Ecks and the City: Rebecca Eckler’s latest makeover transforms her from spender to saver
By Rebecca Eckler
Gail Vaz-Oxlade stars on TV shows Til Debt Do Us Part and Princess (Image: Slice Network)
I’m slightly terrified to talk to Gail Vaz-Oxlade, who has agreed to give me something of a financial makeover. Most of us know Vaz-Oxlade as the host of TV shows Til Debt Do Us Part and Princess, where she’s not the kindest woman when it comes to people’s financial woes. She goes all boot camp on them. While watching, you’re, like, “Are you kidding me? — $25 for entertainment for a week?”
I get the chance to meet the tyrant just before she leaves on a two-month book tour for her latest tome, Money Rules. Of course, the day I speak to her, I have somehow managed to spend almost $200 … before 11 a.m. There was filling up the car with gas, buying my daughter a basketball uniform, taking a yoga class and buying two protein shakes afterwards. I do need help.
Two things I notice about Vaz-Oxlade right away are she has a great laugh and she swears like someone stuck in rush hour with the worst road rage. Every other sentence includes the F-bomb.
“You should swear more on television,” I tell her. “It would be way more entertaining.”
“Oh,” she responds. “I do. They edit it out.”
I admit to her, first, that I never open my bank statements. “Oh, [F-bomb] me gently,” she says. And, thus, our work begins.
Starting a financial makeover is all about goals, she says. I tell her my goal is to end up living in a small villa in Mexico. She tells me, “That’s not a [F-bomb] goal. That’s a [F-Bomb] fantasy.”
The good news is that I don’t have debt. But that doesn’t mean I don’t need a financial makeover. For someone like me, who spends randomly and often, Vaz-Oxlade says my first step is to write down in a journal every single thing I spend money on for one month. I also have to record any money that comes in. “Then it will have all the information you need to manage your money and be disciplined about it.” Baby steps.
In my journal, she says, I may see at the end of the month that I have 37 Starbucks coffee entries and then choose to make coffee at home. She says this is where the “rubber meets the road.”
In just a few short days, my journal is crammed with entries, including $15 at Starbucks, $12.95 on magazines, $62.57 on wine, a $60 parking ticket (mother F-bomb!), $22 at the drug store and a new jean jacket that cost me $284. Might be time to start thinking about budgeting .…
Vaz-Oxlade suggests opening different savings accounts for different expenses. She has six — yes, SIX — bank accounts. She has designated savings accounts for different areas of her life — for example, one account for home improvements, one for pleasure, etc. Lucky for Vaz-Oxlade, her pleasures are pretty simple. She’ll spend money on yarn for knitting or plants for her garden or on audio books. She is about to renovate her kitchen, and she can do this because she already has the money saved in her home renovation account.
I ask her if it’s normal that people (well, me) worry about money all the time. “It’s not uncommon. Even Oprah admitted once she was afraid of being a bag woman after she made her millions and millions. The thing about women getting older is that we live longer and we get sicker.” (Way to cheer me up!)
“People think the magic number for retirement is that they need one million dollars. But that’s not true. It depends on the lifestyle you want to have when you retire.”
The good news, however, is that humans are incredibly adaptive. I am going to start saving by telling my bank to automatically put $500 into a new savings account (if she can have six accounts, certainly I can have three!). Vaz-Oxlade is a big fan of online institutions, such as ING, which doesn’t have any branches, making it more difficult to take out money.
“What you always want to do is never stop being a saver,” she tells me. “Even if you are in debt, you can still save. And it will become automatic to have a saver’s mindset.”
Vaz-Oxlade receives hundreds of e-mails a week from viewers and fans. (One nine-year-old dragged her mother to see Vaz-Oxlade at a signing. I’m thinking that kid is going to become a multi-millionaire faster than I am.)
“I don’t even answer them. They’ll write, ‘I’m so in debt. Help!’ But they’re not even trying. They’re off-loading their money issues on me, and that’s not my job.” She says one of the dumbest questions she recently received asked, “How do I get more money?” Her response: “Get another job.”
When I ask her if she thinks about money all the time, she says, “Actually, I hardly ever think about it. I have teeth that I brush every night, but I don’t think about my teeth.”
Which reminds me, I have to add $2.69 for dental floss to my journal.
Post City Magazines’ columnist Rebecca Eckler is the author of Knocked Up, Wiped!, and her latest books, How to Raise a Boyfriend and The Lucky Sperm Club.