Nate Berkus' Winning Money Philosophy
The design guru discusses the financial belief that helps him take more risks—and the consistent habit that helps show appreciation and respect for money.
Photo: David Livingston/Getty Images
Designer Nate Berkus (on left) and Jeremiah Brent attend the 43rd Annual Daytime Creative Arts Emmy Awards.I believe that there's a lot of fear that people have around money—not having it, spending it on the wrong things, losing it, making bad decisions—and I think that's really paralyzing. My decision when I started my design firm at 22, in Chicago, was that I wasn't going to be afraid of money. I'm not going to be afraid of having it, I'm not going to be afraid of earning it, I'm not going to be afraid of making a mistake with it, I'm going to just be very aware. I'm going to take the risks that I truly believe will pay off for me.
Some of them have worked and some of them haven't. When we approach money with anxiety, there's that old saying, "You always get what you fear." I think that that can be true with finances, as well as with anything in life.
My parents weren't fearful about money. They were comfortable—we were very fortunate—but they weren't afraid to take a risk with money or reach for real estate and have things be tight for a little while. They weren't afraid to invest in their ideas and in themselves. I think that was the genesis of the lesson for me. My mother was an interior designer and an artist. When she started a jewelry line, she went and bought what she needed and she wasn't afraid that it would never sell or that she wouldn't be able to do it well. She just went for it. There was an intrepidness about both of my parents around finances.
Again, sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't, but I think that for me, for instance, I've sacrificed to buy the next apartment or renovate the next house. I've always been very clear on how I wanted to live and what it would cost in order to live that way. I recognized that it's not universal, and I certainly did connect to my audience and understand that no matter who you are, you have a budget. It may be unfathomable to somebody what one person's budget is—how much or how little. But I really do think that if you can get your brain around it emotionally, if you can contain the fear around not having money, the chances are you're going to pave the way for yourself to be more successful.
There are two types of people in the world—the people who operate from a place of fear and people who operate from a place of abundance. You can tell right away when you meet somebody if they're coming from a place of fear. There's a lack of confidence. They live in fear of making a mistake versus somebody else who is vulnerable and comes from a place of abundance, who thinks "If I make a mistake, I'll figure it out. I'll be able to handle the consequences. I'll move forward. I'll admit my shortcomings. I'll be open about the mistakes I've made so other people may learn from them." Brené Brown, who's a clinical researcher from the University of Houston, stated in a TED Talk that vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity. We have to be vulnerable to be creative. I think to be successful, you also have to be vulnerable.
Another habit I practice is organizing bills. This is probably the most minor thing but it elevates my consciousness about money. I cannot have the bills in my wallet be disorganized. They all have to be facing the same way and they all have to be in order in terms of the bills. It's interesting because when you take money out from an ATM or when somebody gives you change, it takes that beat to put the ones together, and the 5s together, and the 20s in the back and make sure they're all facing the same direction. I've always believed that if you're not organized with your money, it's a sign of not respecting your money. Every time I do that, which is multiple times a day—whenever I buy something with cash, or take money out of the bank—it reminds me how important it is to respect money.
Listen to Farnoosh Torabi's full interview with Nate Berkus.
Farnoosh Torabi is a personal finance expert, the author of When She Makes More, and the host of CNBC's Follow the Leader and the award-winning podcast So Money.
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