Think Like A Breadwinner– An Interview with Jennifer Barrett


I am super excited to hear from today’s guest on her number one money mantra, think like a breadwinner. Jennifer Barrett is the chief education officer at acorns, a savings and investing app with more than 9 million users. She’s also the author of the book, Think Like A Breadwinner: A Wealth Building Manifesto for Women. Jen is a contributor to so many publications. She’s also a TEDx speaker, a breadwinner herself, and an overall smarty pants and lovely person. And I for one am psyched to hear her advice.

Listen to the Podcast Here

Jen, welcome, it’s so great to have you. The title of your book is Think Like a Breadwinner. Which is also a great money mantra or guiding principle that we can use to have a better relationship with money. Where did it come from?

Well, thinking like a breadwinner is really thinking of yourself as a breadwinner too. And that the truth is most women in the U S have been socialized not to think of ourselves that way. I know I wasn’t. You know, I considered myself an independent woman that was able to cover my expenses.

But I had my own wake up call in my early thirties.  And at the time I was paying half the rent and bills with my husband. I had a small 401k. I had a little savings, I thought I was doing okay. But we were in a small one bedroom apartment rental in Brooklyn, which is not unusual in New York city. We were sharing our bedroom with our toddler.

And I remember one night I looked around, I was up with him kind of pacing back and forth, trying to get him back to sleep. I looked around and it really hit me that we were in an unsustainable situation. And even though I thought I was pretty independent, I was not in a position financially at that point to get us out of this situation. To help us buy a place or to even rent a bigger place. To be sure we could afford a second child. These things that were so important to me, I realized I hadn’t saved and invested enough to help us afford them. And I was still honestly living almost paycheck to paycheck. So I had this moment of how did I get to this point where the things that matter most to me are at stake.

And I looked back at the money choices I made sort of trying to figure out where I went wrong. And I realized that deep, deep down at an unconscious level I had assumed my husband would be the one to take care of that just as my own dad had. So finally, I asked myself if I’ve been raised to believe, to truly believe, that I would be fully financially responsible for myself for life and probably a family too. How would that change the choices I made with my money and even with my career?

In other words, how would my money choices changed if I was thinking like a breadwinner? And the answer to that would honestly change the entire trajectory of my finances and my life and transform my relationship with money. So that’s where that came from initially.

Oh man. Nothing like having kids to make you start seeing things differently.

Oh, a hundred percent. There are so many things in your twenties that you can sort of get away with because your expenses aren’t necessarily that big. But then when you start thinking about all these things you may want in your life. Like buying a house, and having kids and starting a business. All these things require more than what you’re able to cover in just one paycheck. So it’s so important to start saving and investing early. It’s a lesson I learned the hard way.

Well you know, I did start saving and investing early. But I didn’t necessarily think like a breadwinner. Even after I had to step into the breadwinner role a couple of years ago. My husband works for himself, and he had two major clients and they both kind of evaporated in a couple of months of each other. And so it was scary. It was also kind of awesome because, you know, I hadn’t really seen when I could do.
However, I wasn’t thinking like a breadwinner. I was thinking, how can I make more money? And so that sort of translated into how can I work harder? And it was also very focused on, I gotta pay these bills, you know?
So when we were chatting pre-interview we were talking about how thinking like a breadwinner really requires this fundamental pivot in thinking. From a focus on being able to pay your bills no matter how big or small they are. Away from that and more toward building wealth. So what’s the difference there?

Yes. As you point out, there is a material difference between being able to cover the bills and investing to build a kind of wealth that will support the life you want. Which was the lesson that I learned in my early thirties. And it sounds like, you know, you got clear on that difference too.

And the fact is more than 40% of households with kids under 18, have a mother who’s either the sole or primary breadwinner. But a lot of women who end up in that role, as you said, are there by chance, not by choice. And there’s a big difference between thinking like a breadwinner and being prepared to step into that role at any point. And becoming a breadwinner by chance. Most of us are still not being brought up to be breadwinners. To think like breadwinners, we’re not set up to be successful in that role.

So to learn not just how to earn the most we can, but to invest and build wealth that will support us throughout our lives. And that is the big gap that I see. You know, we get this prescription as women, a lot of us. Not, not all women. But this prescription of get a career, get married, save a little for a rainy day, and for retirement and you’re good. And that prescription really falls short for most of us. It leaves out all the decades between your short-term savings goal of an expensive handbag, or a new couch and retirement, which could be decades away.

And so it leaves you really unprepared to support the life you want. Or the things you may want and those decades in between. To me, that’s a big gap that needs to be filled. Part of what I tried to do in the book was to sort of shift the way we’re thinking about money. So that we’re thinking about how to grow our money. We’re thinking much more expansively about money. So it’s less about like budgeting, which is also important. But it’s less about clipping coupons and cutting back and more about thinking about how we can build wealth. How we can expand our capabilities around investing, and saving, and earning. So that we can have all of the things that we want in our life.

We were talking before we started recording today about kind of the way women have been marketed to around credit. Like we may know about getting credit cards and we may know about, we need a decent credit score and that kind of a thing. But you were telling me like it’s sort of marketed as we get educated around thinking of credit as a way spend money. But really building credit is a way to save money. Could you drill down on that for us a little bit?

