exEXPERTS transcript: Interview with Britt Baker on Dow Janes
Jessica: Hi, everyone, welcome back to another episode of the Divorce etc… podcast. We are thrilled today to have on Britt Williams Baker. She is a Harvard Business School graduate and expert investor with 10+ years of experience and a money mindset coach. She’s one of the cofounders of Dow Janes, which teaches women how to take control of their finances with a step by step education, and also a community of support, which as you know, we are huge advocates of here at exEXPERTS, financial literacy, what women are going to do when they are thinking about getting divorced, are in the process of getting divorced, or are divorced and now realize that they really didn’t know anything about their finances for the past X number of years, and how are they going to manage it all. So Britt, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show.
Britt: Absolutely. Thanks for having me.
T.H.: It’s great to meet you. If you guys could see her, hearing that she has 10 years of investment experience, this girl’s a kid. She looks so young, but she’s super smart and experienced. We’re very lucky to have her here sharing her expertise.
Jessica: Yeah. I mean, first of all, we’re obsessed with the name of your company Dow Janes, which we love, love, love. So clever, obviously, but what made you guys, you and your business partner, Laurie-Anne, even start Dow Janes?
Britt: Yeah, yeah, I mean, I was just going to share the story of how I could possibly have so much experience. I started investing when I was seven years old. So my parents taught me about–
Jessica: So you’re 17 now?
T.H.: I was going to say, right, you’re 15 years old?
Britt: Yeah, I started investing in the stock market in college. It’s just been part of my story, part of my upbringing and education. I know that most people don’t get that in their households, in their families. When I moved back to the Bay Area after grad school, a bunch of friends came to me asking for investment advice saying, “How do I get invested? How do I start thinking about retirement?” I started what was the original Dow Janes, which was just a club. It was a club of women in my living room, where we’d gather on a monthly or quarterly and talk about things related to investing in money. It was the first time that I had a place, and I was creating a place where it was totally safe to talk about money.
T.H.: For women to talk about money.
Britt: For women to talk about money, exactly. Like, taking this taboo–
Jessica: It’s so taboo. Yeah.
Britt: Yeah, I remember a woman sitting on the couch saying, we were all looking at our budgets and she was like, “Whoa, I spent so much money on groceries last month. Is this normal? What do you spend?” It just opened up conversations for us to be totally candid and transparent.
T.H.: Yeah, I think that is really important. I remember speaking to somebody else in the financial world, a woman, and she’s like there are a lot of big words out there because it was made for men. It was all based around a man’s world. The truth is these complicated terms are actually very simple. So don’t be afraid of the big words, because they’re actually very simple. You can certainly understand and implement them in your own way and be perfectly knowledgeable.
Britt: There’s this statistic that women consistently underestimate their own abilities while overestimating what’s required to be financially involved. They think it’s harder than it’s going to be, and that often keeps them from even starting.
T.H.: I bet that applies to everything.
Jessica: I was just going to say, because I remember reading an article and it had interesting similar statistics with regards to women and employment and the kinds of jobs that they apply to. A woman will look at a job application or job description on LinkedIn and be like, “Wow, there are 10 requirements here, but I’ve only done seven of them. I can’t apply for this job. I’ll never be able to be good enough to do this job.” Whereas a guy who might have done three of them and will totally throw his hat in the ring. Women just always are like, we have to know everything, be in control of everything, otherwise we’re not going to be good enough, or smart enough, or people aren’t going to take us seriously.
T.H.: So what is Dow Janes exactly now?
Britt: Dow Janes is a financial education platform. We teach everything from getting out of debt, learning how to save and budget, to learning to invest. We work with women in our program, it’s called The Million Dollar Years, our flagship program, and that is where we have a step by step curriculum. We literally break things down into the easiest bite sized pieces so you can’t not take action. We really wanted to make sure that it was easy enough to just move right through the program. Then we add on to that, layers of accountability and community and office hours, places for people to ask questions, and financial coaches.
