It’s been a rough year and a half. We lived through months during which things could change overnight, or they could not change at all for an excruciatingly long time. We lost jobs. We lost loved ones. The world not only got turned upside down, it got shaken around a few times, and now that it’s being put back together again, many of us are reevaluating not only our place in the world, but the place that our careers, our relationships, and our pastimes hold in our lives. A survey from Monster that just came out last week showed that 95% of workers are currently looking for a new job. 95%. It’s clear that we’re looking critically at where we’re headed, what brings us joy, and what we really want to get out of our lives. And today, we’re going to be talking about something we’ve never discussed on this show before — alcohol. We’re going to talk about drinking culture, about sober culture, and about why it is that more of us just don’t talk about this magical liquid that fuels so many of our social and professional interactions.
The HerMoney Podcast — and the entire HerMoney Community — have always been a judgement-free zone, and always will be. So while this episode dives into some interesting territory, we’re exploring it all from the standpoint of learning more — about ourselves, our finances, and our habits. So, whether you believe in the sober life, or you’re raising a glass to your own incredible life every single night, this is simply a conversation about a topic that touches all of our lives, one way or another. We’re not making any judgments, or encouraging anyone to change their lives. We are learning and exploring, as we always do here at HerMoney.
And this week we’re doing it all with Laura McKowen, author of the bestselling memoir, We Are The Luckiest: The Surprising Magic of a Sober Life, and founder of The Luckiest Club, a global sobriety support community. The Luckiest Club was born during the pandemic, and today is over 4,000 members strong.
And although that’s incredible, it’s not surprising. Americans began drinking more — a lot more — during the pandemic. Data from Nielsen showed a 54% increase in national alcohol sales last year, and a study conducted by the RAND Corporation showed that women’s “heavy drinking days” increased by 41% in 2020. The National Institutes Of Health found that 75% of Americans increased their alcohol intake during the pandemic to include at least one more day per month, and women were found to have a greater increase in excessive drinking than men.
Again — it was a difficult year. And we all did what we needed to do to make it through 2020 in one piece. But setting aside 2020 — and other reasons we might need the stress relief of a stiff drink — many of us love the relaxation that comes with a glass of wine at the end of the night. We love our nights at the pub with close friends. We all know how well drinks can help to lubricate social situations, and it’s always nice to have something to toast. “Wanna grab a drink?” is just part of our vernacular now… But why is drinking culture so inescapable these days, particularly for women? There are boozy brunches, “Sip and Shop” events, and all-you-can-drink 5K races — not to mention restaurants where the wine list is often longer than the menu, and after-work happy hours that often must be attended in order to advance our careers… We. Are. Surrounded. By. Alcohol.
Which is why we’re finally gonna talk about it.
Why women are drinking more is a layered topic,” Laura tells Jean. “But I think a lot of it has to do with the social acceptance of using a drug that does work. It does take the edge off. It is a social lubricant. It feels good for a while. But there’s also a big mythology around it. Because the reality is, you feel better for about 30 minutes, and then all kinds of things crash.”
Listen in as Laura offers details of her journey into sobriety and her big wake-up call that let her know it might be time to give up alcohol for good. She walks us through what led her to write her book, her “drinking journal, and what it’s really like inside her sobriety support community, The Luckiest Club. (Hint: The community is 90% women, all of whom are sober, “sober curious” or “sober concerned.”)
Laura also takes a deep dive into why we drink, and how drinking impacts our finances and our lives as a whole. There’s often much more going on under the surface than we realize.
“A lot of people think they have money problems, but they don’t,” Laura says. “They have worthiness problems. They have mindset problems. They have scarcity problems. They have trauma that they haven’t processed. They need to go to therapy and learn some emotional sobriety, and when those things happen, then suddenly a lot of external circumstances improve, because it all comes from the same place.”
We also get real about why so many people struggle with money when they get sober, and the “secret shame” around how we spend and the behaviors we don’t talk about.
“Whenever you dance with an addictive substance, there’s a chance that you’ll become addicted to it,” Laura says. “The hope that it won’t manifest into something worse is just that — a hope.”
In Mailbag, we tackle questions about refinancing student loans and rebalancing a 401(k) when company stock options are involved. And in Thrive, could your hybrid workplace be toxic?
