Stefanie O’Connell On Financial Empowerment

“Is it really pursuing your passion if you have to sacrifice everything else in your life?”

Stefanie O’Connell is a performer. She’s also a money guru, writer, and entrepreneur.

She graduated college in the ominous year of 2008 as a theater major. Although some people might worry about the prospects of employment with a theater degree, Stefanie wasn’t one of them. Shortly after graduating, she landed her first gig. By November 2008, she began a Pan-Asian tour playing a role in the musical Cinderella.

“I was twenty-two, traipsing around the world, getting paid to perform. I was living the dream,” she states.

Everything was going the way it was supposed to, until the recession took its toll on the adventure. By January 2009, Stefanie was back in New York city. Young, unemployed, and living in one of the most expensive cities in the world smack in the middle of a recession.

“I started just pounding the pavement and going to every audition,” Stefanie recalls. “But I was also working as a babysitter, a personal assistant. Basically anything I could do to make money in the in-between.”

Her auditions finally paid off… sort of.

She got an opportunity to play three leading roles in three musicals. There was just one small problem. The compensation was $225 a week. Stefanie turned the offer down, but discovered that the next offer – and the next, and the next, were no better.

To stay financially afloat, she kept at the grind: waiting tables, being a hostess, and working at trade shows.

Eventually, she asked, “Is it really pursuing your passion if you have to sacrifice everything else in your life?”

Stefanie realized that her personal goals and needs outside of wanting to be an actress mattered, a lot. She needed to take a long hard look at her financial life to get the stability she valued.

So she delved into the world of personal finance, consuming the work of finance gurus like Suze Orman and Robert Kiyosaki. And suddenly, her perspective shifted.

“Is it really pursuing your passion if you have to sacrifice everything else in your life?” -Stefanie O’Connell

“While I was still in this bad position of struggling to make ends meets and getting these job offers that weren’t paying out, I started to feel empowered,” she explains. “The simple act of writing down my earnings, what I was spending, and seeing what trade offs I could make filled me with confidence. I no longer felt like a victim of circumstance.”

Right around that time, Stefanie got her big breakthrough: an offer to be in a show at Madison Square Garden. Thrilled, she immediately said yes. Two days into rehearsal, she took a look at the contract.

$527 a week, before taxes, union dues, and agent fees.

She’d made it, but the satisfaction was less potent than she’d anticipated.

“I asked myself, ‘is this was it looks like?’ I’d always been banking on having this big break that would solve all of my problems,” she confesses. “But that contract really made me realize just like I’d empowered my spending, I needed to empower myself in my earnings too.”

The Move To Investing

At age 24, she started investing. “After I read the finance books, I was like, ‘I need to get an IRA!’” she laughs. “The biggest gamble is not investing. When you don’t invest, when you have something in a savings account and it just sits there year after year, you’re losing money. The only way you can really grow your wealth is to get invested.

“I’m not going to pretend it’s not a problem to invest when you don’t have any money, but then again, these are the stories we tell ourselves. I was the victim of my own narrative. I would read all these articles about people who saved half their income and say, ‘I can’t invest half my income because I only make twenty-grand a year!’ But there’s always a choice. It can take some time to figure it out, but there’s always a choice.”

The most lucrative choice Stefanie made was launching her blog, The Broke and Beautiful Life.* She knew there were lots of other actors – and people in general – who could relate to her story.

“I thought my story was so stereotypically Millennial. I grew up with these big lofty dreams, got hit with the recession, became a victim of the narrative, then I had to have a turning point and take responsibility for my financial life.”

The response was unbelievable. Stefanie carved a name for herself in the personal finance blogosphere, and soon landed herself a column in US News & World Report. Other publications like Yahoo Finance often syndicated her stories, and she gained major credibility.

All the while, she continued working her day jobs: babysitting, hosting. But eventually, she was able to put these jobs on the back burner in favor of writing. By 2015, she tripled her income. Oh, and she also published a book named after her blog: The Broke and Beautiful Life.

“When you take your passion and stop pursuing it in service of yourself and help implement it in service of others, it completely changes… your fulfillment.” – Stefanie O’Connell

The Benefits Of Majoring In Theater

Much to her surprise, she’s found that her skills as an actress have come in handy. She’s still a storyteller, she’s just telling a different story: one of independence and success.

She hasn’t given up performing, far from it.

“I’m now asking, ‘how do I leverage my storytelling into the aspect of performing I really love?’ I’m transitioning into more video, teaching workshops, hosting events, and speaking engagements,” Stefanie explains. “These moves are aligned with that passion that I initially set out to pursue, but in a market where there’s demand.”

That demand has not only given Stefanie a higher income, but the opportunity to truly impact the lives of other people.

“When you take your passion and stop pursuing it in service of yourself and help implement it in service of others, it completely changes the dynamic of how much you’re able to earn and your fulfillment,” Stefanie states.

Recently, at a party, a woman came up to Stefanie and told her she was able to get out of credit card debt after reading her book. She moved Stefanie to tears.

She says, “That’s better than any bow I ever took. Because when I was in a play I’d give happiness to people for two hours, with what I’m doing now, they get value for the rest of their lives.”

*Stefanie’s website is now stefanieoconnell.com

Header image credit: Austin Schmid

Aliza Kellerman Aliza Kellerman is the Manager of Content Strategy at WiseBanyan. When she's not writing about the life and times of the IRA, she's hanging out with her pug.