T.H.: I feel anybody could use that at any time, even as a check in. I mean, seriously, sign me up. The other day, we just got all these bills, and I was like, “I’m feeling all sick right now. I don’t even know what we’re doing here.” It ends up being a lot. So you’re talking about being a money mindset coach. It’s like eating, right? “Whatever. I only had a sandwich today. Yeah, and like, four pretzels, and whatever that you just conveniently forgot.” Just like spending money, and you get your credit card, and you’re like, “Oh, yeah, that…”
Jessica: For people who don’t know, or haven’t heard the terminology before, what is a money mindset coach?
Britt: Yeah, well, I mean, let’s back up and think about what’s keeping people from working with their money, or even the bills that you mentioned. There’s so much shame and guilt and story around money that people don’t even realize that they’re holding on to. We have these unconscious beliefs and ways of thinking about money that usually come from our upbringing. How your parents talked about money or treated money, usually you inherit some of that. You’re coming in with these unconscious stories. You’ve also created your own story around money, either that people with money aren’t nice or aren’t good, or whatever your kind of narrative is that has made you turn in the other direction of money. And so the first part of both the program and how I work with people is addressing that mindset is deciding how do you want to be when it comes to money? Who’s your new money persona? How does she relate to money? One of our big quotes is “Good things happen when women have money.” Do you believe that? Do you want to get behind that frame of mind? The mindset, if you don’t address that first, you can’t change anything else later. And so it’s a really important first step when it comes to finances especially.
Jessica: Your business partner, Laurie-Anne, is an empowerment coach and an energy healer. For people who don’t know what those terms mean, what do they mean, but also, how does that relate back and tie into financial literacy empowerment for women?
Britt: Yeah, absolutely. I would say that’s more the energy she is bringing into her style of coaching is one of empowerment. But she’s, on the whole, mostly a financial coach. Then the energy healing piece is also similar. It’s part of the attitude she brings. She believes anyone can change their situation. We have a really holistic, spiritual approach to money coaching, but it’s not something we’re actively doing in Dow Janes. It’s actually super practical and grounded. We have like “woowoo” elements to us, but the program itself is quite practical.
T.H.: But addressing the emotional side of money is really important. Otherwise, you’re never going to be responsible. I mean, I keep relating it to food, but it is. It’s a thing. You go and spend a lot of money, or you’re just browsing online and shopping mindlessly, or you’re eating and not thinking about it. It’s just really unhealthy. If you can really get to the bottom of what is driving this negative money experience of yours, you’ll just feel so much better. When you’re going through divorce, there are different stages, of course. So you’re thinking about it, and as far as money, you might be like, “I can’t afford it.”
Jessica: That’s what we hear a lot from women who are not getting divorced and not leaving very unhealthy situations because they feel they can’t afford to get divorced and figure out their lives.
T.H.: And also, they maybe could afford it but don’t know anything about it. “I knew it wasn’t my job. I don’t know what you’re even talking about. Like, there’s money. There’s money. I’m sure there’s money, right?” Don’t be so sure. So at that initial stage when you’re weighing pros and cons and is divorce really the direction I’m heading in, what is your advice to people, like your top tips for the holy shit moment, and money is definitely a primary determined reason why people won’t get a divorce? So what can you tell people?
Britt: Yeah. Yeah, just feeling for that moment of staying in a relationship.
T.H.: Yeah, it’s awful.
Jessica: It’s awful.
Britt: Yeah. So let’s see, we’re not talking about proactive what you could have done, we’re talking about that moment, that oh shit–
Jessica: Right, we’re going to get to that. But in the beginning, for someone who already hasn’t done anything proactive?
T.H.: That’s right.
Britt: Yeah. So it’s starting to gather information. It’s tracking what do you actually need on a monthly basis. Start tracking your needs, both your expenses that you can’t get by without – health insurance etc., start factoring what that actually is on a monthly basis. And then your wants, we call it needs and wants, so your wants budget, what are those other things that are nice to haves that would also be good to have in a given month? That’s kind of the number that you’re working with for what you would actually need. And that, just bringing some clarity to it, for a lot of people who they have their head in the sand, or they’ve never paid attention to their finances, just getting really clear on those numbers is the first step for beginning to navigate and figuring out is this feasible, and what would this look like?
Jessica: What are some of the most common problems that you see divorced women going through who come to you, regardless almost of what stage they’re in, but there have to be common themes?
