Money Talks, and so should we. Here, powerful women get real about their spending and saving habits.

By Whitney Friedlander
Mar 04, 2019 @ 5:00 pm
Steve Granitz/Getty Images

The first season finale of the E! reality show Very Cavallari depicted a scene that should terrify any small-business owner. In it, star Kristin Cavallari awakens the morning after the successful launch of her Nashville, Tenn. flagship shop for her fashion brand, Uncommon James, glowing and giddy like a co-ed who just had amazing first-night sex with her long-term crush.

It only takes a moment at her laptop for that rosy sheen to ashen: Not only did one employee forget to include links in an email newsletter for her online store, but another didn’t properly calculate shipping costs for the e-teller. Large orders were now going out with nominal mailing fees.

As a panicked Cavallari explains to her husband, retired NFL quarterback Jay Cutler, this means she’s “actually losing money” because she’s the owner and all financial blunders inevitably come out of her bank account.

“I started this company to have complete creative freedom,” Cavallari says when we spoke on the phone last month ahead of Very Cavallari’s second season premiere on March 3. The Laguna Beach and The Hills alum has had other partnerships – a shoe line with Chinese Laundry and the best-selling healthy eating cookbook, True Roots – and she says that “even though it can be a little scary when it is your money on the line, ultimately it’s much more rewarding when it’s done well. And a paycheck from Uncommon James means more to me than any other paycheck I have ever gotten in my life.”

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While Cavallari declined to say exactly how much she gets paid through her show, she does seem to be doing something right. She started Uncommon James with four employees. This season, she’s grown the staff to about 55 and she credits that success to the exposure from Very Cavallari (before the show, she says 90 percent of her sales came through social media channels; now she also has the hopping brick-and-mortar). This leap in her roster has also allowed her to finesse her hiring practices – techniques that clearly needed some retooling after the aforementioned guffaws (or, as Cutler tells Cavallari, she needs to “drop the hammer on some people”).

“I don't really have my friends working for me necessarily,” she says now. “I have friendships with some of my employees, but first and foremost they’re my employees and it can be a really fine line to walk for some people. But, I’ve just learned that you have to establish that early on because otherwise things start to get really muddy.”

Cavallari’s pragmatic enough to know that most employees aren’t going to care about Uncommon James as much as she does – the mother of three refers to the store as her fourth child – but she also says she gets frustrated when she sees staff who are “just really lax about their job.”

“I've always been extremely driven,” she says. “I busted my ass. I've gone above and beyond. So I don't really have a lot patience for people who are lazy and who always have excuses … I don’t want those kinds of people working for me.”

The second season of her show debuted on March 3, and below, Cavallari gives an even closer look into the money lessons she’s learning as a business-owner and reality star (because, yes, those are both jobs).

On spending that Laguna Beach paycheck… “[Before Laguna Beach], I was a hostess at a restaurant in Dana Point, Calif. called the Salt Creek Grille and that was a really big deal for me. I got that job when I was 15. I want to say I made $8 an hour. The second season [of that show], I used my paycheck to get a BMW X5. That was a really big moment for me, especially because the car that I got when was 16 was an 11-year-old Isuzu Trooper that broke down on me all the time. I hated it, especially being in Laguna Beach where all of my friends had brand-new Mercedes. And when I was 18, I bought my first pair of Christian Louboutin shoes.”

On begrudgingly learning from her parents… “At the time, I was all ‘I hate my dad.’ But I’m so happy now, as an adult, that he did things the way that he did. Buying my X5 with my own money made me appreciate it so much more. And, for high school graduation, he gave me pots and pans. And all of my friends were getting diamond earrings. He was being practical for when I moved into my first apartment.”

“My dad [who is a real estate developer] is a self-made businessman and he’s always really supportive of everything I do in my career. I really think I get my drive and my motivation from him. Anytime something great has come my way, he’s always been like ‘this is great; celebrate it. But you’ve always got to be thinking what your next move is. I think people would be surprised that I’m pretty frugal. I splurge a little on clothes a couple times of year and that’s it. I get more excited about home décor and kitchen utensils.”

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On money and marriage… “I’ll be honest, I don’t think Jay and I are the best at having these conversations [about finances]. But, I sort of look at it like bigger purchases like [buying a house and remodeling] as something we have up front. Like what’s our budget? And if something comes over budget, we have a conversation about it and we both have to agree that it’s worth it. But, day to day? I’m not asking Jay’s approval. He’s not asking my approval. And, he’d done really well for himself. I have money coming in. I like having my own money and I always have because I never want to ask a guy if I can go buy a pair of shoes … I have much more satisfaction in spending my own money than somebody else’s money. And I’ve been that way since I was in high school.”

On renovating her new house... “The kitchen was our biggest project. We just had a budget going on and we were able to keep that.”

On making more than men… “I made more money than one of my ex-boyfriends and that was a really sticky situation. I think a lot of men are pretty traditional in that sense. They definitely feel a little emasculated if the women makes more money … But, to be completely honest, I actually didn’t like that. I really like feeling like the woman and I don’t want to be financially taking care of a guy. And that might make me sound really harsh or people may hate me for saying that, but it’s the truth. I still want my man to be the man.”

On talking to kids about money… “We just actually started a chore calendar for them to get an allowance, which is kind of exciting … Them appreciating the value of a dollar is very important to us … and we want them to know that if you want something, you have to work for it and everything’s just not going to be handed to you your whole life … Right now, they get a dollar because they’re still young enough that we can get away with that and they think a dollar is awesome … They’re six, four and three, so we’re easing them into it.”

On haters who don’t think her job is real… “People say ‘reality stars? That’s not a real job. What a joke.’ How I would defend that is it’s very much a job. A lot of work goes into filming a reality show. Yes, it’s not nearly as excruciating as learning lines for a movie, but it still is a lot of work and it’s also a different kind of work.”

On whether her reputation has helped with negotiations… “Anybody that’s actually worked with me would say that I’m the complete opposite [of a bitch]. I guess that’s my reputation publicly. I don’t think I was ever a bitch. I think I go after what I want and I speak my mind. If someone wants to say that I’m a bitch, I’m glad to take that label. But I don’t consider myself to be malicious. But, I’ve been in the business since I was 17 and I’m now 32. I think that works in my favor as well.”

On understanding that privilege makes passion projects possible… “I’m in a really fortunate place where I don’t necessarily have to work. I love making my own money and I want to do things that I am passionate about and that really feed my soul … if the deal isn’t that right for me, I’m OK to walk away … I think the power of saying no is actually more beneficial sometimes. When I was younger, people would say this is the best the deal is going to get and I’d be like, well, I guess I’ll do it.”

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