In Maria Menounos’ new book, The EveryGirl’s Guide to Life, she shares her personal journey from a child of hardworking Greek Immigrant parents to an overachieving student with big journalistic dreams, to that of a successful television personality and glamorous red carpet staple.
At the tender age of twenty-two, Maria Menounos was the youngest person to ever host Entertainment Tonight. She soon went on to reporting gigs for NBC’s TODAY Show and Nightly News, and not long after modeling and film opportunities came knocking. All appeared great from a distance, but in The EveryGirl’s Guide to Life, Menounos peels away the glossy facade to share with readers, in intimate detail, how she struggled to achieve emotional and practical balance, both personally and professionally.
From shedding college pounds which Menounos refers to in her book as her “freshman 40!,” to getting her home office, finances, health and relationships in working order, Maria did the leg work and the research, so you don’t have to. Through her direct access to some of the country’s top beauty, organization and fitness experts and through her own trial and error, Maria Menounos offers a step-by-step guide to dealing with every aspect of our lives. Her book provides instructions, inside tips, pictorial guides and personal anecdotes that let the reader into Menounos’ private world.
I found Maria Menounos to be a Hollywood anomaly: a gorgeous television personality with working class sensibilities and a tomboy attitude; this babe is not afraid to roll up her sleeves and get dirty. In many ways, we share a lot in common and our conversation flowed effortlessly from topic to topic as we both agreed upon the basic female principals of hard work, independence and giving back. I’ll admit, the one thing I haven’t quite matched Maria Menounos on just yet: her stellar organization prowess.
PR.com (Allison Kugel): I absolutely loved your book and found it very helpful, but you must be an alien, because no human is that organized in every aspect of their life!
Maria Menounos: Not at all, and by the way, I was a complete slob before, so I’ve come a long way.
PR.com: In your past life?
Maria Menounos: No, up until a few years ago! That’s why I ended up writing this. I’ve learned so much on my journey that’s helped me to get to the place that I’m at now and I wanted to make sure I shared all of that. I didn’t have an organized office [before]. I met this editor from Seventeen Magazine and she had an organized office, and I said, “Oh my Gosh, I’ve got to copy this!” Little by little I’ve learned and applied and gotten to this place. The key to it is maintaining it, and being disciplined so that every day when you get back home from work you put everything away where it’s got to go. Then you can be happy because everything is maintained.
PR.com: Did you have to re-vamp your entire life or were there really just one or two things that needed some self-improvement?
Maria Menounos: Oh no, it was everything. My car was a mess, my room was a mess, my office was a mess… it was a complete overhaul. The way I suggest it to people who are reading my book is to put a sticky note [in the pages] for everything that you want to do, change or apply, and then attack it little by little. I take precious vacation days and precious holidays to attack these problems. Over Christmas break every year I take most of my time to organize my house and set it up for the New Year. I’ve also taken vacation days to organize my house. I suggest to people who have to do a big overhaul, take a Thursday and Friday off so you have a four day weekend. You don’t want to be going to IKEA on a Saturday afternoon (laughs). But if you do have to go on a Saturday, go in the morning, go with a plan and have your list and your measurements.
PR.com: Did you intend for The EveryGirl’s Guide to Life to be a reference manual? This isn’t the kind of book that you read once and put away in a book shelf. For me, I have it by my bedside table and I’ll continue to refer to it as I need it.
Maria Menounos: There was never any sole intention for that, it’s just kind of how it happened. It is definitely kind of a reference guide, but it’s also a docu-journal. I definitely tell my story along the way, but I wanted people to be able to make these changes. Originally there were not supposed to be any photos, but I was like, “How do I tell these things without showing them?” So I had my friend, who is a photographer, come in and shoot the photos and I’m able to show you exactly how I do it in my home.
PR.com: Is this book the start of your “EveryGirl” brand?
Maria Menounos: Hmmm… I don’t know…
PR.com: Because to me, as soon as I heard the term “EveryGirl” the first thing to pop into my mind was “brand!” You weren’t thinking in terms of that when you wrote it?
Maria Menounos: Not really. I like the term “EveryGirl,” and yeah, I think it could branch out and be its own brand. For me it was just about writing a great book and now it’s doing really well, and we’ll see where we take it from here. I’m sure there’ll be a volume two because when I was doing my final edit, I’ve adjusted and changed things in my life even since then, down to my desk. Back home, before I moved to LA, I used to take an unfinished door, paint it, and lay it on top of two file cabinets to make a desk.
PR.com: That thriftiness and ingenuity speaks volumes about your upbringing. Your parents are Greek immigrants and you’re a first generation American. When you were growing up did you notice a big difference between the values and ways of your parents, versus some of your friends’ parents who were born here, in the way they raised their kids?
