Personal Finance

Financial Feminist, Disruptor, and Gamechanger

Growing up, I’d watch Suze Orman with my mom, and as fabulous as she is, I’d think, “This has nothing to do with my life.” As a single person with no children or house or mortgage, I didn’t feel most financial experts were speaking to me or anyone like me when giving financial advice. Enter 28-year-old Tori Dunlap, the single ladies’ money whisperer: someone whose advice speaks to not only me, but also her 3 million social media followers and podcast listeners. She was just named Forbes 30 Under 30 in the Media Category for 2023, and her new book, Financial Feminist: Overcome the Patriarchy’s Bullsh*t to Master Your Money and Build a Life You Love, (which will be released on December 27) is already at the top of multiple bestseller’s lists.

Tori Dunlap’s journey into personal finance started with one of her first jobs out of college as a social media marketer.

She describes her early career, “I was a woman in a lot of male-dominated industries, so [one of] my first jobs out of school was a lot of testosterone, really [an environment full of] toxic masculinity. there were a lot of issues: alcoholism and sexual misconduct; it was the realization that this is…something that [only] I or other young women have to navigate, that no one else has to think about.” Despite ups and downs in her work life, Dunlap diligently saved a consistent percentage of her paycheck until she had $100k in the bank. With that savings, she was able to quit her job and start her now-famed finance blog, Her First 100k and her podcast Financial Feminist.

She reflects on the early days of growing her brand as a young woman and the ageism and discrimination she has faced:

“I went to school for Theater and Communications, and now I’m a finance expert, and a lot of the feedback that I get is, ‘You’re really young, how are you an expert? And also, you didn’t major in finance when you’re not like a CFP.’ This feedback only comes from men named Steve in their fifties…, because anybody else can consume my work and see value in it, first off. And second, realize that there actually is something beautiful about somebody who is outside of an industry coming into it.

I think people take me a lot more seriously now with the clout that we’ve managed to garner for our work, [though], especially in the early days it [was] so easy to be underestimated. I’m no longer typically the youngest person in the room, which is a very interesting thing that starts to happen….”

Tori’s belief in her work comes from knowing that she had to build her knowledge from the ground up and teach in a way that can speak to everyday people, not just economists:

“The realization for me was at an event in 2019, I was sitting next to very smart, very driven, ambitious people who had 10 years more of experience and who were in suits and pencil skirts, and I rolled up in a leather jacket and Adidas because that’s who I am. I just watched the entire audience’s eyes glaze over and I knew at that moment, oh, there’s no imposter syndrome anymore, I’m supposed to be in this room.

I had to learn all of this. My parents gave me a leg up in teaching me, and I sat on a laptop [when] I was 21, 22, reading finance blogs and trying to understand how to budget better and figuring out how could I afford to take that vacation. I know that I can teach this material in a way that’s going to connect with people.”

Financial literature has a tendency to be very theoretical or downright inaccessible– full of jargon, tailored to the interests of specialists, and often inconsiderate of the external and internalized forces that keep women, especially women of color and those with disabilities from earning more. In Financial Feminist, Tori actually gives scripts to negotiate your salary or the interest on a loan or credit card. She gives actionable advice, and includes concrete numbers to demystify the process of building financial health.

Tori says the entire purpose of her book is to see women of all backgrounds empowered and earning what they’re worth:

“We’ve been conditioned and taught to play small. And then when we show up big, we either gaslight ourselves or somebody else gaslights us, because society is not comfortable with women playing big. We keep her controllable because money means [some form of] control. Money means power. The system knows this. When you have money, you have options. You have choices.”

Throughout the book and our interview, Tori acknowledges her privilege being a white, cis woman with parents who were able to teach her good basic money habits. It was important for her to include the voices of many people from marginalized backgrounds, deeming it an integral part of her message:

“I don’t want to hear from one person the entire 80,000 words…other people have lived experience that is more relevant. I know the power of somebody feeling seen. And if we can bring in other people to help readers feel more seen, that is [an] opportunity for us to do that [easily].”

She addresses the limitations of her own experience and that her advice doesn’t apply to people who are in dire circumstances:

“If you are honest to God, living paycheck to paycheck…the people who are actually financially struggling, there is little, unfortunately, that I or any other financial expert can say.”

Tori believes the blame for widespread financial issues is not the fault of the individual, but rather systemic inequality as the reason so many people are struggling:

“It’s because this society and the system are broken. Your personal choices are a very small part of this; it’s 20% personal choices, and 80% systemic oppression. So this is why you have to not just work to better your money at an individual level, but we also have to use money to change the system that exists for the people who can’t; who don’t have two nickels to rub together.”

Tori cites commitment to raising awareness for women who have not been empowered with financial education:

“I can’t tell you the number of women who have messaged me who have lost potentially millions of dollars because…they thought the Roth IRA was the investment. This beautiful, seventy-year-old woman [in the book] who I call Rose, was a school teacher and was setting aside money every single paycheck ended up not being able to afford to retire because she had never actually invested.

And that’s what I’m seeing with women of every age group, twenties, thirties, forties, et cetera. And it’s not because women are stupid or dumb, it’s because no one taught us this. And they purposely make it complicated to make sure that they have jobs and so that you don’t do it.”

Negotiation, or rather, failure to do so has consistently been one of the top reasons why the gender wage gap exists and Tori’s book provides exercises to help women change their mindsets and empower them with practical scripts:

“If you take one thing away from the book, let it be to talk about money and that it can be to your comfort level, but you have to have conversations about money and to extend that to negotiation.

