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Erica Gellerman Wants to Change How We Talk About Money

Do you ever wish you could just speak frankly with your friends about money? Erica Gellerman felt the same way and decided to create that community around her.

In 2016, she started The Worth Project to provide a different sort of financial advice. Instead of how to budget and save, The Worth Project asks, what if we started to think about money as a way to do more and get more out of our life?

Gellerman was kind enough to answer our questions about money and her goals with The Worth Project.

For those who don’t know you, why don’t you tell our readers a little about your background.

I went to UC Santa Barbara, majored in Economics, and started as a CPA at PWC after graduation. Soon after, I decided I was not in love with the Accounting profession, and wanted to make a career change. So I went to Duke for my MBA, focusing on marketing, where I also racked up six figures of student loan debt.

I think a lot of people can relate to that, how did you get into your current work?

I went into marketing after business school, and then my husband was offered a job in London. We decided to go and it became a new opportunity to see what interested me. So I decided to start freelance writing and through that I got the opportunity to write a column at Forbes, interviewing women on their salaries. And that is the impetus of The Worth Project. It is a personal finance website and newsletter that I run for empowering women.

In my Friday newsletter, I started to talk about how my husband and I are approaching our money since having a baby. As these newsletters were getting a bit more personal, I started getting feedback that readers were getting confidence just from me sharing the lessons I was learning and the challenges we were facing.

“We made a lot of big decisions coming out of the process to change how we live — and a lot of them are related to money.”

A few months ago we went through a process called financial life planning (it helps you figure out what you really want to do with your life). We made a lot of big decisions coming out of the process to change how we live — and a lot of them are related to money. I was so eager to share the process and our progress with readers that I decided the best way to bring them into the conversation is with a podcast. We just launched our podcast to chronicle our journey and I hope that it inspires people to think about what they really want to do in life and then figure out how to use money to support that vision.

erica gellerman

But The Worth Project isn’t your only business.

At some point, I noticed that a lot of people who had signed up for my newsletters were financial advisors. And then slowly they started reaching out, asking if I could help write content for them. From there it naturally spun into another business.

I only work with fee-only fiduciary advisors; these are people I really believe in. I think financial education is important and am glad I get to help these advisors better communicate with clients.

What’s one of your favorite things to write about, and something you wish people were more interested in.

My favorite topic is financial life planning. The mindset around setting goals, how you want to build your life, and then how the money fits into that.

The thing I always want to write about but never lands well is investing, which is so frustrating! It is such an important topic and no matter how hard I work to avoid it being confusing, people just don’t have the same appetite for it. The one caveat is that I did a survey of my newsletter subscribers, and the piece that members voted as most memorable was an investing topic!

Do you ever get the feedback that someone was nervous to ask a person a financial question, but felt they could turn to your blog for help?

My weekly newsletters are very conversational, and I get the feedback that people appreciate that because it is a conversation they don’t get to have in real life. It is so interesting to me that people don’t want to talk about it, but want to read everything they can. Maybe because they don’t want to make a mistake with someone when talking? They might think they are behind and everyone else already knows about this. But the reality is everyone is trying to figure this out too.

“I get the feedback that people appreciate that because it is a conversation they don’t get to have in real life.”

How do you feel about how closed people can be when talking about money?

I think some people have some shame and embarrassment when it comes to money. I’ve had a friend ask to review her finances with me, and she is one of the most confident people I know, but she felt so uncomfortable getting started and said she has never shared some of this information with someone before. So many people tie their self worth to their net worth, but I don’t feel that way at all.

“So many people tie their self worth to their net worth, but I don’t feel that way at all.”

How do you think student debt plays into that unwillingness to talk about money?

I think it comes up a lot for me because I am so open about having had six figures of student debt, but being able to pay it off relatively quickly. I weave that into my story so much, and how that debt impacted the decisions I made.

I get feedback saying it was refreshing to say that I took a crappy job because it paid more so I could make larger payments. Or how having debt can weigh on you and impact how you feel about your day to day purchases, or how responsible you are with money.

Debt, and especially student debt, can be a very emotional burden as well. If you spent that much money on school but aren’t happy with where you are it can be stressful and not everyone wants to talk about that side of it.

The people around you know you run this site, do you think you get to have more conversations than most about money?

Oh yes, people ask me questions all the time about money. Even before I started The Worth Project, people would talk to me about money all the time, probably because I would bring it up!

What’s a piece of financial advice you would give our readers?

Someone once told me that no one will ever care about your money as much as you do. You have to invest time in thinking about it and learning about it. If you want to make good decisions, it is on you to learn as much as you can, and make those decisions.

This article was written by Carolyn Pairitz Morris, Senior Editor at Earnest. Photos provided by Erica Gellerman.

Disclaimer: This blog post provides personal finance educational information, and it is not intended to provide legal, financial, or tax advice.