethi (22:35):
Love that, and that’s a huge win, right? $2,400 a year. There’s a lot of reasons that landlords will negotiate. One, they like a good tenant, and even one month of vacancy can wipe out an entire year of profit for a small landlord.
Tori Dunlap (22:51):
Or trying to replace the on-time, reliable, doesn’t throw parties till 4:00 AM and trash the place renter that they have right now.
Ramit Sethi (22:58):
Yeah, and then you as a tenant have also lots of options. You can offer to prepay in advance. You can sign an extended lease. There are a variety of different things you can do. Again, treat this like you would treat any other negotiation, and use some of the techniques that I cover in the book and on my site that will allow you to take this huge part of your monthly expenses and potentially negotiate it.
Tori Dunlap (23:23):
Right, and I appreciate that, because we talk at [inaudible 00:23:26], when you’re negotiating salaries too, is it’s not just the dollar amount or the salary. It’s PTO, flexible time off, an education stipend, or a better title. There’s a bunch of things you can negotiate besides salary. Same thing with your rent.
Ramit Sethi (23:40):
Tori Dunlap (23:40):
There are ways that you can get creative in terms of that negotiation. I think that’s really smart. I want to ask you about your business, because I have admired and watched your growth now for five or six years, and it’s been so cool to see. You’ve built kind of this model where you sell higher price courses, and when you build these courses, are you building based on a need you see, or are you building based on what people ask for? Is it, “I know that this is something I want to talk about and something I know would be valuable”? Are you having people come to you and saying, “Ramit, can you do this?”
Ramit Sethi (24:13):
A little of both. We do look at what the market wants. I have an email list with hundreds of thousands of subscribers, and I read every one of those emails that comes in. I used to be able to reply to each. I can’t do that anymore, but I keep a close pulse on what people are talking about with money. For example, when I talked about having parents who are nearing retirement age, but they don’t know how to spend their money, that produced a flurry of responses from other people who want their parents to spend money, and so I’m always listening.
At the same time, there are certain things that I feel strongly about, I have a point of view about, I have knowledge about. In our team internally, we’re always trying to match those up. What does the market want? What do we want to talk about? And once in a while, I’ll just create something that I just think is cool. Nobody asked for it, but it just needs to happen. My podcast was an example. Nobody asked, “Hey, can I listen in on couples talking about money and sharing real numbers?” Nobody asked, because nobody thought it was possible. But when I kind of stumbled upon it, I was like, “This is gold. We’ve got to do this,” and that was how the podcast launched.
Tori Dunlap (25:29):
Yeah. Speaking of the podcast, so you’re interviewing couples about their different financial, either situations or a certain point of contention between them. Do you have a common denominator that you see between couples? Is it bad communication? Is it different money habits? Do you see common threads through all these conversations?
Ramit Sethi (25:52):
Most couples that are not on the same page with money think it’s one thing, but it’s quite another. That’s what makes each episode fascinating. I’ll get somebody that comes on, and they go, “She spends way too much at Target,” and they’ve argued about Target for 10 years.
I go, “Well, it’s a real thing,” and actually, I’ll tell you about Target. I went on a long rampage, because Target is not a one-off thing. There’s a number of people who come on the show, and they get excited, animated talking about spending at Target. I go, “Well…” So that’s what I asked. I said, “Why Target?” Now, remember, let me just say this. I grew up in suburbia. I know Target, okay? I’ve been there a million times. I know T.J. Maxx and Ross, Marshalls.
Tori Dunlap (26:46):
I’m a T.J. Maxx girl, myself. That’s my Target.
Ramit Sethi (26:48):
Oh. Love it. Okay.
Tori Dunlap (26:51):
Marshall’s, Home Goods, T.J. Maxx, like kryptonite. Well, because they’re all the same parent company. I walk in, and I know exactly how the store’s laid out, and I’m going into the stationary aisle. I’ll start there.
Ramit Sethi (27:02):
I commented to one of the guests, “You sound really excited,” and I go, “What do you buy there?”
