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Money Lessons

Financial Lessons We've Learned: theSkimm's Danielle Weisberg & Carly Zakin

Formerly producers at NBC News, Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin left to launch theSkimm, a daily email newsletter that delivers a quick primer on the day's must-know topics. Here, they share tales from their financial past.

Make the most of your money.

Unless you're thinking about the check you just cashed, money isn't always the most warm-and-fuzzy concept.

In the beginning of our careers, we just focused on getting by—sometimes out of necessity and sometimes because it was just easier than spending time thinking about our financial futures. Now that we're bosses, fundraisers and overall responsible contributors to society, we're trying to make good decisions about our finances. It's hard. It's not always fun. But it's something we do—and something you should do.

Give your finances some real attention and, hopefully, you'll have fewer panic attacks when you open a statement. (And, P.S., if that's actually you, consider switching to paperless.)

If it's any help, here are some lessons we've learned:

Danielle Weisberg & Carly Zakin

You should save, but sometimes you can't

During our first years in the working world, most of our paychecks went to things like rent and utilities . . . and cabs. We saved as much as we could before starting theSkimm, but we weren't making much to begin with. When we launched, we took on a lot of debt and didn't take salaries for a while. Once we started making salaries again, we got a lot of advice to put money away. But we were still digging out from the hole we'd gotten ourselves into.

Long story short, we tried to save but just couldn't. And sometimes that's the truth. And you feel lame, because you're getting a paycheck, but it's going to make good on decisions you made 12 months ago.

The best thing we did do, though, is prioritize paying off those past commitments. We say best and not most fun because it was definitely painful forgoing what you want to buy on Friday night when you just got paid.

Sometimes you need to take on credit card debt

We weren't able to come up with enough cash to keep ourselves under roofs, clothed, fed, insured and somewhat comfortable for our first year of business. So we used our credit cards. We had to in order to keep going. And we maxed them out. Some of those purchases made sense, others didn't.

Evaluating credit cards was a skill we learned. We looked at, not just interest rates, but perks, like getting points. We fly a lot, so that was helpful. Not so helpful? Buying the stuff we couldn't afford. We really had to evaluate whether we wanted to be paying off those purchases for months to come.

Our relationship with credit cards is best categorized as complicated. Even when we can pay off our balance, part of us loves to put off paying for things because we like seeing a nice solid balance when we log into our checking accounts. That's kind of messed up, because it doesn't actually do us any favors.

Treat company money like it's your own

After we closed our first big fundraiser, another founder told us to treat the company's money like it was ours. This reminded us of all the good personal finance practices we know but sometimes ignore: Make sure to save; don't spend more than you have; think about the future, etc.

Now we evaluate company decisions as if we were using our own personal money. And doing this has actually taught us a lot about how we should spend money all the time—this despite the fact that it's much easier to decide if the company really needs something than if we really need those new shoes.

Making a budget isn't easy

When we talked about our finances, everyone told us, just make a budget. Like it was a magical cure. But for people who hate Excel, that was just nails on a chalkboard. There are tools out there to help, but they only work if you commit to the process.

You have to come up with a budget that makes sense. Really look at where you spend. So if you were in that same situation again—say, running late to meet a friend—would you still take that cab? If the answer is yes, budget for it.

Another budgeting aid: We've used some tools that automatically pull out savings each week from our checking accounts. But you still need to think about what you're saving for.

And here's a bonus budgeting tip: Cook more.

Money is hard to talk about

When you bring up the topic of money, prepare to get a (dirty/sour/awkward—pick one) look. But while personal finance is taboo, for some reason, people never seem too shy to ask how much money we've raised for our company . . . or when it's going to run out.

Talking about salaries has actually been an easier subject to bring up. Not necessarily what we make, but how people should fight to earn what they deserve. No one else will battle for you, so it's a skill you need to hone yourself. Talking to friends about their techniques (or pointing out their lack thereof, as good friends do) is helpful and helps circumvent the I just don't talk about money taboo.

Equity is tricky

Equity in your employer's company isn't something you can think about on a daily basis, because it won't help pay your cable bill. But it's something you may have in the back of your mind when you think of your plans ten years down the road . . . maybe. It's something to bring up during contract negotiations.

Ultimately, though, the biggest money lesson we've learned is that it takes effort to learn about money. You have to ask the right people the right questions and stay on top of it. Unfortunately, there is no set-it-and-forget-it tool for your financial future—especially if you're thinking both short and long term. Trust us, we've tried to find one.

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