Don’t let your ego get in the way of your long-term goals.
Linda Descano, CFA®, President and CEO,
Stephanie Berenbaum, as many of you may know, is co-creator and co-editor-in-chief of Fabulous & Frugal, an online lifestyle and financial magazine for women who want to live well and spend wisely. We "met" virtually when Stephanie interviewed me for an article she was writing about Women & Co. A long-time fan of this e-zine, I was excited about doing the interview and Stephanie didn’t disappoint. She is a great interviewer and conversationalist—I could have talked with her for hours. So, as I was putting together my slate of interviews for this series, I asked Stephanie about sitting on the other side of the table—as the “interviewee.” She readily agreed and provided below are the highlights from our conversation.
In college, Stephanie’s goal was to work in publishing as a journalist/writer—which, coincidentally, was one of my early career goals as well. Guess where she landed? The financial industry. “Come again?” I asked. ”Coming out of school (college), I had a lot of debt from my student loans as well as credit cards. Once I maxed out my credit cards, I realized that working as a fact checker at a magazine wasn’t going to enable me to live, even modestly, let alone pay down this debt. I had to make a change but what was I going to do with an undergrad in political science?” explained Stephanie. That’s when a friend suggested she consider going to work in the financial industry. Stephanie went for a tour of the trading floor where he worked. “I loved the energy on the trading floor and was immediately hooked,” Stephanie said, “I managed to get an entry-level position, which entailed picking up coffee -- sometimes for people who were younger than me. Eventually, I worked my way up to Vice President of Institutional Equities.”
In addition to moving up, Stephanie also moved across the country, from New York to Los Angeles. “After a few years of starting work at 3 a.m., I felt ready for a change,” she added, “but I hadn’t yet figured out what the next step would be – until, that is, I had a dinner party. Because I was the designated “finance person” in my circle of friends, people were always asking me for help with their personal money. So, not surprising, at this dinner party, someone pulled me aside with a question. But, this time, the question spilled over to the general conversation and I realized that there really wasn’t a place that women could turn to for down to earth financial insights that didn’t condescend to them. That’s when I decided to start Fab & Fru.”
Stephanie did not make this transition overnight and doesn’t recommend that any aspiring entrepreneur quit her “day job” until she is prepared operationally and financially. “I decided upfront what I wanted to have set aside as a financial cushion and then left my ‘day job’ when I reached that amount and felt we were at a good place with our business,” said Stephanie, adding, “There’s no glory in not knowing where your rent check is coming from!”
“Whether you’re in business for yourself or work for someone else, I think you need perseverance, humor and a savings account to succeed,” said Stephanie. When we were discussing her transition to the financial industry, Stephanie made a great point: you never know where or from whom your inspiration will come from, so it’s important to keep an open mind and a vibrant network. When considering a transition to another industry or a different role, don’t hesitate to take a step down as it may, over the long run, enable you to go further in your new role, said Stephanie. “Don’t let your ego get in the way of your long-term goals. When I first entered the financial industry, I was getting coffee for people my age or even younger. But, they had been working in the industry longer. I watched what they were doing, learned the business and looked for opportunities to add value, to demonstrate my skills and put my knowledge into practice. In the end, it paid off for me.”
Don’t let your ego get in the way of your long-term goals.
Stephanie credits her maternal grandparents as a source of financial inspiration. “My maternal grandparents were products of the Great Depression,” Stephanie said, “and became very successful entrepreneurs by working hard. Despite their success, they maintained a certain financial sensibility and always lived within their means. I have always been inspired by the fact that it was actually my grandmother who encouraged my grandfather to take a risk and start his own business—she had great instincts. Although my grandparents were risk takers in business, they were conservative with their investments. That’s definitely a trait that I’ve inherited.”
When it comes to a financially harmonious relationship, like Cary Broussard, Stephanie believes transparency is key. “You have to put all your financial facts on the table – how much credit card debt you have, what you have saved, and so forth. You also have to keep those lines of communications open throughout the relationship,” Stephanie emphasized.
She also believes it’s important to have a shared financial vision, including a budget, regardless of whether you have merged all your money or not. “Without a budget, we wouldn’t be able to keep track of where we are relative to where we want to be,” added Stephanie, “Because money can be an emotionally charged topic, we decided to conduct our ‘money talks’ over dinner at a favorite restaurant, figuring it would create a more comfortable, relaxing atmosphere to counter the financial electricity in the air. It really works. We bring all of our files with us and go through the last few months of spending. It helps us re-focus. We do this a few times a year.”
Stephanie also recommends “respecting the splurge,” explaining, “When we moved into our home my husband was obsessed with getting a huge flat-panel TV. All I wanted was a professional stove; I couldn’t care less about the TV. But, in the end, we compromised on other things and decided to get both the TV and the professional stove. You need to give each other some financial room for indulgences, even if you don’t always understand your partner’s motivation.”
Stephanie is the proud mom of two young boys, ages 3 and 5. She an her husband have set up a “charity box” in their home as a means of teaching the boys that there is more to money than just buying for yourself, but also a vehicle for helping someone else in need. When out and about in the mall or shopping centers, Stephanie tries to practice “intentional shopping,” with her boys, setting a spending limit as a way of teaching them about making choices, although she admits to the occasional toy purchase to quell tears.
Not surprising to anyone who knows Stephanie or reads Fab & Fru, her passions are food, entertaining, and giving back to the community.
Stephanie credits a bumper sticker as the source for her personal motto: “Warning: dates on the calendar are closer than they appear.” She added, “This reminds me that we are here, on this earth, only temporarily and we need to live life to the fullest, each and every day.”