And she goes, “Well, I buy clothes for my kids.” That’s code for, “I’m a good mother.”
I go, “What else do you buy?”
And she was just like, “Just stuff for around the house.”
I go, “But what do you buy? Formula 409? Saran wrap? What makes it exciting to you?”
And it turns out that when she was a kid, her mom would take her to target and let her buy candy and things like that, and she now, this guest, had done considerably well in her career. Her and her husband were doing pretty well. She was shrinking her dreams to shop only at target. I said, “Listen, Target cannot be the only part of your rich life. You’re so successful. What else do you want with you and your partner? What excites you? Because I don’t think going to a store and buying a bunch of commodities is the only part of your rich life. I think you’re beyond that.”
And that was the key denominator with many of my guests. They think it’s one thing. In this case, the husband is saying she spends too much at Target. She actually didn’t spend that much at target, relative to their income. It was fine. I have no problem with Target. What was missing, what the common denominator is, is most couples that are not financially aligned, do not have a vision of their rich life. They are stuck in the weeds, asking $3 questions about Target, about video games, and how much you spend on organic coffee and organic drinks, when really they should be asking $30,000 or $300,000 questions. “What is our rich life? What kind of life do we want to live? What values do we want to teach our children and each other?” That’s what we talk about.
Tori Dunlap (28:55):
You were kind enough to be interviewed for my book, and one thing that we’ve already talked about a lot on this podcast, and that we talk about in the book, is this concept of a rich life. I’m going to ask you the same question I asked for the book. What is a rich life? How do you define that? I think one of the most enlightening things, I think, you said during our interview was, and maybe I’m taking the wind out of your sales, but I think it was so interesting where you were like, when you ask people what they want, they will tell you what they don’t want instead. And so why is the mission or the rich life so important to you in terms of getting people on board?
Ramit Sethi (29:28):
I think all of us want to know what’s all this work for? What are we going to work for? What are we saving for? Why are we listening to all these podcasts, talking about compound interests and tax-advantaged accounts? Who really gives a shit unless you are using it to connect and design your rich life? What a tragedy to accumulate tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars, and then not have any skills on how to spend it. What a tragedy. What a tragedy to believe that your rich life is only buying saran wrap, and being able to buy $3 or $10 children’s clothes.
There’s got to be more than buying some commodity junk, and then claiming that’s your rich life. It’s not. It’s got to be more than that. It’s got to be something that is personal to you; something where I ask you, “What is your rich life?” Well, I don’t start with that, because the answers I get are not that good, so I say this. I say, “What do you love to spend money on?”, and that is such a beautiful reaction. People’s eyes light up. You know why? Because they’ve never been asked that question. They’ve been judged.
Oh, and they go like this. “Well, it’s not like I really need a fancy house, but one day I’d like to have a cottage.”
I go, “Stop shrinking your own life. We’re talking about your fantasy, and you are starting off by shrinking and minimizing your own desires? No.”
Tori Dunlap (31:02):
Well, we’ve been told that’s what to do, right? And especially with women-
Ramit Sethi (31:05):
Tori Dunlap (31:06):
Even that example of like, “I have to be a good mother.” I can’t say, because it’s “selfish,” if I say I want money, and I don’t want to stack of government-issued paper. That gets me nothing. I want the really incredible pasta in Tuscany that I can’t have anywhere else, and that’s what I want. I want to be able to donate to causes I believe in, because I can actually see the change that happens. That’s what I want, and I think especially any marginalized group, but of course I work predominantly with women, is we’ve been taught to immediately justify our spending or our choices in order for us to be altruistic, because we’ve been told as women that’s our value in society, is be altruistic. You can’t be selfish. You have to give to other people. You can only want money if it’s for your team, for your children, or for your relationship, and it’s such bullshit.
