The Most

Woman in the World


Farnoosh Torabi

Journalist, author, podcaster, breadwinner

The Most
Woman in the World: Farnoosh Torabi

Journalist, author, podcaster, breadwinner

In her early twenties, Farnoosh Torabi—then an aspiring network news anchor—finished grad school with $30,000 in debt. She soon noticed that there was a gap in financial resources for people like her: young professionals trying to make ends meet as they started their careers. 15 years, three books, and countless TV appearances later, she’s become a go-to financial expert for people of all incomes. (She recently interviewed our CEO on her podcast, So Money. Here, she talks about making trade-offs, burning out, and tooting her own horn.

October 18, 2017 | Filed in: The Most Remarkable Women In The World

ON EARLY MONEY LESSONS: My parents are Iranian immigrants who came to the U.S. in the late ‘70s, during the Iranian revolution. Money was never a taboo topic in our household when I was growing up; my parents were very open about how much things cost, what we could afford, or when there were layoffs at my father’s workplace. Even when I wasn’t mature enough to understand, conversations around money were never hidden.

The values in our household were loud and clear, and sometimes those values were not shared by others in the community. My parents were very big on us all being together, and having us home every night. I wasn’t allowed to sleep at friends’ houses like our neighbors did. My parents were also very social, and we had family over all the time. Weekends were usually spent going over to another family’s house nearby and having an all-day backyard event and staying until 1:00 a.m. We didn’t go on vacations or spend extravagantly on other things, because my parents knew how they wanted to spend their time. It was hard, though, to see my friends doing things that my parents didn’t agree with, like going away to camp overnight or going to every birthday party. I had to be selective, socially, which wasn’t always fun for me. But now, looking back, that’s a real lesson for anybody: If you really want to steer your money in a certain direction, it’s important to create core values and be strict with them. Sometimes that means saying no and making hard tradeoffs.

My mother worked on and off, but my dad was always the primary breadwinner. Although we always talked about money in our family, I don’t think they had the best communication about it themselves. Eventually, it started to bother my mom. I remember coming home from college one day and she was in tears. She said, “I want to know what’s going on with our finances and your dad isn’t telling me. I don’t know where our money is or even how to write the mortgage check.” She had this financial vulnerability, and I saw how it impacted her. I didn’t want to be in that situation, ever. I still see this even with modern couples—the person who makes less may feel insecure about spending. I had a female colleague, a journalist, and her husband made significantly more money than she did. He had no problem coming home with a new car, but she’d be shaking in her boots buying a purse on discount, and would feel guilty afterwards.

Money was never a taboo topic in our household when I was growing up; my parents were very open about how much things cost, what we could afford, or when there were layoffs at my father’s workplace. Even when I wasn’t mature enough to understand, conversations around money were never hidden.

ON GETTING OUT OF DEBT: I came to New York after college to get my masters’ degree in journalism from Columbia, and took on $25,000 in student loans, on top of about $5,000 in credit card debt from college. I knew myself—I like things, and while I’m not a shopaholic, it’s hard for me to cut back. So I knew I had to earn more if I was going to get out of debt, and I made that a priority. In grad school, I wasn’t the best student—I didn’t get straight A’s—but I was always able to sell my work. I would get assigned a piece in class, and I would hustle to get it published in a local paper. That way, I made some money and graduated with some real clips. Then I got a day job at Money Magazine, but I also babysat, wrote freelance for other publications, and tried to bring in as many revenue streams as I could. Meanwhile, I lived with a married couple on the Upper West Side and paid only $550 a month in rent, which saved me a lot. At that time, my family was still living in Massachusetts, so I would take the Greyhound to my parents’ house on weekends, because I knew I would save money if I was there. I’d come back with a couple bags of food or packs of toilet paper, and I probably saved hundreds of dollars a month doing that. Those were the tradeoffs I made to have financial independence quickly.

ON CAREER BEGINNINGS: When I first started working at Money Magazine, I was working under Jean Chaske, who is one of the most respected financial experts in the world. At the time, she was the editor at large, and I was her assistant. The concept of being a speaker, an author, and doing a podcast all at once wasn’t as common then, and I didn’t realize one person could do all those things before I worked for her. I had the opportunity to shadow her, and she opened my eyes to what the possibilities could be for someone who wanted to pursue service journalism, and what becoming an expert required. She was cultivating her personal brand before anyone really knew what that was.

ON BURNOUT: I think everyone has a year in their twenties when they think, “I’m drowning,” and mine happened when I was 25. I was working at what I then considered to be my absolute dream job—I felt like I was making all the right steps to become a network broadcaster, which was my goal at the time. I was working at New York 1 News as a producer for their business unit, and on paper, the job was incredible. But in reality, it was a lot of pressure, and I took everything personally. I felt that some of my colleagues were overly demanding, and rather than learning how to manage up, I would let them pile work on me, to the point where I lost my sense of self.

One weekend, I was at the movies with my family, and I started crying and hyperventilating—even though the movie wasn’t sad. We walked out of the theater and I had a total breakdown. I said, “Work is killing me. I don’t know where I’m heading.” And my dad said, “Well, you have three choices. You can keep the status quo, you can quit, or you have to learn how to better manage your work and your emotions.” So, starting that Monday, I took baby steps towards door #3. When people gave me criticism or had shouting matches over something that involved me, I tried to just listen and be cognizant of their perspectives. I realized some people have bad days and come to work with baggage from home and then take it out on colleagues. As I became more aware of my surroundings, I got more confident, and realized that the pressure was all in my head. I had been a little too focused on myself.

I said, ‘Work is killing me. I don’t know where I’m heading.’ And my dad said, ‘Well, you have three choices. You can keep the status quo, you can quit, or you have to learn how to manage your work and your emotions.’

 

A lot of young people struggle with the fact that they work hard without much recognition, and that can lead to burnout. One of my best friends at work once said to me, “Sometimes you need to toot your own professional horn. When you produce a great story, take a victory lap around the newsroom while it’s on the air. Maybe the newsroom editor will see you and make the connection and go, ‘Oh, great job! This is a great piece.’ No one else is going to do that for you.”

ON STYLE: Dressing up has always been fun for me. I don’t have to wear expensive clothing, but I like things that are tailored well and fit my body. I used to only wear black, and once I started doing more TV, they told me I had to start wearing color. I struggled with that, because I didn’t want to stick out, but color does look better on camera—and then I started to get into patterns. When you experiment with bolder designs, you realize, “This isn’t so bad—it’s actually more my personality than I thought.” I used to be big on fancy shoes, but living in New York, that only gives you uncomfortable feet. You could spend more on a dress because the quality is better, but is a few extra hundred dollars on a pair of shoes really worth it? Not unless you have someone chauffeuring you around.

Having had two kids in the last few years, I’ve had periods where I just don’t want to look at clothes because I don’t want to get depressed about not fitting in them. But in the past few months, I’ve gone through my whole closet and donated 60 to 70 percent of it. I had been holding onto things simply because they looked good on the hanger or had served me well in the past, but that’s no reason to keep them anymore. Now I feel like I can shop more consciously, and be more intentional about what I buy.


A lot of young people struggle with the fact that they work hard without much recognition, and that can lead to burnout. One of my best friends at work once said to me, ‘Sometimes you need to toot your own professional horn. When you produce a great story, take a victory lap around the newsroom while it’s on the air.’


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