10 Things You Don’t Know About My Finances: Al Roker


Al RokerHere at LearnVest, we don’t shy away from asking all those awkward and fascinating money questions. How much did that cost you? Do you have a big investment account? What’s a secret splurge you haven’t told anyone else about?

In our series, 10 Things You Don’t Know About My Finances, we get interesting people to reveal their funny, head-scratching, and refreshing approaches to finance.

For this installment, we sat down with Al Roker, beloved weatherforecaster from NBC’s Today,  CEO of his own production and multimedia company, and lifelong New Yorker.

Read on to find out Roker’s first biggest splurge, his hoarding habits and what gives him a “perverse thrill” … don’t worry, it’s nothing you won’t want to try yourself.

1. I have huge jars of quarters that I’ve been collecting for over ten years. I used to collect them for tolls, parking meters, the laundromat, subway. Now everything’s becoming automated, so I still have jars and Ziploc bags of quarters everywhere. I keep some in my car, some in my briefcase. I have quarters everywhere.

2. My first big splurge was in 1976. I’d just gotten the weekday weather job in Syracuse, New York, when I was a junior in college. I bought a 1976 pencil yellow VW rabbit. I bought a standard because it was cheaper even though I didn’t know how to drive a standard.

To me, having toilet paper is like having money in the bank.

3. I like to pay a little more for things that will last. Ten years ago I bought a pair of Allen Edmonds shoes. I still have them, because they refurbish them for free, and they’re the most comfortable shoes.

4. My Dad believed in paying with cash. For business expenses, you have to use a credit card, but I try to pay in cash whenever I can. I find it fascinating when people use their debit card for groceries.

5. I’m a big believer in hoarding staples. You should have at least two big things of toilet paper and paper towels. To me, having toilet paper is like having money in the bank … it doesn’t go bad, and you can always use it.

6. I splurge on food, on groceries. There’s that joke that Whole Foods is more like Whole Paycheck. But there’s a discernible difference. I would rather have a smaller amount of really good food than a lot of okay food. My favorite splurges are rack of lamb, Chilean sea bass and organic produce.

7. I like mass transit. I get a perverse thrill from taking the subway downtown for $2.50—and no one can bother me by calling my cell when I’m on the train. People come up and ask me, “Why are you taking the subway? Why don’t you take a cab?” I was taking the subway before some of them were even born!

8. You never know when your career is going into the toilet, so I’m always cognizant of how I was raised. I was a lower-middle class kid. My dad was a bus driver and worked his way up into management for the transit authority. I take a lot of pride in the fact that we drive a minivan, that we go to the early movie to get a better price.

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9. If I have a weakness, it’s that I’m an early adopter of technology. I had a Sony Mavica digital camera, a Casio boss, which was a precursor to a PDA, and an Apple Newton, which was the earliest version of the iPad. When the iPad2 came out, I ordered online right away—I don’t like standing in lines. Online means I don’t have to stand in line.

10. Even though New York is expensive, I don’t plan on moving away. I love Chicago, Seattle and Portland, but this is where I grew up; I like it here. You can eat really well, you can do a lot for cheap or free in New York. My favorite inexpensive things to do in the city are taking the Roosevelt Island tram, and taking the subway out to Coney Island, out to the aquarium. Or just walking through Central Park—there’s always something to see. The other day I saw a guy running and juggling. The depressing thing was that he was running far faster than me.

  • Anonymous

    Ha interesting…though to be fair Trader Joes is better than Whole Foods I had a food buyer tell me Whole Foods private labels items they buy which is why they are 3 times more expensive than Trader Joes…interesting huh? Someone should really delve into the food buying industry and really take a look at markups. It makes sense that the same thing happens in food than it does in beauty and fashion (I worked in both) sorry, but a 300-800% markup on makeup is insane. 

  • Smithdeanna107

    Hahaha…t.p.!  I love Al!

  • Smithdeanna107

    Thanks for the tip on Trader Joe’s, kgal!

  • Jenn

    I could have SWORN I saw him on the subway not long ago, but I was like “No, Al Roker wouldn’t be on the subway….” — probably was him!

    Also, I just went to Trader Joes for the first time today – I’m in love!

  • http://www.girlaroundtown.net Mary C

    I totally agree with #7!  I love mass transit and yesterday took the M60 from LGA for the first time! (And last month took the subway back from JFK.) Unless it’s an emergency, I’m done with paying $40-$80 in taxi fares to and from the airport!