Ramit Sethi (32:00):
Yeah. I’m so glad that you are sharing the message that you can help people, you can be altruistic, and you can be generous and giving, but you can also focus on yourself, and you don’t have to defend it. People, they start talking about something nice they bought for themselves, and they immediately start justifying it, and so what I think they find so surprising is that I go, “You don’t have to justify it. I like nice things, and I spend a lot of money on it.”
They’re like, “Wait a minute. I thought Mr. Finance dude was going to come in here and bust out his spreadsheet and show me why that $10 purchase would actually turn into $73 if you invest it over the next 18 million years.” I don’t really give a shit about that.
Tori Dunlap (32:44):
Yeah, but then you’re miserable.
Ramit Sethi (32:45):
Yeah, miserable. I actually love to live with them for a moment, right? Take me, walk me a mile in your wallet. Tell me what excites you. And so they do, they do. They finally do because for the first time in their lives, often they’re being asked and truly listened to, so I pull it out of them. Whether it is, “I want to get a massage once a week,” whether it is, “I want to take my family and go with a chef in a farmer’s market in Rome, and then cook all this food together by hand,” what a beautiful vision. “I want to take my elderly parent and let her fly business class because her legs cramp up when we fly across the world,” or “I want to pick up my daughter from school every day at 2:00 PM and not have to rush out of there.” Those things can be free or they can be luxuries, but I don’t need to hear your defense of it. I just want to hear your vision, and once you tell me your vision, then we can start to talk about how to get there.
Tori Dunlap (33:57):
Yeah. I love that. I mean, my natural inclination then is to have listeners, like that’s your question. If you’re a journaler, if you just want to take a walk and think about it, like that’s the perfect place to start. If you don’t know what you want, you need to figure out what you want, and it’s what you want, not what you’ve been told to want. Again, I was told, “You need to buy a house,” and I ended up not buying a house.
Ramit Sethi (34:22):
What else were you told?
Tori Dunlap (34:22):
And it was 100% the right choice.
Ramit Sethi (34:23):
Right choice. Think about those messages you received. What else were you told you had to do?
Tori Dunlap (34:28):
So many. I mean, I could go on for years, and this is part of what I talk about in the book, especially as women, right? I mean, the message that you shouldn’t talk about money, because it’s taboo, that you shouldn’t want money because it’s evil or bad. Again, for women. I think in particular, if you do want money, then you’re selfish and that you should only want to earn money or want to make money for somebody else or for something other than yourself. Gosh, what else? The big one was like, “You need to buy the house.” Literally, I think I’ve told you this, but I was like a day before signing on a condo and backed out, and it was a 100% one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, because I was 22.
Ramit Sethi (35:05):
Tori Dunlap (35:05):
I was not ready to be a homeowner.
Ramit Sethi (35:06):
Tori Dunlap (35:07):
I was 22. I was not ready to be a homeowner
Ramit Sethi (35:08):
It makes no sense. 22.
Tori Dunlap (35:08):
No. It was an hour outside of the city. I would’ve commuted two hours.
Ramit Sethi (35:12):
What a horrible decision that would’ve been.
Tori Dunlap (35:15):
Right. And yes, that value of that property, I would’ve spent $175,000, and now it’s worth three $350,000. Cool, but also-
Ramit Sethi (35:22):
That’s not that much.
Tori Dunlap (35:23):
Yeah. I’ve made more in investing. I would not have probably have grown my business, because I wouldn’t have been in a city that would’ve allowed that, so there’s so many things. I know that if you’re a woman of color or if you’re a member of another marginalized group, like there’s so many things that you’re taught about either how to manage your money. Again, like the classic, you’re not rich because you don’t work hard enough. You’re not rich, because you buy too many lattes. And I think. of course, that acknowledges or fails to acknowledge systemic oppression. But also if your goal is to save this amount of money or pay off this amount of debt, and you’re in utter misery doing that, that’s not helpful. 99% of diets fail because the more you tell me I can’t have fried chicken, the more I want fried chicken. Like, it just doesn’t work.