This podcast is proudly supported by Edelman Financial Engines. Let our modern wealth management advice raise your financial potential. Get the full story at EdelmanFinancialEngines.com. Sponsored by Edelman Financial Engines – Modern wealth planning. All advisory services offered through Financial Engines Advisors L.L.C. (FEA), a federally registered investment advisor. Results are not guaranteed. AM1969416
Laura McKowen: (00:02)
A lot of people think they have money problems, but they don’t. They have worthiness problems. They have mindset problems. They have scarcity problems. They have trauma that they haven’t processed. They need to go to therapy and learn some emotional sobriety. And when those things happen, suddenly a lot of external circumstances improve because it all comes from the same place.
Jean Chatzky: (00:30)
HerMoney is supported by Fidelity Investments. At Fidelity, we believe planning for retirement can help you feel better about where you stand today and more prepared for tomorrow. Visit Fidelity.com/HerMoney to learn more. Hey everybody, I’m Jean Chatzky. Thank you so much for joining us today on HerMoney. Over the last few months, if you’ve been paying attention, maybe you’ve noticed a common refrain in our shows because I felt that it just can’t be said enough. It has been a rough year and a half. We lived through months during which things could change overnight or not change at all for an excruciatingly long time. We lost jobs. We lost people. The world not only got turned upside down, it got shaken around a few times. And now that it’s being put back together again, many of us are re-evaluating not only our places in the world, but the place that our careers, relationships, and our pastimes hold in our lives.
Jean Chatzky: (01:35)
A survey from monster that just came out yesterday, showed that 95% of workers are currently looking for a new job. 95%. It is clear. We are looking critically at where we’re headed, what brings us joy, what we really want to get out of our lives. And so today we are going to talk about something that we’ve never really discussed on this show before. At least in more than an aside, we’re going to talk about alcohol. We’re going to talk about drinking culture, about sober culture, about why it is that more of us just don’t talk about this magical liquid that fuels so many of our social and professional interactions. And before I go on and you regulars know this, I just want to say that the HerMoney podcast, the entire HerMoney community, we have always been a judgment free zone. We will always be a judgment free zone.
Jean Chatzky: (02:35)
And so while we’re going to be diving into some interesting territory today, we’re going to be exploring it from the standpoint of learning more about ourselves, our finances and our habits. So whether you believe in the sober life or you’re raising a glass to your own incredible life every night, this is simply a conversation about a topic that touches all of our lives one way or another. We’re not making any judgements. We’re not encouraging anyone to change their lives. We’re learning and exploring. And that’s what we always do here on this show. And today we’re going to do it with Laura McKowen. She is author of the best selling memoir. We are the luckiest, the surprising magic of a sober life. She’s founder of The Luckiest Club, a global sobriety support community. It was born during the pandemic and today it’s over 4,000 members strong.
Jean Chatzky: (03:31)
And although that’s incredible, it is not surprising. Americans began drinking more, a lot more during the pandemic data from Nielsen showed a 54% increase in national alcohol sales last year. And a study from the RAND Corporation showed that women’s heavy drinking days increased by 41%. In 2020, The National Institutes Of Health found that 75% of Americans increased their alcohol intake during the pandemic to include at least one more day per month. And women were found to have a greater increase in excessive drinking than men. Again, tough year. And we all did what we needed to do to make it through in one piece, but setting aside 2020 and other reasons we might need the stress relief of a stiff drink, I got to say, and you all have heard me say it before. I love my nightly glass of wine. I love the taste of it.
Jean Chatzky: (04:35)
I love that. It helps me mark, the end of my day. I love the relaxation and I also love all the fun that I’ve had in my life. When alcohol was involved, it helps lubricate social situations. It’s always nice to have something to toast and “want to grab a drink” is just part of our vernacular now, but why is drinking culture so inescapable these days, particularly for women, there are boozy brunches, and shop and sip events, and all you can drink 5k races. I have not tried those by the way, not to mention restaurants where the wine list is often longer than the menu and after work happy hours, that often must be attended in order to advance our careers. We are surrounded by alcohol. And so today we’re going to talk about it, Laura. Welcome.
Laura McKowen: (05:29)
Well, thank you so much. Thank you.
Jean Chatzky: (05:32)
Tell me about your journey at understand that there is a drinking journal involved, where you started keeping a record of when you drank and what you drank. And that totally jumped out at me because it’s what I tell our listeners when they’re trying to get a handle on where their money is going, or they’re debating a job offer, get it on paper.
