At HerMoney, we feel like all of our listeners — wherever in the world you may be — are our friends. We’re all part of the HerMoney family. We get to connect on the podcast once a week and anytime via our website or private Facebook group. The point is that our entire community is connected, and if we didn’t already appreciate just how important meaningful connections are in our lives, well, these last few months have certainly shown us.
We’ve now been through seven months of not being able to see many of our friends, hug our friends, celebrate birthdays and milestones, and it’s been rough. It’s the people we’re connected to who make for a rich life — it’s not money, it’s not fame. Rather, it’s love and it’s friendship — it’s all those warm hugs and long conversations that truly form the ties that bind.
So, when is the last time you called your girlfriend? And, on that note, when is the last time you listened to the long-running “Call Your Girlfriend” podcast? We’re so happy to be joined in this episode by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman, hosts of that incredible podcast, and the authors of a new book, a co-memoir called, “Big Friendship,” which has successfully landed at the top of all the major bestseller lists. The book details Aminatou and Ann’s interracial best-friendship over the course of a decade. It dives into the progress and pitfalls, the strain and the deep satisfaction. The book also looks at how our society as a whole values friendship — or, as the case may be, under-values it.
Listen in as Jean talks with Aminatou and Ann about what friendship means to them, and how they met.
“There was just a really deep, mutual understanding that we were going to be a support system for one another, and I think that without even really articulating that, we just started falling into the motions of being a duo and being really committed to each other and being committed to our friendship,” Aminatou says.
The trio also discusses what it truly means to “be a good friend” in an era where we can’t travel, give hugs, or gather for birthday parties.
“It’s impossible to stay friends with someone just thinking about them, or kind of just abstractly calling them a friend and never actually getting in contact or asking how they are or sending a note. Showing up is extremely, extremely important. It is the difference between the kind of friendships that are actively sustaining through the things that get really difficult in life, and friendships that are just friendships in name only and maybe don’t alleviate any loneliness you feel, or don’t make the hard stuff easier,” Ann says.
The pair also talk about how their friendship led to their professional collaborations. “From the beginning we were obsessed with each other’s brains, so it was natural that we began collaborating,” Ann explains, detailing how they collaborated for a while on projects that were not a professional endeavor. In doing that, they showed one another that they could commit day in, day out, to doing something together.
We also discuss the cultural messages that we receive as children, which is that friendship is “supposed to be easy,” that “you meet people and somehow you stay friends with them forever.” But the truth is that friendships, like all kinds of relationships, are work. Friendships are deep, important, and complicated relationships, Ann explains, and sometimes work responsibilities and family responsibilities get in the way of us having time for our friends, but we have to prioritize the nurturing of those relationships.
The pair also address race in the context of their interracial friendship. They dive into some of the challenges they’ve faced, and tell us how to join (and start) important conversations on race with our friends.
“The lived experiences of people who you are having intimate relationships with, no matter what those experiences are, are important for you to understand if you’re going to have intimate relationships with them at all,” Aminatou says. “If you are not having this conversation with the Black people in your life, I think a good question to ask yourself is actually, ‘How close am I to the people in my life, and how close would they say that we are?’ Because it is one thing to claim someone as a friend and an entirely different thing to do the work of being someone’s friend.”
Aminatou and Ann also also offer their best suggestions for keeping our friendships strong during the pandemic, when connecting is more difficult than usual. Ann suggests trading audio messages if phone calls aren’t possible, and sending letters. Aminatou suggests being vulnerable and telling your friend directly, “I want to find a way to stay connected with you.” Then finding out what works best for them. Most importantly, they both agree: “Tell the people in your life that you love them.”
In Mailbag, Jean advises a listener who is planning to support her parents in their retirement, but is unsure of the most equitable way for her siblings to split the cost. We also hear from a listener who is successfully working on her checklist to bulk up her savings and retirement accounts, but who is hoping to leave her stressful job, find a partner, and start a family. We also hear from a listener who wants clarification around retirement target multipliers, and whether they’re for a household or an individual, and gross income vs. net. And in Thrive, how to talk to your boss about making working from home a permanent arrangement.
Aminatou Sow: (00:01)
It’s impossible to stay friends with someone just thinking about them or just kind of abstractly calling them a friend and never actually getting in contact or asking how they are or sending a note. And so, yeah, showing up is extremely, extremely important. And it is the difference between the kinds of friendships that are actively sustaining through the things that get really difficult in life and friendships that are just kind of friendships in name only, and maybe don’t alleviate any loneliness you feel or don’t make the hard stuff easier.
Jean Chatzky: (00:38)
HerMoney is supported by Fidelity Investments. You work too hard for your money to let it sit on the sidelines. Fidelity can show you how to demand more from your money every day. Visit Fidelity.com/HerMoney to learn more.