Ramit Sethi (36:07):
Well, I’m glad to hear that you made that decision, I think, for not buying a house. I think it’s so fascinating that when you hear it went from 175 to 375, my reaction was, “That’s not that much.” You have to factor in, “What does that imply?” Two hours commute. You don’t just walk away with $200,000 in cash more. You have to factor in all kinds of transaction costs, taxes, maintenance, all kinds of variety things.
Tori Dunlap (36:32):
Totally, and I could not afford to buy in Seattle. And so I was buying in Puyallup, Washington, which is an hour outside and about 15 minutes from where my parents live, and I love my parents, but I would’ve spent every weekend as a 22 year old paling around with
Ramit Sethi (36:48):
When it comes to the rich life, I love hearing about what people envision. I also think that sometimes we have been taught to shrink or minimize our dreams, and so one of the most meaningful things that I do is when I talk to people, whether on my podcast or in the book or on book tour, I get to share how big they can dream. I’ll share an example that happened in DC I’ll never forget. There’s this thing called Money Dials, and I ask people, “What is your money dial?” And you can Google it. Money dials are the things you love to spend money on, and this exercise maybe will be fun for everyone listening, because it really allows you to imagine your rich life. I’m sitting there on book tour in DC, and I ask people, “What’s your money dial?”
The most common money dial is eating out. Then, it’s travel, health and wellness, and then it’s a steep drop off from there, minus convenience. I love convenience, and it’s called a money dial because you can turn that dial way, way, way up, as you’re about to discover. So, this guy says, “My money dial’s eating out.”
I said, “Great. What do you love?”
He goes, “I eat out. I love it. I love the restaurant. I love not having to clean my dishes.” He’s getting excited. The whole crowd’s getting excited. I’m getting excited.
I go, “Okay. I understand what your money dial is. Now I want you to dream with me. What if you could quadruple your spending on eating out? What would that look like, and what would that feel like?” For everybody listening, you have your money down, whether it’s eating out, travel, health and wellness, convenience, luxury, experiences, relationships, it’s what you love spending money, and you would love spending even more on it.
Tori Dunlap (38:41):
Got it. Yeah. We call it like value categories.
Ramit Sethi (38:44):
Tori Dunlap (38:44):
So, one of the things you value, and I have people assign their top three. For me, it’s travel, food out, and making my apartment or my living space nice.
Ramit Sethi (38:53):
Tori Dunlap (38:54):
So, flowers, weekly flowers, throw pillows, candles from T.J. Maxx, all of that stuff.
Ramit Sethi (38:58):
Love it. He’s thinking. He’s deep in thought, and he makes a really common joke. He goes, “Haha. I’d probably have to go to the gym more, because I’d be eating out four times a week,” and I laughed, but then I said, “I don’t want you to think that linearly. Notice that your first jump was, “If I eat out once a week and I quadrupled my spending, I would eat out four times a week.” It’s a very linear way of thinking. One times four is four. I said, “Think about where you would eat. Think about who you would eat with.”
Tori Dunlap (39:34):
The bottle of wine you now get to buy.
Ramit Sethi (39:36):
Yeah. He gets very quiet. The whole room is quiet.
Tori Dunlap (39:38):
Ramit Sethi (39:40):
And he goes, “I know what I would do.”
I said, “What?”
He said, “I have a list of every Michelin star restaurant in DC. I would go to it.”
I said, “Who would you take with you?”
Tori Dunlap (39:52):
Beautiful. Yeah. Love it.
Ramit Sethi (39:54):
He goes, “I’d take my family.”
I said, “Why?”
He said, “Because they could never afford to eat at those kind of places.”
That is a money dial. That is a vision. That is a reason to earn more, to be unapologetic about starting a side business, negotiating your salary, investing your money. That is exciting. That’s not being reprimanded for cutting back on lattes. No. That’s telling you, “I’m going to earn money. I’m going to love it. I’m going to be unapologetic, and this is what I’m going to do with my money.” That is a rich life.
