May 19, 2023

NGPF Podcast: Yanely Espinal, Author of Mind Your Money

You might know her as NGPF's Director of Partnerships and Educational Outreach. But she’s also an author! Yanely Espinal gives us a inside scoop on her debut book, “Mind Your Money: Insightful Stories and Strategies to Help You Reach Your #MoneyGoals.”



Ren Makino: Hi, this is Ren from Next Gen Personal Finance and you're listening to the NGPF podcast. Today on the show, Christian speaks to you and Yanely about her new book, Mind Your Money, Insightful Stories and Strategies to Help You Reach Your #MoneyGoals. You may know your Yanely as Missbehelpful or as the instructor for NGPF's investing certification courses, but today you will hear from Yanely, the author. She reads an excerpt from her book, gives us a behind the scenes look into her writing process and shares a couple of money lessons she hopes you and your students will be able to take away. Enjoy. ​

[00:00:43] Starting with an Excerpt from the Book

Christian Sherill: Welcome to Yanely Espinal. I don't know if anybody's got popcorn going or anything, but we will kick it and, and listen to the this amazing excerpt. 

Yanely Espinal: Okay, here we go: my train rides home from work. Were spent doing homework, studying, and working on extra credit assignments. I was playing zero games with my academics and I was determined to go above and beyond for my parents. They were aware of my petty theft situation when I was younger, and I felt like I had a lot to make up for. I lived this way every day until I turned 18, and then everything changed on April 2nd, 2007. I ran to the front stoop to pick up a stack of mail. Four months earlier, I had mailed my college applications. My teachers all told me to keep a close eye on the mail for acceptance letters because the bigger the envelope, the better the news. I noticed the biggest envelope at the very bottom had my name on it. The sender Brown University. That's right. Your girl was accepted to one of the most prestigious schools in the country. More important for me. It was one of few that offered need blind admissions. My admission was based on merit and due to my family's low income status, I was offered a full scholarship, well, not exactly full. The scholarship covered tuition, dorm fees, and cafeteria meals. Paying for textbooks and coming up with spending money were my responsibility. I stepped on campus and immediately applied for a job at the Pizzeria. Weekly paychecks averaged about a hundred dollars, so I picked up extra hours between classes and on weekends. Eventually, I took on a few more jobs in my free time, including event programming, tutoring, and being a resident advisor in my dorm. Juggling classes worked and my social life was not as easy in college as it had been in high school. It felt like I never had enough money, no matter how many hours I worked. As I crossed campus after a work shift, one day, a woman holding a clipboard approached me and asked if I was interested in getting a student credit card. As a bonus, I would get a free T-shirt after I completed the application. This was before the credit card act of 2009, which prohibits credit card companies from offering gifts to students in exchange for applications. My excellent credit score today is partly due to establishing credit at 18 years old. We'll discuss this later in chapter four. However, at the young age, I lack the self-control to stop using and abusing my credit card. Being surrounded by like classmates from wealthier families combined with not having mommy or BPI nearby to tell me led me to go buck wild. Picture me strutting across the campus of Brown University wearing $200 U boots, carrying $1,800 MacBook inside a $150 coach bag. Thinking I was cute, but do you know what wasn't cute? I was hiding more than $10,000 of debt from my family and friends. Do you know what was even less cute? I had no idea how much I owed because I didn't even keep track. I needed textbooks, swipe. I needed that MacBook Swipe. I even convinced myself that I needed new shoes and a new dress to go partying every weekend. Swipe, swipe, swipe with no understanding of how a credit card works. I was out swiping like Swipe of the Fox. Only I didn't have a little friend like Dora the Explorer to yell: swiper, no swiping. My first student credit card had a $1,500 spending limit. For some people that might sound like nothing but to a first gen low income kid from the hood. It was everything. I'd never had that much money before and I didn't know how to handle myself. By the end of my senior year in the spring of 2011, I had racked up more than $15,000 in high interest rate, credit card debt. Plus I owed another $6,000 in student loans to cover my study abroad program. After graduation, I moved back home with my parents and joined a prestigious teaching program called Teach for America. I became an elementary school teacher with a steady paycheck. I experienced a completely different version of New York City than the one I had known as a child. Every two weeks when that direct deposit hit, I had opportunity and access. Just one hour on the subway, and I would be at some of the world's best rooftop bars, museums, Broadway shows, movie screenings, comedy nights, bottom list, brunches, and of course Yankees games. My annual income as a teacher in 2012 was about $40,000, so I made about $1,200 after taxes for each pay period. Again, for some that might seem scam, but in my mind, I had enough money to do whatever I wanted. I was itching to leave Mommy and Poppy's house and live on my own. 