Jean Chatzky: (00:51)
Hey everyone, I’m Jean Chatzky. Thank you so much for joining us today on HerMoney. I am very excited for our show today. I know that Kathryn Tuggle is as well. Because we really feel like all of you, all of our listeners, wherever in the world you may be, and we have heard from you in many corners of the globe, we feel like you’re our friends. We feel like we’re all part of this incredible HerMoney family. And once a week, we get to connect here on the podcast or any time on our website and our newsletters, in the private Facebook group, where I just love to see all of you interacting with one another. And the point is, I’m connected to you. You’re connected to me and our whole team. And if we didn’t already appreciate just how important these meaningful connections are in our lives, the last six months or so have really shown us. We have all been through this incredibly long period it seems, of not being able to see many of our friends, to hug our friends, to celebrate birthdays and milestones. It’s been rough. It’s been difficult because these connections in our lives are so incredibly important. Over the weekend I was thinking about this show and how excited I was for this conversation. And I started thinking about all the meaningful relationships in my life. Truly they are what make your life rich. It’s not money. It’s not fame. It’s not power. It’s love. It’s friendship. It’s all of those things. And on that note, when’s the last time you called your girlfriend. And when is the last time you listened to the long-running “Call Your Girlfriend” podcast? Today, I am absolutely thrilled to be joined by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman, the authors of that incredible podcast, actually they’re the hosts of that incredible podcast. But they’re the authors of a new book. It is a memoir called “Big Friendship,” which has landed on all the major bestseller lists – the Times the LA Times, the Washington Post – and it details Aminatou’s and Ann’s interracial best friendship over the course of a decade. It dives deep into the progress and the pitfalls, the strain, the deep satisfaction. And it also looks at how our society as a whole values friendship, or as the case may be, maybe undervalues it. Aminatou and Ann, thank you so much for being here.
Aminatou Sow: (03:47)
]Thank you for having us.
Ann Friedman: (03:48)
It’s a pleasure.
Jean Chatzky: (03:50)
So, let’s start by talking about the book because you’re both writers. You’re essayists. You’re journalists. This is your first book. What was it like to dive into a project like this together? And Ann, you got here first. So, I’m going to start with you.
Ann Friedman: (04:06)
Well, as you say, neither of us have written a book before. So, we don’t have a whole lot to compare it to. I certainly don’t. But I will say that there were many times during this process where I was very, very grateful to be doing it with a friend, and with a friend whose judgment I respect so, so deeply. Because yes, there is the writing process. And that is one huge aspect of writing a book. But it really is a bigger kind of collaboration than that, that we have. You know, we’ve really together muddled through a lot of these other questions that come up when you write and publish a book together. How do we want it portrayed? How do we want to talk about it? What is the strategy for talking about it? How are we going to do the budget? How are we going to, you know, all of these aspects are things that we got to work through together. And you know, for myself, I know when I go on to write another book on my own, there are many parts of this process where I’m going to miss having a collaborator.
Jean Chatzky: (05:09)
Aminatou, for you, how has it been?
Aminatou Sow: (05:13)
I mean, you’ll be unsurprised to know, a lot of the same feelings are cropping up for me. Writing a book is a really long, tedious and very lonely process. And so, I am just really grateful that I got to do it with someone else. I think that having that, both a level of creative input and also just someone else to talk through admin or budgets or strategy, or someone to bounce ideas off of, was really invaluable. And I think that we have been really lucky in our collaboration to work on a couple of different things. And there was no way that we could have written this book without the years of experience from doing other things that we had done together.
Jean Chatzky: (06:00)
How’d the two of you meet?
Ann Friedman: (06:00)
We met at a TV viewing party in Washington, D.C. in 2009, where a mutual friend, who had met each of us separately, decided that we needed to be friends with each other and kind of engineered a minor social event where we could hang out and meet each other.
Jean Chatzky: (06:20)
What was it about each other, Ann, that made them so sure that you were a fit.
Ann Friedman: (06:27)
I don’t know. I mean, this mutual friend is really just kind of great at identifying a general energy or what, I don’t know. I mean, she did not arrive with any specific endorsements and say like, you will get along because you share the same beliefs about X or whatever. I think it was bigger and deeper and more mysterious than that. Like she just knew we would have this connection. I mean, and it did feel that way the night that we met. It was very much like all I wanted to do was listen to what Aminatou had to say about everything.
Jean Chatzky: (07:02)
Aminatou, why’d you guys decide to take it beyond that, to collaborate, to team up, to start the podcast, to, you know, become the poster children for friendship.
Aminatou Sow: (07:17)
I mean, when you put it that way, I think a lot of things happened before we ever even started collaborating with each other that was just a really deep mutual understanding that we were going to be a support system for each other. And I think that without even really articulating that, we just started falling into the motions of, you know, being a duo and being really committed to each other and being committed to our friendship. And we are also two people who really crave at some sort of structure. We write in the book that we are from the beginning, we were obsessed with each other’s brains. And so it was very natural that we started to gravitate towards collaborating because we were really, I think in some way, looking for a really structured way to spend time together. And we were really lucky that that happened naturally. It’s also true that for a really long time, we collaborated on projects that were not any kind of professional endeavor. None of them were monetized. It was never work. But I think in doing that, we showed each other that, oh, we could commit day in and day out to showing up to do something, which I think the consistency is probably the reason that our collaboration worked so well when we decided to take it up to the next level. But I will say that for us, it didn’t happen like fairly organically.