Tori Dunlap (40:25):
I joke all the time that I can’t get through an episode of this podcast without crying, and I’m literally tearing up, Ramit, because I think especially in a society that is told, women in particular play small, like we are told, “Play small,” because then we are controllable. If we are told, “Don’t talk about money. Don’t want money. Don’t don’t use money as a tool and a resource for you,” we are forced to play small, and I think one of the most transformational things, I can speak to this personally, the most transformational thing in my life has been having a financial foundation, because I don’t have to stay in toxic situations.
I go, and I get to go with my best friend to Italy for a month. That’s literally what I did last October, is I went to Italy for a month and went to any restaurant I wanted, because that’s what we loved to do, is eat good food. We had the best time, and that’s the feeling I want for every single person, but especially every single woman, because we have been actively told, “Play small. Don’t make a commotion. Don’t want for anything, because that’s selfish,” and I think that story, also food’s my big thing too, so that literally like that sounds like something I would do.
Ramit Sethi (41:35):
I was dying. The whole crowd was in love with this guy. I was in love. I’ll never forget that story, and everyone in DC, who’s listening, who was there, you know exactly the story I’m talking about. I think I have learned about money a lot from my wife as well. When we got together and we were engaged, we started to talk about money between ourselves, and that was quite revelatory, because here I am, Mr. I will teach you to be rich, and I’ve been talking about money for 15 years at that point.
But to talk about it in a personal relationship, really unpacked layers that I had not tackled, that was one of
the reasons for starting the podcast. Because I wished, when we were talking about things like a prenup, I wish that I had been able to hear other couples and how they talk about money. Think about it. Anybody listening to this, when was the last time you ever heard a real couple talking about money, sharing real numbers, talking about how they spend it? Never, because people don’t talk about this except behind closed doors. And I wish that we could have had other couples that we talked to. It became heated, and we ended up seeing a therapist. That was amazing.
I can’t recommend it enough, and we started to learn how to develop our language around money. With that said, my wife also, she will admit, she did a ton of work herself on her money, psychology, and she also started earning a lot more money. She plays big in her own business as a personal stylist. Those two things, again, also with me working on my money, psychology relating to my wife, we were spending a lot of time and effort on this. When I was talking to a couple yesterday for the podcast, they did not have great communication. I shared a story about how one of the things that my wife and I do, we talk about money once a month. We have a money meeting. We sync up. This is a great exercise.
Tori Dunlap (43:43):
We call it a money date for [inaudible 00:43:44], and we actually have a whole episode about it. I’m trying to remember what episode it is. I think it’s 11 of like how to go through this.
Ramit Sethi (43:48):
Love it. Love it.
Tori Dunlap (43:48):
How to go through your money. Yeah.
Ramit Sethi (43:49):
Yeah. It’s so good. Whenever they talk about money, it was so depressing. I was like, “What do you guys, just sit there and look out the rainy window, and listen to Sarah McLaughlin songs?” It’s so depressing the way you two talk about money.
Tori Dunlap (44:03):
You’ve got your graphs and charts and-
Ramit Sethi (44:05):
Yeah. Someone’s mascara is running down their face. Just their charts are just running in the rain. I’m like, “God, this so depressing,” so I was like, “Can we make this a little fun?”, and by the end, they actually learn.
Tori Dunlap (44:19):
Make it a date. Make it something to look forward to. We literally tell people, I’m like, “Get take out from your favorite restaurant. Wrap yourself in a down comforter cocoon if you need to. Make it a comfortable, relatively exciting experience.
Ramit Sethi (44:30):
Yeah. Make it a thing. Money can be fun. Money can be joyful, especially if you’re talking about it. like that gentleman in DC. Yeah, “What is our rich life vision together?” And even individually, my wife and I did an exercise where we wrote down what’s on our bucket list, and that was exciting. Some of the things we want to do together, some of them, we don’t. That’s okay.
Tori Dunlap (44:50):
And then how do we use money as a tool and a resource in order to build that life together?
