During our Career Stories interview with Nicole Bohannon, we touched on personal finance, the topic of our second podcast episode. In this blog, Nicole discusses how working in fundraising on a political campaign affected her relationship with money. She also tells us how she prioritizes having more open and honest conversations about personal finance with those around her.
Understanding My Own Relationship With Money
Working on a political campaign definitely changed my view on and relationship with money. In my role, I was the connection between donors and my candidate, so I learned a lot about different people’s relationships with money. I also learned about what motivates different people to donate. Political fundraising can be really emotional; people donate to causes mostly because they care deeply about a certain issue, so it’s a really interesting place where finance and values intersect.
What I learned on the campaign still affects my relationship with money today. Throughout my life, whether I was a camp counselor, server, babysitter, or being paid to scan documents, I was hustling to earn money. While definitely a necessity at the time, I also learned that I’m the type of person who needs to make career decisions based more on personal fulfillment than financial growth. Thankfully, I have a little more freedom to do that today.
On the campaign, I realized that I didn’t want to become wealthy enough to be disconnected from what most people experience. While many well-off people I met were living amazing lives, some of them didn’t know the price of groceries or rarely interacted with people outside their socioeconomic class. Everyone has different priorities, and if they’re happy, good on them to lead the life they want, but I knew that wasn’t the type of lifestyle I wanted.
Aligning My Financial Values and Habits
I don’t think having money is an inherently bad thing. A lot of people say that power and money can corrupt, but there’s a famous quote from Robert Caro, the Pulitzer-award winning biographer of President Lyndon B. Johnson: “Power doesn’t always corrupt. What power always does is reveal.” I firmly believe that the values and habits you have will follow you regardless of how much money you have. Even now, early in my career, I’m trying to make sure that I establish responsible and ethical habits for myself that stay true to my core values.
Whether I have a lot of money or not later in life, I still want to be aware of my own purchasing power and how I can be generous. First, though, I need to make sure I’m taking care of my present and future self. After figuring out what I need to survive and plan for my financial future, I can then think about how I want to make an impact. For example, I want to support small businesses as much as possible. Even if this means I’ll still go to larger chain stores sometimes, establishing this value and habit earlier on will help me to continue into the future when I may have more financial flexibility.
Talk more about money!
Another way that working on the campaign changed my relationship to finances was that now, I really have no shame when talking about money. I think directly asking people for donations changed my view that talking about money was “rude.” Talking about money isn’t rude! When you don’t talk about money, you’re only hurting yourself. Ask for help! Talk to your friends and family, or someone that you trust.
In my current role, I make talking about money with my interns, and especially with young women, a priority. After I graduated from college, I wrote up a comprehensive budgeting plan and kept track of my spending through Mint (a free online budget tracker) so I could change and improve. This was so helpful to me, and I really make sure to pass this onto the younger people who I work with. There is really so much to think about around personal finance. It’s great to have savings, but you also have to think about so much more than that – like traveling, retirement, and a higher education degree! I encourage my interns to learn more about all factors of personal finance because it’s so important to understand and plan as early as possible.
One of the most helpful conversation topics I’ve brought up for my friends and interns is: “How are you saving for retirement?” It seems like a crazy question to ask a 20-year old junior in college, but typical retirement programs like a company-matched 401k plan aren’t as frequent options in non-profit organizations, policy-areas, or public service. I also find that the young women in my life don’t have adequate financial literacy to even know what to look for. I like to recommend for my interns in university and graduate school to ask for graduation money specifically for their Roth IRA or other retirement option. It’s a great graduation gift idea, and will make them seem and feel more responsible and mature.
Another helpful topic I’m open about is salary and personal finance. Fighting the wage gap is a massive endeavor, but I start with myself and talk openly about my salary and benefits with close friends. It’s important to understand what your peers are experiencing, not just to compare and contrast, but to learn what to ask for when you’re negotiating your own benefits package.
Everyone’s financial habits and goals are different, but we can all learn from each other. Don’t be afraid to talk to others, ask questions, and get advice. Learn more about what has worked and not worked for them. The biggest barrier I see with my friends and people I work with is that they’re afraid to talk about money because they believe it is a reflection of their worth. I want to emphasize that is unequivocally untrue – money is a tool to accomplish your goals and ambitions. Just like you would do research to find the best car before buying it, you should do research on what salaries and benefits you want the most for either your current job or a future position. Like anything else in life, you have to constantly learn to improve.