Laura McKowen: (05:56)
Yeah. Things become different when we record them. What is unconscious become suddenly conscious. And that can be a good or a bad thing or good or a bad feeling. I think it’s always a good thing. So about me, I had a long career in marketing, actually in advertising for 15 years. And I live just north of Boston. I’m from Colorado, I’m a mother. And I surrounded myself within this career. I don’t think it’s any accident that I chose advertising. It’s a very booze-filled culture. And I surrounded myself, whether it’s work socially, my family, with people who drank like I did. And it wasn’t, I didn’t really stand out in that regard. I think, as you noted in your intro, it’s far more common to drink than not to drink. It’s estimated that about 80% of Americans drink. And that was before even the mom wine culture started before big alcohol started really targeting women as a market.
Laura McKowen: (07:03)
I started drinking when I was 17, but in earnest really dug in, in college and through my early professional life. And although I did run into problems with drinking, it wasn’t always problematic for me. I looked and performed well. I was what they would classically call it high functioning person who happened to also drink a lot. And I was really successful in my career. I, like I said, I’m a mom. I was married. I had lots of people that wanted me around, both my friends, family, my colleagues. So my problems with alcohol once in a while, I would have a publicly difficult time or night, but mostly it was a private thing. I felt really scared about the way that I drank. I knew I needed it and liked it more than it seemed other people did. And once I started, I just didn’t ever really want to stop drinking, but I managed it.
Laura McKowen: (08:18)
And it really changed when I became a mother and really changed again when I got divorced from my husband in 2012. And at that point I was 35 years old. I was at a really high ranking position in the agency that I worked for. And the wheels really came off at that point. And I started to be really afraid. I knew I didn’t have control anymore, or I didn’t know what was going to happen when I drank. And again, it was mostly private unless you got really close to me, you wouldn’t have been able to tell, but to make the long story short, I reached a point in 2013 where I had, and I write about this in my book where I left my four year old daughter alone for an entire night in a hotel room at my brother’s wedding, because I was blacked out.
Laura McKowen: (09:11)
And that was a horrific incident. It wasn’t by any stretch, the first horrific thing, but it was a public thing. My family was there for it. And so that started me on the trajectory of exploring sobriety. And I didn’t want to get sober. I thought that was the worst thing that could ever happen. When you said you loved your wine. I loved my wine, a lot and I needed it. At that point. I was physically addicted. So I tried it sobriety for a year and a half. I finally did get sober in 2014, since then I have switched careers. I started writing about sobriety and podcasting about it, and really it became something I was really interested in talking about. And I switched careers in 2016, just do what I, what I do now. I’m an author. I teach several courses about personal development and sobriety. I run a company called The Luckiest Club and it’s a whole different life. I love talking about alcohol culture. Cause it’s, to me, it was like, I just didn’t realize the water I was swimming in. I didn’t. And a lot of people don’t, it’s just something that is a foregone conclusion to a lot of people. That alcohol is just there. It’s very ubiquitous. It’s socially totally acceptable to drink almost anywhere. And we there’s no other drug like that. No, I know people have
Jean Chatzky: (10:38)
Hopes for marijuana that it will someday get there, but I think it’s a very, very long way away. Your community is largely women. Yeah. It’s largely women. And do you think it’s because women are more sober curious as you described them or sober concerned, or do you think it’s because, and I feel this way about HerMoney. We want a place to just talk about something that people don’t talk about.
Laura McKowen: (11:05)
Yeah. I think that’s a big part of it. I don’t think it’s that there’s more women that are sober, curious, or sober concerned as I emailed to you. I think it’s women tend to talk about things more than men do. Women are drinking more than ever, ever before. And it’s having a real impact in our lives. And women tend to just like more women read books, more women tend to be interested in, I hate calling it personal development, but for lack of a better word, we tend to be interested in it more and more open to it. For men despite the fact that the prevailing recovery modality worldwide is as Alcoholics Anonymous and that that was created by men in it. I don’t want to say it’s for men, but it’s masculine and it’s language and such anonymity is still very big for men. I think it’s, it’s hard to talk about things that are deemed shameful. And this is one of those things that society still looks at is very, either struggle with alcohol or you don’t. And if you struggle, it’s because you’re an alcoholic and that’s a moral failure. The failure of will.
Jean Chatzky: (12:17)
First of all, there are so many things that are just wrong with that statement, right? I mean, I have people in my life who I have watched struggle. And I think just like we have learned that depression is not an issue, it’s a disease. We should not be pointing fingers at all. Why is it that women are struggling more than men or not even struggling? Why is it that women are drinking more than we were drinking? And is it, is it all the pandemic?