Ramit Sethi (44:53):
Tori Dunlap (44:53):
So, if we want to buy a house in three years, we want to have kids in 10 years, if we want to retire early, how do we use money as a tool and a resource to get there collectively?
Ramit Sethi (45:01):
Tori Dunlap (45:02):
Yeah. Cool. So, in talking with couples, do you find, and are you talking to same sex couples as well?
Ramit Sethi (45:09):
Tori Dunlap (45:10):
Cool. Do you find that there are gendered expectations or fears about how finances and spending should be handled, either in heteronormative relationships or in same sex partnerships?
Ramit Sethi (45:24):
Yes. I’ll speak to heteronormative relationships. They are the more common couples that I speak to, and there are a couple of fears. A common fear that women have in these relationships, it’s almost like they all saw a similar movie. The common fear is being left in the rain with just a backpack on and two kids [inaudible 00:45:53].
Tori Dunlap (45:52):
I was just about to guess, and that was my guess of just being left behind or being abandoned.
Ramit Sethi (45:57):
Yeah. It’s so vivid. It’s so dark, and I understand it. I’ve had these conversations with my wife, and I remember when we talked about it. I was getting extremely frustrated, because I said, “Look…” This was my reaction. This was way back then. I was like, “Look at the math.” That was my answer. “Look at the math.” I was like, “Look at the math.”
Tori Dunlap (46:19):
She’s like very emotional, and you’re like, “Look at the math.”
Ramit Sethi (46:21):
Totally. I was like holding up this 10 by 10 spreadsheet. I go, “It’s impossible to be left in the lane.”
Tori Dunlap (46:26):
She’s like, “No, but what if I get abandoned. What if you leave me?”
Ramit Sethi (46:30):
It was just this classic moment. I was like, “We are not speaking the same language,” and in retrospect, we look back and we can smile on it. But when I speak to couples where they have this fear, I totally get it, because I was in that conversation with my wife. Now, I did a survey on social media, and a surprisingly high number of women agreed with this fear.
Then, interestingly, some of them said, “This is outrageous. This is misogynist to even suggest this.”
But I said, “Look at the stats. These are just the people who are saying “yes” of my audience, much less a general group. There’s a fear, and many for rightful reasons,” and so that’s one thing that we unpack. Now, I will say this. As I learned in my own situation, simply showing the math does not change the feeling about money.
No, not at all. It’s very tricky and quite fascinating to be able to show people, you actually will have enough, or if you will not, let’s talk about a plan to get there. We have an episode, episode 28 with Katie and Sean, where she has a fear of being abandoned. We have different expectations, gendered expectations, of who should pay for things. We talk about that on episode 17 and 18 with Monique and Pablo, and episode 34 and 35 with Ashley and Josh. Both of those were examples where she expected him to pay for dates or a variety of other things. Then, I would say that we have couples where the woman is out earning the man, and those are also great episodes; 25 and 31 and 32. You see these things like, “I don’t want to have to be taken care of.” That was what one of the husbands said.
Tori Dunlap (48:18):
Ramit Sethi (48:18):
Yeah, from men.
Tori Dunlap (48:20):
Like, that societal expectation that men are still providers, right? And we have an episode about undefining masculinity. I don’t know if you know Justin Baldoni’s work, but his work’s amazing around this, of like societal expectations and toxic masculinity hurts men as much as it hurts women, right
Ramit Sethi (48:38):
I need to be the man, and then I ask them like, “What does the man mean?”
They’ll say, “Provider.”
I say, “Well, okay. Your wife earns twice as much as you, so what does that make you today?” And it’s quite a moment. I do think that we can choose and redefine what these terms mean to us. I think that if it works for you and your partner, great, right? But you have to be able to have these dif
ficult conversations. I do think that money and gender, such a real issue in personal finance and less talked about.
