My LA: Erin Bunch and Michelle Vick
Current Gig: Erin Bunch and Michelle Vick were trying to climb the entertainment industry's corporate ladder when they realized one crucial thing: They were constantly broke. Despite student loans and entry-level salaries, the two assistants were expected to look, act and dress the part of savvy Hollywood networkers, and it was killing their pocketbooks.
But they also noticed they were getting pretty good at looking like a million bucks on a small budget. The pair became so good at it, in fact, that they decided to quit their jobs and found their own start-up to share tips and stories on how to do Los Angeles on a dime. Called the Broke Girl's Guide, it's currently raising an angel round of funding. Bunch is editor in chief and Vick is head of operations, and this is their story.
EB: Currently Santa Monica, but I'm a WeHo girl at heart.
MV: Santa Monica, on the border of Venice.
You both started out in the entertainment industry, which meant a lot of happy hours and a lot of parties. What did this mean for two "broke girls" like you?
EB: I started out working for the president of production at DreamWorks. When you're an assistant in the movie business, your relationships are everything, so the nightly networking drinks aren't optional. I was able to save during the day by scarfing down the free food at work, but when it came time for drinks, I knew I'd have to shell out my own money. Since the studio and agencies are so spread out across LA, I got pretty good over time at identifying the affordable yet cool places in just about any neighborhood. I really wished, though, that there was a ready-made resource at my disposal.
MV: I started at CAA. ... The salary did not go far, let me tell you. I had to quickly learn where the best happy hours were and how to pack a flask. Many of my "meals" consisted of Sprinkles cupcakes that had been brought in for the 20th person's birthday that day. Not the healthiest lifestyle! Another difficult task was figuring out how to dress for the office and for the parties without rotating through the same four outfits. Erin and I commiserated over the lack of a go-to guide for affordable but still fun living, hence our decision to start Broke Girl's Guide.
Can Hollywood be hacked, wallet-wise? What's your advice for doing something fabulous but frugal? What's the craziest deal you've ever gotten?
EB: Anything can be hacked! Creativity is key. My mom always says that everyone should be poor at one point in their lives, and I kind of think it's true. Not having much, or any, money at various points forced me to be insanely resourceful. When you're an assistant in the movie business, all of the bosses send you gifts at the holidays. It's excessive, but a huge perk of a low-paying job. I used to sell mine on eBay. I needed cash.
MV: I agree that Hollywood can be hacked. It just takes equal parts research and creativity. The craziest deal I've ever gotten is a white vintage Chanel purse at the Rose Bowl Flea Market for $40. I figured it must be fake if the price was that low, but I took it to a Chanel store, and they said it was real.
Style icons -- we all have them. Who are yours, and how do they inspire you?
EB: I like bold personalities when it comes to fashion -- Daphne Guinness, as an example. At the risk of sounding like a sad cliche, I really loved what Patricia Fields did for Carrie Bradshaw on "Sex and the City." Her outfits didn't always work, and they often looked ridiculous, but they were nothing if not unique. On the flip side, I have an appreciation for the very LA way of dressing, which is sort of the opposite of flamboyant and is epitomized by girls like Rachel Bilson and Nicole Richie. Those were the types of girls who totally intimidated me when I first moved here. They always look so effortless.
MV: Sienna Miller. Kate Moss. I want every item in their closets! Not that they would fit, but at least I could gaze at them with admiration.
More importantly, where do you shop to look like them?
EB: I love vintage/secondhand, and LA's got so many great spots for treasure hunting of this nature. I love Entre Nous for designer shoes, Polkadots & Moonbeams for costumes and the Rose Bowl for everything. I really like finding unique pieces I'll keep forever. And I like being complimented on things that only cost $20. I use a lot of the big chain stores because they're easy and cheap -- F21, H&M, Zara, Topshop, ASOS.com, etc. We recently put together an outfit for a shoot for something like $60 -- shoes and accessories and all.
MV: I agree wholeheartedly with Erin -- some of my favorite outfits come from places like F21 or H&M, and Urban Outfitters also has some great deals. My favorite flea market in LA is the one on Melrose, since I always find great jewelry there, and I'm a big fan of Jet Rag's Sunday dollar sale on La Brea. There are also a lot of great vintage stores in Santa Monica, like Fashion Therapy, Great Labels and the Address Boutique.
Michelle, you're married, but for Erin, what's your advice for a broke girl or guy who wants to impress on a date? To coupon or not to coupon? Do free events make one look cheap?
EB: I wouldn't coupon on a date, but you shouldn't need to. There are a million creative dates in this city. ... Just put a little thought into it. I love little hole-in-the-wall places that not everyone knows about. There's a place on La Brea called Sake House. It's a little dive and it's one of my favorites. On Broke Girl's Guide, we interview LA foodies all of the time, too, for their recs on dives all over the city. Five-dollar noodles somewhere can be just as memorable as dinner at Giorgio Baldi. I promise.
MV: Husbands are all about couponing.
The city is full of creative people, but artists can sometimes be demanding. What's the craziest thing you've had to deal with when working in the entertainment industry?
EB: I had some crazy internships. One semester, I worked for a big-time producer who would have me drive to her house at 11 p.m. to deliver soup because she didn't like for delivery people to come to her house. She was a very intimidating person. As I said, this town is full of big personalities, and there's a lot of pressure on everyone. It makes us all a little crazy sooner or later.
MV: The head guy at one of my early internships didn't like seeing interns -- I guess he found us unsightly? -- so whenever he was around, we had to tuck ourselves away into a closet. At least it was a sizable walk-in closet with chairs, so I really shouldn't complain.
There are a lot of amazing women who started off as "broke girls" -- Madonna, Oprah and our very own Arianna Huffington. Are there any rags-to-riches stories that inspire you?
EB and MV: We're both really inspired by J.K. Rowling! She was depressed, unemployed and living on welfare when she wrote Harry Potter.
Why do you hate LA?
EB: The hustle here can make people a little crazy, and I don't know that honesty, earnestness, or loyalty are always the most valued qualities amongst Angelenos. Also, the traffic. Both are cliches for a reason.
MV: The traffic, bar none. It makes me want to become a hermit who bunkers down and never, ever leaves my cave. It also makes me yearn for a helicopter.
Why do you love LA?
EB: I think we have a really amazing food scene here. Of course, you also can't beat the weather, which just makes life here so easy -- no mittens, no snow shovels, no miserable walks to work in subzero temperatures. I love to hike on the weekends -- Temescal is my church. Most of all, though, I have an amazing support group and network here. I feel very, very lucky to have them, and building that type of network would be my number one survival tip for any broke girl. True friends are your greatest resource.
MV: I love the air (by the ocean at least, not the gross air in the city), avocados (they're just not that good in other parts of the country), the museums, great restaurants, proximity to the beach and mountains. ... And I love the healthy mentality in general. I love that LA is one of the cheapest places in the world for being active and working out. You can jog, hike or bike in the hills or along the beach pretty much year round, and there are so many free or by-donation yoga classes out there. Also, you can't complain about living in a city where it's possible to run into Ryan Gosling at the grocery store!
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