Sure. I mean, first of all, women could only get credit like the seventies. So it hasn’t been that long that we weren’t even able to get credit on our own. But since we we’ve been able to do that, it has really been presented to us by marketers as a way to close the gap between what we can afford in our life and what we want. So really all about spending and then rewards programs in the sense of like sign up for this store credit card and save 10% on this. Without really thinking about the fact that you’re paying 20% in interest. So that doesn’t really work in our favor.

But really that’s very different in the way, I talk about this in the book, is like if you think about credit from a breadwinner standpoint, your primary goal is to build your credit and get an excellent credit score. So that when you go to buy a house or you go to take out a loan to start a business, you get absolutely the best rates you can.

And it is a huge difference. So if you have an excellent credit score and you get a mortgage for the optimal interest rate over the course of the time you’re paying back that mortgage. This could be the difference of, I think the average was $42,000 for the average home price over the course of your mortgage loan. So that’s huge. It’s like tens of thousands of dollars that you are saving simply because you have better credit. And so it’s a very different way to look at it.

I mean, the other opportunity that I talk about in the book too, that I’ve taken advantage of myself. And this is you have to be pretty disciplined with your credit cards and make sure you pay it off each month. But if you have good credit, you can get credit cards that have incredible rewards programs, right? And so you can actually use your credit cards for your spending as long as you pay it off each month and you can make money.

So when we needed to do some home renovations, I took out a credit card with a 0% introductory rate for 12 months and a bonus $350 if you spent, I think it was $5,000 in the first few months. So I spent that easily on these home renovations. Then I spread out my repayments over 11 months. So I would finish paying it off just before the 0% interest rate went away. And between that and the other spending I did on that card, I think I got $550.

So not only did I pay no interest, but I got over $500 back from this credit card. So there are ways to really think about credit in a way to support us and to actually bring income in and to help us save money, rather than using it for spending purposes. Or to close the gap between the life we aspire to and the life we can actually afford at that particular time.

Oh man, that’s so savvy. You’ve got my wheels turning. I have some home renovations going on. So maybe I’ll look into some credit cards out there. But what’s another tangible way that we can put thinking like a breadwinner into practice.
Somebody who’s listening to this interview right now is starting to have her eyes open to Oh, there’s another way to think about this. How could she, or he, or they integrate this idea and get it into their cells by taking some kind of action?

Sure. I mean, first of all, there are so many benefits to thinking this way. And I think we don’t talk about it enough. Whether you end up, you know, in the main earner in a relationship or not. This is like an insurance policy, right? This gives you the security to know you can provide for yourself and for others, whether or not you have to.

And I think like, why wouldn’t you do that for yourself? We talk so much about the importance of self care. And this to me is true self care. So some really basic ways to do it, And I provide some specific steps in the book too. But you know, it’s about building good credit and leveraging it to build wealth. Which I mentioned a minute ago, how to set up really strong savings habits so that you never feel stuck in a bad situation. And that’s automating your savings, looking for high yield savings accounts. Investing strategically to grow your money. So you can become less and less dependent on your paychecks and have more and more choices in your life.

And so part of that is just looking at every paycheck that comes in, as an opportunity to become less dependent on the next one. So looking at the money coming in and taking as much of that money coming in and putting it to work for you. So it’s growing in the background of your life and you are quietly building wealth while you’re working. And over time that makes you less and less dependent on your paycheck. You can get to the point, whether that’s retirement or before retirement. Which would be ideal, where your investments are generating enough income that will be enough to cover your basic expenses.

And that is true financial freedom. So in my mind, what your ultimate goal is to make yourself less and less dependent on those paychecks. And really focus on investing smartly so that the returns from your investments can provide enough to support you one day.

Now, obviously that is what retirement is, but I think there’s a huge opportunity to do that even before the traditional retirement age of 65 or 75 or whatever it will be by the time we retire. And honestly it all starts with asking yourself,  am I making the kinds of money choices that will ensure I am able to take care of myself financially throughout my life. You know, and support the life that I want. Whether or not you’re single, you’re married or divorced. Whatever your situation is, knowing and having the confidence and security of knowing that you are making the money choices that will support you in the life you want. That’s what it comes to.

Ooh, sounds so good. So tell us where we can find your book and where listeners can connect with you on social.

Sure. You can find out more about the book and order it or pre-order it now. It’s out on April 6th  at And I’m on Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.

Daily Tiny Assignment

Jennifer got my wheels turning, I don’t know about you. So lots of things to think about. But let’s do something really practical. And that is to figure out where you are going to put aside some money that’s just for you. Is it going to be a savings account? Or is it going to be an investment account? If it’s a savings account, go and Google high yield savings accounts like Jennifer referenced in her interview. See if you can find something that’s going to give you a better interest rate. If it’s an investment account, ask a few friends where they’re doing their investing. There’s all kinds of options these days, and there’s something that’s out there. That’s right for you. Thanks for listening in and come back tomorrow for another Monday.


Want to be a better person, but don’t know where to start?

My new daily podcast, How to Be a Better Person, is here to help by sharing one simple thing you can do in the next 24 hours to rise. My mission? To help you live your best life.

Subscribe on iTunes Get podcast news