Laura McKowen: (12:49)
No, it just the pandemic turn the volume up. Well, I want to address the part that you talked about. Cause I think it’s really important for people listening. Because everyone, I don’t know what the statistics are exactly, but chances are everyone you meet is touched by someone who struggles with alcohol or drugs. Right. And we’ll just keep it to alcohol. I mean, it’s, it’s, there’s 15 million people struggle with alcohol use disorder in America. That’s, it’s not a small number of people and it’s not a binary thing either. It’s not either you have the, the gene or the disease. The disease model is definitely debated, but it’s not that you either have it or you don’t. It’s a huge spectrum. It’s a, it’s an addictive substance period. And so of course people get addicted and it’s, we’re, we’re marketed to, I mean, you talk about money and business and it is a billion dollar industry it’s working on us because that’s what happens.
Laura McKowen: (13:48)
You know, we don’t see it. So I just want to address that. It’s not a binary thing. Most of the women that I talked to didn’t have a problem for a long time. And oftentimes what happens is they became mothers. They have careers and they were trying to do it all. And something had to hold that up in the backend. And alcohol is just there. It’s marketed to us. It’s put in beautiful packages. It’s rosé all day. Our friends do it. Some of my biggest drinking times were when I was a young mother when I had a young child. Cause it’s hard, it is hard.
Jean Chatzky: (14:26)
I mean, I remember those. There were times in my life where I really didn’t reach for a glass of wine every night. And then I became a mom. And I remember with my friend, Diane, who lives across the street, Mondays, Mondays, we would feed the kids together. We would throw them in the bathtub together. I have pictures from those times, but there was always wine involved.
Laura McKowen: (14:51)
Yeah. And that’s super common. It’s totally socially acceptable. Now. It’s not that women didn’t do this before, but in my mom’s age, they sat around and smoke cigarettes together. And drank. But it’s but the cigarettes and they all, there was also pills. When my grandma who just passed away a few years ago, she was 95. And I joke, but it’s not really true. She was like a certified sort of drug addict. Do you know, she had been taking valium for years because that’s how you know it was, it was called literally mom’s little helper. So women have been encouraged either privately or now publicly to self-medicate and that you deserve it. You deserve it. This is hard. And you’ll get people, countless women, mothers. Publicly, Kelly Clarkson’s a great example because I remember hearing her say this and my jaw just dropped. I was like, how do you survive having four kids? And she said wine.
Laura McKowen: (15:54)
And it’s like, it’s a joke, but it’s not a joke. That’s not uncommon people. Weren’t a gas to her saying that I was like, yes, me too. So why we’re drinking more? Why women are drinking more is it’s a layered topic. But I think a lot of it has to do with the social acceptance of using a drug that does work. You described it. It does take the edge off. It is socially social lubricant. It feels good for awhile, but there’s also a big mythology around it because the reality is you get, you feel better for about 30 minutes and then all kinds of things crash and it messes up your sleep. And so the answer to wine is usually more wine the next day or whatever. So people fall in unknowingly or unwittingly fall into a habit. And I think that has a lot to do with it.
Laura McKowen: (16:48)
I think, you know, it’s a flip side of feminism, you know, we wanted to be able to do all the things and, or maybe a dark side of feminism. We wanted to be able to do all the things. And we wanted to have all the things that men had. And part of that was being able to drink openly, publicly with abandoned. And there’s that those are the two big things. And then you can’t deny the ubiquity of it in our culture. It’s just marketed to the tune of multiple billions of dollars every year to women.
Jean Chatzky: (17:17)
So let’s talk about the dollars because this is a personal finance podcast and you wrote extensively in your memoir about how your financial situation changed as your relationship to alcohol evolved. Can you talk about that?
Laura McKowen: (17:31)
Yeah. Yeah. And this is something I don’t get to talk about much. So I’m, I love talking about it. I was a financial mess. By that I mean six figure debt, living paycheck to paycheck, no matter how much I made having a huge scarcity mindset about money, always. I was very afraid of it. I couldn’t even talk about it. It was almost more shameful than my drinking in a way. I just felt like it was a lost cause. Like I’d probably always live that way and I just ignored it. I didn’t know how to look at it. And some of that is a product of the cycle of drinking and the chaos that it creates in your life. Just from a practical standpoint, I wouldn’t pay bills. I didn’t have my head wrapped around it. We talked about writing things down. It was a big, big day.
Laura McKowen: (18:23)
When I think it took me two years into sobriety to write down how much debt I actually had. I couldn’t even write it down. I didn’t know the number. I just knew it was big. Right? So I got sober in 2014 and started to slowly piece together. The practical things I would pay my bills on time. I knew I wasn’t spending money on alcohol and I would spend hundreds of dollars on alcohol, both going out to restaurants and, and buying it myself. And then there was a big, a mindset shift that has happened over the course of many years, just to not be afraid of things that I’m afraid of. And to know that really the only way to resolve something is to look at it.