Maria Menounos: I never thought about it in terms of anyone else. Maybe because my parents always used to say, “You’re not everybody else.” Sometimes I’d be like, “Well, how come she can do this?” And they’d say, “She’s not you! Stop looking at her!” (Laughs). And so I don’t think I’ve really compared it to other people. But I do know that we grew up cleaning night clubs and we did it 365 days a year, 7 days a week, on every Christmas and every Thanksgiving. We would have to hurry up and get one done to get to the next, and the next, so that we could maybe make it to my aunt’s house for dessert on a holiday. I learned the value of teamwork and of hard work, and really being frugal and focusing on the important things. And I tell women, until you own your own condo or your own apartment, stop buying Chanel bags! Stop buying these expensive things that you cannot really afford because you need your independence first. I have a nice home, obviously, and I have a nice car, but other than that I live on a very small budget. I eat at places like Chili’s when most people who are on my level are eating at really fancy restaurants. I choose to spend my money on taking care of my parents and owning property, and setting myself up for my future so that I don’t look back and say, “Wow, I made a lot of money but I blew it all on nice things.”
PR.com: Do you have an ingrained fear of “the poor house being right around the corner,” or is it simply a matter of priorities for you?
Maria Menounos: Oh for sure, it’s a combination of both. I think I have a healthy… well sometimes an unhealthy look at it (laughs). I’m very frugal with myself and very giving with my friends and family. I’m so bad! I’ll be like, “I’m so thirsty… but I have water at home. Why am I going to stop at 7-11?”
PR.com: (Laughs). Oh my God, that’s serious! I do admire your discipline though.
Maria Menounos: I just don’t want to waste money like that. When I go to hotels, I go to the store and get water and snacks to put in my hotel so that I don’t get charged $12.00 for a bottle of water.
PR.com: I do like what you said in your book about telling the hotel to empty out the minibar as soon as you get into your room, so you’re not tempted to take their snacks and water. That was clever.
Maria Menounos: I do all of that. I’m able to invest in my career and things that are helping me rather than in stuff. Stuff means nothing. You can’t take it with you. It is a combination of being smart with my money, but also definitely the fear thing. I’ve always been afraid that it will all go away and that I’ll be back (laughs) hauling boxes or something. But I do have a good attitude, so even when I sold sausages or cleaned nightclubs or worked at Dunkin’ Donuts, I was always happy.
PR.com: Let’s talk about handling bad habits and social blunders. Let’s say you overreact in a situation and you say or do something inappropriate. What’s the best etiquette for damage control after something like that happens? Should you apologize and explain, or just let it go and move on? What do you think?
Maria Menounos: It depends on the situation. I’ve definitely had all things happen where I’ve reacted or I’ve panicked. Sometimes it’s better to just let things go; sometimes people don’t deserve the explanation, and sometimes they do. I’ve had moments where people have told me off on Twitter and said these horrible things about me, and I’ll take the time to explain to them why I think their perception is skewed a bit. And I’ve actually been able to get through to people and they’ve been very apologetic. So sometimes people deserve the explanation, but sometimes people are just really being nasty and it’s totally wrong, so you just stay away from it. But are there times where I have reacted? Absolutely! I am so not perfect by any means, and I definitely have had my moments. That’s why I say in the book to “act, and don’t react.” I try for the most part to act, but it’s not always easy.
PR.com: I noticed that you’re cut from the same cloth as me, in that you are in a very long term relationship but you’re not married, correct?
Maris Menounos: Yeah, are you the same way?
PR.com: Same way (laughs).
Maria Menounos: How long have you been?
PR.com: Less than you (Maria has been with her boyfriend, Keven, for more than a decade). We’ve been together for four and a half years and we have a son, but we just don’t happen to be married. I have my reasons, but…
Maria Menounos: I’m so curious now, so wait, what are your reasons?
PR.com: Nobody believes me when I say this, but I’m not against marriage. I just don’t think about it. I always wanted to fall in love and start a family, but I never dreamed about the ring and the dress, and walking down the aisle. When I became pregnant I was afraid to tell my dad and I made my mom tell my dad. Then he called me up and he was excited about it. I said, “But dad, I’m not married,” and he goes, “Allison, since when have you done things like everyone else?” So that was kind of that, and I’m just happy.
Maria Menounos: (Laughs).
PR.com: There was a whole relationship section in your book, so I’m curious about your situation. What’s your take on marriage versus not being married?
Maria Menounos: I don’t know if I have a tip on that necessarily. For me, I think that when it could have happened I had some family drama. There were some reasons that, during our courtship when we may have done it, it didn’t happen. But a piece of paper means absolutely nothing to me, first and foremost, and I get to be a bride every day. Every day I’m getting my hair and makeup done, every day I’m going to the Oscars and all of these great events and wearing gowns. It’s a beautiful thing for someone who doesn’t get that. I don’t need it to be about me for, yet, another day; it’s about me all the time. When I have kids, maybe I’ll do it then. But for me and Keven, it’s been so long that in our minds we are and we always have been. Marriage can be a beautiful thing for some people but I don’t think it should be a pre-requisite or something that’s forced on people. We’re happy, it’s working. I’m not really a traditional person anyway. That’s probably why we’re connecting in that way, because you sound the same way.
PR.com: So, basically, you’re committed and that’s it.
Maria Menounos: Yeah, and I think it’s a weird thing for people. People don’t get it and they try to figure it out. But we always say that someday when we want to have a big party, maybe we’ll do it. But it would never be with bridesmaids and the seating arrangements, and the place cards. It would be just a big fun party.
