In our Asking for a Friend series, we talk to women about how they’re hitting their money goals and what you can learn from their experience to make smart money choices with your own wallet.
In 2016, Tori Dunlap was inspired by an article about a person who built a net worth of $100,000 by age 25. She decided to make that her goal, too. And less than four years later, just three months after her 25th birthday, she hit it. Since then, she founded the company Her First $100K, a community of more than a million "financial feminists." Because she believes that women won’t have true equality without financial equality. Today, she offers free courses and tools to help women fight the patriarchy by taking control of their own money and building wealth.
Here’s what Tori told us about how she got her start, setbacks she faced along the way, and what she wants women to know about financial education.
What first sparked your interest in personal finance?
My dad is a salesman, and my mom a homemaker. I saw my dad negotiate our cable bill every other month. And my mom balances the checkbook on the 13th and the 21st. They constantly taught me if you can’t afford something, don’t buy it, aka how to save and how to use a credit card responsibly. As I grew older, my dad taught me how to invest and navigate the stock market.
How'd your financial picture look when you first set out to save $100,000?
I’m the first to acknowledge that my $100,000 goal wouldn’t have happened as soon as it did if I'd had student loans. I worked three jobs in college, got tens of thousands of dollars in scholarships, and also had some contributions from my parents. My biggest financial obligation was a car loan that I’ve since paid off.
At the time, I was working a 9-to-5 in marketing and never made more than $80,000 per year. My first job out of college was $55,000. In addition to my first full-time job, I also took a six-month freelance job in social media marketing – an additional 15 hours of work per week.
What was your overall plan for hitting your goal?
[I boosted my income and savings in three ways…]
A side hustle: My first year of freelance social media marketing made me quite a bit of cash that I could immediately save. I was also able to establish both a SEP IRA and a fully-funded emergency fund with my earnings.
Investing: I wanted to start investing early to have my money work for me. Once I started my first big-girl job, I opened my first Roth IRA. Starting to save for retirement at age 22, I was able to max out my Roth each year and also contribute to the SEP IRA and a non-retirement investment account.
Negotiating: Negotiation was always part of my life. I grew up with parents who knew how to do it [and I watched and learned]. So, when I was offered my first social media freelance gig, I negotiated for $10,000 more than they offered. And after achieving a 20% bump at my first 9-to-5, I negotiated $20,000 more than what was offered at my next job. And $10,000 more at the next job.
How do you approach negotiating?
A few tips:
Come prepared with market research.
Be able to articulate the ways in which you’ve gone above and beyond. And know the values that make you deserving of a raise, the ways in which you’re indispensable to your company.
Be confident in your ask! I now work as a negotiation coach and can assure you that negotiating is less scary than you think. I also have a free workshop.
How did you alter your regular budget and spending habits to reach $100,000?
I used the budgeting method I teach in my workshops called the 3-Bucket Budget, which hinges on automating your savings first and balancing saving and spending.
Curbing emotional spending was another huge factor. Money is psychological, and so many of our purchases happen because we’re feeling a certain emotion. By checking yourself before you buy something, you can determine if this is a mindful purchase or not...You’re able to make your money work for you and ensure that you’re spending your hard-earned money on things that bring you joy…Mine are travel, eating out, and plant babies.
How did you handle any setbacks?
I took a job in late 2017 that ended up being toxic, so I quit after 10 weeks without another job lined up. Then, I spent three months unemployed – not saving additional money and spending the emergency fund I had. This was the biggest moment when I thought I might not be able to hit my goal. But my experience is one of the biggest reasons I advocate for an emergency fund and financial freedom. I was able to leave a situation I no longer wanted to be in because I had emergency savings.
How were you able to maximize your savings?
Automating your money not only makes your life easier, but it makes you feel like the percentage you’re saving just doesn’t exist. Set up an automated transfer from your checking to your savings account. This savings account is purposefully at a different bank than my day-to-day checking account, so I’m less likely to withdraw from it and less likely to think about it.
What made you want to share your financial knowledge?
Having a financial education from my parents, I thought everyone knew how to manage their money. During and after college, I realized that my financial background was a privilege – and with that privilege came responsibility.
Having a financial education is our best form of protest, and so I founded Her First $100K. It is my mission to fight the patriarchy through financial education. Without a financial education, financial freedom can never be attained. And without financial freedom and economic equality, women will always lack true equality.
What do you say to women who feel like they don’t know where to start?
I get it; it’s scary. The first step is to understand the basics. Understand what your options are and what they mean. Once you feel like you have a basic 101 understanding, just start! Even if you’re just starting with a small contribution per month, the earlier you get started the longer compound interest can work for you.
What’s your next money goal?
Growing Her First $100K to a seven-figure-business this year and becoming a millionaire by age 27. And yes, [they're] definitely in reach.
Meet Tori Dunlap. Soon after turning 25, she hit her personal goal of saving $100,000 by working a side hustle, investing, and always negotiating for more. And has made it her mission to help others. Taking a page out of her book and following her strategy can help you reach your own money goals in your own time.
Pssst: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Asking for a Friend highlights one woman's story. They do not necessarily reflect theSkimm's point of view. Do you know someone with an interesting finance story? Want to share your own? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Subscribe to Skimm Money
Your source for the biggest financial headlines and trends, and how they affect your wallet.