Britt: Oh, gosh, yeah, one of the big ones is that they just haven’t been in the money conversation. They don’t have information about what’s going on. As much as you can, before things are tense or you’re talking to lawyers, getting whatever information you can about the assets, the family assets, the investments, where the money is, just informing yourself for going into those conversations.
T.H.: And on your site and in your program, are you educating people on different terms? “Okay, so the money’s here, here and here. Okay, I don’t know what a Roth is. Where’s the pension?” There are probably a lot of words that if you weren’t part of the conversation, number one, because you’re a woman and that’s not your job, or you opted to not be a part of it, or both, where can people go to learn? Because now you have a step, but it’s like, “Okay, great. I need to learn where the money is. Like, where would it be?”
Britt: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. Our program includes a ton of financial literacy. You’re learning these terms, you know, what is a Roth IRA? Where would it be? What would it be invested in? And we have calls each week with different coaches. So you can join one of those coaches and ask any of your questions along the way.
T.H.: Great. Great.
Britt: We mostly work with women on the other side of divorce.
T.H.: So let’s talk about that.
Britt: Yeah. They’ve come out of divorce and they have to manage their financial situation on their own for the first time. In terms of the divorce process, that’s where we really excel.
Jessica: Okay, so what does that look like? For someone who’s listening right now and is like, “Okay, I’m about to be finished,” or “I am finished, and I am on the other side,” what are you going to be the basic tenets in the beginning that they’re going to learn from you guys to make them feel like I can do this?
Britt: Yeah, absolutely. So we teach them everything they need to know.
Jessica: That’s a lot. It could seem overwhelming to someone.
Britt: Yeah, but when you break it down, the thing about personal finances, you have to remember that you’re not trying to do everything at once. You are not trying to invest your retirement and pay off your credit card debt and set up your budget all at the same time. You’re doing one at a time. It’s really important to do things in the right order, because if you mess up that order, you’re actually shooting yourself in the foot in terms of making the most of your money.
Jessica: What would be the right order of those three things that you just said?
Britt: So the first thing is to pay off credit card debt. Credit card debt is remarkably expensive in the United States. Interest rates are 20 to 30%, and they compound daily. You buy a pair of jeans for $100, it costs you $200 if you put it on a credit card and don’t pay it off. It’s just the most expensive thing that people have in their financial lives. That’s always the number one priority is paying off credit card debt. Then the second piece is to save an emergency fund. That’s just your buffer fund – there’s a hole in the roof, the something bad happens and you can’t pay for it over time. You need that money on the spot. You don’t want to go into debt for it. You don’t want to have to take it out of your investments. That’s what your emergency fund is for. Then the third step is investing both your retirement accounts and your non retirement accounts.
T.H.: So the economy today is very upsetting. I mean, I sold my home, and I would say a bulk of my money is there. It’s for a long term investment purpose. But it’s very upsetting to even hear it in the news. I’m supposed to have a call with my investment group tomorrow, actually. That shouldn’t be fun. What do you tell people about investing? I think that people are afraid. “Maybe I should invest in real estate?” The market is just all over the place, and if that’s really where I’m putting all my money, that’s pretty scary. What kind of advice do you give people?
Britt: Yeah, so when it comes to investing, there are a ton of myths out there, especially among women. The biggest one is that investing is risky and investing is scary. If you do it the right way, if you first save your emergency fund and then you plan to invest for the long term, long term being anything over three years. Five years is better, but five years or longer, you’re not planning to touch that money. So you’re not investing money for your high school kid’s college funds. That’s not a long enough time horizon. You’re investing money for retirement or further down the line. When you have that time period, you can weather the ups and downs in the market. For most of the clients that I’m advising, they’re not scared right now. Yeah, the market’s down, but they’re long term investors, they’re planning to hold this, and they know it’s going to recover. The market has always recovered. Even after the biggest dips, 2008, 2020, it always comes back. And so if you just have the patience and have the ability to keep it invested, it doesn’t have to be risky. It doesn’t have to be scary. You just have to wait.
T.H.: You just made my phone call a little easier thing, thank you. Because it is scary, I mean, it is, but you don’t have to be scared. Do you know what I mean? You’re looking in the news and everybody’s freaking you out. I’m checking the boxes in my head as you’re speaking.