Jean Chatzky: (08:47)
It strikes me that that is a really good definition for friendship – the consistency to show up for each other. Is that what friendship means to you.
Ann Friedman: (08:57)
We do talk a lot about how it’s impossible to stay friends with someone just thinking about them, or just kind of abstractly calling them a friend and never actually getting in contact or asking how they are or sending a note. And so, yeah, showing up is extremely, extremely important. And it is the difference between the kinds of friendships that are actively sustaining through the things that get really difficult in life, and friendships that are just kind of friendships in name only and maybe don’t alleviate any loneliness you feel, or don’t make the hard stuff easier.
Jean Chatzky: (09:34)
In the book, you talk a lot about how society undervalues friendship. Can you talk a little bit, Aminatou, about why you think that is.
Aminatou Sow: (09:45)
I mean, there are a lot of reasons for that. And mainly they’re all mostly cultural. We live in a society that, by and large, still is very much a world that is driven by patriarchal and capitalist ideals. And so, you know, this idea that in order to be an adult, you are supposed to be someone who is in a successful romantic relationship, that then yields some sort of family, I think is one of the biggest reasons that we undervalue friendship. There is also just a cultural messaging, I know that I definitely got as a child, that friendship is just supposed to be easy, you know? And I think you kind of, you know, I don’t know that anyone tells you that, but I think that you infer that at a really young age that, oh yes, friendship is something that happens really easily on the playground. And then you meet people along the way and somehow you just stay friends with them forever. And there was never a real teaching or real understanding that friendships, like all kinds of relationships, are work. And they’re very rewarding relationships, but you also get what you put into them. And so I think that our inability just as a society to really say that friendships are deep, important, complicated relationships is a huge part of the reason that they end up being very undervalued.
Jean Chatzky: (11:13)
I think what you said about capitalism too, struck a chord with me. I dug in this morning to Andrew Ross Sorkin’s piece in the New York Times about the 50th anniversary of economist, Milton Friedman’s seminal essay on shareholder value which, you know, in a nutshell said, it is the job of companies to make money for their shareholders and very, very little else. And that was sort of a defining moment in make money, make money, make money, make money. And I do think that these things are at odds. That when we put all of our time or so much time into work, it leaves little time for other important things, including important friendships.
Ann Friedman: (12:04)
Right? And that’s those of us who are choosing to put a lot of time into work. I think the vast majority of people don’t really have a choice about the extreme number of hours that they work to make ends meet. And it is true that the way all sorts of other things are structured in our society, the way that we put the burden for caregiving on individuals and individual families, all of these things are really making it more difficult to make the time for for friends. And then if you couple that with friendship being not valued as much as work, or as much as traditional family, you have a real recipe for, hey, just let those friendships slide. Like you don’t have much time anyway. It’s fine. They’ll understand. If it’s not going well, just abandon it. Like all the kinds of things that we see cropping up.
Jean Chatzky: (12:53)
So how do you push it to the top of the list?
Aminatou Sow: (12:56)
I mean, I think that for the both of us, we, and even before we knew each other, we had made a choice that our friendships were really important, and they were a really central part of our well-being. They are an essential part of how we want to build our communities and how, really, we want to build the society that we work in. And so, you know, I think that Ann’s point about having all of these competing interests and not enough time, it’s very, very, very real. And I think that it is a burden that pretty much every individual in America will struggle with. But I think that even just reframing a mindset to say, oh, actually I will not let my friendships slide. It’s true that I don’t have enough time and that there are all these other competing interests. But friendship is central and important to me. We say over and over again that this problem of, how do you spend more time with your friends, is not one that you can solve alone. It’s a conversation that you need to be actively having with your friends. Because, if you were feeling crunched about all of the responsibilities that you have, it is also true that the people that you are trying to be in relationships with have those same constraints in their lives, even if they manifest differently. But I think that the first thing that we need to do as really as a culture and as a society, is say that friendships are really important and that they’re central to a lot of people’s lives. And that they will now be also really in consideration when we think about how we want to organize the society we live in.
Jean Chatzky: (14:29)
Yeah, absolutely. I think you’re right. It has to be a conversation where everybody, or at least the people in that relationship, decide that this is going to be a point of important focus. I want to dig in more to friendship in the time of pandemic, and also into the conversation race that we are having in this country right now. But before we do that, let me just remind everybody that HerMoney is proudly sponsored by Fidelity Investments. It’s no secret that women are on a different financial journey than men. So, it’s important to plan for those differences while thinking about retirement, social security, investing, and more. Fidelity can help. They’re taking steps to help women demand more from their money, because you’ve worked way too hard to get where you are to keep your money on the sidelines. So, get the skills and the investment advice that you need to put it to work for you. Visit Fidelity.com/HerMoney to learn more. I am talking with, Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman, authors of the New York Times bestselling book, “Big Friendship,” and hosts of the long-running, excellent podcast, “Call Your Girlfriend.” So, let’s start with this conversation, this important conversation, that we are having on race in this country at this time. Have you both ever had to deal with any surprises, any feedback, any judgment, positive or negative, about your interracial friendship? Ann, I’ll start with you again.