Jean Chatzky: (19:10)
Yeah. I think that’s so true of money and it’s, it’s at the heart of what we do in our coaching program and our FinanceFixx program. We make you look at your data, but you may not want to look at your data, but until you look at your numbers until you get in there with your numbers, you can’t fix it because you don’t know what it is.
Laura McKowen: (19:30)
That’s right. It’s basic awareness. It’s like step one and it’s terrifying. And then almost immediately there’s relief when we do it, you mentioned me writing down how much I drank. I just didn’t have a real concept of how much I actually drank. I thought it was a few glasses of wine a night or something like that. And it was over the course of a week, a lot, lot, lot more because my glasses were three glasses, you know? And so it’s just, I didn’t do that to shame myself. It was just like, what is really going on here? It was just like with money, it took me two years of sobriety to be desperate enough to want to change. I just didn’t want to live like that anymore. And I didn’t think it was possible for me to not fear money and have shame around it. And I don’t today. I really don’t. I invested in coaching. A lot of it is just practical building blocks, but I, I look at my money every day. I know what comes in. I know what comes out and that’s a miracle to me, but that’s what it takes.
Jean Chatzky: (20:33)
I mean, I look at my money every day, too, coming out of my divorce, really got a stronger handle on it. And I had had a handle on it before, but I knew at that point of transition in my life, I needed to be more aware. And I like looking every day, looking into day makes me feel comforted and in control.
Laura McKowen: (20:53)
Yeah. I feel empowered about money and I never thought I would say that. Never.
Jean Chatzky: (21:00)
I’m wondering if the other women who are members of The Luckiest Club have experienced a similar financial metamorphosis. Years and years ago, I did a program called the Debt Diet with Oprah. And we found interestingly that people who went on the Debt Diet, and there were so many, actually lost weight because once they got control in one area of their life, it was a lot easier to get control in an another. And I’m wondering if, if this is similar,
Laura McKowen: (21:36)
Oh, it’s all connected. I don’t see it as very different. A lot of the work that I have done to be a lot of people think they have money problems, but they don’t. They have worthiness problems. They have mindset problems. They have scarcity problems. They have trauma that they haven’t processed. They need to go to therapy and learn some emotional sobriety. And when those things happen, suddenly a lot of external circumstances improve because it all comes from the same place. I think there is merit to working on your money skills and your know how, and you’re learning the tactics of how money works and looking at it everyday and things like that. So much of it is emotional. And when we’re operating in a state of fear, what we know from evolutionary psychology and other things is when we’re operating from a state of fear, we can’t thrive.
Laura McKowen: (22:34)
We’re just trying to survive all the time. There are many reasons people get in debt, but a lot of it is just being in survival mode for way too long. Right. And I don’t mean to minimize the very real reasons why people have financial problems. It, a lot of times they’re extraordinary circumstances, right? And there’s a lot we can do at the individual level. You asked about, do other people go through similar metamorphosis? I mean, money is one I would say of the top three things that people struggle with when they get sober, it’s their relationships, money. And I don’t even know what the third one would be, how we’d classify as sort of emotional sobriety.
Jean Chatzky: (23:16)
I want to dig into that a little more, but before we do that, let me remind everyone that HerMoney is proudly sponsored by Fidelity Investments, whether you’re just starting to save for retirement, inching closer to it or already enjoying your post-career years, Fidelity can help guide you every step of the way. And when life throws you changes, as we all know it will, Fidelity is there to help you keep your financial plans in check. So you will feel better today and more prepared for tomorrow. And you can visit Fidelity.com to learn more. I’m talking with Laura McKowen founder and CEO of The Luckiest Club, a sobriety support community and author of the best-selling memoir, “We Are The Luckiest, The Surprising Magic of a Sober Life.” So, when people get sober, they struggle with money. Why?
Laura McKowen: (24:09)
There are a few reasons. One is people with addiction problems tend to, by the like, 97% of them have experienced trauma. And what that often does is it sort of, they operate in scarcity mindset. They operate in a survival mode, a lot of the time, and that extends through so many areas of their life. One of them being money. So this isn’t true for everybody, but it’s true a lot of the time, especially for women, they’ve given up their power. And sometimes that power means financial power and financial autonomy, where they have outsourced that to other people in their lives, whether it’s a partner or they’ve just given up and thought, I can’t do anything about my money situation. There’s also poor boundaries. People who struggle with addiction, struggle with boundaries. We don’t have a strong sense of ourselves and where I begin and you end.