Many people are comfortable talking about compound interest charts and 4% safe withdrawal rates, but I find it much more fascinating to talk about societal expectations. One partner, dramatically out earning the other, and a variety of these things that are the real deal when people think about money. On a day-to-day basis, they are not thinking about compound interests. They’re thinking about, “Why didn’t this person do the dishes?” Or “How come I earn way more, and I still have to clean up around the house, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera?” We want to unpack those, and then let people define what their rich lives are.
Tori Dunlap (49:47):
One of the stats I found when researching my book, and maybe you know it, it shouldn’t have shocked me as much as it did… When they took the census data, most recently, if you were in a heteronormative relationship, and you were a woman out earning your male partner, you lied as your woman and you said you earned less, and then the other half of it was that men who were outearn by their female partners lied and said they made more than they actually did.
Ramit Sethi (50:12):
Tori Dunlap (50:13):
Again, shouldn’t have been shocking, but I was so angered by that, because, again, it’s like women play small. Men play big. If that is not the situation you’re in, you are actually self assigning yourself, those roles, and I think about in my own life; I am dating, and I am not partnered, and knowing that probably 99 times out of 100, I will outearn the person I end up being with. It’s very interesting, because some men are excited by that, and most are very concerned with that still, and it’s 2022.
Ramit Sethi (50:54):
What does that mean?
Tori Dunlap (50:55):
Oh, interesting question. We’re going to go with full therapy, Ramit. I think, one, the men who are intimidated by any sort of success or money I have are not the men I am interested in, but I think they realize that, of course, when I have my own money and my own resources, they have to show up. I think that weirdly it’s that realization of like, “Oh. If she’s going to be with me, it’s because she wants to be with me, not because there’s anything else on the table, potentially, in terms of money or stability, I can offer that to myself.”
I think that’s a bit where the concern comes in, and then also just the realization that this happens with anything or anybody, any relationship romantic or otherwise. I think when you enter into a relationship with somebody, whether that’s, again, friendship, romantic, and somebody maybe has a certain attribute that you don’t, you can either see that as a healthy challenge of, “Oh. I get to work and see this person model this for me to be better,” or you see it as a threat to you.
And I think that, for a lot of men, somebody who is, I like to think of myself as kind, caring, all those things, but also confident, stable, and all of these career, financial, and the more traditional like success. I have that covered too, and so I think in dating, it’s been really interesting, because I think a lot of them are not seeing it as a potential opportunity, but rather a threat to their own weakness potentially.
Ramit Sethi (52:28):
That is so interesting, and I’m glad that you get to share your experiences with your audience. I know that you’re not the only one. I know that for a fact, and so for you to be able to take your perspective, your experiences, and also your expertise, and to be able to share it with the other women in your audience, what a gift.
Tori Dunlap (52:48):
I really appreciate that. Thank you. It means a lot. I’ll ask you one more question. What is the most surprising thing that you’ve learned in your work or, similar to the story you told about DC, like can you think of a time in your work where you just remember feeling, because I have these moments where you just remember feeling like, “Okay, this is why I do what I do,” and this was the kind of breakthrough or the kind of transition that you wish every single person could have.
Ramit Sethi (53:13):
I remember speaking to a couple with $400,000 of debt.
Tori Dunlap (53:21):
Is that student debt?
Ramit Sethi (53:22):
Tori Dunlap (53:22):
Ramit Sethi (53:23):
And they were calm. They were loving to each other, supportive. In that relationship, the wife didn’t even know how big the debt was until basically the day before, and she was surprised, but she was still a partner. She was loving, supportive, and they worked on how to make a plan for it. Then, I spoke to couples with $25,000 of debt, and they were angry, resentful, stressed.
From looking at their numbers, I knew that they could pay it off without too much work; however, the big takeaway there is that your feelings about money are highly uncorrelated to the amount you have in the bank. We believe that if I pay off this debt, then I will feel safe. We believe that if we make $100,000 or we have $200,000 in the bank or $20,000 in the bank, that we will feel successful. Wrong. I’ve talked to multimillionaires on my podcast who still worry about money, who still comparison shop for strawberries, still. Net worth $8 million, still opening up two windows.
