What Grammy Winner Brandi Carlile Can Teach You About Money

In her new memoir, the singer shares her personal finance life lessons.
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Written by Kimberly Palmer
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With a large fanbase and critical acclaim, Brandi Carlile exudes success. Her seven albums of music span several genres, including pop, folk and rock, giving her a wide audience appeal, and she has been the recipient of six Grammy Awards and 12 nominations.

But in her new memoir, “Broken Horses,” she reveals that she has a tendency to spend money as soon as she gets it, which means she often finds herself running out of cash. Her song lyrics also touch on this topic.

In one of her biggest hits, “The Story,” she sings, “Even when I was flat broke, you made me feel like a million bucks.” The idea that you can feel a lot richer than your bank account suggests is a recurring theme in her memoir, too.

In her book, Carlile shares some of her hard-won personal finance lessons, and what the rest of us can learn from her experiences. Here are five of her financial takeaways.

Know what you want

Carlile describes growing up in relative poverty, with her family facing frequent evictions and job shifts. “I can recall the name of just about every landlord who evicted us and my parents’ list of grievances against them. I also remember every helping hand,” she writes.

That poverty taught Carlile to be ready to express exactly what she wanted on the rare occasion that she was asked. After a childhood illness left her hospitalized and her grandmother told her she would buy her whatever she wanted as she recovered, Carlile responded quickly: She wanted a Rainbow Brite doll and a “really big tomato.”

Carlile calls her response “Poor Kid Survival 101.” In other words, “You gotta know what you want and don’t hesitate to ask for it, or you won’t get it.”

Jason Dall’Acqua, a certified financial planner and president of Crest Wealth Advisors in Annapolis, Maryland, says that’s an important lesson to apply to everyday budgeting, too. “Budgeting is about determining what is important to you and what you value, and then aligning that to your financial resources to make sure you are working toward what you want out of life,” he says.

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Appreciate what you have

Carlile recalls that one Christmas, her parents managed to buy her a Casio keyboard, despite its $80 price tag. She knew it was a stretch for them, and she appreciated their sacrifice. “It was my prized possession,” she writes, adding that she used it to learn how to play every song from the "Philadelphia" movie soundtrack.

“If you’re always looking for the next best thing without appreciating what you have, then the next thing isn’t going to satisfy you either,” says Dall’Acqua.

Buy the house that makes you happy (within reason)

Carlile writes that one of her early dreams was to live in a log cabin on a creek; she bought a property that fit that description in her early 20s and still lives there today with her growing family. She continues to make home improvements around the property, including building a garden and renovating a greenhouse.

“Real estate is a great asset to own, and for a lot of people, it’s their largest financial asset,” says Dall’Acqua. “Just don’t reach for more than you can afford.”

Sometimes, it’s OK to splurge

Carlile is not ashamed of her spurges; in fact, she's proud of them, especially when they contribute to her happiness or that of her fans or family. She spends money on her onstage outfits, she explains, as a matter of respect for her audience: “It’s not about having fancy clothes and being rich; it’s about communicating to the crowd that you understand the evening is special for them.”

During the pandemic, she bought a fishing boat, explaining that she financed it to help assure her wife it was within their budget, especially since her income took a steep nosedive as the pandemic set in and forced tour cancellations.

That boat, Carlile explains, is helping to create incredible memories as she and her family, including two young daughters, spend time on it, fishing and camping.

The spirit of splurging also applies to Carlile’s generosity toward those close to her. In a recent Instagram post to celebrate the singer’s 40th birthday, her wife, Catherine Shepherd, wrote, “You order the entire menu for the whole table and you always pay the bill and tip three times as much.”

“As long as you build splurging into your budget and there is thought behind the purchase, there’s nothing wrong with it. You have to enjoy the short-term while making smart decisions for the long-term,” says Dall’Acqua.

Money can suddenly run out, and you have to adapt

Carlile writes openly about the sudden impact of the pandemic on her ability to make a living. “Touring was the only way for an artist to earn a living … It went away in an instant,” she writes. She started looking for alternatives, including streaming performances online. She built a small studio on her property to film what she calls a “little variety show,” in order to generate enough income to pay the salaries of her team.

She ends the book as the pandemic is still in full swing. She's grappling with its impact on her industry and her own career, as so many of her fans are, too. As in her songs, Carlile's honesty and vulnerability in her writings let people know that they are not alone, even when finances are strained.

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