Part 1: How does NBC’s Stephanie Ruhle handle finance and family?

[START RECORDING]

MICHAEL LIERSCH: Hey humans. I'm Michael Liersch [phonetic] and this is My Next Move podcast presented by J.P. Morgan. I'm a behavioral scientist, which is just a fancy way of saying I help humans understand their behaviors to make better money decisions.  Each episode I take a look at our interactions with money and consider science-based techniques to help you move closer to your financial goals.  In this episode, I'm talking to Stephanie Ruhle, best known as anchor of MSNBC Live with Stephanie Ruhle.  Stephanie and I had the chance to speak in front of a live audience in New York where we discussed everything from her role as an anchor to her podcast, Modern Rules and her strong point  of view on having real, authentic, but still respectful conversations about a variety of topics, including money.  Stephanie had so many unique perspectives to share that we've decided to extend the conversation across two episodes.  Here is the first half of my conversation with Stephanie.  

So why don't we take a--let's say--a totally different path here, than maybe you're used to because when we ask people, we survey people what they wanted to learn about you.  They actually wanted to learn a little bit more about where your beginnings were.

STEPHANIE RUHLE: Jersey.

LIERSCH: Yeah, Jersey, yes. All right.  So, when you think of Jersey, I want you to think about what you imagined you would be doing in your life and a bit about your family dynamics growing up.  Can you tell us a little bit about what it was like in Jersey with your family?

RUHLE: Sure. Well, again, thank you so much for having me.  I grew up in Parkridge, New Jersey.  And when I was a little girl, I remember my mom and I taking my dad to the train station every day.  And thinking as a very young girl, I want to be one of those people who gets on the train, not one, not one of these people who sits in the car.  And years and years later, I have a lot of sadness around that because for someone like me with the benefit of having a stay at home mom, which a lot of kids do now--my kids don't have that benefit.  

I didn't respect or appreciate that unlimited time that stay at home parents can give their kids.  But what I did learn from a very young age from my mother and my grandmother specifically, is that you always work for someone.  You either work for a boss in the workplace or if you choose to be a stay-at-home parent or you are a stay at home parent for financial reasons because it is prohibitively expensive to have childcare.  We don't have affordable childcare in the United States.  So, there are a lot of families that have at least one parent who stays at home.  

I remember my mother and grandmother specifically saying to me, you always work for someone.  So, it's either going to be your boss at work or your husband.  And you don't want to get, you do not want to get your money from the person you have to share a bed with. And they told me that from when I was six years old.  And that impacted my life in a huge way too.  I mean as soon as I was old enough, I always worked and that really started my relationship with money and saving money.

LIERSCH: So, what age was that? What was your first job?

RUHLE: Babysitting. I mean--

LIERSCH: [Interposing] I was a big babysitter myself.

RUHLE: I may appear to be a bit of a party girl, which I am, but I babysat every single Saturday night of high school because I met a family who was the richest family in my town. And I knew that every single Saturday night if I babysat for them, I could make $50 sometimes $100. And I really had a deep understanding of value.  And I thought about the value of going to a diner for disco fries, driving around, standing around, going to parties versus making 50 bucks.  And like, by the way, you're probably inviting your boyfriend over anyway. It just was a better value for me.  And I, I thought and understanding the value of saving money.  

I have an older sister who is a lot more artistic than I am and my grandparents, very much wanted her to get a job and save money when she was a teenager.  And so, they said to her before she went to college, however much money you make at the end of the summer; we'll match it.  And that'll be your spending money.  So, she's five years older than I am.  So, five years later, it was my turn.  And at my high school graduation I said are we going to do that.  And they said sure.  And then I made $15,000 that summer.

LIERSCH: Wow.

RUHLE: And they're like--

LIERSCH: [Interposing] No, they took it back.

RUHLE: My parents forced me to not let them pay me that much. So, that summer, I don't even think I saw the light of day. I took every--I mean I was a lifeguard. I was a waitress.  I mean, I was every possible job you could have that paid cash and then at the end of the summer I sort of dumped it out and counted it all.  And my mother and father were like we're going to go with $5000.  That's still a really big number.

LIERSCH: It is.

RUHLE: No, it's really big. It is, it absolutely is.  And I think that's super important.  And I worry now as a parent, and as just somebody who exists in society that, because we live in a very cashless environment, we don't think about money enough.

LIERSCH: So, when you think about this idea of security and peace of mind around your relationship with money--I want to go back to your family dynamics before moving to your first job in finance and where you are today. Do you feel like that relationship with money that your grandmother and your mother inspired in you, is that the same relationship you have now or is it different?

RUHLE: You know it's funny. I am a saver. I'm definitely an earner. My worry is for my own children.

LIERSCH: And how many children do you have?

RUHLE: I have three children. But because I am more well off today than I was as a child, I worry that I grew up with much more financial insecurity than I have now.  And I worry that for my children, they won't have the relationship that I do because my mom and grandmother talked about it with me so much because they wanted me to live a better life and have better opportunities than they had.  And I worry that I forget, or I don't prioritize those conversations with my own children because we have a really good life.  And that's a, that is, it's a real problem.

LIERSCH: So when you think about that if you're willing to share with this group of human beings, because I will tell you this is one of the number one questions we get from our customers and our clients is, how do I build those experiences, given all the dynamics you talked about our digital age, the idea that money is almost purely digital at this point, all the way to the idea that many people have lived the American dream and they are living in many cases a better life than they even expected to and they don't know how to build those resilient--let's call it--experiences for their children around money. What are you doing--if you wouldn't mind sharing--with your own three children to actually design those experiences given that you are in this circumstance you are in today?

