Personal Finance Expert Farnoosh Torabi Has 5 Tips For Business Owners
The best-selling author and star of CNBC’s new television series, “Follow the Leader,” shares her best money tips for business owners and female entrepreneurs.
Farnoosh Torabi, the award-winning personal finance journalist and author of When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women, says the future is made or broken by your relationship to money. "It's a hard truth to realize, that the only way to control your destiny is to be more in charge of your finances," she said.
Torabi insists that entrepreneurs can become solvent in a few, simple steps -- and keep themselves in the black for good. (She would know, having doubled her salary at the age of 26, to a cool annual earning of $90,000.)
On Tuesday, it was announced that Torabi will be replacing Suze Orman as the financial contributor with O, The Oprah Magazine. The journalist pulls from her experience interviewing high-profile executives, including for the upcoming CNBC reality television series, Follow the Leader, which premieres on Wednesday (at 10 p.m. E.T./P.T.) As part of the series, Torabi spends time with such entrepreneurs as John Paul DeJoria, the billionaire co-founder of John Paul Mitchell Systems and the Patrón Spirits Company, as well as Katia Beauchamp, co-founder and CEO of Birchbox, as they conduct their businesses on screen.
"Entrepreneurs are the 21st century rock stars," says Torabi. "There's more access now to understanding what it takes, and TV does a lot to create that transparency."
Of course, given that roughly 80 percent of Americans are in debt, controlling one's finances is much easier said than done. In fact, the collective national stress is climbing to new heights -- an average of 5.1 on a 10-point scale, according to the 2015 "Stress in America" study from the American Psychological Association -- due, in large part, to money.
Here are Torabi's top five pieces of financial advice for business owners:
1. Be hands on with your money
Torabi's parents were Iranian immigrants, who settled in Worcester, Mass. with two suitcases, and a staunch belief in the American dream.
"Worcester was very economically diverse, with a lot of people from different races and cultures," Torabi recalls. "I got to see how working hard and saving money paid off."
She landed her first job at age 15 as a waitress at a diner. While still a teenager, she started a Roth IRA (income retirement account)-- ultimately saving up $3,000 by the time she enrolled as a college student at Pennsylvania State University. She can still recall the "pain" of physically paying for lunch with a $20 bill. Those days were much different compared to today, she says, when "you don't feel the pain when you're swiping your credit card or using Apple Pay."
Her most important piece of financial advice is to be hands on with your money, whether you serve as your own wealth manager, or rely on a third-party human advisor, or financial apps and services.
It may be a good idea to be wary of apps, insofar as they can make you feel detached from your personal wealth.
"It's bittersweet," says Torabi. "On the one hand, apps like Acorn and Digit can move the needle and get more people to care about savings. But I hope it doesn't create a detachment to your money."
Consider that John Paul DeJoria, the premiere subject on "Follow the Leader," still physically calls his bank (he does not own a computer at his home in Austin, Tex.). While on the air, Torabi notes that he opened his Vangaurd statement -- which included a seven figure checking account -- and proceeded to dial 411 to get connected with the institution.
"The man is old school," she says. "What it taught me is that [successful] people pay close attention to their money."
2. Don't put everything into your business
Entrepreneurs are typically tempted to throw everything they have into their business -- leftover income and retirement savings included. That's a big mistake, according to Torabi.
"So often we hear about entrepreneurs who put all of their money towards their business and cross their fingers," she says. "That pressure can be avoided by anticipating that you want to do this."
Specifically, business owners should have a "contingency plan," she says, before quitting a steady day job. "In the best case scenario, you leave with ideally a years' worth of savings, but at least six months."
Another way to shore up cash is to apply for a startup accelerator or incubator, which may give you some financial backing, or by living at home to save on rent costs.
3. Think long and hard before taking venture capital
By the same token, Torabi warns entrepreneurs to be wary of taking on venture capital dollars, even when it means foregoing the "street cred" of having high-profile investors.
"You have to be aware that when you take that money, now you have to be accountable to those investors," she said.
Torabi cites Birchbox, the New York City-based subscription makeup company, as an example of why raising too much VC early on can be dangerous. The company was forced to cut 15 percent of its staff in January, when CEO Katia Beauchamp noted it was unable to raise another round of financing, blaming the hostile funding climate. (The company had previously raised more than $71 million, for a reported valuation of $485 million.)
"They had such rapid growth, and then they realized they were too big. They grew too fast," says Torabi. "Katia [Beauchamp] has a board she has to answer to."
Remember: Just because you don't raise VC funding in the beginning doesn't mean you can't in the future. The personal finance website NerdWallet, for instance, was initially bootstrapped, though it did take on $64 million in Series A funding in 2015, as many as six years after launching in San Francisco.
4. Choose the right life partner
It may seem irrelevant, but choosing the right life partner--one who supports you, and with whom you communicate effectively--may be the difference between your personal and financial well-being and your malaise.
Torabi, as the breadwinner of her family, knows this well.
"I think we often take for granted who we're married to," she says. Even though she makes more money than her husband, she still outsources some of the financial decisions to him, ensuring that the relationship remains equal.
There's an emotional complexity, she adds, to being the major financial provider.
"It's liberating, but at the same time, this is not a role you were prepared to take on," she explains, referring to societal expectations of men and women. "Career is very important, but we [women] also want to be at the forefront of so many other things, and there are only so many hours in the day. Sometimes we feel guilty, we almost feel like we're not living up to our femininity and womanhood."
It's important to share the financial responsibility at home, no matter who earns more dollars. Initially, Torabi recalls that her husband felt he wasn't "entitled to give his opinion" because he was making less. Electing to work together -- and then taking on a financial advisor -- was a turning point in their marriage and financial life, she says.
5. Take care of yourself first, and negotiate for what you deserve
It's no secret that the gender pay gap is alive and well, with women earning just 83 percent of what men do, according to the most recent available data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
That makes it all the more important for women to negotiate for what they deserve, and ask for more.
"It's about saving aggressively for yourself, putting money into your personal future in addition to the business, [and] not making financial decisions in a vacuum," she says. "Women are really good at asking for help, so use that to your benefit."
Of course, the world may not necessarily reward you for hard work. Consider, for instance, that Tim Gunn, the celebrity fashion consultant and judge on the hit television series Project Runway, says he wasn't compensated for his first two seasons on the show.
"He just assumed that people don't get paid in reality TV," Torabi recalls, having interviewed Gunn for her daily financial podcast, "So Money," in November of last year. (Ultimately, he secured an agent, who helped him negotiate for reasonable pay.)
On a personl level, Torabi says she's experienced her fair share of sexism in the workplace, including during her time at a "financial news website covering Wall Street," (one should infer: Money Magazine). She says that one of her colleagues routinely talked down to her -- calling her "Nooshi," for instance -- and insisted that she needed to read the Wall Street Journal, when she already did so daily.
At one point, Torabi says, he had told her that he "wasn't trying to be an asshole," to which she responded: "try harder."
"There's a language, there's a posturing in the business world, and you want to feel that you're part of the club," she says of her time reporting on Wall Street. "I appreciated that, and I understood that, and I also felt like I wanted to be me -- not another dude covering finance."
Ultimately, it's important that women negotiate for what they deserve, and also carve out their unique place in a job, recognizing what sets them apart.