I think it is important to acknowledge, especially with negotiation, that there is a certain level of pushback that women get because of the way society deems the sort of narrative [that as a woman, you] should just be grateful for your opportunities. There is some backlash when women try to negotiate, again, ‘You should be grateful. Why are you asking for more money? You get paid just fine. Or she’s a b*tch. Why is she asking for what she’s worth?’

Tori also uses her book to demystify the art of negotiation. She says:

“Another [false] narrative in negotiating is that you are fighting to the death to get what you want; you’re strapping on your boxing gloves and unsheathing your sword and fighting your boss or potential boss to the death in order to make sure you’re paid. And the truth is that negotiations are collaborations, not conflicts. You and your potential boss are not on opposing teams. You’re the same team trying to solve the problem of you not being compensated fairly.”

Dunlap also explains being transparent with others about money, especially for women, is imperative in negotiation, and has especially impacted her own career as a speaker:

Tiffany Aliche (The Budgetnista) is a friend of mine, who also has a book and we have exchanged numbers. I know exactly what her [book] advance was. I know what her general speaking rate is. She knows mine. Tanya Rapley (My Fab Finance) is another one where I can message her and be like, ‘Hey, so I saw you worked with X Company last year. They’re offering me [this] and she’s like, oh, no, ask for 20% more.’ We literally have those conversations and that’s how we start changing things because men are talking about money. Men are having conversations about money on the golf course, they’re having conversations [about] how much money you’re bringing in, what my bonus was, how much stocks are performing.”

She also addresses the sexist undertone most financial advice for women have when they blame them for frivolous spending on lattes, manicures, handbags and cosmetics:

“If I showed up to a job interview without makeup or without my nails done, I would then be deemed unprofessional. Of course, for black women, this is even worse [with] the expectation of what their hair should look like. The very thing that you’re shaming us for on your financial blog is the thing that you expect of women in certain spaces.”

She points out the irony that men are not expected to make the same sacrifices to be financially savvy:

“It’s not ‘You can’t buy a house because you purchased NFL season tickets.’ It’s ‘You bought a latte, which is seemingly this, frothy, feminine thing.’ And I’m not saying don’t buy NFL seasons a ticket. I’m just saying, the gendered language is so specific, like manicures, purses, you buy designer purses and that’s why you’re not rich.”

Dunlap knows that although her book will be under the umbrella of “personal finance,” she sees the advice as a source of improving every aspect of women’s lives:

“Yes, it’s a personal finance book; it will live next to Dave Ramsey on these shelves, but there has yet to be a person in the mainstream, especially a millennial or somebody who’s younger, who has managed to talk about money in a self-development way. I think about like the Oprah gauntlet, you like have all of your Oprah experts, you have a dating [expert], and then a health [expert], and then parenting, wellness… You have yet to find somebody who’s also talking about money as this is how you get the rest of it– you want to have kids, you need money, you wanna take a vacation, you need money, you wanna go to therapy, unfortunately, typically you need money. I think that beyond just a personal finance book, I think every single woman needs this, not just getting more money, [but] in order to better navigate her life.”

As a first time author, Dunlap is thrilled to make this childhood dream come true, and reflected on her journey:

“I’m recording this [interview] from my childhood bedroom because I’m home for Thanksgiving. So when I think about it – my parents are in the same house I grew up in and I sit here even just you asking that question and I can see a seven-year-old me in the corner. And then I got the opportunity to do it. [It’s really validating for] all of my hard work and our team’s hard work. And there’s so much in this book that I know women need and that I wish, early twenties, late teens me could have read.

I think the book will turn into the biggest way [I can] impact people. You do it to fulfill your own dream of, becoming an author, but [also] to give this information in a really accessible way, $22 or free at your local library. This [book] will hopefully change a lot of people’s lives. And I start and end the book with the quote, ‘When you have all you need, build a longer table, not a higher fence.’

And though Tori Dunlap has achieved financial independence, built a thriving business and helped millions of people gain financial literacy all well before the age of 30, when asked about her future, what truly matters to her is beyond the number in her bank account:

“I hope I’m happy, I hope I’m contributing good to the world and I hope that the people around me, my friends and family say that she was kind and caring and fun to be around before they talk about my business success. Complimenting me on my output is flattering, but complimenting me on the person I am, which has taken a lot more work, is something that is way more validating.”

When asked about her legacy, she responded:

“I’m 28, I’m still pretty young, I’ve got hopefully a lot of life ahead. The interesting thing that I have struggled with personally is that the compliment I get from a lot of people is, you are so successful. I’ve struggled with that compliment because that is applauding my output, not who I am as a person.

I hope to change millions and millions and millions of women’s lives and we’ve already changed a couple million! I hope to grow a huge business where I can employ people and I can donate a lot of money. But also, I don’t want my tombstone to read ‘Tori Dunlap mega, super successful.’”

When talking to the vivacious and thoughtful Tori Dunlap, it is clear that her life and her work with finance is more about allyship, and service than it is about money itself. Money, for Tori, is a tool of empowerment, and it is clear she wishes to see all women and those of marginalized identities free of systemic barriers. Though she has already made enough to retire, Tori’s drive seems to be towards seeking a life “a life she loves” over simply green paper or public validation, and to see others given the tools to earn and exist unencumbered; free too, to live their most fulfilling lives. Her dream is coming to fruition with every TikTok, podcast, and copy of her game-changing book sold!

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