Christian Sherill: Fantastic. Swiper, no swiping. Oh my goodness, Yanely, incredible excerpt from your book, which is called, by the way, for our listeners...

Yanely Espinal: It's called, Mind Your Money, Insightful Stories and Strategies to Help You Reach Your Hashtag Money Goals. 

[00:06:18] Inspiration to Write the Book 

Christian Sherill: Amazing work. I know we're gonna get into all of the work that you've done, not just writing the book, but also an audiobook , and a workbook for students as well. What inspired you to write this book that is a mix of stories as you've just shared in your excerpt and personal finance concepts?

Yanely Espinal: Motivation actually came from a lot of the supporters that I have that have been following me on YouTube or Instagram for many, many years and just have been commenting on some of my videos or my social media posts asking me, you know, what's your book called? Do you have a book? When is your book coming out?

And it's funny cause I would always just say like, no, no, no. But then after a certain period of time, so many people asking me, where's this book? When's this book coming? Do you have a book? I just kind of thought to myself like, if so many people think I should have a book, maybe I should have a book. And so I just, like, I sat with myself and I gotta admit, you know, I'm not naturally the kind of person who enjoys writing. You know, I'm very outgoing and I definitely love talking a lot. That's why I decided to make YouTube videos, but I'm not a natural writer, like I never have been. It's always felt very academic and like homework and professorial to me. You know, I kind of actually find it intimidating and it takes me a long time to write something that I feel proud of, that I feel like it was well written. I really enjoy sharing my personal stories and lessons that I've learned. So I knew that, like why should I keep those stories and lessons to my family and my friends and my coworkers and just keep those private if you can kind of share them with so many more people. When you leave something like a book, you know, when you leave that behind, that's like a lasting legacy. And so then I decided, you know what? Why am I gonna just stay in my comfort zone? I'm gonna take this challenge and, you know, and decide to work on a book. And so once I decided to do that, it was like, all right, well what's this book gonna be about?

If it's gonna be about money, it has to be different, because I spent a lot of my twenties and even early thirties reading hundreds of books about money, you know? And so at this point, I read so many books about personal finance, about investing, about personal development, behavioral economics, and I wanted it it to feel different from all of those books that I've read. And I felt like the main thing that would've set it aside was the thing that I have that nobody else has, which is my personal stories. My experience being the daughter of immigrants growing up in a very urban inner city environment. And then going off to an Ivy League university, and then coming back and going from a traditional education to financial education and combining my interests for education with social media and content creation, and teaching folks about money.

So I just realized like, okay, it can't just be personal finance, it's gotta also be my personal stories, because that's something that gives me a unique value proposition that I think, you know, nobody else can tell my stories. And that's true for everyone. I mean, if anybody out there is listening and you kind of feel like you have a book in you, I would encourage you to start writing it because nobody can write your book. Only you can. I feel like once I like accepted that and claimed that like it, it became actually exciting and empowering for me to begin deciding what I wanted to include in my book, instead of seeing it as like this big, scary, audacious, like big, giant, hairy goal that I felt like was really hard to do. It actually motivated me more to complete it. 

[00:09:27] The Petty Theft Experience 

Christian Sherill: That was amazing. You were made to write this book. It was almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Early on in the book, and you did reference this at the start of your excerpt, you tell a story about getting caught stealing. Tell us about that and why you wanted to include that in the Mind Your Money book.