RUHLE: It's something we talk about a lot at home.

LIERSCH: So, do you have meetings around it?

RUHLE: Well my husband and I talk about it a lot and my parents talk about it with my kids all the time. And so, for example, my husband I both have very crazy careers.  But no matter what, our whole family eats dinner together on Monday nights and on Friday nights.  And Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday one parent always has to be home.  So, we always start our dinner table with roses and thorns.  So, you have to--every person at the table and if you ever come to my house for dinner, you'll have to do it too.

LIERSCH: Am I invited?

RUHLE: Not yet. We'll see how this night goes.

LIERSCH: Okay. Wow.

RUHLE: But anybody who comes to my house for dinner has to do it.  I mean, we've had somebody who may be running for office has come to my house for dinner and has had to do it. You have to say the best part of your day and the worst part of your day.  Because it doesn't matter how rich you are, how poor you are where you come from, your age; everybody had something good, everybody had something bad.  Listen, if you didn't have anything bad that day, everybody toasts to you. But it's sort of an equalizer, because when people talk about the way they feel, then we do have common experiences. And I say this because this takes me back to my relationship with money and my children's.  It's not what you're literally doing every day because we all have different experiences.  But it's how those experiences make you feel.

LIERSCH: Can you talk to our audience a bit about why you chose finance as a career and ultimately, I'd love you to move into why you decided to transition into the career you're in today, which everyone's familiar with.

RUHLE: Right after my, the spring of my freshman year I went abroad for the next two and a half years. So, I went to Costa Rica, Guatemala, Kenya and Italy.  And when I was living in Italy, I wanted to stay in Europe, and I didn't have any money left.  So, I thought, what am I going to do? So, I thought, well they have banks all over the world. And so, I wrote letters to Lehigh alumni who worked in banking. And I got a job with Merrill Lynch.  And the job offer was in Switzerland.  And before the summer started, the group had all quit to go elsewhere.  

And they said, well you can go to work in New York for the summer.  And I was like oh, you know, I'm from New Jersey Shore; sure, fine.  So, I went to work for Merrill Lynch for a summer between my junior and senior year in some horrible back office; derivatives, documentation, filing cabinet job.  A couple of weeks in, I had to make a delivery onto their fixed income trading floor.  And a trading floor, to me, I actually don't feel like I changed careers because the trading floor and a newsroom to me feel exactly the same.

LIERSCH: Because of the energy?

RUHLE: The energy. I mean, the excitement of news that is happening on the other side of the world while we are sleeping; when we wake up directly impacts our day.  I cannot imagine something more exciting.  I mean I just loved it.  And so, I met two guys who were interest rate derivatives traders because I had to make a delivery to their desk.  And I said, I don't know what you two nerds do, but if I come to work super early and I stay really late; do you think you would teach me?  And they said yes.

LIERSCH: Wow. What did they teach you?

RUHLE: All about interest rate derivatives. And I remember at the end of the summer being like, yikes, this was really nerdy.  But I still want to do what these boys do for a living.  And I ended up going to Credit Suisse right out of undergrad.  And even there, so I ended up right out of--the very big mistake I made when I ended up in banking is my lack of patience.  

So, I was in a training program where you were supposed to spend your first probably two years rotating mostly in research and learning about different products.  And I didn't really want to do that.  So, as my first rotation was on the corporate bond desk and they had an opening and I hustled my way to get a job.  And at the time and from probably the first 15 years of my career, I would say, what a brilliant move that was.  Oh, my gosh, I was such a go-getter.  I started to do a lot of public speaking to recruit girls to study math and science and to get women to go into finance.  Because it makes no sense to me that women don't.  

And women don't; not because we don't have the skills.  We just didn't have the exposure.  My husband and I were both in the same training program at Credit Suisse.  We met on the first day of work.  There are countless guys who look like him and sound like him who are ready to say, come here Andy Hubbard, let me help you.  Let me teach you how this business works.  So, when I walk onto a trading floor in 1997, there wasn't really many people who looked like me or sounded like me.  And on one level, the scarcity of that created an opportunity.  But on another--and you would know this, given your background--there is an idea in sociology where you've got to see it to be it.  

So, when you walk into an environment and no one looks like you or sounds like you, subconsciously, you think I guess I'm not cut out to do this. So, when I was around 30 and I realized this has been an incredible 10 years for me.  And I could go home and raise my family or not.  I could stay doing this.  I thought, I got to recruit more women to do it.  I want to give more exposure because also the way banks were structured, you know, they only recruited at five schools.  And I just wanted to figure out how are we going to get more candidates with different backgrounds to go into this business because I just want girls to make more money.

LIERSCH: I hope you enjoyed hearing from Stephanie. And if you did, you're in luck because we will hear from her again in a second episode.  So, stay tuned.  That's it for this episode of My Next Move produced by J.P. Morgan.  If there is a topic you human beings want me to discuss, email it to my next move dot podcast at JP Morgan dot com.  I read all of the suggestions myself and there have been some very interesting ones so far.  Please keep them coming.  If you like My Next Move, please tell your friends and rate the show wherever you listen.  I'm Michael Liersch reminding you to make your next move today.

[END RECORDING]

Stephanie Ruhle, NBC News Senior Business Correspondent, shares her personal story about earning big, being a go-getter woman on Wall Street, and how she handles talking to her children about money in the first of a two-part conversation with behavioral expert Michael Liersch in this My Next Move financial podcast. 

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