    • Anonymous

      Hi Mary, I did the same thing on Sunday! It definitely took longer, but I was so proud that I got home paying only $2.50 for the bus and subway together. Plus it’s much more eco-friendly. :)

    • http://www.facebook.com/AshleyVictoriaBurton Ashley Burton

      Yes, my trip to New York was a blast, I stayed in a hostel but where I really messed up was the cab fare! I know from now on to learn the mass transit and I will OF COURSE never drive in a place like that!

  • http://www.blog.dodelinedesign.com Sarah

    I’ve always liked Al, now I like him even more!  Good for you Al!

  • guest

    I thought that I was the only one who stocked up on toilet paper, paper towels, and other items you know that you will eventually use, when they’re on sale! My roommate thinks that I am crazy to buy toilet paper on sale when we still have 3 rolls left! Same with Kleenex; he used my two boxes which I bought on sale for a $1.00 each and then he had to replace mine  by paying full price. You’d think he’d learn but he just doesn’t think about needing things until he needs them and thus pays full price! I am one of 5 children whose father was a mailman and my mother, a homemaker, (and yes, she sewed all of our clothing when younger), so I know what being poor is. I know what the “swimsuit ” box is; the winter “boot” is; I wore hand-me-downs my whole childhood! I keep the same values to this day. Use it up, wear it out, ”make” it do, or “do” without. These words were used during the Great Depression, which both of my parents lived through, and they taught me to think this way and at the age of 51, I still do! I also don’t get people who spend what they make every year, meaning if you made $100,000 last year, are you sure that you will make it again this year? Why not live off of $50,000, and bank the rest, as most of know that job security and salary are not secure as it was in our parent’s day. If you can’t feed a family of 3 children and spouse for $50,000, you’re doing something wrong. As far as gourmet food and “healthy” food are concerned; use coupons, sales ads for the week, and look at regular grocery stores which are now carrying more and more “healthy” options which are always cheaper in the grocery store than the “fru-fru” gourmet stores. Most have a “health “ food section. And you can find some good deals at the Dollar Tree-I get organic jarred roasted red bell peppers there. Cut out the TV in every room of the house, cell phone for each kid, wii games, and game-boys. Just because your kid’s friends have it, doesn’t mean that they do as well!   

    • http://www.facebook.com/AshleyVictoriaBurton Ashley Burton

      You can get Kleenex at Dollar Tree….just hoped you know you don’t have to pay full price for some of those things lol

  • Deb/Phx89

    Re#4 I’m confused by the comment “using a debit card to buy groceries”, I equate my debit card to cash, my credit union doesn’t charge any fees, did I miss something

  • http://www.facebook.com/AshleyVictoriaBurton Ashley Burton

    Wow! I am INSPIRED< that was SO insightful!

  • Judy

    We live in Colorado and visited New York City about 5 years ago.  We were in a double decker bus and were going by Rockefeller (sp?) Center and Al was on the side of the road.  I was on the top of the bus and said loudly, Hi Al, and he smiled and waved.  I knew he must be a great guy.

  • Kay Gilliard

    I’d love to meet Al. He seems so grounded.Kay, SC

  • Katherene

    Al you are a wonderful down to earth human being.  I love that you kept it simple for anyone to understand and use your methods, which I plan to incorporate into my money plan.  Yes, I was one of the people who used their debit card at the grocery store, but not anymore.  And I do shop at Whole Foods and your right I rather have smaller than a lot of none healthy food to eat.  Thank you for sharing you’re money pointers. 

  • Nlivera2

    I currently live in Japan and paper towels are often expensive. Its cheaper and more environmental to use a cloth rag! Reuse an old t-shirt!  Can you imagine, I cycle and take mass transit everywhere!?!?
    This is great, thanks for the advice!

  • Ginger

    It is so nice that Al is so down to earth. However, I disagree about the debit card. With debit cards it helps you track expenses and stay within budget. If you use cash and are tracking expenses you will need to write down every purchase and if you keep up with your finances in Quicken or another software you have to remember to enter those cash expenditures.

    • Katherene~

      @Gineger, that is something to definitely think about.  I’m not one to write down all of my purchases if I’m paying with cash.  So the debit card is a way of tracking your purchases.  I agree Al is down to earth. 

      • Jason

        Using some form of electronic payment system does help track expenses, but debit cards are a security nightmare.  It’s much safer to use the card in credit card mode, or even better, get an Amex credit card, use it to pay expenses and pay it off every month.  Personal liability for identity theft on your debit card is unlimited (at least to the amount in your linked account), on an amex it’s $50.