Yanely Espinal: Yeah. It was actually a hard decision, I'm not gonna lie, cuz I just felt like it's one of those things that you're more embarrassed about. Like you kind of wanna brush, you know, under the rug and, and stuff like that. I put that early on in the book because I feel like I really wanna target a younger audience that might not necessarily be the ones that would pick up a book about money. So maybe like their aunt bought it for them, or a professor bought it for them, or mentor or a good friend, or their parents bought it for them. And early on I want them to be able to see that this author isn't just trying to talk about like all the success and all the things that you should be doing, but being really vulnerable and raw and honest about the mistakes that I've made and the things that I've experienced.

I was hoping that by telling the story of how it happened with me and why it happened with me, that we could all be a little more compassionate to students experiencing poverty because I really didn't have the money and I was in like this gift swap at my church. I was assigned my godsister, so I had to get her a gift. And I remember going to the store and I'm like, okay, I got $4 in my pocket. What the heck am I gonna buy with $4? So, It's really hard when you're in that situation, and I include in my book too, that I actually was scared to ask my mom and dad for money because I didn't wanna add to their burdens.

I often saw my mom crying and I often saw my dad in a bad mood because they didn't have money. So why was I gonna insert myself in that and say, oh, by the way, I need money to buy somebody a gift which is probably the least important thing to my mom and dad when they're trying to pay the rent and buy groceries. I felt like I wanted to include it so we could all be a little more compassionate that sometimes people are in situations and it's not because of the reasons you might assume. You never know the intent or why somebody's doing something. And to just really humanize the experience of feeling like you don't have the resources that you need to just do basic things like participate in activities at your church or at your school.

It just hurt so bad because I felt like my dad was constantly telling us, no matter how poor he was, he never modeled that type of behavior. He never stole. And he never showed us that that was the way. So he didn't understand why I would do it. And so it just made me feel so bad. And like for me, all the following years after that was me redeeming myself trying to do really well in school and just trying to show them that, you know, this is not how you raised me to be. And make sure they understand that all their hard work and all their sacrifices were worth it and they, you know, that they raised me right.

[00:12:02] Choosing the Stories to Include

Christian Sherill: One other interesting and cool thing about Mind Your Money is that you give a lot of details about the way you grew up and how that impacted your mindset about money. And I know that that was intentional. How did you decide what excerpts from your childhood and what memories to include and which to leave out?

Yanely Espinal: What I did was I was journaling for a little while before I actually started like the real process of like creating the draft for what I wanted like my first chapter to be, and journaling actually was so cathartic was really nice. Like I found myself just remembering things that happened to me that I hadn't thought about in over 10, 15 years. And so starting to write and just writing so that I could kind of get things out that maybe were in me and wanted to come out and I just hadn't thought about it, was really helpful. Cause then I could go back and, and kind of reference like what I was journaling, what was coming to mind, and some of the feelings that, you know, I was having when I thought about growing up, what was rough, what was exciting, what were my proud moments? What were some of the things that, you know, I might not want everyone to know, but what would be helpful for people to learn. Then I tried to kind of narrow down to what of those things. 

I feel like before college I didn't really have very much money to think about or to use besides buying, you know, little snacks after school and like think little trips with my friends, but I didn't have a lot of money versus in college I started working and had multiple jobs and then I had this credit card and it felt like I had access to so much more money that my money mindset shifted very quickly and I just started to feel like I deserve this. I've worked so hard to get here and all these other kids around me are getting whatever they want, whenever they want it from their parents. Like, why not me? You know, why shouldn't I treat myself? And all throughout my childhood, if I asked my parents for certain things, they would say, no, we don't have money for that. We can't get that. And so now here's my chance to tell myself, yes, I can get that. I can put it on my credit card and pay it off little by little. I would tell myself these things that would justify the way that I was misusing money and just so that I could feel better. And so I tried to find what is like the root? What are so, which experiences were the root of these types of thoughts that I had later that led me to get into a bunch of debt fearlessly. And like, how could I tell those stories in a way that would help people understand that those were the experiences that, and the challenges that like shaped the mindset that led me to do what I did with money. And what I didn't do with money. So that was kind of the lens that I had.

