Willow Spotlight: Author Amanda Benchley on Why Money is Sexy

“When I was younger, I paid a lot of attention to my personal finances,” says journalist, author of three books, and documentary filmmaker Amanda Benchley. “I always thought it was important for women to be independent and to have their own money.” 

“But when I got married,” she says, “I didn't pay attention at all, not even to the money I was making. I just put it in a savings account and never checked my 401k.”

Since her divorce, Amanda has found a new passion for her financial wellness. She now views being financially informed and engaged as incredibly powerful—and sexy. Read on to see how she got to that point, as well as:

  • What she wish she knew before going through her divorce
  • How to have open conversations and money lessons with your kids
  • Why she thinks money is sexy
  • The easiest ways to get into contemporary art
  • The sad ending to her first stock purchase—and why it’s important to trust your intuition

 

Amanda’s latest book, Open Studio, features 17 of today's biggest names in contemporary art, who bring you into their studios and show you how to make a work of art.

 

An Easy, Hands-on Way to Learn About Contemporary Art

When my creative partner and I started Open Studio, nobody knew there was going to be a pandemic. So the timing has been incredibly lucky that people are at home and have more time, and frankly, more need to create.

I'm not artsy at all. And the great thing about Open Studio is that it doesn't matter, because these artists are teaching you how to make a work of art, and they're all very accessible. It's fun. You're cutting out Weimaraner heads that Bill Wegman gives you and drawing the bodies onto them, or doing a color by number that George Condo has designed based on one of his paintings.

And what's great about this book is if you don't know anything about contemporary art, by doing a project, you then learn about the artist who created the project. So there's a lot of lessons, as well as the takeaway of the art project that you’ve created that you can hang on your wall.

 

The Best Ways to Start Buying Contemporary Art

For women who want to start learning about the art world either for financial reasons, for investment reasons, or just to enrich their own lives, it's easy to get started. 

I don't think you should invest in art for financial reasons thinking you're going to flip it in a couple of years. If you have that talent, you should open a gallery. 

But if you just want to be a modern person who's interested in art, then start looking at websites like Artspace and Artsy. Both sell art that's affordable and also have helpful articles. That's a really good way of getting educated and interested, which is important when you are buying art. 

I would also go and find the smaller galleries and talk to the people in there. And if people are not nice, don't buy art from them. It's as simple as that.

 

How to Advocate for Yourself

A truism that I've turned into my mantra is: People who don't like conflict create more conflict. So if I have to have a difficult conversation, which requires asking for something and advocating for myself, I chant that phrase in my head.

I say, okay, if you don't want to have this bit of conflict right now, you're going to push it down. You're going to suppress it. You're going to get angry. And you're going to create a bigger conflict later. So face it and speak up for yourself. And what always happens is that talking about the conflict or the outcome of the conflict is never as big or dramatic as you fear it is.

 

What Every Woman Should Know Before Going through a Divorce

What I’d like every woman to know before going through a divorce is that, in the long run, you're going to be okay, both emotionally and financially. Luckily the learning curve when it comes to managing your finances is steep. 

I am not talking about direct investing, because I know very little about that. But I have learned how my investments are allocated and how much they earn and am now more motivated to learn about the investing process. But start with knowing what you have and how to manage and spend it so you can make smart decisions and big changes if you need to make them. 

On the more practical side when negotiating your divorce, you might suddenly have to come up with the list of what your life is going to cost, or if you are providing the financial support to your spouse, what an equitable lifestyle will reasonably cost. At that point, it's really important to ask your friends who've been divorced or who manage their household finances what things cost and what expenses might come up.

For example, I had never factored a line item for home improvement and supplies into my original budget. And now I want to buy new TVs and upgrade my A/V equipment. I had big categories for travel, health, dining out, and clothes, for instance, but I didn't have the more nitty-gritty, boring life things. So you need that padding in there. 

But talk to your friends or talk to Willow and try to figure out what might come up and be prepared for that. 

