Take control. Anxiety comes from not having control. If you outsource your financial planning to a significant other, family member, friend, or financial planner, it might actually make you feel worse. If you are in control and have a plan, you’ll be amazed at how relieved you become.
With all that’s going on in our country, our economy, the world, and on social media, it feels like so many of us are under a great deal of stress. A time of high inflation, a recession, or unemployment, can be particularly stress-inducing. We know chronic stress can be as unhealthy as smoking a quarter of a pack a day. What are stress management strategies that people use to become “Stress-Proof? What are some great tweaks, hacks, and tips that help reduce or even eliminate financial stress? In this interview series, we are talking to authors, business leaders, and financial experts, who can share their strategies for reducing or eliminating financial stress. As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Crissi Cole.
Crissi Cole is the founder and CEO of Penny Finance, an early-stage fintech startup taking on the wealth gap. Crissi spent ten years working in wealth management at Goldman Sachs in New York City, where she invested ultra-high-net-worth portfolios and built trading and technology platforms. Now, Crissi is on a mission to get more women out of debt and into investing with an accessible, affordable financial app designed intentionally for women who don’t have access to a financial advisor.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to know how you got from “there to here.” Inspire us with your backstory!
I love investing, numbers, and the markets. So, it’s really no surprise that I chose to work in finance after graduation. My mom had me buy my first stock at 14, and the rest is history. After college, I spent ten years working at Goldman Sachs in New York and learned everything I could about wealth management, high-net-worth portfolios, and the platforms that support it all. But even as a woman in finance with a financially-forward mom, I spent those ten years slowly chipping away at the exorbitant amount of student debt with every cent I made. And I noticed most of the women around me struggled with the same thing. How do we get out of debt and into investing? None of us could get a financial advisor, even if we wanted to, because we didn’t have the minimum $100k required.
Then, I had a lightbulb switch on. I was already helping my female friends and colleagues with money questions. What if I could do more? I saw an enormous opportunity to help the 70% of women who don’t have access to a financial advisor but wanted so badly to build the best future for themselves and their families. That is when Penny Finance was born. I left Goldman Sachs and hired a small but mighty team to help me create the digital financial mentorship experience I wish I had when I was swimming in debt or confused about how to save for a mortgage. Now, there’s Penny.
What lessons would you share with yourself if you had the opportunity to meet your younger self?
I wish I could tell my younger self to save more and spend more. I didn’t understand how little you need to save for retirement when you’re young. If you’re in your 20s, you can invest as little as $20 per week to hit multiple 6-figure goals down the line. Once you’re older, you can still hit those goals, but it’ll take a lot more savings. The difference is insane. So, I’d tell her to start saving and investing that retirement money earlier.
On the other hand, I would also spend more money on things I love doing. Just day-to-day stuff that lights me up. The traditional way to budget is so limited. You get so stuck on cutting back, you can’t even enjoy life properly. But I learned that’s not the right way to do things, either. When you know how much debt you have and you make a plan to pay it all off, you can invest more money in things you care about. Whether that’s actual investments or an experience, it’s up to you. It’s about how you prioritize your spending, not counting pennies on a spreadsheet.
Oh, and I would tell her she shouldn’t pay her rent with her credit card. But if she had to, then she should at least choose a 0% credit card without interest.
None of us are able to experience success without support along the way. Is there a particular person for whom you are grateful because of the support they gave you to grow you from “there to here?” Can you share that story and why you are grateful for them?
I had amazing role models. Both my mom and grandma were entrepreneurs. My mom acquired an ice cream shop when I was in high school, and we’ve been running it together for almost 20 years. My Italian grandmother came to America in her 20s with a 6th-grade education and couldn’t speak English. Even then, she built a seamstress business out of her basement and successfully managed it until she was 75 years old. Without them, I wouldn’t have had the courage to leave Goldman Sachs or create my startup. I’m also extremely grateful for my husband, who’s been supportive through it all.
On the work side, I couldn’t have done anything without my business mentors and my team. They were the ones who helped me get to where I am now and continue to support Penny. I even went on maternity leave! As a new entrepreneur, I didn’t know if I would be able to take time off. But after I got pregnant, I knew I could trust them to keep things running, so I could focus on taking care of my daughter. They’re truly a blessing.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think it might help people?
Penny just launched a community feature in January. The community page has been a great way for women to come together and share advice on all things finance and life. Similar to Reddit, you can ask questions, reply to other posts, and so on. Our team moderates everything so that no question goes unanswered, and to ensure everyone is being respectful. There are enough trolls on the internet; we don’t need them getting in the way of women trying to learn more about their finances.
Next month comes the true quantum shift, though. Penny will allow members to automatically link their accounts and get weekly, instant insights about their money. Right now, women have to manually input their financial information to get personalized money insights. With this new AI-powered feature, we customize recommendations for cost savings and wealth creation. For instance, it will be able to tell you that you have $4k uninvested in your 401k, or how you could earn $350 extra dollars by using a HYSA, or that your student loan payment should be $312. We want to take the guesswork out — and cross off the much-avoided financial items off our members’ to-do lists.
Ok, thank you for sharing your inspired life. Let’s now talk about stress. How would you define stress?
I define it as a constant state of survival.
In the Western world, humans typically have their shelter, food, and survival needs met. So what has led to this chronic stress? Why are so many of us always stressed out?