Laura McKowen: (25:11)
And so what that means is there’s a lot of giving away, giving away our power, giving away, yes, our money giving away the ways that we can live our lives with a lot of sovereignty. And that’s what I see a lot of times as, as the money issue is this lack of sovereignty or autonomy. Like, I don’t believe I can be good at this. So I’m just not going to try. I have a lot of shame around how I spend and it’s very secret. And that’s the thing that we see with people who struggle with alcohol, lots and lots of secrets, lots and lots of behaviors they don’t talk about. And that’s always about shame. And until we talk about it, it stays shameful. It increases the shame secrecy increases it. So I’m sure you have a lot more insight as to why money is a secretive, shameful thing in society, especially for women. But that’s just what I see. And then there’s the fact that if you have a substance abuse problem, or even if you drink a little more than you want to your unconscious more, you’re making unconscious decisions. There’s a lot of links to purchasing things when you’re not quite with it signing up for things when you’re not quite with it. Just not being able to stay on top of your finances because you’re not there. You’re not able to have the presence of mind to do that.
Jean Chatzky: (26:41)
Yeah, no, I think that’s absolutely true. And we’ve talked that, that if you’re going to have a glass of wine, then your defenses are down and you should just stay away from the computer. You should stay away from Instagram. You, you shouldn’t be anywhere where you are going to make purchases because believe me, most of them are going back. Let’s wrap this with two pieces of tactical information. I’d love to get your thoughts on, if you are a woman who drinks and you think you should be drinking less, maybe you are sober curious, what do you do? What are the steps? And by the same token, if you are a woman who drinks and it occupies a nice place in your life at this point, how do you keep it in that lane?
Laura McKowen: (27:32)
I laugh because the second answer to the second question, I’ll go first. That’s the big myth is that we have quote, unquote control or it’s totally a choice. Because whenever you dance with an addictive substance, there is a chance that you will become addicted to it. That’s what addictive substances do. So whether it’s a psychological addiction where you just, you really look forward, you don’t feel quite right. If you don’t have that at the end of the day, or it’s a physical addiction, the hope that it won’t manifest into something worse is a hope. So I just want to say that it’s not that some people are immune in some aren’t. That said, I know so many people who have a perfectly fine relationship with alcohol. I don’t know that it does anyone favors, but I don’t think it’s necessarily bad for everyone. Right? The key is to have some consciousness around it.
Laura McKowen: (28:22)
That’s the answer is say, why am I drinking? Like the moment before you drink, ask yourself what’s going on? Why am I doing this? And if the answer is, I just really enjoy it. Great. You asked yourself the question, but if there’s a part of you, that’s going, I hate the way I feel right now. I don’t know that I can tolerate the next hour or two hours without a glass of wine. That’s something to explore and it’s just no judgment curiosity. Right? Okay. So there’s that. And then the first question about if you suspect that alcohol plays a bigger role in your life than you want it to, there’s often a nagging voice, right? That we have that says this isn’t serving me curiosity again, there’s luckily now so many resources and so many places to go to look at that question without judgment.
Laura McKowen: (29:24)
And without saying, I got to label myself. If I’m going to do this, you don’t, I don’t call myself an alcoholic. It’s not a black or white binary thing. That’s perfectly acceptable to say, I don’t know if this works for me and I’m going to explore it. So one book I would check out as my dear friend, Annie Grace wrote a book called “This Naked Mind” and it really looks at the mindset around alcohol and sort of explores the myths that we have around what alcohol does for us. That it’s a relaxing, that we have more fun, all those things that it facilitates connection. And it’s very much written for a sober curious type of person. That’s a great place to start. I would explore that. And then people have different relationships with social media, but one of the great things that’s happened in the past five years is there’s a lot of sober curious if you just search that hashtag say on Instagram, you’re going to find a lot, just listen. There’s podcasts, tons of them, check them out. See if any of what people are saying resonates with you and then follow the next breadcrumb if it does.
Jean Chatzky: (30:34)
Laura McKowen, thank you so much for a really terrific conversation. If we want to find more about you, about The Luckiest Club, where do we go?
Laura McKowen: (30:43)
Just go to my website. Everything is there. It’s my name, lauramckowen.com and The Luckiest Club has its own website too. TheLuckiestClub.com, but it’s all linked from my site that’s the best place to go. You’re welcome. Thank you for having me, of
Jean Chatzky: (31:01)
Of course. And we’ll be right back with Kathryn and your Mailbag. And we are back with Kathryn Tuggle and your mailbag. So Kathryn, thank you for teeing that up. I got to say that was a conversation that I was a little nervous to have as I think, you know, because I like my wine.