Jessica: Right, you’re afraid that like, okay, but what if I lose my retirement fund?
T.H.: Right, that’s my retirement money.
Britt: Right. But you have time until retirement. And that’s why this is–
Jessica: She’s very old. She doesn’t have that much time.
T.H.: I think you have to knock on wood, as far as time. Everybody knock on wood right now for me to have time, okay? Thank you.
Britt: The other just slightly more technical part that I’ll share is, as you get closer to retirement, if you’re investing correctly, and this is how we teach women to invest, and I’m going to use a complicated term here, asset allocation, which is literally just percentage of stocks and percentage of bonds in your portfolio, that changes over time. So as you get closer to retirement, you have fewer stocks and more bonds. Your portfolio isn’t going to jump as much. It’s not going to follow the stock market.
Jessica: Right, you have less volatility because you have more solid investments in your portfolio.
Britt: Exactly. Yeah. They can both be solid, but one’s less volatile.
Jessica: Right, right. So for women who come to you who are on the other side, I mean, a big part, I’m sure that you know, when it comes to divorce, what women are trying to figure out oftentimes is like, can I stay in the house? The needs versus wants, you’re totally right, of course, but sometimes it is things that you feel you need, and then you’re like, I need it, and I can’t afford it. We’ve spoken to women who have to get rid of their cars and have to start relying on public transportation. You really have to draw the line somewhere. So not to get too technical in terms, but I think that one of the big struggles is if you’re making X amount of money, how much of that should I be comfortable spending on my cost of living each month, whether it’s rent, whether it’s my mortgage, things like that? So do you have specific rules with regards to debt to income ratio and things like that, that you teach people in this program?
Britt: Yeah, so kind of two different questions. One is on spending. If you make 100% of the money, 50% of that you can spend on needs, 30% on wants, and 20% you should be saving. That’s a general guideline for a healthy financial life.
Jessica: And this is all before taxes?
Britt: That’s after taxes.
Britt: Yeah. The other way you could just put it is count needs, do it before taxes, but put your taxed needs. Yeah, either one, but ultimately, you want to be saving 20% of your take home pay. In terms of debt to income ratio, we work with people on increasing their credit scores. It’s just looking at what is your current debt situation. People relate to debt differently. Some people are totally comfortable having debt and others really don’t like having debt. And so there’s also a personal piece in there. But in terms of credit card debt, that one’s clear, just clear that as fast as you can.
Jessica: Right, right, right. So tell us, with regards to The Million Dollar Year program, a little about that. I know how it’s broken down week by week, month by month, kind of like the phases that you started, but why it’s particularly good for divorced women?
Britt: Yeah. It’s so funny, because when we started the program, that wasn’t our target demographic at all. We thought we were going to be reaching our peers and in their 30s, just starting out in their careers.
Jessica: I got divorced in my 30s!
T.H.: Both of us did, yeah.
Britt: Yeah, we’ve found that late 30s, into 40s, has been the sweet spot of women who join The Million Dollar Year. It works well because, one, we’re just giving you A to Z, everything you need to know in terms of financial literacy and creating your financial life, sometimes from scratch. So it has all the education, but more than that, it has the community. And so we have a couple of thousand people in the community who are all in the same boat, who are all on the other side of–there are some who are moms and married and younger and older. We have all sorts of women, but the bulk of them are post divorce. And so they have this tribe of like minded people who can rally them through this together. We have this way that we set people up with accountability buddies. And so you have a partner that you meet with each week and do your weekly money ritual together, or at least check in and say that you’ve done it. And so to have someone who knows what you’re going through is really helpful when you’re dealing with money and it feels daunting and scary.
Jessica: We totally agree with that. In your program, one of the stages I think was you how someone could earn an extra $1,000 a month. Can you tell us a little bit more about that? I think people will be dying to hear some of that.
T.H.: That’s like the lotto.