It’s true that in Western countries like the United States, more people typically have their needs met. But the question is, what must they do in order to meet those needs? According to the American Psychological Association, money is the top cause of stress in the United States, with 77% of Americans feeling considerable anxiety about finances. Financial stress has a ripple effect. It can affect your productivity and job performance, your marriage, and your family time.
More people, especially women, are working harder than ever just to meet the bare minimum. They are working longer hours, or they’re working a side hustle job to pay their bills and, if they’re lucky, to set aside some small amount for the future. We are seeing a major imbalance between the amount of work people do and the reward they receive. We’ve been told all our lives that we just need to work harder to get ahead, that if we’re scrappy and keep grinding, we will be successful. And that has led to epic burnout.
Over the last three years, as we were all dealing with the fallout from the pandemic, we’ve seen all of this come to a head, especially for working women. Women were working remotely while still running the household and overseeing their kids’ distance learning. That’s a recipe for stress and burnout. When schools and daycare centers reopened we were expected to just go back to the way things were before COVID, but that didn’t happen. Instead, nearly 2 million women left the workforce entirely. One of the key factors in that sea change was burnout: 1 in 3 women considered leaving their jobs entirely or changing their careers in 2021. And 60% of working parents say the lack of affordable child care caused them to leave the workforce.
On top of all that, Gen X and Millennials are now faced with caring for their children while also caring for an aging parent. All while trying to manage their own financial futures. Many people are feeling helpless about their ability to retire with any kind of security.
Who wouldn’t be stressed out about all of that?
What are some of the physical manifestations of being under a lot of stress? How does the human body react to stress?
For me, it’s the fight-or-flight, racing thoughts, and go-go-go mode that feels like you’re either in a racecar or being thrown around inside a blender. My thoughts are all over the place, sleep is scarce, and I can’t even rest properly because it feels like everything is racing or moving too quickly.
Is stress necessarily a bad thing? Can stress ever be good for us?
It is when it drives negative thoughts. Stress can absolutely be a good, natural way to drive us to action and progress. If we weren’t a little bit stressed about our life, we perhaps wouldn’t strive for greatness.
Let’s now focus more on the stress of a challenging economic time. This feels intuitive, but it is helpful to spell it out in order to address it. Can you help articulate what causes financial stress?
Financial stress on the surface comes from not having enough money to pay the bills OR pressure to keep up with ever-changing spending needs. This can cause you to feel underwater or out of control. Many people think having a ton of money can cure financial stress. However, financial freedom comes with awareness, and an action plan, so you feel in control. That doesn’t require a ton of money.
Here is the main question of our interview: Can you share with our readers your “5 Things You Can Do To Reduce Or Eliminate Financial Stress?” Please share a story or example for each.
- Know your numbers. This is something we repeat a lot in the Penny Finance community. When you become familiar with your numbers, financial anxiety deflates like an old balloon. For example: if you avoid your credit card statement after a holiday shopping spree, you will let that anxiety become much bigger than it needs to be. But if you take a deep breath, face those numbers, and create a plan to pay it off? Even if it feels uncomfortable, you will no longer need to stress over this, because you already know the solution. There is both comfort and confidence in information.
- If there’s something you’re not good at, learn it. They say “knowledge is power” for a reason. That’s why Penny offers educational modules. To empower people to learn more about the financial areas where they are less informed.
- Start investing early. The financial world was set up to be a boy’s club. But when it comes to managing investment portfolios, women actually perform better than men. Most women manage their household finances, but shy away from the stock market. We want to change that.
- Small steps. We tend to think about the big picture (my total credit card bill is $5,000. All of my student loans equate to $72,000), and that can paralyze you. We want you to think about the smallest common denominator. What is the minimum amount you need to pay on your student loans to start chipping away? That might be $300. $300 is a lot less straining than $72k.
- Take control. Anxiety comes from not having control. If you outsource your financial planning to a significant other, family member, friend, or financial planner, it might actually make you feel worse. If you are in control and have a plan, you’ll be amazed at how relieved you become.
Can you help address some of the potential obstacles that get in the way of implementing your ideas? What can be done to clear the way and remove those roadblocks?
Avoiding the hard stuff is the biggest barrier here. It can feel easier to never open that credit card statement or push your financial to-dos to the bottom of your list. It can feel easier to believe the media and society that tells you finance and investing are hard and men should do them instead.
Believe you can do it, and we promise, it isn’t as hard as it is made out to be.
Thank you for that. We are nearly done. Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that have inspired you to live with more joy in life?
Books: The Alchemist, Sapiens, Tribes, Where the Crawdads Sign, The Happiness Advantage, Rabbit, Reality is Not What it Seems.
Apps: Calm, Batelle, BabyCenter, Skylight, Shine.
I am not a podcast person!
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I did! I built Penny Finance to start a movement to make financial literacy accessible to more women who have been ignored. The truth is, most of us don’t realize there’s so much more we can do to help ourselves. Want to close the wealth gap? We don’t have to wait for a pay raise or promotion for the rest of our corporate lives. We can start taking small, meaningful actions now. We can create more freedom in our day to day, and retire with the same level of wealth (and confidence) men do. It starts with knowledge and financial education.
What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?
Sign up for Penny on our website! As a free member, you can take our signature money quiz, access the community page I mentioned earlier, and learn more about finance on our website. If you choose to become a paid member, you also get full access to digestible modules on financial education, personalized money insights delivered to your inbox, and more. Of course, you can also follow us on social media @startwithapenny.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.
Thank you so much for having me!