PR.com: You’ve interacted with so many celebrities throughout your career. What is the best inside tip or advice that you’ve ever been given by a celebrity? And which celebrity gave you the advice?
Maria Menounos: Rachael Ray gave me good advice that was passed on to her from her grandfather, and it’s one of my favorite things. It was, “When you’re presented with a situation, you have two choices. You can either laugh or you can cry.” You know when you have those moments in life that are just horrible? You know, I had this wardrobe malfunction once…
PR.com: Ah, yes, yes…
(Overzealous paparazzi snapped beach pictures of Menounos when her bikini bottoms had shifted to reveal what should have remained covered).
Maria Menounos: You can either laugh or you can cry, and I chose to laugh. I think that can be applied in so many situations in life. I remember when we rescued one of our first dogs, he was a German Shepherd and his name is Apollo; he’s in the book. We left for a few hours and came back, and he had torn our recliner into little bits. We were totally broke, so it wasn’t like we were going to be able to replace this recliner, and it was our favorite piece of furniture in the house. But, we walked in and looked at him and we were like, “Oh, did you do that all by yourself? (Laughs). What a good boy!” And we started laughing. So you can laugh or you can cry. Crying isn’t going help, so I try to laugh as much as possible.
PR.com: How should one handle a social situation or friendship when one of you has a much higher, or much lower, income than the other when it comes to things like eating out, shopping and traveling together?
Maria Menounos: I always think that, without a doubt, I’m always going to be the one to pay and I am happy to, and I want to. I will never let my friend who is just getting by, or not near my financial situation, pay, ever. It’s my honor to be able to do that. But I do think that certain people take that for granted. You should always offer and you should be genuine in your offer to help, in whatever way you can. If I was to invite you to a weekend getaway and I say, “I’m going to handle everything,” then there’s nothing to even talk about. But maybe if we go out for an ice cream over the weekend, you offer to pay for that. Or, if we go out to dinner and I’m always paying, maybe you say, “I’ll cover your valet.” You should always offer to do something, because people who are always paying, and I know from being in this position, sometimes people don’t even say “thank you,” because they’re so used to it and they take you for granted. That doesn’t feel nice and you always want to feel appreciated. I worked hard for my money. I didn’t just find it in a box in my backyard. So you always want to feel like the person you’re treating is appreciative and thankful, just like I’m thankful when people treat me.
PR.com: Is motherhood on the horizon for you, and if so, would you transition into writing a book for the “EveryMom?”
Maria Menounos: Ha-ha! That’s funny because a friend of mine was like, “You could totally do this for the EveryGirl’s Guide to Motherhood and the EveryGirl’s Guide to Pregnancy,” and I’m like, “Well, let me get there first!” (Laughs). I definitely think we’ll have kids at some point in the next few years. I’m not in a rush. There’s so much I still want to do before I have kids, but my dad and my mom are definitely getting antsy. Right now I’m still doing a billion things and I’m running around. If I land and have my own [television] show then I have to stay put. I travel 80% of the year now and that’s not really easy when you’re a mom, and I wouldn’t want to do that to my kid. Once I land and I have my own show that I’m at consistently every day, and I can travel here or there, that would be the time that I’ll definitely have kids.
PR.com: Is developing your own talk show something you’re currently working towards?
Maria Menounos: I’ve always been working towards it; it’s always been a goal. Before the book came out I had a few different producers who were interested in turning the book into a talk show. We’re talking about all the different possibilities now.
PR.com: That being said, how would you define your voice? What is the message you want to get across to women with your own talk show?
Maria Menounos: It’s coming from a place that seems unattainable and unreachable, and saying, “I’ve gotten here and I can tell you, I got here, so it is possible.” And I want to be able to help women with everything that I’ve learned. There are so many things that I’ve struggled with: weight, organization, time management, eating. I’ve gotten a good handle on it all. I’m not perfect and I still bump my head from time to time, but I would love to be able to talk about that and talk to women about so many different issues. Also, nobody talks about family. We’re all hiding behind the facade of perfect families, and none of us really have a perfect family, so how do we deal with that? I want to go more in-depth and I want to cover topics that people aren’t talking about. I’ve always been a person who likes to help people and likes to be helpful, and that’s what I want to do with my show someday. And I want to give a voice for first generation kids. One in five, and that stat might have changed by now, but one in five people in this country are children of immigrants. For me, growing up as a first generation kid I had so many more battles to struggle with. I didn’t know the language; I had to learn English. You have to be the family translator. You kind of feel like you’re at a disadvantage from the get go, so I want to be able to help that demographic to know that it’s all possible, and it’s actually more possible for us in so many ways.
Maria Menounos’ book, “The EveryGirl’s Guide to Life,” is available at book stores nationwide and on Amazon.com. Visit HarperCollins.com for more information about the book.
Follow Maria Menounos on Twitter @mariamenounos. Watch Maria Menounos' latest "EveryGirl's Guide to Life" how-to video series at Bing.com/Maria.