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

When you’re a Real Housewife, keeping up with the Joneses—or the Zolciaks—is just part of the job. But Real Housewives of Atlanta star NeNe Leakes says there’s much more to her money moves than the sprawling mansions and extravagant dinner parties you see on the Bravo reality show.

“When it comes to money, I’m actually a really big saver,” says Leakes, who regularly shops at the Dollar Store and even wants to open her own (more on that below). “I have a savings account and most of my money goes straight to it. I know when to splurge and when not to.”

Surprisingly, Leakes says that one of the places she saves the most coin is with fashion. Sure, the lady loves her Louboutins, but she’s not above a discount dive either. “Everyone knows I'm a big shopper, and I do have to get some great shoes and handbags, but for clothes, I go to the Neiman's outlet instead of the Neiman's department store,” she says. “I go to Nordstrom Rack for designer stuff. And TJ Maxx is my favorite. With splurges like my shoes, I work really hard for that discount. You can’t blow your money like that. Fashion is expensive.”

Since Leakes became a Housewife in 2008, she says her cash flow has changed significantly. “But the best thing that money brings? It just makes life easier. It can’t buy you happiness or love or heal a disease. It does help when a problem arises and you need an attorney or a nanny or have to send your kids off to school. But think about it, if you’re pregnant, you’re still going to have the same labor pain as the broke girl, you know? Money can’t buy everything,” she says.

Here, the reality star gets candid about her finances, from enjoying her short-lived stripping career to learning how to negotiate from President Trump (that doesn’t mean she agrees with his politics, BTW). Read on for our full chat.

On her first job… When I was 16, I was a waitress at Shoney’s Big Boy Restaurant. It’s a steak and ale place in the south. I was a horrible waitress. I’m still not good at waiting on people actually. Of course, I wanted to get those tips, though.

On the best money advice she's received… My aunt raised me and one of the things she always told me growing up was to buy something for yourself out of every paycheck, even if it’s as small as a manicure and pedicure. She would say, "Bills are always going to be there, but do a little something for yourself too." I still do that today. Every time I deposit a check, I go buy that vacuum cleaner or whatever it is that I want. You need to see where your money is going.

On her financial upbringing… My aunt is a very Southern woman, so she believed in giving allowances. We got allowance every Friday and it was so damn small [laughs]. It was probably around $10 a week. I remember when I was a senior in high school, she finally raised it another five bucks. I was so excited!

On how the Real Housewives of Atlanta changed her life… It changed everything. I was a stay-at-home mom before the show and my husband was the breadwinner. He gave us a good life, but once I started on Housewives I got all of these offers—Broadway shows, appearances, everything. My finances changed a lot. And now everything has to be nice in my home [laughs]. Give me the best TV, the best pots and pans. You won’t have to replace them as quickly!

On being a stripper… I used to be a stripper after college when I was around 22. I actually liked it. So that's probably one job that I took because the money was good. At a certain point, I knew it wasn’t the best thing for me to be doing, though. I started doing it because I needed the money to pay my bills.

On turning down jobs that pay good money… I've been offered to do a lot of things in the industry, and if I don’t like the job, I will not take the money. All money ain't good money to me. I'm the type of girl that has to work where they feel comfortable and I feel in peace. And I already got a situation working on Housewives, so I'll be damned if I go into another situation. It has to be the right thing.

On how Donald Trump taught her to negotiate… I absolutely negotiate for myself and I have to give a little bit of credit to Donald Trump for that. When I was on Celebrity Apprentice and the one thing he told us all the time in the boardroom is "everything is negotiable," and that stuck with me. Nothing else he says sticks with me but that did [laughs]. I actually told my husband that and we live by that today. I’m not surprised that Trump ran for president and won because he taught us that when you start a project, the goal is always to win. I’m still mad he won, though.

On her favorite ways to splurge… I can tell you what's worth a splurge to me: eating. People like to talk about going to clubs and stuff, like my club is the restaurant. I'm the girl that orders everything off the menu. One of this, one of that, I want to taste everything. I like to splurge on rounds and rounds of good cocktails too. I also spend a lot on my vacations. I fly first class, but honestly I would rather fly coach in order to have a great hotel. You don't really know if any of them are clean, so I want to sleep in a nice hotel and order good room service.

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On her love for the Dollar Store… I’m not into Target. I go to the Dollar Store. I love it there. I really wish I could open one up. If you want some good-ass wine glasses, you go to the Dollar Store. Most wine glasses are very thin and break when you put them in the dishwasher. Well honey, the Dollar Store has got some thick ones, same with martini glasses. Whenever I have a party at my house, I go buy boxes of plain white plates there too. The sales person always looks at me and goes, "Oh my gosh, that’s NeNe Leakes at the Dollar Store!" I’m like, don’t worry about me. You can have all of this expensive stuff at your party, but your guests will be eating off of Dollar Store plates and they don't even know it.

On her biggest money mistake… I regret purchasing a wig here or there, you know what I'm saying? Sometimes they give you wigs that are shedding or that are messed up, and they’re so expensive! You want the best quality hair, and then you need to have somebody install it too. It costs a fortune.

On being the well-off one in her circle of friends… They always want to borrow money. It sucks. My husband is always like, "You've gotta find a new group of friends." Regular girls are much more fun than wealthy girls, though. I do find myself having to pick up checks all the time, though. It would be nice when we're out getting lunch if somebody would pick up mine or at least tip the valet. It makes a difference. Don't just sit there waiting for me to pull out my card.

On splitting the bill with a man… When you’re dating someone, no way. Gregg and I have been together for 20 years, so I can pick up a check here and there and it’s not a big deal. I know where his loyalty lies. But if we broke up? I’d be looking for a man with money, without question. Don’t be worried that people will call you a gold digger. You should dig for gold. My aunt always told me to date up, and I am very much dating up.