With preachy, unrealistic directives about quitting avocado toast to magically solve all your money problems, the personal finance industry has a well-earned reputation for being dry and irrelevant to people living on all but the biggest budgets. Enter Portland’s Lillian Karabaic. You probably know her as the founder of Pedalpalooza’s now-departed Bowie vs. Prince ride, but Karabaic also hosts a friendly, approachable personal finance podcast, Oh My Dollar! on XRAY.FM, that demystifies money to make it less scary, and comes “with a dash of glitter.” Karabaic’s also dispensing financial wisdom in a forthcoming workbook, Get Your Money Together: Your Purr-fect Finance Workbook, that was successfully funded through Kickstarter at the end of November.
Ahead of the book’s printing, Karabaic shared her best practices on everything from the controversial latté factor, to saving, to combining cats with personal finance.
On why personal finance needs “a dash of glitter”:
“So many people I know are in this situation where they don’t even look at their checking account. They’re just afraid to look at it. The terror of opening it is so big that they put it off and put it off, and it literally never gets better if you’re completely passive with it. So finding a way to make it really accessible—with cats, spandex, and all the things I think are irresistible to a lot of folks in my peer group—is just an attempt to make it a little easier for everyone.”
On where traditional personal finance falls short:
“I worked in nonprofits, I never made particularly amazing money, and I was so frustrated looking out there for personal finance advice. There seemed to be this really large gap. There’s a fair amount of self-sufficiency budgeting stuff out there that’s focused on people who are trying to get off SNAP or welfare programs like TANIF... and then there’s a lot of stuff that’s focused on what is obviously profitable for financial advisors and financial planners—which are people working in tech, folks that are very financially stable. And then there’s a huge middle sector which almost all my friends fit into... there’s this huge gap in the middle of folks that just aren’t being addressed in the current market, and those are my friends, those are my coworkers. That’s why I started doing this. Because I just couldn’t find anything out there.”
On learning how to budget:
“My first piece of advice is to start tracking and budgeting your expenses. I mention budgeting every week on the show because I think it’s so important, and I also think people have a really false idea about what budgeting is. This is simply finding a way to keep track of your money that works for you. It doesn’t necessarily mean spreadsheets, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re living on the margins. A lot of people think if you’re on a budget that means you can never have any fun. But it’s the first step to actually having an idea about what’s leaving your hands.”
On how to budget if you’re allergic to spreadsheets:
“One of the things I recommend to people if they’re going to have a lot of trouble tracking things in granularity is consider the envelope method. [T]hat’s essentially where all your discretionary expenses—everything that doesn’t automatically come out of your account, like rent—are paid for in cash. You withdraw the cash either at the beginning of the week or month, then you literally divide it up into envelopes based on how much you’re going to spend in each category. Once the money runs out in the envelope, you either don’t do that thing anymore, or you have to take money from another envelope.”
On the latté factor, the much bandied-about idea that all of one’s financial woes can be solved by no longer buying a daily latté:
“The lower your income, the more likely you won’t be helped by the latte factor. If you’re making $15 an hour, you’re aware that you worked 20 minutes to pay for that latté and after taxes, 40 minutes. But... there are people who really can benefit from looking at those small things which add up to a lot. Smoking is a huge one. But I think it’s more controversial when it’s suggested as a panacea for all financial problems. Like, ‘Oh, you wouldn’t be broke if you didn’t buy a latté.’ That’s not the problem. You’re either broke because you have an income problem, or you’re broke because you’re not tracking your expenses.”
On how to start saving:
“Figure out what’s a savable amount for you. Start with $5 or $10 a month. If that’s the most that you can handle, just start with that, because the habit of saving really will pay off in the long term. Murphy comes knocking on the door the second you don’t have any savings. That’s what I’ve found. If you don’t have any cushion, that’s when everything breaks—that’s when your cat goes to the vet, your car falls apart, and it all happens in one month... because you didn’t manage to set any aside.”
Oh My Dollar
On XRAY in the Morning (107.1 FM & 91.1 FM) at xrayfm.com