Fishbowl 5: WaPo’s Recovering Hot Financial Mess Nancy Trejos


Nancy Trejos has weaknesses. Fine wine. Bulgari shampoo. World travel. As a personal finance writer for WaPo, all these weaknesses didn’t always add up and left her with a double life – her day job writing about people in debt and living a lifestyle well beyond her means. “I had been in denial about my financial problems, but I couldn’t do that anymore because the recession was hitting and I was on the phone with people who were hitting bankruptcy and couldn’t pay their car loans,” she said. “I just think people would rather talk about sex than money.” So she wrote a book. Her first. It’s called Hot (Broke) Messes: How to Have Your Latte and Drink it Too. I recently spoke with Trejos about what it felt like to write such a personally exposing book. Here’s what she had to say.

1. How did you come up with the title? A friend of mine helped me come up with it. She’s a writer and she and I are around the same age. We were running around D.C. together and we were dealing with our issues. One night she turned to me and said, ‘Oh we’re just hot messes.’ Hot Messes was the title I proposed. Then it became a collaboration and they wanted to change the title and add a subtitle. Finance can be such a scary thing. I didn’t want this to be a scary personal finance book. There’s a lot of prescriptive advice, but I tell it through my story, which at times is sad, but at other times, funny. I wanted this to be a fun title with a fun cover.

2. In your book you go into almost excruciating detail about your spending. How is your spending these days and how’s the debt situation? I’m a lot better now. I used to be such an impulsive spender and an emotional spender. I’d go through a breakup and go out and buy new outfits because I’d want to look better and feel better. I’d take an impulsive trip whenever something bad was happening because I just wanted to go away. I think and I have a budget. I have been able to pay off my credit cards. I still have my car loan, my student loans. I’m so much better than I was. When you’re fixing your finances it takes a long time. I’m still a work in progress. I still have to be very careful with how I spend my money. I still have to reign in that impulsive attitude. Now I think before I spend.

Read Trejos’ remaining three answers after the jump…

Fishbowl 5 (continued…)

3. Do you feel exposed having your money issues on the table for all to see? I did. I am very open in this book. I wrote the book a year ago. I was very nervous about it. I’m still kind of nervous. The book is finally out there and I am completely exposed. The other day someone mentioned my salary to me because he read it in the book. I felt the only way to write a book like this was to be forthcoming. I needed to be honest to be able to talk about it.

4. What are your guilty pleasures spending wise these days? Traveling. I have to resist the urge to go off on a trip all the time. I just love running around the world but I can’t afford it. I have learned how to do it in a more economical way – I use my miles. I don’t go anywhere where I don’t have a free place to stay. Secondly, good wine.

5. The Wanderer. He’s the mystery man you met up with at the Ritz on occasion for several-day rendesvouz. Is he good or bad for your spending? Do you still use Bulgari shampoo (which she collected from the hotel shower)? Well, that was a very unusual relationship or friendship or whatever you call it. He made more money than I did and was generous. He’s a great guy. He’s a good friend. I never had to spend anything around him. People have asked me about relationships and money and I think it is an individual decision on who pays. It’s something you decide with your partner. I have friends who feel very uncomfortable if a guy pays for them all the time. I have others who say, if he makes way more, he should pay. Bulgari shampoo: I still have some left over. It smells so good. It has become a running joke with my friends. It has been given to me as gifts. I do have some left over but I have not actually bought Bulgari in a very long time. I let The Wanderer pay for most things. I give back what I can afford, buying a drink, getting a gift, some sort of gesture to show I am grateful he is treating me. It’s a very fine line. It’s a very complicated thing. In the end, as a woman have to make sure you take care of your own finances. It starts with the first date.