Money pro tips Q&A with money coach and author Ashley Feinstein Gerstley

Myelle Lansat


Myelle Lansat

Myelle Lansat

News Editor

Myelle Lansat is a news editor at Policygenius, where she writes the Easy Money newsletter and covers insurance and personal finance. Previously, she was a personal finance writer at CNBC and Acorns, and a reporter for Business Insider.

Published April 17, 2020 | 7 min read

Policygenius content follows strict guidelines for editorial accuracy and integrity. Learn about our editorial standards and how we make money.

News article image

It can be hard to admit you’re struggling with money when you have a career as an investment banker, but Ashley Feinstein Gerstley is the first to admit she didn’t have a good grip on her financial well-being at the start of her career.

After getting her own finances on track, Gerstley founded The Fiscal Femme, a seven-day jumpstart initative for women to take control of their own financial wellbeing. At the beginning of 2019 she released her book “The 30-day Money Cleanse” for women who need help with their wallets, careers and financial planning.

Want alerts about our Pro Tips profiles? Sign up for our Easy Money newsletter, sent to your inbox each Friday

As workers adjust to social distancing, why might it be a good time for people to go on a 30-Day Money Cleanse?

A lot of people want to wait to do The 30-Day Money Cleanse until they have no plans, aren’t traveling and can cook most meals at home, because that’s when they will save the most money. While we are social distancing, we definitely have that chance. A lot of people assume they’d spend less while social distancing, but it’s actually easy to spend as much or more than before. We’re stressed, companies are offering all kinds of sales and it’s really easy to buy things online when we’re sitting at home. I truly believe it’s always a great time for a 30-Day Money Cleanse and social distancing is no different!

What is “financial adulting” and how can others learn from it?

One of the most powerful “financial adulting” lessons I’ve learned in my own money life is a specific mindset shift. We often believe that dealing with our money is going to be restrictive or will limit our fun. This is definitely something that gets perpetuated by our society and communities — the idea that being responsible with our money is not going to be fun!

I was right there with them. What I realized from my own money journey is that the opposite is true. Dealing with our money is actually a radical act of self-love. When we look at our numbers and plan, we give ourselves what we want most. We can save for the things that we really want and purchase the things we choose to without all the shame and guilt. It gives us freedom. When we start seeing it that way it makes it so much easier and more rewarding to be a financial adult.

What’s a common theme you hear from people who need help with their finances?

One of the most common complaints I hear is “I’m not living an extravagant lifestyle. Where is all of my money going?” We start our careers and don’t feel like we’re earning enough money to save. Over time, we get a raise or a promotion (or five), and notice there’s still no money leftover to save. Eventually, we look back and think, how did I ever live on my first salary? Yet, we can’t point to any big meaningful changes in our lifestyles as our salaries have increased. I think this is the most common experience I see across all different levels of income and backgrounds.

What’s the biggest money mistake you see people make?

We don’t really plan for larger expected expenses like travel, attending a friend’s wedding, the holidays, a move, etc. We know we spend extra money during the holidays but we don’t do anything about it. We get stressed year after year. Same with travel. For example, it’s time to book a flight for our summer vacation. When we don’t have enough money in our checking account, we pull from our savings or put it on a credit card to be dealt with later. This causes a lot of financial stress and can feel like we’re taking two steps forward, one step back.

The good news is, this is easy to fix! I’m a huge fan of using sinking funds. Sinking funds are money we set aside over time (preferably in an online savings account) so that when it’s time to make a larger purchase, the money is there waiting for us. It smooths out the expenses and lessens the “pain” we feel. A $2,000 trip becomes $77 per paycheck. $1,000 in holiday gifts becomes $38 per paycheck. That feels a whole lot better!

What’s the biggest money mistake you’ve made?

I’ve made many, many money mistakes and continue to make mistakes (even though this is what I do for my job!). We all make mistakes and the most important thing we can do is forgive ourselves and try to learn from what happened, rather than punish ourselves. It’s called a money journey for a reason. We’ll always be learning and growing.

Probably the biggest mistake I made and the one I regret the most was taking investing advice from a co-worker who sounded confident but had no idea what he was talking about. I didn’t have the confidence to do the research and listen to my gut and I ended up losing thousands of dollars. This mistake definitely fuels what I do today. If I, as a finance major and finance professional, didn’t have the confidence to learn to invest I know a lot of others feel the same.

What’s the best financial advice you ever received?

Always ask. Everything is negotiable and if we don’t ask for it, we’re a lot less likely to get it.

What’s the worst financial advice you ever got?

That financial management is too complicated for me to understand. I think a lot of people, especially women, get this message from financial professionals. The idea is that it’s all too complicated for us to understand so we should leave it to them to take care of. If you work with a financial manager or planner, they should always be willing and patient to help you understand everything that’s happening with your money. If not, it’s time to end the relationship.

What's the best money you’ve ever spent?

We took our son on his first international trip last summer to London. We stayed with dear friends in the city and then ventured out to the Cotswolds on our own. It was such a wonderful trip and worth every penny. Not being able to travel currently or in the foreseeable future has me really reminiscing about past trips and yearning for new travel adventures!

What’s your current money goal and how are you working toward it?

We are expecting our second son in the fall. This definitely calls for a complete reworking of our finances and money goals and the earlier we start planning for it the better. We mapped out our future income and expenses (including the costs of a new child) via budgeting spreadsheet for the next two years, knowing we don’t have all the answers and will have to adjust over time. Working for myself, I want to invest in my own maternity leave. This means setting aside funds to be able to pay myself and my business expenses while I’ll be taking time off and probably earning less income.

What’s the hardest part about starting a business?

Running your own business is definitely a roller coaster ride. I think one of the hardest parts is that there is no longer a clear list of objectives you must meet. In previous roles for companies, I had tasks to complete and if I did them well, I was successful in my job.

As an entrepreneur, you are deciding what’s important for you to do (and there are unlimited things you could be doing!) and it’s easy to question and wonder if you are spending time on the right things. You also care so much so every business failure hurts, but on the positive side, the wins feel even more amazing.

What’s the most rewarding part of starting a business?

The Fiscal Femme is such a mission-based business. We’re out to get women wealthy because we believe financial well-being is all about equality. When we are financially well we can negotiate harder, take more risks in our career, leave situations (and people) that are not serving us, and invest in the causes that are important to us. This means getting paid what we’re worth, getting women on management teams and on boards, and investing in women-owned businesses.

Through doing my work, I get to live my purpose. I have the absolute pleasure of getting to help people each and every day and there is nothing more rewarding than that.

This interview was lightly edited for style and clarity.

Image: Nastia Kobzarenko