Ann Friedman: (16:10)
Well, I just want to start with kind of part of the premise of your question about when and how this conversation about race is happening. Because I think for us, it has been an ongoing one, but definitely does not feel new in spring and summer 2020. And I don’t say that to say like, oh, ha ha, we’ve been here, or like something braggy like that. But I do think it is a reality of life for black and brown people in America that race is something that they are confronted with and talk about and think about all the time. And I think that part of being in close friendship or close relationship with people of color if you are white, is developing a muscle to join those conversations and ideally start to lead them and initiate them. And so the parts of our book that are about the fact that we are women of two different races, Aminatou is black and I am white. You know, that part of our book was something that we worked on for years before George Floyd was murdered and before this latest round of protests. And so, I think that that is a really important place to start because I think it highlights the ways that race and racism have been present for some people and not for others. I also think for me, through the process of writing about race as it relates to our friendships specifically, am still very, very ignorant about the way race plays out in everyday interactions. I have really been reminded that it is a responsibility to paying attention and looking for that and kind of initiating conversations about it. And I also think, and this is something we write in the book, that it’s unavoidable. And this is another reason why I think we resist talking about it in terms of this moment. It is a really big and deep and ongoing issue, not just in kind of like American history or our politics, but in our interpersonal relationships and the way we construct our friendships and our families. And I really think that we’re hoping to, with our book, normalize the way that some of those conversations can happen within friendship and really reckon with the ways that friends of different races might be affected differently by how those conversations come up.
Jean Chatzky: (18:35)
Point taken absolutely about the question. So, as somebody, as two women, who’ve been having these conversations for years, from a tactical perspective, I do think, and this is something that we’ve visited a lot recently. I do think there is uncertainty, particularly among white women, about how do we start these conversations. How do we use that muscle? Can you share with us how you strengthen that muscle in yourself?
Ann Friedman: (19:09)
I mean, I really would refer people to this chapter because it is not only about a white perspective of interracial friendship. I think understanding in some ways that this way, that like white people experience race in an interracial friendship and also in the world, is just vastly, vastly different from the way people of other races and backgrounds are experiencing it. And so, that is one starting point, just recognizing that like, hey, because something doesn’t feel like a big deal to you, doesn’t mean it’s not a big deal or it doesn’t mean it’s not happening. I think for me, I have been very eager all the time to write off something that is really rooted in race as an incident that just has to do with like an interpersonal dispute or it’s specific to the two people and their personalities. And not kind of acknowledge the way that race has come into play to really define that interaction, which is something that I think is much more apparent to Aminatou in many cases, for example. And so, you know, I think one thing is like letting go of my own, you know, sometimes it’s my genuine perspective and sometimes I think it’s just a desire to believe that race is not touching relationships or situations where it is, in fact, at play. So, that’s one thing I think is really normalizing this idea that like there are not deracialized experiences. It’s not like only when I’m in conversation with a friend who’s black is that race is happening. You know, race is happening right now in a conversation between you and me, two white women. So, I think that that is a starting point. I think that there are lots of books and resources that people have shared in this moment of reckoning that can kind of help you start to think about the ways that race is playing out. But when it comes to the interpersonal interaction, I think that I will not claim to be really great at it all the time. But I will say that I am very much trying to recognize, closer to real time, as close to real time as I can, when race is coming into play in something that’s happening for me. And I think that also involves some really hard work about the advantages that I have had due to due to my race. And it doesn’t mean rewriting my narrative about having worked hard or questioning whether my friendships were real friendships, but I think a little bit of hindsight can be helpful. I know now more than I did a year ago or three years ago. And I think that is true for a lot of people who are, who are cluing into this conversation now and being willing to examine some past behaviors. And maybe even raise the question with people who are close to you. I mean, the process of writing this chapter about race meant that Aminatou and I had to talk very specifically about things that we had maybe both experienced as unpleasantries in our friendship, but for me, that’s where it ended. I was like, this was a conflict between the two of us in some cases. And in those situations, Aminatou had to say, well, actually, I’m going to have to spell it out for you why this is about race for me. And part of this process is also me acknowledging that that takes an extreme amount of work and self-sacrifice and often pain on her part. And so, being able to express gratitude for that and not take it lightly when she is extending herself and going out of her way to clue me in about what’s really happening in our friendship, I think is probably the most accurate way to put it. Those are some of the skills that I am working on.
Jean Chatzky: (22:47)
Aminatou, what was working on that chapter like for you? And by the way, everybody listening is going to pick it up and read it.
