Sam Beckbessinger is a South African writer, designer, product manager and co-founder of
Phantom Design, a FinTech company that helps to build personal financial management apps,
cryptocurrency exchanges, and new products for the next frontier in global finance. Now that we got that official bio out of the way, meet Sam, a passionate writer and entrepreneur, an avid learner who also loves cats and curses like a sailor - thus the title of her book published recently by Jonathan Ball, How to Manage Your Money Like a Fucking Grownup. A much-needed book that makes financial advice accessible to the not so financially savvy people. Fred Roed caught up with Sam recently to learn more about the book and its author.
Sam, thanks for writing the book. What spurred you to write it?
It’s bizarre to me that when I was in school, I spent literally dozens of hours learning about parallelograms, and the digestive system of the earthworm, and about the themes in Twelfth Night, but never about how compound interest works, or how to file a tax return, or how to calculate the total amount you’ll pay on a car loan. Learning about Twelfth Night was fascinating and all, but understanding Iambic Pentameter is unlikely to make as big a difference to a person’s overall life happiness as understanding how to not wind up broke and in debt.
I wrote this book because I wish it had existed when I was 20 years old, wondering around the world with a degree in Creative Writing, having panic attacks wondering how the hell I was ever going to pay my rent.
What's your origin story?
I’ve always been a giant nerd, and my favourite thing in in the world is learning new things and then telling other people about what I’ve learned. I had this massive blind-spot about money, though, connected to some pretty deep psychological hangups about it. It’s kind of nuts, but for most of my 20s, I would just burst into tears whenever anyone tried to talk to me seriously about my own finances. My entire financial strategy was: “JUST NEVER THINK ABOUT IT AND IT WILL BE FINE”. It wasn’t fine! I wound up deep in debt, stuck in a job I didn’t like but couldn’t leave because I couldn’t afford to. I realised that by refusing to engage with money, money was actually controlling my life.
That was the Damascus moment, for me. I decided to make it my mission to figure this stuff out. I quit my job in advertising and started working as a User Experience Designer in the financial services industry. It was like going into the belly of the beast and learning all of its secrets. And boy, is it filthy in there. I got to spend a lot of time with finance bros and learned their ways. More importantly, I had the privilege of interviewing dozens and dozens of regular people about how they manage their money. And I learned something crazy: everyone else was just as confused and clueless as I was.
I became determined to change the industry, building tools to make money easier to understand and manage. I joined the phenomenal team at 22seven, and spent two transformative years helping to build out that product. In many ways, this book is a summary of all the stuff I learned while I was there, from people who are much smarter than me.
I now run a business called Phantom Design with my bestie Simon Dingle, and we’re trying to build out the next generation of businesses that transform our relationship with money. It’s fun. No one should get paid to have as much fun as we have.
What grown-ups do you despise? Are there some sub-categories of people out there that just need to become better humans?
I think the worst kinds of people are the ones who aren’t curious. This is a wild universe that is filled with more weirdness than our tiny primate brains can comprehend. Every human being is a story and a perspective that we could learn from. Humans are at their worst when they don’t listen to each other, and respect each others’ stories.
I see this a lot in the personal finance space. It’s very easy to believe the narrative that people who are poor are just lazy or stupid or immoral. But we live in a world that’s becoming more and more unequal every day. People are poor because the system is broken, and rigged against almost everyone except for the tiny group of people at the top. And it’s much more rigged against some people than others. To look at the rates of inequality in a country like South Africa and deny this truth, requires willful ignorance and a profound lack of empathy.
You've written a book, which is a VERY grownup thing to do. How was the process? Did you fall into a depression and question life, love and humanity while writing it?
Writing a book is honestly the funnest thing I’ve ever done. I took a month long sabbatical in a tiny English village called Stroud and stayed in a 400-year old cottage and wrote every day. My only company was a 400-year old cat named Jemima, and I ate a lot of cheese. It was heaven.
Marketing a book, on the other hand, has been a stress-nightmare for me. I’m an introvert. I would honestly rather sit in a dark room by myself and write SIX MORE BOOKS than ever have to talk in public about the book ever again. But I also accept that this is how I spread the message to more people, so I just have to suck it up. The plan is to try to bank up enough savings that I can take a sabbatical every second year or so, to write more books. The next one is going to be a murder mystery book involving aliens. Everyone needs goals!
What's the one thing you'd advise us as grownups?
Figure out what you actually care about, and don’t give a shit about anything else. The world is full of distractions, and if you’re not clear about your goals, you’ll waste all your time living someone else’s idea of a good life. The fact that you are alive is an impossible miracle. You are going to die one day. Stop wasting time on anything except your most audacious dreams and the people you love.
Thanks so much, Sam for your time and for having written this book!