What Diana Ross Taught Tracee Ellis Ross About Thrift

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

Tracee Ellis Ross
Photo: Monica Ahanonu

"I’m always going to be a shopper," admits Tracee Ellis Ross. But the Black-ish star, known and loved for her down-to-earth charm, unsurprisingly has a downright practical approach to all things money.

“Spending smart is part of my motto in life,” she says. “I believe that you can feel extraordinary in your life without spending tons of money. I’m a really strong advocate for living within your means and not trying to keep up with the Joneses, because then you don’t have debt.”

Meet Tracee Ellis Ross, your new financial advisor. “It’s all about how you get longevity out of your money,” she offers, although it’s admittedly taken her some trial and error to figure out how to do that. "There have definitely been moments where I’m like, ‘Why did I buy that? It was ridiculous. But I’ve learned that, just because I want something, it doesn’t mean I should have it."

Ross credits her mother, singer Diana Ross, with teaching her about fiscal responsibility at an early age. “When I was young, my mom told me, ‘You can spend a lot of money on your clothes, on your things—if you take care of them.’ And I have lived by that.”

At the heart of learning how to spend responsibly is transparency, says Ross, who rejects the idea that speaking candidly about money is crass. "We’re are all taught—both men and women—that you’re not supposed to talk about money, and that it’s so uncouth or something. But I think we have to have these conversations about money and stay informed, both in terms of what we’re making on our own behalf and for each other."

Below, Ross gets real about her designer wardrobe, what she's willing to splurge on, and the most important part of negotiating.

On getting the most out of her wardrobe… I think the whole thing where you wear stuff once is just garbage. I really believe in re-wearing clothes. If you’re going to spend lots of money on a jacket, wear it a whole bunch of times. If you’re going to buy a pair of boots, they need to be a pair of boots you’re going to wear with more than one outfit and not just one look. That’s why I never understood those “Who Wore It Better?” columns, because to me, it should be, “Look at all the fancy ways you can wear this thing!” And if a princess like Kate Middleton can re-wear her clothes, I think we all can!

On her best recent purchase… I got myself two new Tumi suitcases because I have a trip coming up to Europe. One of my big travel hacks for Europe is that, if you’re an over-packer, you need to over-pack in a way that you’re still able to carry your own luggage. Because no one will carry it for you in Europe. So I got myself two large roller bags with the wheels that go in all directions. That way, I can roll them on either side of me and have my backpack and sit my purse on it. I’ll get the maximum amount of space in my luggage and still be able to move it myself.

On the importance of establishing credit… Part of learning how to be responsible with your money does require getting a credit card. If you just work with the cash that you have in your pocket, it’s easier to know when that cash is done. Same with a checking account. People don’t write checks anymore, but I do! Still, credit cards are really important in terms of financial maturity. I remember when I got my first credit card in college—I still have some of the credit cards from back then, actually—and I really gained an understanding of how it works. That’s been important in my financial literacy as an adult.

On money's taboo… Women’s financial solvency, transparency, and the ability to have these conversations without being afraid are incredibly important things. We have to take the stigma away from it and actually try and make some change, and that will require us having knowledge.

On her negotiation tips... Negotiating is a very scaryexperience because it requires a lot of courage and, to a certain extent, the willingness to lose the opportunity, which most people don’t have the luxury to do. It’s you saying, “This is what I’m worth,” and as women, culturally, there isn’t a training that supports us in that. That, I think, is what we are attempting to change from a systemic place. It’s important to have a supportive group around you that you can use as a sounding board to be smart and creative in your negotiation. [Companies] might not be able to pay you in dollar amount, but maybe there’s other ways you can be supported in the work that you do—like your travel expenses or something. There are a lot of ways you can negotiate.

On her evolving shopping habits… I’ve gotten a lot smarter about how I spend my money as I’ve gotten older, but I’m always going to be a shopper, so I try and make space for that. I do it in a way that matches the work that I do, and as a result, I feel like there’s less anxiety in my life and I can actually enjoy the little things with great abandon.

On the new United Explorer credit card she launched with Chase and United Airlines... I’m a big traveler—I have been my whole life. Whenever I use [miles] to fly, I always feel like, ‘You know what? I got my free flight; that means I can buy that bag or go to certain restaurants. It gives you a little more freedom in how you travel—and with this card, you get two times the miles with hotel stays and restaurant purchases. That’s pretty freaking cool, if you ask me!

On how she splurges... I would prefer to save up for a great, life-changing trip, as opposed to buying some jacket that so-and-so is wearing that I think is going to change my life, and then not be able to go for a great meal when I want because I bought it. A beautiful glass of wine in beautiful stemware is just as extraordinary. For a beauty splurge, the Pat McGrath lipsticks are pretty epic. They’re matte, but they even feel luxurious when you put them on your lips.

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