Aminatou Sow: (22:54)
Yeah, you know, I think it required something different from me, which was very much having to both tow the line between telling my own story and my own experiences and essentially like educating a lot of white people into what it is like to be a black friend in a relationship between a black person and a white person. And some of that education is very low level and it’s easy and it’s a very rote kind of thing. And I think that some of those experiences are also very painful to talk about. But I think I have been really heartened that the response from this chapter, from a lot of people who are the not white friend in their interracial friendships, found that a lot of those experiences were similar for them. And so I think that the more we have these conversations and the more we normalize them, the better it is. But I really want to echo a lot of Ann’s points because I think that there is always this assumption that race is only happening when a not-white person is involved. But the truth is that a conversation between two white people, like the one that you just had was actually very much about a racial dynamic. And understanding that if your friend circle is all white or you predominantly work with white people or your family is entirely white, or your neighborhood or the school that you send your kids to. Those are also choices that are very racialized. And You it is not that whiteness is not an absence of race. There is very much a participation in this conversation that’s happening, whether people are acknowledging it or not. And, I think that what we are really trying to say is that, of course there are a lot of topics that are very fraught, but I think that it is a huge cop-out when white people decide that talking about race is difficult. I don’t see how it is more difficult than talking about your gender. If you are a woman who is in a heterosexual relationship, I don’t see how it is different than talking to the people in your life who just are very different than you are, or different in a particular way. So, I think that not falling to that cop-out is probably really important, and also like everything, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. And I think that always understanding that, you know, the lived experiences of people that you were having intimate relationships with, no matter what those lived experiences are, are important for you to understand if you are going to have intimate relationships with them at all. So, if you are not having this conversation with the black people in your life, I think a good question to ask yourself is actually, how close am I to the people in my life? You know, and how close would they say that we are? Because it is one thing to claim someone as a friend and an entirely different to do the work of being someone’s friend. And I think that that is also worth remembering.
Jean Chatzky: (25:55)
When you said the more you do it, the easier it gets, it just struck a chord with me. That’s what we say about talking about money on this show. People don’t like to do it, but the more you do it, the easier it gets. I know we’re going to wrap up here and I wanted to just ask, you know, we are in the middle of this pandemic that who knows when we’re going to be back to connecting in the way that we normally do. Can you each share one thing, one suggestion, for keeping our friendships strong in this time where connecting in and of itself is more difficult than usual?
Ann Friedman: (26:35)
Oh, I don’t know if this is a tip or a strategy, but I have really found myself doing non-time sync. We’re not on the phone at the same time or on FaceTime at the same time, but we are going to trade audio messages, or we are going to send each other letters. Like those are the kinds of communication that have been really helpful for me, especially as this thing wears on and zoom fatigue really sets in, rather than saying like, hey, we’re both going to commit to sitting down in front of the computer at the same time, just checking in when one of you has time and then that other person can listen and reply when they have time. It also works great if you’re in different time zones and it’s hard to find that exact right time to connect. So, yeah, so that would be my big tip is it doesn’t have to be a date at the same time in the same app. But finding a way to do that connection without the constraints of time and scheduling.
Jean Chatzky: (27:33)
I love that. Asynchronous communication.
Ann Friedman: (27:35)
Thank you. That’s a two-word way of saying that.
Jean Chatzky: (27:40)
Aminatou Sow: (27:41)
Yeah. You’ll not be surprised to hear that is also working for me. You know, I will say my one actual strategy is to get a little bit vulnerable and to just tell your friend that you want to find a way to stay connected with them in the pandemic. For some people that’s easy and for others of us, we want to crawl into the ground. And it sounds cheesy and weird. But I have to say that, you know, telling someone that you love, that you love them and that we are going through this weird, tough global time, and you still want to find a way to be in their life is in some ways for me, that takes all of the air out of the pressure balloon that we’re all in. And so, I think that really getting a little vulnerable and getting intentional and saying what it is that the people in your life mean to you, and how you would like to be connected to them in the future, is really important. Because again, you can’t solve this on your own. Finding the best way to communicate with someone or finding the right time or a way that they will appreciate to be thought of is something that you have to be in conversation with them about. So, there is really no mystery, get a little vulnerable and tell the people in your life that you love them, and you want to find a way to stay connected to them.
Jean Chatzky: (28:59)
The book is “Big Friendship.” The podcast is “Call Your Girlfriend.” Ann, Aminatou, thank you so much for doing this today.
Aminatou Sow: (29:07)
Thank you for having us.
Ann Friedman: (29:11)
Thank you for having us.
Jean Chatzky: (29:14)
Anytime, please come back and we will be back with Kathryn and your mailbag.
Jean Chatzky: (29:26)
And HerMoney’s Kathryn Tuggle joins me now. Hey Kathryn.
Kathryn Tuggle: (29:31)
Hey Jean. That was such a great chat. I was so excited to get to talk to them today.
Jean Chatzky: (29:35)
Me too. We have Ann on the podcast very, very early in the run, but we’ve never had Aminatou and she’s fantastic. She’s such a force. I think our listeners will really enjoy this book. So, I was excited for it as well.
Kathryn Tuggle: (29:51)
Yeah. Well, I mean, like you said, there is no better time to talk about friendship and connection than during this era that we are living through right now.
Jean Chatzky: (30:00)
I think too, what they said about, you just have to do it, really resonated with me. You know, I grew up all over the place, right? And I am not the best keeper-in-touch. My mother is exceptional. I mean, she is just so amazing at maintaining really, really strong connections with people from pretty much every place that we’ve lived. And you’re really good at it. I mean, I’ve noticed this, you write letters.