I tried to limit it to really making sure it was more of a memoir style storytelling and not necessarily like a tell-all, like I'm not trying to throw anyone under the bus about anything. I think those two things, like what were the root of the money mindset that I did develop and then like what's centered around me and my experiences and not so much other people, especially not to put anybody at a negative light, but I did find myself having memories that were kind of hurtful. Like I found myself remembering times when my dad was really mean and I knew that it was because he didn't have money, because he's actually really fun when he has money. And so it's interesting how I learned through this process of journaling and trying to jot stories that I might want to include in the book that I've discovered things like, oh wow. I never realized when I was little how much money controlled Poppy. Like when he was upset, it was because he didn't have enough money to cover what he needed to pay for. And when he was in a good mood, when he was willing to give me a little bit of extra spending money or when he would come home happy and hugging us and everything, and it was like, oh, dad is in a really good mood. Duh, it was because he made extra money that week or, you know unexpectedly came into money or it was income tax check refund time.

[00:15:39] A Word from NGPF

Jessica Endlich: Right now you're listening to a podcast from N G P F, but there's also a new podcast for teens about money called Financially Inclined from Marketplace NGPF's very own Yanely Espinal is the host in collaboration with Marketplace. Our team created student listening guides, which you can find on the NGPF blog, as well as in the description notes. For each episode, check out Financially Inclined on YouTube or wherever you get your podcasts.

[00:16:09] Structure of the Book 

Christian Sherill: Now the book is broken into two parts. The first part is about knowledge and mindset, and then the second part is about action. Why did you choose that structure?

Yanely Espinal: I really think it's kind of hard to just jump in to start talking about money. That's why I wanted to call the book Mind your Money. Mind comes first before money. We can't even really start talking about money if we don't explore what's going on in your mind first, and the mindset that you have around really anything, right? Like what life means to you, what work means to you, what's are you passionate about, the way that you think about things and perceive the world. Cause all of that informs everything that involves money. Whether you're a saver or a natural saver or not, like that's gonna come from how you think about the world and how you think about like your security and your place and your passion and what you care about.

And so for me, I just felt like those two things had to be separated, almost like have their own dedicated sections. And then that helped me break out the chapters. Like, okay, which financial topics that I wanna include are more about mindset and which ones are more oriented with like you actually taking actions to make change. So I decided that like, talking about money or the taboo of talking about money, like your actual mindset around money. So money, mindset and behavioral finance, behavioral economics, and psychology of money, banking, which I think a lot of people would say is action oriented, but I really do think it's like more your mindset, and then understanding credit. So those things kind of all fit to me under your mindset, this, this idea that like you think about things a certain way and then part two, which is called be the change, is focused on actually changing the way that you bank, the way that you use credit, the way that you either save or don't save, the way that you invest, the way that you budget. And so for me, those things kind of came later once we addressed the fact that if you're not thinking about things, in the right way or in a way that's actually helpful for you to actually be able to achieve your goals, then it doesn't even make sense for you to start making a budget because you probably won't stick to it. You're probably not gonna enjoy the process. You're probably not gonna revisit this budget. You're gonna give up too soon. It's not really gonna be effective for you if you haven't really done the the mindset work first. I want people to feel comfortable doing it, but we're so conditioned to not talk about it that I kind of wanted to call that out and just name it. 

So if your mind isn't clear on what exactly it is that you're doing and what tools you're using, and if those are the right tools or not, then it kind of doesn't even make sense to start thinking about the tactical, practical action-based things you can do because it's never gonna work correctly until you really get the mindset right.

Christian Sherill: Yeah. Don't invest in something you don't understand. Same thing when it comes to learning about money, building your money mindset, you know, don't buy into all of the technical next steps that, and actions you should take before you got that key understanding. That's also incidentally, why NGPF has the behavioral economics unit really early in the semester course because these mindset tricks and hacks and behavioral economics and cognitive biases are really important to think about before you get into the more technical concepts and personal finance, at least in NGPF's opinion. What's your favorite tip for or hack from the behavioral economics, cognitive biases part of the book?