Kathryn Tuggle: (31:27)
Yeah. I also know that our whole team strives every day to keep the judgment free zone extending in all directions. And I think when we’re talking about something that can have negative impacts on our lives, it’s hard. It’s how do you talk about it in a way that is judgment free, but that can help someone get to a better place if they are not happy with the role that alcohol plays in their lives.
Jean Chatzky: (31:51)
And I was really fascinated with all the connections between alcohol and money. I knew that that was part of Laura’s story, but I didn’t really expect that she would see such a linkage in her community. And I think that was really interesting.
Kathryn Tuggle: (32:10)
Absolutely. And also just to think how her community went from nothing to 4,000 women during the pandemic. I think that speaks to more women just taking control and saying, this is the path that I want to walk. And this is what healthy looks like to me, which is such an amazing thing. Whether that’s about your money or your alcohol intake or your relationships. I think we’re seeing more people just being more intentional.
Jean Chatzky: (32:38)
Yeah. Which I think great. That’s great. I know we have a ton of questions, so let’s get to them.
Kathryn Tuggle: (32:44)
We do. Our first question comes to us from an anonymous listener. She writes “Jean and Kathryn, thank you for the great podcast. I’m a long time listener given that interest rates are very low, is now a good time to refinance federal student loans. I have about $200,000 in federal student loans and have been enjoying the opportunity to divert my monthly payments towards other savings goal, during the COVID-19 pause on payments and interest accrual. I’m wondering if I should refinance before the pause is scheduled to end understanding that the pause may be extended. My consolidated interest rate is 6.8% and I’m certain that I could cut that in half by refinancing. I know there’s some discussion of student loan forgiveness, but I doubt that I would benefit from that as a private practice attorney. Thank you so much.”
Jean Chatzky: (33:35)
I love this question and I love it right now for a couple of reasons. The first is that your timing is excellent. Yes, it’s absolutely worth running the numbers on a refi. If your credit is great, there is no reason why you could not cut that interest rate in half. You probably already know this, but student loan refi’s come into flavors. They come in fixed rate loans and variable rate loans. If you’re going to do this right now, I would absolutely lock into a fixed rate unless you think you’re going to be able to pay off all the debt in a couple of years. And with this amount of debt, that doesn’t sound likely. Also it’s important to run the numbers because while the interest rates on those fixed rate loans can be significantly lower. The loans that have the shortest terms have the lowest interest rates.
Jean Chatzky: (34:33)
And that’s because when you have a short term, the bank is taking less of a risk. They are believing they will get their money faster. And so they can afford to give you that low interest rate. So look at a payment schedule, decide, will you be able to pay this off in five years? Will you be able to pay it off in 10 years and compare the rates on those precise loans with the rate that you have right now? It doesn’t sound like you’re going to be using income-based repayment at any time soon. So I think this is a very safe way for you to go. And the other reason that I am really glad that we are handling your question right now is that we are about to tee up a special content series called “How to Pay for College” And it includes a lot of information on smart borrowing on filling out the FAFSA on how you should use the money in your 529 plan, and when you should use the money in your 529 plan and how to look at loan repayment. So go to our website, HerMoney.com. This is one of those series that we’ve done like Motherhood and Money, where we will drop you an email with the story every single day, but you have to sign up for the series in order to get it. It’s free, of course. And thanks!
Kathryn Tuggle: (35:55)
Thank you so much, Jean. Our next question comes to us from Meg. She writes “Hi Jean. Let me start with a heartfelt thanks to you and the team for all that you do to empower women. I love the podcast and look forward to it every week. I’m 36 and recently got divorced, which was also the first time I paid attention to my finances. As of last year, I started contributing 15% to my 401k. It currently has a $25,000 balance and it is invested in a target date fund. I don’t have any debt at the moment, no dependents and no big purchases in the near future. I now have my three-month emergency fund saved and I want to start focusing on investing. Here’s my question. I currently work with a tech giant, which gives stocks as part of comp to the employees. I opened a Fidelity brokerage account that has $15,000 cash available to invest and $150,000 in company stock learning from the podcast. I know this is not an ideal portfolio, as it’s highly concentrated, I’m looking into diversifying, but I’m nervous about selling and reinvesting in the company stock knowing their value and growth trend. I’m struggling to decide what portion of company stock to keep and how much I should sell. How can I rebalance my portfolio while minimizing my risk and tax impact? Thank you so much.”