Kathryn Tuggle: (30:37)
I do. I do, but I get joy out of that too. And going back to what you said about your mom, I actually think the ability to keep in touch skips a generation.
Jean Chatzky: (30:46)
Kathryn Tuggle: (30:47)
Because my mom is the worst. Like at one point I was working like three jobs and like babysitting on the side and blah, blah, blah. And I sent out like a hundred Christmas cards that year. My mom was retired and I was talking to her and I was like, did you get out your Christmas cards? She was like, I just didn’t have the time. And I was like, woman, if I can do this, you can send out some holiday cheer. So, don’t feel bad if your mom was good at it, then that automatically means you’re bad at.
Jean Chatzky: (31:15)
Oh, that is really, really funny. All right. Well, I’m not giving myself a pass. I’m going to do my best. But it is. Let me just say a belated happy birthday to my friend, Kathy. Cause I call her inevitably every year on her birthday and forget it’s her birthday. I just call her because she’s one of my people that I call. And she says, you know, I know that you mean to wish me a happy birthday today, but it’s cause I don’t track all the birthdays on Facebook.
Kathryn Tuggle: (31:47)
I recently discovered on the iPhone, you know, in your contacts for people, within the contact, you can actually enter someone’s birthday. And when you do that, it automatically populates it on your calendar on your phone.
Jean Chatzky: (32:02)
Kathryn Tuggle: (32:03)
So you never miss another birthday as long as you program their birthday into their contact.
Jean Chatzky: (32:08)
Okay. I’m going to have to start doing that,
Kathryn Tuggle: (32:10)
Which I find really helpful.
Jean Chatzky: (32:13)
I am absolutely going to start doing that.
Kathryn Tuggle: (32:15)
Jean Chatzky: (32:16)
All right. But if I missed your birthday too, I’m really, really sorry.
Kathryn Tuggle: (32:19)
No, my birthday’s on your calendar.
Jean Chatzky: (32:24)
Well, I’m glad I didn’t miss it.
Kathryn Tuggle: (32:25)
No, no, not at all. You always get it right. And I have the same birthday as like one of your other friends too.
Jean Chatzky: (32:30)
So, it should be an easy one.
Kathryn Tuggle: (32:34)
Jean Chatzky: (32:35)
Okay. All right. Good. Good to know. Let’s talk about our listeners. Let’s answer some questions.
Kathryn Tuggle: (32:40)
Our first question comes to us from Terry. She writes, hi Jean and Kathryn. I’m a longtime listener and fan. I’ve caught every episode. I’m hoping you can help guide me. Since I was a kid, I knew I would help my parents when they retire. That’s the norm/expectations for first-generation Asian-American kids. I have six younger siblings. We range in age from 30 to 40 and are all at different phases of life. As can be expected, we’re also at varying levels of financial independence. With so many variables, I don’t think we’ll come to an agreement about what should be done when it comes to contributing to my parents’ retirement. Our parents are 66 and 63. My mom wants to retire in three years. My dad draws $800 a month in social security and my mom will get about $1,200 a month when she retires. My mom has a 401k that’s currently at about $70,000. They don’t have any other assets other than a home they own with no mortgage. They have no debts other than a car loan of $10,000. They keep their money separate with each paying different bills or expenses and they generally live pretty frugally. I think that their social security checks would cover the majority of their expenses. However, culturally, I know my parents expect something from us. I don’t know how my siblings and I should assist them in a way that’s fair to everyone when we may not agree on how much, if any, to contribute. Any guidance would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.
Jean Chatzky: (33:59)
Oooh, this is a tough one. I think that the very, very best thing you should be able to do is figure out what your parents are expecting. I mean, it’s very tough to sit down with your siblings and talk about how much each of you should contribute when you don’t even know what you’re trying to cover. And there are a number of different ways to go about this. I mean, if your parents believe that they have enough to continue to live on comfortably, maybe you’re helping build a savings account. Maybe you’re contributing to a long-term care insurance policy. There are many different ways to structure this, but I think you have to start with your parents’ expectations. And then I just want to come around to the thought that fair and equal are not necessarily the same things. If you and your siblings all have various levels of financial success and various levels of earning, I think it’s probably reasonable that you don’t contribute the same exact amount to your parents. I also think, if you can work together, you may be able to come up with some sort of a system that either bases your contribution on a percentage of what you’re earning or a percentage of what you have or at the stage in life that you find yourselves. I mean, there’s some years in all of our lives where we’re able to save more for our own retirement. Based on the things that we have on our plates. And there’s some years where we’re able to save less. And if your parents don’t really need the money, there’s a lot more flexibility in how those flows of funds can stop and start. But I’d start with your parents. You say that you believe there’s an expectation. They expect something from you. Try to figure out what that is and then try to solve the problem from there. And Kathryn, if you have anything to add here, please jump in because these are cultural norms that we’re talking about, right? I mean, I’m the oldest girl and the only girl. I’m the oldest child and the only girl in a family of three siblings. I have known for a very, very long time that a lot is on me. Not necessarily in terms of providing money, but in terms of being there to provide support. You’re the only child and the only girl. So, I’m sure you feel much the same way. But in this family with so many siblings and with this Asian cultural heritage that does have expectations, I’m open for suggestions.
