Danielle Brooks: 'Keeping Up With The Joneses Just Isn't My Style'

The actor, who played Tasha "Taystee" Jefferson on "Orange Is the New Black," wants to make talking about money less taboo.

Danielle Brooks has had quite a career so far. She became a household name after joining the cast of “Orange Is The New Black,” a successful Netflix series that recently ended it’s seven-season run. In 2016, she was nominated for a Tony Award for her portrayal of Sofia in “The Color Purple.”

It’s easy to assume that Brooks, with her fame and fortune, spends money like it’s going out of style. The truth is, she’s more pragmatic with her finances than ever.

Recently, Brooks partnered with Intuit and its Turbo “Where to Next” campaign, which encourages people to have honest conversations about money and helps them figure out the first step toward financial goals.

“I think it’s important to talk about money,” Brooks said. “People can approach it in a very taboo way or feel intimidated to talk about money. And I think it’s a conversation that we don’t have enough when that’s what makes the world go ’round.” She added that often we focus on the things we want but not the steps required to get them.

Danielle Brooks partnered with Intuit's Turbo to help start open and honest conversations about money.
HuffPost Life
Danielle Brooks partnered with Intuit's Turbo to help start open and honest conversations about money.

“Luckily, I’ve been really good with my money in my lifetime,” Brooks said. “For the most part, I’ve made sure that I take care of my financial responsibilities, and I think it’s important to inform people how to do that.”

Brooks recently visited the HuffPost offices to chat about why personal finance is such a passion and share some of her best tips.

Don’t count on money before you have it.

As an actor, Brooks doesn’t clock in to work every day and have a steady paycheck to rely on. “What I do for work is so fickle,” she said. Despite a successful seven-year run on “OITNB,” things eventually slowed down, which is why she has to budget for the long-term and never count on a check until it’s in her bank account.

Even if you aren’t a Netflix star, there’s a good chance your income fluctuates, too. More than a third of Americans are part of the gig economy.

“I want to teach people: Don’t count that check until you actually get it,” Brooks said. “Making sure you’re not spending money that’s not really tangible yet is important.”

She added that her father taught her to be prepared to be out of work for up to two years. So she makes sure to have a healthy emergency fund. “If I’m not good for two years, I’ve got work to do.”

Talk to your kids about money. They’ll listen.

From the outside, Brooks’s family appeared to be an average middle-class family with a two-story home. However, her parents often had to make sacrifices to keep the household running.

“We didn’t know everything that was going on as children in our home,” Brooks said. “When the lights were off and we were using candles, we didn’t know that was because Dad wasn’t able to pay that bill. Mom’s car would break down on the side of the road, and she’d be praying for it to start.”

Her parents were able to use those moments to teach valuable lessons. Her dad was especially frugal and made sure the children understood the value of money.

“They had this 80/20 system that my parents taught me,” Brooks said. “Eighty percent of your money goes to your responsibilities ― your bills ― and another 20% goes to savings.”

As a kid, Brooks didn’t have any bills to pay (ah, if only we could all go back), so she got to use her 80% on whatever she wanted. But the other 20% of her allowance or earnings from odd jobs had to go to the church and a savings account. “So that structure, I just kept with me… Keeping up with the Joneses just isn’t my style, and I won’t ever be comfortable or feel at ease until those responsibilities are taken care of.”

Take advantage of free tools.

“I’m good with money, but it took work because I didn’t always have it,” Brooks said. One of the biggest challenges she faced along the way was her learning curve when it came to certain money management steps. For example, she didn’t always know how to check her credit or how to invest in the stock market.

“I can’t say I’m 100% proficient in those things yet, but I feel like that’s what I’m learning now.… I’m educating myself more on another level.”

For anyone in the same boat, Brooks recommended taking advantage of the free tools at your disposal, such as online budgeting and money management software. For example, Turbo allows users to get a holistic view of their financial situation and then set specific goals, such as saving up for a home or paying off student loans.

Similar free tools include Mint, Credit Karma and YNAB.

Make extra payments on your debt when you can.

Brooks is just one of the millions of college grads who left school with student loans.

“I remember crying when I got the letter from Sallie Mae with how much I had to pay back,” she said.

But she also remembers the joy she felt when she wrote that last check and paid her loans off for good. “I knew that the longer I took to pay that bill, the more interest I would accrue.” That’s why whenever she had the extra cash available, she’d put it toward her student loan debt.

“So that’s what I do, even now, with paying off my house,” Brooks said. “I have a good chunk of money, so I put it toward the house versus a slower burn.”

Don’t feel guilt or shame about your circumstances.

According to Brooks, it’s important to talk openly about money, regardless of your situation. “There are so many different circumstances,” she said. It’s important not to feel guilty about where you are in life ― you might have student loans, or decide to have a baby or marry someone with debt.

“That’s life, and that’s OK,” she said.

In fact, when Brooks graduated from Juilliard and had to somehow find a job as an unknown actor, times weren’t exactly easy.

“I was on food stamps. I was on welfare,” she said. “I needed the support … there’s nothing to be ashamed of in that. It’s about going for the resources that you have, to help you get where you want to go.”

Of course, everyone’s financial and life situation is different. Brooks said you don’t necessarily need to mirror her financial choices. But hopefully you can glean a couple of helpful ideas.

“I’m here in a great position to share what’s been successful and helpful for me,” she said.

Before You Go

Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling)

Orange Is The New Black Cast, On And Off Screen

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