Yanely Espinal: Yes. Oh my gosh, there's so many good ones. I think my favorite one is the story that I tell about, like, it's called Choosing Chocolate, the section in chapter two. But it's basically about Shlomo Benartzi. I picked a bunch of like researchers, behavioral scientists or economists, and I called them my uncles and aunties, which they're not really, but like, it's because I just felt like they taught me so much and like guided me and mentored me to like getting my, my mindset right so that I could be better with money. 

So I called Uncle Shlomo, even though I've never met the man. Hopefully I'll meet him one day, but I say Uncle Schlomo has a TED Talk, which is called Saving For Tomorrow, Tomorrow. And in that Ted Talk, he has a, he talks about a study where at a conference there's a bunch of people in the audience and. They were asked to predict, okay, next week we're gonna do another installment of this exact same conference. And at that time, when you come back here for that second installment of this exact same event, you're gonna have a chance to choose between a snack that's either a banana or some chocolate. And he asked everybody, okay, write down next week when you come and you get a choice, which one would you choose?

And a bunch of people said that they're gonna choose the banana. Because they wanna believe that they're gonna choose a healthy snack option, right? They're gonna make, you know, the better choice. And then when they actually came back and they had the banana and chocolate in front of them, large majority actually chose chocolate. It goes to show that in our minds we see the future version of ourselves as always making the right choice. They're always going to be perfect. They're gonna be better than I am right now. So why should I budget right now? If when I get my my raise, then I'm gonna start budgeting because I'm gonna have a little bit more money. Right? Or why should I put anything in my 401k now? We just push it to our perfect future selves. They're gonna do it. She's gonna do it. My future self is gonna do it. Today, I don't have to take action because in the future it's gonna get done. And we all know what happens. The future version of you literally comes tomorrow and doesn't take action because they keep tossing it to another future version of you. It just speaks to the fact that when you have the opportunity to take a step to do something right now, to improve your financial situation. Don't choose chocolate. Like just do it. Just say right now I'm gonna do it. I'm not gonna say to myself, oh, like in the future it's gonna get done. Just do it because you know that your future self is the same as your current self. And so what you do now, you're guaranteed that it's setting you up your present and your future as opposed to letting some future version of yourself maybe, maybe not take the actions that you know that you need to be taking to improve your finances. 

[00:22:09] Banking and Mean Girls

Christian Sherill: Okay, let's pivot to banking. You describe the banking system with an analogy with the movie Mean Girls, one of my personal favorites. I love that movie. It's clever, really clever, but not something that I would've thought about initially looking at the banking system. So tell us, how did you come up with that? That's brilliant. 

Yanely Espinal: I started thinking as I was writing down like what is it about the banking system that makes people feel so disgusted. Just like turned away from it. When I was growing up, I remember my mom and dad, they never had bank accounts, they never had debit cards, they never had credit cards. Everything was just cash only. And even to walk into a bank was like cringe. My mom would just like cringe. And I just was trying to think about why is it that, you know, especially in particular with immigrant communities, that the American banking system and physical bank buildings are so cringe that you don't wanna walk in. What makes it feel so gross to us? 

And I really thought about it and I'm like, well, You know, it's like the plastic cards. I start thinking about the plastics. Like in the in Mean Girls, like this group of girls, you know, the popular girls in the movie, they're called The Plastics. And I'm like, okay, this small group of popular girls, called the Plastics, rules the whole school. And here in the United States, this large financial sector ruled by a small group of popular banks that issue plastic. It just started kind of like working as like a funny analogy and I'm like, oh, maybe I could like use this and work with this as kind of funny, but it also really does work. In the movie Mean Girls, Regina George is like so manipulative. She manipulates everyone around her into thinking that she's a good friend because she's filthy rich and because she gets them to feel like they're part of the cool club. And I'm like, that's kind of what these big banks do. They're kind of manipulative, they're self-absorbed, they're very rich. And in that same way, they have this power and influence over us and over our lives. You know, they control our bank accounts, they manage them. They have our credit card information, they issue credit cards to us. So I just started kind of thinking about like master manipulation, feeling like maybe that was part of the reason why it feels so unwelcoming, because you feel like once you walk in there, they're gonna take advantage of you and they're gonna manipulate you and they're gonna try to make you open an a counter, sell you something that maybe isn't what you want or need. And I really wanted to call that out. 