Kathryn Tuggle: (37:06)
Well, it’s an interesting question because I feel like on one hand, she’s saying that this is kind of a casual, like in our culture, it’s expected that we chip in. But then on the other hand, she’s talking about it being fair and everyone contributing the same amount. So, it’s an odd dynamic of something that is just known that must be done. But now we’re talking about making sure it’s fair. So, I think the only way to really look at this is to figure out exactly what the parents need per month or per year. And then the siblings just need to come to the table together and figure out how this is going to work.
Jean Chatzky: (37:48)
And I don’t think fair is just about money or equitable is just about money. I also think it can be about time. That you may have some siblings who are able to do the running to the doctor’s appointments when there is running to be done, to help take care of the home when there is maintenance that is needed, and others who are just for reasons of geography or for reasons of other priorities or other responsibilities, unable to do those things, but maybe they have additional funds that they can kick in.
Kathryn Tuggle: (38:22)
Yeah, exactly. And maybe if the siblings really want to get deep into this, then they come up with a metric for how much your time is worth. So, if you’re going to be making this doctor’s appointment run, then your monthly contribution is going to be X amount less than the rest of us.
Jean Chatzky: (38:40)
Exactly. If that sort of measurement is important. And I almost hope it isn’t. I almost hope they can get to the point where everybody is contributing what they’re really able to contribute, doing it from a positive place of wanting to help the parents, but not judging each other for being able to not contribute as much money, for example.
Kathryn Tuggle: (39:08)
Right. But just the fact that they’re going to talk about it is so important. So many times these things just go unsaid, and then resentment builds and then, you know.
Jean Chatzky: (39:18)
And then there’s surprise. And you gotta avoid the surprise.
Kathryn Tuggle: (39:22)
Yup. Avoid the surprise. Maybe that’s the main takeaway.
Jean Chatzky: (39:26)
All right. I hope that helps. Please let us know what happens because this is a learning experience for us as well, Terry.
Kathryn Tuggle: (39:36)
Yeah, please. We would love to know exactly what you guys do, particularly if you find it successful for the whole family. Our last question comes to us from an anonymous listener. She writes, dear Jean. I love listening to your show when I’m taking a break from my day and walking outside. I’ve been listening since the show’s inception and I’m so grateful for the incredible guests, questions answered in mailbag, and knowledge dropped. It’s refreshing to finally have a show aimed at women to help us become more educated and enable us to make smarter financial decisions with our money. As someone in a male-dominated field for the last 13 years, I’ve seen and experienced the struggle we have as women, when it comes to earning our worth. Thank you for what you do. I’m a 34 year-old, single woman, sans children, living in Virginia and have managed to accumulate a current net worth of $550,000 with no credit card debt, student loans paid off and a car owned outright. Of that, $300,000 is for retirement, half is from my company-matched 401k with a 50% match up to 8%. And the other half is from my traditional IRA account, which is managed by my financial advisor for a 1.25% fee, paid quarterly. I max out both of these accounts each year. In addition to that, I’ve socked away another $145,000, which is managed as a non-retirement investment account, also by my financial advisor with the same fee, invested in municipal bonds and $86,000 in a high-yield savings account currently earning 1.5%. I’d like to reach financial independence. So I know I need 25 times my annual expenses. Currently, my monthly expenses range from $2,500 to $3,000 a month. I make $140,000 as salary and about $100,000 in commission a year. Financial independence seems like such a long way off. At some point, I would like to leave my high paying high stress job. I wake up every day dreading going to work with my current employer and I want to trade it in for something else that feeds my soul. Maybe become a teacher with a side hustle of earning passive income from an investment rental property. I’m debating when I should/can leave my job safely, but I feel selfish for even thinking about it. In a time when over 22 million people are unemployed due to the pandemic, I feel awful for considering leaving this job. I should just be grateful, I’m in such a fortunate position and try to stick it out until I reach financial independence, which would be a few more years. I’d also like to make meeting the right person and starting a family more of a priority in my life and have considered spending some of my saved money on freezing my eggs before I hit my 35th birthday this year, which costs as much as $10,000. My question to you, how do I better invest my money and put myself in a better position to leave my current employer and pursue my dreams of falling in love, becoming a teacher and starting a family? Should I move my non-investment account away from my advisor and invest in an S&P 500 index fund, which has lower fees? Do you think it would make more sense to invest in a home or an investment property where I could earn a passive income from rent? I currently rent an apartment month to month and split the cost with my roommate. Because I’ve never owned a home, I have some anxiety around buying and going into debt, especially because I work in the tech industry, which can sometimes be prone to layoffs. Any help or suggestions you have would be so appreciated. I’ll be tuning in. Thank you.