Jean Chatzky: (37:20)
So first of all, thank you so much for writing. Thank you for being a part of our community. As you heard from both Laura and from me, divorce is hard and coming back from divorce is really difficult. You sound like you’re doing great and kudos on that, but if you need some extra support in these times, I’m glad that we are there for you. As far as your question, it’s a really good one. And generally the recommendation on how much company stock you want to hold is about 25% of your portfolio. Clearly you are way above that. I would go slowly, as you add to your 401k, as you add to your investments there, I would just start to take a bit of company stock off the table year by year. It’s kind of like dollar cost averaging in reverse. So maybe you sell 10% of your stake.
Jean Chatzky: (38:21)
And then maybe in three to six months, you sell 10% of your stake. Eventually you get to the point where you have what you want to have the problem with this is that they’re going to keep giving you more stock as long you keep working for this company. And so it has to be a continual exercise. One other thing that I would suggest is that I bet if you ask your colleagues, they have financial advisors who are familiar with your benefits plans, who can walk you through a smart strategy to do this with your goals in mind, you can also call Fidelity. They’ve got tools and they’ve got experts who are very skilled in solving these sorts of problems, but I’d like to get a lens on what your goals are, what this money is actually for when you’re going to need to use it and what the tax implications look like rather than simply shooting from the hip.
Kathryn Tuggle: (39:23)
I love that advice, Jean, and I love this question. I love that she’s being so thoughtful about this because I think I know a lot of people who have stock options through work, and I don’t think that they are so intentional about reshuffling their portfolio. So great job.
Jean Chatzky: (39:38)
Yeah. It’s the Lesson of Enron, really. I mean, not that this tech company, and I hope it’s a great one, is going to go the way of Enron, but people who had their life savings tied up in their employer, lost their jobs and lost their portfolios at the very same time. And we don’t want to see that happen to anybody, but particularly any of our listeners.
Kathryn Tuggle: (40:00)
Absolutely. Thank you so much for your insight, Jean.
Jean Chatzky: (40:04)
Absolutely. Thank you, Kathryn. And in today’s Thrive, could your hybrid workplace be toxic? When and where we do our jobs has become a serious hot button issue this summer. As the world opens back up, millions of workers and businesses are now navigating a sometimes bumpy path back to in-office hybrid and remote work models. Many of us have been reevaluating whether we ever want to commute for a job. Again, a recent survey from the Harvard Business School online of nearly 1500 professionals who’ve worked remotely during the pandemic, found that 81% either don’t want to go back to the office or would prefer a hybrid model. But having flexibility to work from home is not everything. Your working life can be negative. Toxic, even.Even when there’s no physical space in which to dwell. So how can you assess if your company will have a healthy hybrid work culture? At hermoney.com this week, we break it all down for you.
Jean Chatzky: (41:07)
First, watch out for any company where employees took pay cuts to maintain hybrid and remote work businesses should really not be cutting pay for staffers who choose a hybrid or remote work model. Companies should only cut pay for a legitimate reasons, such as cost of living adjustment. If workers move away from their headquarters or because the company falls on difficult economic times, employees should not be punished for choosing a remote schedule, particularly if one is offered. Another thing to watch out for is when senior executives work exclusively in the office. A business that genuinely embraces remote work should ideally have people at every level doing just that, working remotely, including those in the C suite. Employees who want to move up are advised to proceed with caution if only lower and mid-level staff members are allowed to work from home and everyone who’s senior reports to the office.
Jean Chatzky: (42:11)
Finally, if remote workers aren’t given necessary equipment to successfully manage and maintain a hybrid work model. Employees need to consider staff who are working remotely and provide them with the same tools and resources that they do for people who are working in the office. This could be through a home office stipend or loaned equipment like laptops that can be taken home. A successful hybrid organization will ensure employees everywhere have access to this technology tools and resources. They need to do their jobs successfully. Thank you so much for joining me today on HerMoney. Thanks to Laura McKowen for sharing her story and her insight on this important topic. No matter what you’re choosing to drink these days, I am raising a glass to all of our HerMoney listeners for being with us on this journey to discuss money, but also other important topics like this. If you like what you hear, please subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts, leave us a review. We love hearing what you think. We’d also like to thank our sponsor Fidelity. We record this podcast out of CDM Sound Studios. Our music is provided by VideoHelper and our show comes to you from Megaphone. Thanks for joining us, and we’ll talk soon.