White House money ad­vice


OPIN­ION: The White House is prob­a­bly the last place I’d go look­ing for sane money ad­vice.

Cur­rent pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump once set up a ‘‘univer­sity’’ to sell his fi­nan­cial (real es­tate) se­crets of suc­cess, and ended up set­tling a mas­sive law­suit from an­gry stu­dents who felt any­thing but en­riched by them.

His pre­de­ces­sors Ronald Rea­gan, Bushes one and two, Bill Clin­ton and Barack Obama all presided over ris­ing US debts.

Clin­ton paved the way to the Global Fi­nan­cial Cri­sis by dereg­u­lat­ing bank­ing, de­riv­a­tives deal­ing, and mort­gage lend­ing.

So no, the Oval Of­fice hasn’t pro­vided much money in­spi­ra­tion to us or­di­nary peo­ple.

But this week I read two pieces of money ad­vice I re­ally liked, from Obama’s deputy chief of staff.

It was in the newly-pub­lished au­to­bi­og­ra­phy Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? by Alyssa Mas­tromonaco, who worked for Obama from 2005 to 2014.


❚ Save in hard times

❚ Save in good times

❚ Have an in­de­pen­dence ac­count

The young Mas­tromonaco found her­self prac­ti­cally pen­ni­less dur­ing a sum­mer of un­em­ploy­ment in her early ca­reer. ‘‘I vowed to al­ways have money in the bank, no mat­ter what.’’

Even when be­ing paid a pit­tance in her pre-Obama days, when she was a small cog in the ma­chine that failed to get John Kerry elected to the Oval Of­fice, she dili­gently saved.

It meant babysit­ting in the evenings, fru­gal menus at home, and no per­sonal pam­per­ing.

Mas­tromonaco did not see her­self as some hero­ine of fru­gal­ity.

For her, be­ing fru­gal was hard, and un­wel­come, a bridge un­til she earned enough to save and live a lit­tle too.

‘‘I never bought cof­fee out, got a man­i­cure, or went to the gro­cery store with­out coupons. Like I said, not sexy.’’

Hav­ing sav­ings was about more than be­ing pre­pared for mis­for­tune.

It was a de­fence against be­ing in the power of peo­ple who seek to

‘‘Sav­ings are a de­fence against be­ing in the power of peo­ple who seek to ex­ploit you.’’

ex­ploit you.

She wanted what we might term a ‘‘Bug­ger Off’’ ac­count (she has a dif­fer­ent term), which is enough money in case you need to leave a part­ner, a ter­ri­ble job, or a scummy land­lord in a hurry.

A very dif­fer­ent life-fright led to her sec­ond great money tip, which is about keep­ing your credit score de­cent.

When she worked for Kerry, she got ‘‘her own’’ credit card to man­age the se­na­tor’s char­ter flight book­ings.

At one point, cam­paign bank ac­count state­ments were re­leased pub­licly to demon­strate how ‘‘fi­nan­cially vi­able’’ the Kerry pres­i­den­tial cam­paign was.

This was achieved by hold­ing back on pay­ing the char­ter bill.

The card was in Mas­tromonaco’s name.

‘‘For more than 60 days, I had an out­stand­ing bal­ance of about $500,000,’’ she says.

She only re­alised what hap­pened when she needed to buy a car, and found no­body would lend to her.

The les­son, she says, is that your credit score mat­ters, and mon­i­tor­ing it is your job.

It’s Money Week here, and we’re be­ing treated to a lot of ad­vice on how to be more pru­dent in our money lives.

It’s all wel­come, but noth­ing I have seen, read, or heard, have I found as funny, and real, as Mas­tromonaco’s.


All eyes are on Alyssa Mas­tromonaco, Barack Obama’s deputy chief of staff, in the Oval Of­fice in 2013.

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