Family finance lessons: Stand-up comedian W. Kamau Bell

The most important lessons we learn about money don’t come from our accountants or our radios. They come from our family. 

Each week, we invite someone to tell us about the money tips they inherited.  

This week our guest is W. Kamau Bell. Last year, you might have seen him hosting his own television show on FXX. It was called "Totally Biased." But that gig came after years of cutting his teeth in the San Francisco comedy scene.

"When you start doing stand-up comedy it's really quite impossible to make a living from it," says Bell.

So in the early days, Bell pieced together an income from many different sources — various day jobs, helping other comics with their shows, and even renting venues to throw his own shows. 

Bell grew up mostly with his mom. She worked long hours at a textbook company. After awhile, she decided to break out on her own. She started to self-publish books of quotations called Famous Black Quotations. But the long hours continued. 

His mom’s experience taught Bell that self-employment in a creative field wasn't an easy career path.

"It actually gets a lot harder," he says. 

Bell's father was self-employed, too. 

"He had a lot of little jobs but no real big job," says Bell. "But then at some point he clearly decided he need to make money and at 40 years old he went to the bank and became a teller."

Bell's father worked his way up to bank manager, and eventually began selling insurance. He started to tell Bell about the importance of saving for the next generation.

"It didn't make sense to me when my dad talked about it, but I think also at the time I was about 13 and didn’t have a wife and a child," says Bell. And now that he has a daughter who is approaching 3-years-old, he has a different view. "The goal is to [teach her that] money is a real thing, you have to respect it and you have to have it to live in the world but don’t get so focused on it that you don’t use the money to do the things you want to do."


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