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Talking about money remains one of the few quasi-taboos left in an ever-more confessional and permissive society. Hell, when I sold my brutally candid memoir, The Big Rewind, about a decade ago my very wise and accomplished agent encouraged me not to talk or write about my advance for a number of very good reasons I cannot for the life of me remember. Yet despite the extraordinary amount of respect I have for him, I’ve written about my money problems continuously over the course of my life and career.
I even started a short-lived column at the A.V Club called Money Matters where other people could talk about their own experiences dealing with the bitch goddess that is money. I make a point of writing about money, and my stupidity and ignorance surrounding money, because I wish other people wrote about it more. But I also write about feeling overwhelmed and defeated by money so that other people who feel the same way don’t feel so alone. I write about my tortured relationship with money so that other people will know they’re not the first people to deal with debt collectors and parasitic credit card companies and even more parasitic debt consolidation companies and plunging credit scores and utter financial panic and desperation.
Comedian, actress, and podcaster Gaby Dunn knows and feels my pain. As someone who desperately wants more honest and open discussion around money and the central role it plays in our lives, I am the perfect audience for her new podcast Bad With Money. The podcast makes it apparent that Dunn sees money largely the same way that I do: as a complicated and confusing and terrifying force, seemingly of a fundamentally malevolent nature, but also a demon she has to face and conquer, no matter how terrifying that prospect might be.
Dunn is bad with money, and in her introduction to the podcast she quickly gets to the heart of how stressful and anxiety-provoking money can be. Dunn confesses to feeling so overwhelmed by money that she can remember weeping while holding a bag of belongings to bring to a pawn shop in a desperate attempt to remedy an economic emergency. Dunn is certainly not the first person to be reduced to tears by the Darwinian cruelty of a capitalist system the smart and savvy (if not necessarily money-savvy) Dunn eloquently describes as “a system that wants you to fail.”
The podcast represents an ongoing and honorable effort on Dunn’s part to understand how she came to be bad with money, why she developed bad financial habits and how she can create a new financial life for herself in the present and future. In Bad With Money, talking about money entails talking about everything. Bad With Money addresses money from a primarily emotional rather than financial or practical level, so it’s perfect that the host talks to someone in a profession I didn’t even realize existed until I listened: “Financial Psychologist.”
The financial psychologist that Dunn talks to locates a lot of the dysfunction and fear that has characterized Dunn’s relationship with money in a childhood and adolescence as the child of an alcoholic and addict father who always seemed to be able to give his children what they wanted, but in ways that made the young Gabby neurotic about money on her parents’ behalf.
Like many children of addiction, her relationship with money is a reaction and a response to the ideas about money and life she inherited growing up. The financial psychologist talks at length about how we have “money scripts” that we internalize subconsciously that go a long way towards determining how we see money and our relationship with it, and how difficult, yet essential it is to throw out the self-defeating money scripts we grow up with and create a new, more healthy script as adults.
Dunn talks about working on projects that will catapult her savings from less than zero to six figures in the space of one year and it speaks to the complexities and contradictions of our relationship to money that making a lot more can cause as many problems, and uproot our lives, almost as much as not having enough can.
The podcast continues in a boldly personal, confessional direction with a funny, freewheeling, and relentlessly honest conversation between Dunn and her sister, who borrows money from the host, then riles up her sibling by snap-chatting the (ostensible) non-essentials she purchases with her sister’s money, like expensive sushi and marijuana.
Like Paul Gilmartin of Mental Illness Happy Hour and Marty DeRosa on Wrestling With Depression, two wonderful, strangely simpatico podcasts about depression, Dunn is extraordinarily open about her own struggles, and that honesty informs every moment of the podcast.
A podcast about money problems could easily be depressing but Bad With Money is anything but a bummer. Dunn is a relatable, upbeat and enormously ingratiating tour guide through this swampy terrain and the production keeps things fun and relatively light despite the heavy subject matter involved.
Bad With Money kicked off with a great episode and continues to be revelatory and essential. Dunn deserves to make a fortune off it, but hopefully no matter how impossibly wealthy this podcast makes her, she’ll remain relatable; if she changes the podcast’s name to Intimidatingly Good With Money we’ll know us financially challenged folks have lost her completely.
Nathan Rabin is the author of five books, including Weird Al: The Book (with Al Yankovic) and the recently released Ebook “Short Read”, 7 Days In Ohio: Trump, The Gathering of The Juggalos And The Summer Everything Went Insane.