Tori Dunlap (54:52):
I don’t have quite that much, but I still comparison shop for strawberries.
Ramit Sethi (54:56):
There’s a time. Your feelings are uncorrelated with the amount in the bank.
Tori Dunlap (55:00):
Ramit Sethi (55:01):
And here’s the key. If you make an extra 25% higher income, or if you have a million dollars in your bank account, you will not feel safe with money. You will not feel good with money unless you work on your money psychology as well. When I see people realize this, and sometimes it takes a variety of different tactics, it’s the rare person who responds to the actual math. I show them the math. I go, “You’re going to have $7 million when you retire.”
Most people, they can’t even fathom having $1 million, much less $7 million. They don’t know what to make of that, so I move on from that, but there are other ways, such as what are your children learning from the way you talk about money? The way you worry about money? What is that costing you with your partner? Are you showing up playing big or playing small? There’s a variety of different techniques that I use to get people to truly grapple with where they are financially and from a rich life perspective. When they get it, when they stop arguing about $3, asparagus, or buying another Roomba, and they start talking about their rich life, what do we want to do? Where do we want to live? How do we want to spend our money to create safety, security, joy, experiences? And they get it? That’s when I know I have the dream job,
Tori Dunlap (56:26):
I love it. Ramit, anything else you want to add?
Ramit Sethi (56:30):
I thank everyone for listening. You can find me on social media.
Tori Dunlap (56:33):
Just going to have to plug yourself. Perfect.
Ramit Sethi (56:35):
Yeah, you can find me @ramit on Instagram, Twitter. My website, iwt.com, and my book, I Will Teach You to Be Rich, and of course my newsletter, where I share some of the most interesting stuff that I have found from my readers, that’s on my website as well.
Tori Dunlap (56:51):
Thank you for coming. I really appreciate it.
Ramit Sethi (56:53):
Tori Dunlap (56:55):
A huge thank you, again, to Ramit for joining us. This was such a fun interview and such a cool pinch me moment for me and my own journey, not only as a financial educator, but also my own personal financial journey. Ramit is also one of the featured financial experts in my upcoming book called Financial Feminist, which releases December 27th of this year, but is available for pre-order now. You can also check out Ramit’s I Will Teach You To Be Rich website and book. We’ve made sure to link all of it, his book, his social, website in the show notes.
You can also check out his podcast of the same name, I Will Teach You To Be Rich, where he live coaches co
uples through their money frustrations. It’s really fascinating. Once again, as always, thank you for being here. Truly, truly, truly. I know I thank you every episode. I thank you because I mean it. I appreciate your support of the show. You sharing this podcast, listening to this podcast, not only of course supports our company, which is women led, women founded, predominantly women run, but also is our way of getting financial feminism out into the world and is a way of taking money conversations mainstream.
We talk about every taboo topic: sex, drugs, politics, religion, death. We’ll talk about every single topic before we’ll talk about money, and our commitment with Financial Feminist is to make those conversations less taboo, more normalized, and for you to start growing your wealth. I appreciate your support of the show. Subscribe, leave us a review on wherever you’re listening right now, and we can’t wait to see you next week. Catch you later, Financial Feminist. Thank you for listening to Financial Feminist, a Her First $100K podcast.
Financial Feminist is hosted by me, Tori Dunlap, produced by Kristen Fields, marketing and administration by Karina Patel, Olivia Coning, Cherise Wade, Alena Helzer, Paulina Isaac, Sophia Cohen, Valerie Oresko, Jack Coning, and Ana Alexandra. Research by Ariel Johnson. Audio engineering by Austin Fields, promotional graphics by Mary Stratton, photography by Sarah Wolf, and theme music by Jonah Cohen Sound. A huge thanks to the entire Her First $100k team and community for supporting the show. For more information about Financial Feminist, Her First $100k, our guests episode show notes, and our upcoming book also titled Financial Feminist, visit Herfirst100k.com.