Britt: Yeah, yeah, it’s a bonus course called The $1,000 Month that we developed to help people earn extra income, even if they’re short on time, energy, or ideas. We have this process that we take people through where they first inventory their skills, their skill sets, their assets, what they have to work with in terms of making more money. Do they have time? Do they have a car? Do they have a computer? And what are their skills? And then give them the spreadsheet with hundreds of different options of ways to make money, including here’s what you would expect to make per hour, and here are different resources for going and getting those jobs or those side hustles, or asking for a raise, or whatever the different ways to increase your income are. Again, similar to The Million Dollar Year, it’s step by step. There are workbooks and accountability steps that walk you through the whole thing.
Jessica: It’s funny, because I wasn’t sure if it was the kind of thing like earning $1,000 because you’re now investing or saving your money in a different way, where you have money, that you’ve sort of like found money. But you’re talking about actually getting another job–
T.H.: Earning more money.
Jessica: Right, or taking on more work in some capacity. I love the asking for a raise to earn an extra $1000.
T.H.: I mean that’s the most obvious one. I think that most women are probably not–
Jessica: Women wouldn’t think about it.
T.H.: Well, or just like, “Yeah, I’m not qualified for raise. I didn’t do a good enough job. I didn’t, I didn’t, I didn’t, I didn’t.”
Jessica: We’ve did a whole podcast episode with a great friend who is a Senior Vice President of Human Resources at a big company out in California about how do you go in and ask for a raise? And how do you value yourself in the workplace? Because it is an unfortunate thing, you shouldn’t go into your boss and cry, like, “I just got divorced, and now I need to make more money,” but the truth is a lot of women are okay with not necessarily getting good raises or not having gotten raises in a while and really just aren’t valuing their self, and they don’t realize it because now all of a sudden, they do need the money, because they’ve gotten divorced. Now they have to learn how to have those critical conversations that would make many women cry, going to their bosses.
T.H.: I have a friend who was working three days a week. At the time, her husband was working, and they had two boys in high school. Then they were having some money struggles. And she fought for three days a week, because if everybody remembers, before COVID, working part time was not really working in the minds of corporate America. Now it’s a whole new world. So whatever, she went back, she asked for four days, because she felt she was already working the amount of four days in three days time. Then she ended up getting a divorce and she knew she was going to have to pay her lawyer. She’s like, “I need five days now.” She’s like, “Do you value me or not?” She was really almost desperate, I don’t know exactly what her delivery was, but they ended up doing it. Listen, you got nothing to lose. You got nothing to lose. They’re either going to say yes, or they’re going to say no.
Britt: Yes, they’re usually not going to fire you for asking for a raise.
T.H.: That’s right. That’s right. They shouldn’t anyway. That’s a whole other conversation.
Jessica: So for people who are in this situation, getting divorced, got divorced, or on the other side, and are in that place of on the fence, aren’t sure what the next steps are to take, what would be your one key piece of advice to get people going and be able to take control of their finances to run their own lives?
Britt: I mean, join The Million Dollar Year. Let’s see, you’re saying if you weren’t joining the program, what’s one thing–
Jessica: Yeah, we often ask people what’s the one thing you want people to know. Or if they are someone who’s been divorced, what do you wish you knew at the time?
Britt: Yeah, I mean, the one thing I would say is just to trust yourself that you can do this. It probably seems hard, it’s probably a lot of terms, but don’t get overwhelmed, and know that it’s all learnable. Support exists for getting this education in an easy to understand way. But it’s absolutely possible. It doesn’t take as long as people think. They think like five years from now maybe you’ll have things figured out. You can do it in a matter of months.
T.H.: Right, don’t think statistics class and calculus. Just don’t. When it’s your own money, it’s not the same. I hated accounting more than anything. Now I do all the books for exEXPERTS. I can’t say I enjoy it–
Jessica: Thank god.
T.H.: –but I’m doing it well, and I understand it. So anything’s possible here.
Jessica: Right, right. Well, Britt, thank you so much, so much for taking the time because this is definitely something that we really feel is a service for all women who are going through or getting divorced, and something that is sorely needed. And so thank you for you and Laurie-Anne for creating the program. For anyone listening, we have all of the information about Britt and the Dow Janes program on our website. You’ll find their exEXPERTS page with links to all of the information for their programs and accounts. So go check it out, and we’ll see you next time. Thank you.
T.H.: Thank you.
Britt: Thanks so much.