[00:24:28] Making Long-Term Investing Interesting 

Christian Sherill: I want to zoom ahead to when you talk about investing. You focus on long-term investing. Do you fear ever that a student might pick up your book expecting a get rich quick, you know, buy my course so you can flip houses or whatever and then be disappointed that it's actually get rich really slowly over, over many, many years and decades.

Yanely Espinal: You know, I did struggle with that, and honestly, I am a long-term investor myself, so it would've been extremely difficult for me to write this chapter in a way that is anything but encouraging long-term investing. I opened the book with chapter two being extremely data driven. Let's look at the studies. Let's look at what the behavioral economics and behavioral science studies show what's happening to our brains. So I decided to just go all in and focus on the research, on and in and the last chapter for investing or the second to last chapter. I talk about that and I say the research when you compare, you picking your own stocks or getting an active manager to do your investing versus comparing that to just passive in investing over the long term. It doesn't even come close. I talk about that, like the studies and are referenced there and I talk about how they charge higher fees and they get you worse results. So you're paying more for something that does worse. And I straight up just call it trash. So I'm very blunt in the book. I'm like, that's trash. I would never pay more for worse results on purpose. 

Christian Sherill: You just reminded me of one of our old teammates. This is Laura who, who now lives in Australia with her family. She used to say, investing is one of the only parts of your life where you want to be average. And it was incredibly pointed. It's true. You know, just buying a diversified index fund over the long run outperforms almost all of the investing professionals out there. 

Yanely Espinal: That's kind of what I was going for. And I know it's not the sexy route to take, but in the book I kind of mentioned like whenever you feel like you're being served a gimmick like you are and beware because gimmicks might sound sexy right upfront, but in the long run they don't serve you. So it's important for you to be able to recognize them. 

Christian Sherill: Amazing. This has been so inspiring for me personally. Yanely, amazing work on the book, amazing work also on Financially Inclined the new podcast from Marketplace for a teen audience. If you haven't listened to financially inclined with your students, please give it a listen on Spotify or Apple Podcast or in the video podcast version on YouTube, Financially Inclined. Thanks so much for joining us, you have an incredibly heroic job, and yet at the end of the night after a long day's work, here you are dedicating your time to learning more about new, new resources coming out, or the realm of personal finance. Your energy never ceases to amaze us. Thank you. 

Yanely Espinal: Yes, seriously, thank you all so much and thank you Christian, seriously for conducting the interview and just having such in depth questions and just making it so fun for teachers to tune in with all of your personality quirks, we love it. It's always so fun. But yeah, seriously, thank you to the teachers especially. I mean, you all are the ones championing the work in the classroom day in and day out. You motivate us, you inspire us, and hopefully my book is something that you can take excerpts from and make your classroom come to life a little bit more than it normally does.

[00:28:01] Conclusion 

Ren Makino: I hope you enjoyed this week's episode with Christian and Yanely. I have a few final housekeeping items before we go. Resources Yanely mentioned, including a link to her new book will be available on the show notes, which you can find on Please be sure to subscribe to the NGPF podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. Better yet, leave us a review.. We love hearing from you and it will help us reach a broader audience. On behalf of Christian and Yanely, thank you so much for tuning in to this week's NGPF podcast. See you soon. 

About the Author

Ren Makino

Ren started interning at NGPF in 2014, and worked part-time through high school and college. With his knowledge growing alongside NGPF, he joined the team to work full-time after graduating from college in 2020. He is also the producer of the NGPF podcast. During his free time, he likes to try out coffees from different roasters across the world.

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