Emily Guy Birken is a former educator, lifelong money nerd, and a Plutus Award-winning freelance writer who specializes in the scientific research behind irrational money behaviors. Her background in education allows her to make complex financial topics relatable and easily understood by the layperson.
Joe Saul-Sehy is the creator and co-host of the Stacking Benjamins podcast. While Joe’s “money expert story” includes being a former financial advisor (16 years) and representing American Express and Ameriprise in the media, his real story is how he was a money disaster in his early life, pulled his financial house into order, and left his business at age 40 to pursue an entirely different path.
Emily and Joe are co-authors of Stacked: Your Super Serious Guide to Modern Money Management.
What inspired you to write this book?
Emily: Joe came up with the idea and asked if I’d come on board. I loved the idea of working with a friend and of getting a chance to lean into my sense of humor, since I often see my best lines edited out of my writing.
Joe: I was really worried about the statistics showing how many people we’re leaving behind, and yet there are podcasts, videos, books, blogs, and a huge number of social outlets focused on personal finance. Why are so many people crying about their money? So, I decided to make a campy book for the non-money nerd. STACKED, at its heart, is the Hardy Boys Detective Manual tone mixed with the Cub Scout Wolf Guide approach…but for adults and about money.
I’ve never written a book before and instead of asking, “How do I do it,” I asked, “Who knows how to do this?” Emily was my first call and luckily she said, “I’m in.”
What is your book about?
Emily: It’s a lighthearted look at how to handle every aspect of money.
Joe: I’d call it an approachable survey of how to put together your financial foundation, from easy basic steps to more granular ideas.
What one key takeaway do you hope someone gets from reading your book?
Emily: You can have fun while improving your financial life. You don’t need to feel bad, have someone yell at you, or deny yourself Starbucks or avocado toast to get to a better financial place.
Joe: I hope people read this book and say, “I can do this!” while doing some fairly savvy moves with their money.
Who should read this book?
Emily: Can I say everyone? I think this book can help anyone get a better handle on their money. But I think it will be especially helpful for young people–teens, young adults, recent college grads, and the like.
Joe: Yeah, I also think anyone who wants, “What does this mean?” from an unbiased source.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Emily: Titles. I am incapable of writing a good title. Our agent came up with the title “Stacked.” (And my sister made sure to ask if I knew that Stacked also means big boobs.)
Joe: I won’t do it if I think it’s complex so I put it off.
How do you deal with writer’s block?
Emily: Doing something else that’s creative can help writer’s block. I love to draw, which engages a different part of my brain than writing, and it can sometimes help shake ideas loose when I’m struggling with writer’s block. I also love to make quilts, cross stitch, and put together puzzles, and the zen state I can get into when I’m sewing or piecing together puzzles can also help with writer’s block.
Joe: I focus on sitting in the chair and writing words, no matter how horrible. I set myself a hard stop of writing 2,000 words/day and could not get up until they were done, no matter how bad. It turned out that the practice of forcing myself to write trained my mind that no matter what, this was going to happen. Surprisingly, the bad days were never as bad as I thought they were while writing and the awesome days sadly worked the same in reverse. I was never as brilliant as I’d thought I was.
Were there any struggles you faced in writing the book together?
Emily: We had a great time working together and for the most part were on the same page (ha!) with any of the tough decisions. The only really hard part was when we had to cut the 125,000 words we had written down to the 85,000 words we had promised. I’d been through the process before and was confident about murdering our darlings. It was a little tougher for Joe. We were meeting on Zoom daily to work through these edits, so one day during this time I changed my display name to “Stone Cold Bitch Emily Guy Birken,” which made Joe laugh and helped make the cold process of excising favorite passages easier.
Joe: Yeah, Emily nailed that one. This was FAR easier than I’d thought it would be. All I’d ever heard was how painful it was going to be, and that wasn’t the case at all.
What does your writing space look like?
Emily: Even though I have a dedicated office in my house, family detritus tends to pile up in my space. I have my son’s pet rock (with googly eyes) named Sylvion keeping me company, along with a miniature snowman painting done by my other son, and a unicorn stuffie (that one is mine). I have pencils, markers, and pens within arm’s reach because I do a lot of “thinking” on paper. You’ll also always find a cup of coffee next to my computer, as caffeine is an integral part of my writing process. There’s usually a cat or a greyhound nearby, as well.
Joe: I wrote 85% of my half of this book on a balcony overlooking a street leading into Stowe, Vermont. Now, I write from three locations: either a dedicated office, our recording room (back bedroom), or on my laptop. I go to the laptop when I’m particularly blocked and need to write from someplace else.
What are your top three favorite books of all time?
The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams
Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters
Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
Joe: I love so many!
Fiction: Catcher in the Rye
Non-Fiction/Bio: Disney Wars by James Stewart
Finance (besides ours): Happy Money by Ken Honda
What are you working on now?
Emily: I’m working on my freelancing, as always, but I’m also working on a YA novel that’s a modern retelling of Eurydice and Orpheus.
Joe: YouTube and video projects.
Where can people find you?
@StackingBenjaminsPodcast on Instagram