But it is going to be okay. And learning about your own finances is not scary. It’s necessary. 

 

The Biggest Barriers For Women to Becoming Financially Empowered

The biggest barriers for women to become more involved or empowered in their finances is either fear or lack of interest in it. I was never really interested in it. But now, since my divorce and becoming actively involved in my finances, I think knowing about money and taking charge of your money is incredibly sexy on top of being powerful. And I think it's fun.

What helps is if you identify your biggest fear, and then try to answer that question for yourself and feel in control of it. My biggest fear is spending the money I have. So how do I address that fear? I don't bury it. Instead I really look at my expenses. 

I have an E-money program where I enter every single expense so I know where the money goes. I luckily have enough self control and discipline that I don't spend if I'm above in a certain category and I like to think of it sort of as a game—playing with numbers and trying not to go over the numbers I’ve assigned. But because I know that's my fear, I address it and take care of it.

As for the confidence and interest part, you need to know about where your money is going and where it's coming from. And it's not that complicated. I think women are really intuitive by nature, and a lot of money management is commonsensical.

For instance, I paid down part of my mortgage because my interest rate was higher than what I was earning in my fixed income allotment. It just made sense. 

And if you have questions, find an advisor or talk to a Willow coach. What Willow is doing, I think there's such a need for it—for a comfort level of talking about money and not being in a room with men.

I also think it’s very important for all women to not be coy about finances. It’s ok to talk about them. 

 

Why Money is Sexy

I think that money is sexy because knowledge is power. And knowledge about your money gives you power. It means that you know where your money's going, what you’re spending, so you don't have to be worried about it. To be able to have that energy moving out of the worry category, builds confidence, and confidence is sexy.

 

What Women Should Know about Their Personal Finances

What I wish I had known was more about health insurance, frankly. I've just gone down the health insurance rabbit hole, and I wish I had known how important it is that you use in-network doctors, for instance. 

It's also important to understand the costs and benefits of your insurance. You don't have to know the intricacies of how it works, because I think it's like the tax code—probably impossible—but it's commonsensical too. Pay attention to what your healthcare plan provides for you and what you have to pay for. And choose in-network doctors. 

 

How to Talk to Kids About Finances

I have two teenage kids right now, and we've always been very open about money: what things cost, what some people have, what some people don't. 

When the kids were really young, we started something called the Bank of Dad (I hate that it has this patriarchal name, but that's just what we called it because their father kept track of the money on his computer).

We told them that we were paying them a higher interest rate than they would get in the savings bank because interest rates were so low. We wanted to encourage savings and for them to learn how money grows and interest compounds, and then they would have to decide if they wanted to withdraw money from the Bank of Dad.

Now the kids have Current cards, which you put money onto, like their allowance, Christmas money, or money that they've earned from jobs. 

For my 17-year-old son, I don't think he thinks anything about ordering $20 Shake Shack for lunch every day, even though we have a refrigerator full of food. 

However, he does notice the slipping balance in his account. And he actually just said to me, “Mom, I think you need to teach me how to cook.” Because it's daunting to see your numbers go down right in front of you.

 

Buying Amazon Stock at $20/Share

Back in 2000, I was working for A&E television doing documentaries and biography, and I went to Seattle because Jeff Bezos had just been named a TIME man of the year. My producer and I interviewed him, and I came home and said, “I think they're onto something here.” My husband was quite dismissive and said, “Oh, you’re crazy, it’s just the dot-com bubble.”

So I sat on it and then the show aired six months later. And after watching it again, I was like, I want to do this. So I bought $5,000 worth of shares at $20/share. It was the only stock I'd ever bought in my whole life. But within 2 weeks, the price went to $5/share, and my husband said, “I told you so.” 

Somebody had taught me the phrase “long-term hold,” so I decided that this would be a long-term hold. I held onto it, and obviously it crept up and up and up and up. And then at something like $40/share, I got scared and sold it. 

I think it’s at $3,000/share right now. But the moral of the story is to listen to your gut and your intuition.

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