In our Budget Badass series, we explore how young women—both inside and outside of the finance industry—balance their checkbook in a way that lets them live their best life.
Emellie O’Brien is the definition of a badass. Less than five years ago, she started Earth Angel, a consulting agency that helps movie and TV sets become more sustainable. Since then, she and her team have transformed the productions of movies like “Spider-Man 2,” “The Post,” and “Avengers: Infinity War,” and TV shows like HBO’s “Divorce” and Showtime’s “Billions.” When she’s not on set, organizing New York City’s largest Earth Hour party, or sharing her insights on sustainable production with audiences around the world, O’Brien is your average 20-something-year-old entrepreneur. (Or, as average as you can be, when you’re on a mission to save the planet one movie at a time.)
Name: Emellie O’Brien
Occupation: Founder, Earth Angel
Location: Brooklyn, New York
I may not have gone to business school or studied entrepreneurship before starting Earth Angel, but I’ve always managed money well. I made my first budget was when I was 18: I was working as a babysitter and barista, and paying for my housing with student loans. Overseeing my student loan debt has really helped with my financial education, and in bootstrapping my business (a sustainable consulting agency for the entertainment industry).
My personal budget is a simple Google spreadsheet, but it’s very detailed—I like knowing exactly where my money is going at any given point. The main categories are Home, Utilities, Food/Beverage, Transportation, Style, Debt Repayments, Entertainment, Personal Care, Health Care, Pet Care, Travel, and Miscellaneous, but they all have very detailed sub-categories. Home and Debt Repayments eat the most of my money. (Ugh, student loans!)
Professionally, I’m an avid Quickbooks Online user; it has all of the capabilities I need for a small business like mine. It’s essential for keeping my books in order.
Trial and Error
I started to use Mint for my personal budget several years back. It helps a lot with the automation of expense categorization, but I still prefer the format of my Google sheet for general analysis. The categories have certainly evolved over the years, as more “adulting” has brought more fiscal responsibility, but the dollar amount hasn’t increased substantially. I’m refraining from taking a substantial owner’s draw to grow my business.
Can’t Skimp, Won’t Skimp
I have curly hair, so I can’t skimp on hair products. I use DevaCurl. Quality shoes from Frye, Blue Bottle coffee, and random Florida getaways to see my five-month-old niece are also things I’m happy to splurge on!
In general, I’m always saving for travel. I’m blessed to be asked to speak about sustainable production at events all over the world, so when the opportunity presents itself, I like to extend my stay and enjoy the city or hop somewhere nearby. When I spoke at the Netherlands Film Festival, I added an extra week so that I could travel to Northern Ireland and visit a friend in London.
I already spend very little on restaurants and things like that, but I consciously try to spend less on takeout from Seamless, and eating out in general.
Moving from a home office to renting an office at a co-working space was one of the best financial decisions I’ve ever made. Not only did it increase my productivity immensely, but it also helped me better establish work/life boundaries…something that’s very difficult for most entrepreneurs.
Words of Wisdom
Instead of staying at traditional hotels and renting a car, use services like Airbnb and Lyft for business travel. It can save you (and your company) so much money!