Jean Chatzky: (42:51)
First of all, let me just say, wow. I mean, you’ve done an incredible job and you’re not as far from financial independence, based on your definition, as you think that you are. I’m just going to run these numbers. So, your monthly expenses are $3,000 at the high end. That’s $36,000 a year. You’ve got $550,000 away. Five fifty divided by thirty-six. Can you hear my calculator going in the background there, Kathryn? So, you’re already at 15 years of expenses. And at the rate that you’re earning, you’re going to get to 25 times your expenses in just a few years. So, the question is, what does that mean to you at age 37, age 40? What do you want to do with your life at 40? I think you’re putting an extraordinary amount of pressure on yourself to hit these numbers. When my guess is that at 40, like many people who are aiming for financial independence, and I know you said you’ve listened to our shows on the fire movement. But go back and listen to them again. What you’ll hear is that many of the people who are aiming for these numbers, don’t stop working at jobs that pay them money. They stop working at jobs that pay them as much money. And if you’re willing to get to that number a little more slowly, then I think you can start thinking about different ways to make changes in your life right now. The micro-details, the 1.25% that you’re paying to that financial advisor. Do you have to pay that money? You do not have to pay that money. You could put the money into a portfolio of index funds or ETFs or you could put it in a target date fund. You could certainly pay less. I don’t know if you’re getting other services from that advisor about your financial life as a whole, that would make that fee worth paying. If you’re not, I would say, make a change and put that money back in your own pocket. But I do believe, and I think you probably know this, that financial advisors provide holistic advice about our lives that can be really, really helpful, especially as you’re looking at something like this. The other thing that I would say is, don’t wait to start having a life. It sounds like you’ve been doing that a little bit. It sounds like with the thought about freezing your eggs, until you could find the time to have a relationship or find a relationship. If you want to freeze your eggs, because you don’t have a relationship right now, and you’re afraid that you won’t be able to have children in the future, yes. Spend the money. You have it. And freeze your eggs. But also take a look at how you’re living your life. Take a look at whether you could free up some additional time in your schedule to make some of those meaningful connections that we talked about earlier in the show with Aminatou and Ann. You’ve got to give yourself the time to build these relationships and then to nurture these relationships, if you want them to be successful. And if that means that you save a little bit less each year, I’m okay with that. If it means that you do go down the road of finding a job that feeds your soul and simultaneously you have an investment property with some passive income, I’m okay with that. I just don’t want to see you neglecting these things that you so clearly want, for longer than is necessary. But it does involve making some hard choices and thinking about if you are willing to put your path toward financial independence on a slightly slower path. Does that make sense, Kathryn?
Kathryn Tuggle: (47:26)
Yes. And I completely agree. I think it is very clear that she is incredible at prioritization and reaching life’s goals. But I think, you don’t have to do them one at a time, right? Like you can be working this job while you’re also at home at night, scrolling through Bumble and trying to find your person. So, I think it’s great to have a checklist in life. But if you try and do one thing at a time, I think you’re going to be disappointed.
Jean Chatzky: (48:00)
Kathryn Tuggle: (48:01)
But financially, oh my gosh. It’s like, she’s so sick.
Jean Chatzky: (48:04)
A rock star.
Kathryn Tuggle: (48:04)
Yes. So incredible.
Jean Chatzky: (48:06)
You’re doing great. Don’t worry about the money. The money is doing just fine. Thank you, Kathryn.
Kathryn Tuggle: (48:10)
Thank you so much, Jean, as always.
Jean Chatzky: (48:12)
And in today’s Thrive, how to make working from home a permanent arrangement. It has long been predicted that we were heading toward a remote work reality. Technological innovation has enabled us to work anywhere, anytime, and COVID-19 has only accelerated the rate of this shift. Today, 40% of the American workforce is now working remotely. In 2018, and you should remember that was just two years ago, it was 5%. So, how are these numbers going to change when offices start opening up again, or when we have a vaccine? If you’re hoping to make working from home permanent, you should ask for it. And here’s how. First gather and present data that shows how successfully you’re performing in the remote reality. Track how many calls you make each day. Track your improved performance. Track how you’re saving the company money. All of it. Second, have a plan for the future. Tell your boss exactly how you’re going to continue being successful working remotely. Stay focused on the value that you add to the company by being remote. And just remember that when it comes to remote work, many employers fear you’re actually just going to be watching Netflix all day. Your job is to put them at ease about your productivity. Hit your numbers and make sure you’re communicating properly with your manager so they grow more and more comfortable with what a rock star you really can be while working away from the office. Because this all really comes down to trust. Show your employer, that they can absolutely trust you, no matter where you’re based, to meet your deliverables. Thanks so much for joining me today on HerMoney. Thank you to Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman for sharing their “Big Friendship” with us today and inspiring us all to reach out to our own friends a little more often. If you like what you hear, please subscribe to our show at Apple Podcasts. Leave us a review. We love hearing what you think. We also want to thank our sponsor Fidelity. We record this podcast out of CDM Sound Studios. Our music is provided by Video Helper and our show comes to you through Megaphone. Thanks for joining us. And we’ll talk soon.