Sitting down to talk with Racked senior editor Alanna Okun is fun. She’s bubbly and kind, and she instantly puts you at ease.
It’s not hard to imagine, then, Okun talking with readers of the shopping news website about a notoriously difficult subject — money — given her disposition.
Okun, along with several Racked writers, launched a new feature earlier this year called “How Do You Shop?” The series is in the vein of several money diaries popping up on sites like Refinery29, Man Repeller and, of course, She Spends, and points to a desire on the part of readers to know how their peers spend their money.
“We call it shopping for real life,” Okun says.
The premise is this: a Racked reader shares her average salary along with typical shopping habits. The pieces tend to reveal far more than how a person buys their clothes (though that is certainly interesting). They serve as a means to communicate personal finance values, money advice and even family stories surrounding spending.
“Most people talk about money in the same way,” Okun says on the phone. “They fear scarcity and want protection. People can find a lot of joy and fear in managing it. I think Racked looks to tell stories from this perspective.”
A spending profile on a single mom paying for child care, for instance, revealed not only that the mother has a hard time finding clothes to fit her athletic body (she’s also a weightlifter), but also that her family struggled with bankruptcy while she was growing up. This shaped her spending for years.
“Family stories become stories about why we shop,” Okun says. “Money exists as this taboo on a spectrum for a lot of people.”
Writing these spending diaries hasn’t just been for the benefit of readers, she says.
“My financial landscape has changed radically since starting the series,” Okun says. “It’s helped me to stare money in the face a bit more.”
She notes that since interviewing a reader who uses five separate bank accounts to keep track of spending, she started using a similar system of her own, separating her long-term and short-term savings, as well as her fixed expenses and fluid expenses. As a result of this system, Okun said she’s been able to save $200 more per month.
Money isn’t just on Okun’s mind because she’s working on this series. She also recently wrote a book, The Curse of The Boyfriend Sweater, which will be available for purchase in March.
“Money has been on my mind when it comes to my book,” Okun says. “In order to have time and space to write books, you have to have money.”
- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #31