How She Spends got started, and where it wants to grow
Alicia McElhaney is the founder of She Spends, a website and newsletter that covers personal finance from a female point of view.
McElhaney is also a reporter for Institutional Investor, where she is a generalist staff writer. Before that, she worked at TheStreet.com, where she wrote about health care companies, and The Deal, where she wrote about mergers and acquisitions.
She Spends send out its newsletter on Fridays, and it includes links to business news as well as personal finance information and how women are faring in corporate America. It struck a deal this week with Sallie Krawcheck’s Ellevest to add investing content.
McElhaney spoke by email with Talking Biz News about She Spends. What follows is an edited transcript.
How did you get the idea for She Spends?
She Spends is a product of several facets of my life. When I started the newsletter, I had worked in financial media for about a year and a half. I was sort of shocked by how much of a boys club the finance world still is. I’ve always been a feminist, but I didn’t realize how bad things really are until I got into the workforce.
At the same time, I was feeling overwhelmed and frustrated by my own financial situation. I was living paycheck to paycheck in New York, which is really scary when you work in media. I had picked up all of these side jobs to keep up with bills and occasional meals out, but I was tired of living that experience alone. I started talking with friends about money and about my job. I realized within my group of female friends, there was an interest in talking about personal finance.
Despite having an interest in personal finance, my friends almost recoiled at discussing the stock market or asset allocation. I wanted to provide a forum where it’s comfortable for women and non-binary folks to discuss the personal finance, while also taking that opportunity to teach them about more difficult financial topics in a way that didn’t feel infantilizing.
How have you developed your audience?
I have a lot of internet friends, so our initial subscribers came from those relationships. From there we’ve grown completely organically, which has been really cool for us to see. I think one thing our audience really values is the connections formed in our Facebook group. Our readers have used the group to ask for raises (someone recently negotiated to get $5 more per hour than expected after consulting with us). Others have used it to share stories about debt or to ask advice about grad school or nonprofit work. It’s really been cool to watch that community develop.
How big is your weekly newsletter, and what all goes into it?
We aren’t disclosing the number of subscribers just yet, but our growth rate is steady and has increased by about 40 percent each month. We have four sections: a news roundup, an interview with an exemplary woman, a personal finance tip and a money diary from one of our readers. We also publish a separate blog post at least once per week.
How do you do She Spends as well as your full-time job?
The learning curve on this has been steep. About a month ago I dealt with some pretty severe burnout, so we scheduled a few breaks around the holidays to give us all a chance to breathe. As our audience has grown, so too has the length of our content and its quality. This is great, but it also means that the team has taken on more work than initially expected. For me, managing that extra workload means that I’ve started getting up an hour or two earlier. This helps me to fit in either some of the extra work from She Spends or a quick workout so I can do more work on She Spends at the end of the day.
I pretty much spend the entirety of my Saturdays working on the newsletter, scheduling tweets, contacting potential event partners and making sure everything is running smoothly. It’s definitely a lot of time, but it’s worth it. Of course, Institutional Investor has been super supportive about what I’m working on, too, and has given me a bit of flexibility when it comes to tweeting or posting while I’m at work.
Does She Spends influence what you write about for Institutional Investor?
I’ve always been excited by gender diversity stories, and I’ve made it a point since I started my first job at The Deal to include women’s voices in the stories I write (which can be super difficult in the finance world). If anything, I think Institutional Investor has had more of an effect on what I do at She Spends. It helps me to stay hyperfocused on financial news, which I can then share with our readers.
You have a partner, Amanda Eisenberg, who is helping. What does she do?
I actually have two partners. Amanda Eisenberg is our editor and what I like to call our “connector-in-chief.” She’s super detail-oriented and great at making connections with potential partners and readers. She joined the team in July after offering to edit the newsletter, which I was super grateful for. Since then, our audience has blossomed.
I also am working with Jemma Frost, who designed our entire website and newsletter. She oversees all design tasks and does a lot of the background strategy work, such as surveys. Jemma and I went to middle school together, where we started a school paper. We fell out of touch since, but when I first tweeted about this project, she reached out. It’s cool that things have sort of come full circle with us. She’s been able to really elevate She Spends into something beyond what I dreamed it would be. She also has this great design-thinking background that helps me and Amanda, who both have journalism backgrounds, stay grounded.
Why do you think most mainstream business media don’t cover these topics?
It’s not that the mainstream media isn’t covering these topics. Both my editors at Institutional Investor and The Deal gave me space to write on the women in business beat (at The Deal, I wrote a story on M&A in the menstrual product sector, for instance). The problem with any major business publication, though, is that for a lot of women, they feel unapproachable. Couple this with the fact that any “real” personal finance websites are tailored toward men, and many issues particular to women’s money (longer life expectancy, the wage gap) fade the the background.
There is a small group of personal finance websites that are tailored toward women, but the content is a lot of “top ten things I wish I never bought” or involves the commodification of feminism. We think women are smart — and roughly 80 percent of women run the household finances — but the coverage for them isn’t. We want to fill that void. We do so with the newsletter, which brings digestible but substantive information to readers’ inboxes; the website for extra content when readers need it; and the Facebook group for when readers have questions and want to source from the crowd.
What’s been the biggest hurdle you’ve had to overcome?
I think it’s just been putting the word out there that She Spends exists. We are all three lucky to have super supportive friends and family who are interested in what we’re doing, but growing our audience has been challenging for sure. I think we’ve finally hit a point where She Spends is really hitting its stride and we don’t have to push nearly as hard.
How did you connect with Sallie Krawcheck’s operation to provide investing content?
Ellevest reached out to us about a month ago. We obviously love what they’re doing, and there’s a lot of synergy there. Sallie had been reading our newsletter, which to me was the coolest thing ever. It recently started an affiliate marketing program that for us makes a lot of sense. We’re all about transparency, especially when it comes to our finances. So far She Spends has been entirely self-funded, so having the financial support of Ellevest, while being able to share a product we love, makes sense.
Where do you see She Spends in five years?
Ideally we’ll be able to put out daily stories, which will likely involve paying the writers who work for us. I think we’ll work more to talk to the women we feature. Right now we’re doing some of that, but that’s definitely a place I want to expand. Beyond that, hopefully we’ll be hosting a weekly podcast and more events in cities beyond New York.