The actress Busy Philipps is known for hit shows like NBC's "Freaks and Geeks," the WB's "Dawson's Creek," and ABC's "Cougar Town." She is also a writer and a social media personality with 2 million followers on Instagram.
I caught up with Philipps on her media tour with brand partner HotelTonight. (Philipps and HotelTonight are currently running a contest to give five "planners" last-minute spontaneous getaways.) And during our conversation, she mentioned yet another role. It's one that isn't as public-facing, but it is just as notable: fierce negotiator.
Below, she opens up about her financial upbringing, the financial freedoms that come with having a popular social media platform, and the time she walked away from what would become a successful TV series … with no regrets.
I truly have been a person that has always worked. I always had jobs. That was something that my parents tried to instill in me from a fairly young age. They were always insistent that I take responsibility for the things that I had.
I got my first job at a mall when I was 14 at The Body Shop over the holidays making gift sets. And then I worked at California Pizza Kitchen and at a theater company teaching preschoolers. I was also a nanny one summer, all while working at the restaurant.
When I turned 16, my parents bought me a used car, but it was my responsibility to pay for the gas and insurance every month, which came to about $100 a month. And for clothing, my mom had a very small budget for back-to-school clothes.
I didn't get an allowance. I had a job, so all the extracurricular stuff I wanted to do — movies, dinners, buy clothes and presents around the holidays — I was on the hook for that myself. That built a really strong work ethic from a very young age.
When I was 17 years old, I got a job for the Mattel toy corporation. Up until then, I'd been burning through minimum wage at restaurants and in retail. In that Mattel job, I got paid a ton of money for two weeks of work being a live Barbie doll at the Toy Fair. It was an incredible job.
I remember asking my parents what to do with the money. I did put a lot of it away and then I bought a car stereo system for my Honda Civic. It had a detachable face and it was very exciting to be able to get a cool CD player to put in my car.
My industry is unique in so many ways and I'm also a privileged white woman. So it's all different for me. It's hard for me to know if my advice is something that can work [for others] or would track.
But I had one instance many years ago where the job offer was well below my quote, what I normally would get paid for an episodic television show.
My agents at the time said I should take it because they thought the show was going to get picked up and blah blah blah. And I was like, "I'm worth more. I know that I'm worth more. I've done all of this work up until this point, and I'm not going to take it. Why would I do that?"
I ended up not taking it. And [my agents] were not wrong. The show got picked up and was on the air for many years, but I have never regretted it — not for a second. They didn't value me enough. And [had I taken the job] I think that would have stuck with me.
[The producers] said, "This is the most money we have for you." And it's like, "Well, then you don't want me that bad … that's the bottom line. I'm not worth enough to you."
So, there is something to knowing your worth and being able to take the advice of people around you. But at the end of the day, it's your call. And only you know what you're going to be OK with and what you're not.
You have to be willing to walk away. And it's very easy for me to say you have to be willing to walk away, because I have that privilege. I've also been in the position where I can't walk away and you're in a tough spot, and that can be a thing that ends up sort of feeling like it holds you back. But yeah, I would say that that's definitely been really like a game-changer for me.
I do think that that having transparency and being open with other people, even women who you may consider yourself in competition with, is actually kind of vital, as we're striving for pay equality. We have to start to look out for one another.
Think about these boys clubs. You think they don't communicate to give each other advice on how to handle these situations or what to ask for or what to say when you're told "No"? Of course they do. And that's part of what we need to continue to work toward.
The last several years for me has been really transformative in terms of how I have been able to take control of making money and making the decisions on the kinds of things I want to do and partner with brands directly.
Monetizing my Instagram was a huge "so money" moment because … I can't even tell you, I've gotten cornered at parties by actors at many different levels asking my advice on how they get to do the thing that I have been able to do. It's offered, as a performer and an artist, so much financial freedom to not have to take a bad job.
Having an opportunity to do some spontaneous travel with your partner with your your kids after the holiday obligations are over can be like a really great way to actually enjoy yourself and have fun. The issue that I always was getting into when trying to book travel spontaneously over the holidays is that a lot of hotels have a minimum night stay requirement. And that's why I like [tools like] HotelTonight.
I'm looking forward to building more relationships with brands and continuing to figure out what the next step in my business looks like and whether that's continuing brand partnerships in the way that I've been doing or if it's maybe something else. It might be something else.
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