A 26-year-old woman who saved $100,000 in just three years after graduating from college says she’ll have over $6 million by the time she retires — and she is sharing her financial advice with social media followers.
But while some people might dismiss a 26-year-old’s financial credentials, Dunlap can back her expertise up with cold, hard cash, having saved $100,000 just three months after she turned 25 — without a trust fund or post-college help from her parents.
Dunlap graduated from the University of Portland in 2016 with a degree in theater and organizational communications.
Though 69 per cent of college students who graduated in 2019 took out student loans — with an average debt of $29,900, according to Student Loan Hero — Dunlap was fortunate to leave college with a clean financial slate.
‘I graduated debt-free from college, both because I worked three jobs on campus, got tens of thousands of dollars in merit scholarships, but also because my parents were able to financially contribute a little bit,’ she told PureWow.
‘I’m fully aware that I would not have hit $100,000 so fast had I not graduated debt-free, so that’s part of it.’
That $100,000 goal came about after reading an article about another 25-year-old who’d saved that amount, which inspired Dunlap.
‘I crunched my numbers and was like, Okay, if I hunker down, I think I can do that too,’ she told The Cut.
‘I was raised to be serious about saving money. When you have control of your money, you have the freedom to leave a relationship you don’t want to be in, or quit a job you hate, or donate to causes you believe in. But I also knew it would be tough — I’ve never made a six-figure salary, and I live in an expensive city.’
She did manage to get a $55,000-a-year job in digital marketing after college, and used it to pay for her $1,300-per-month apartment and car loan.
‘I used credit cards, but always paid them off on time and in full so I got the benefits — cash back, points for travel — instead of the more problematic parts,’ she said.
She’s been frugal, too: Immediately after graduating from college, she’d only go out to eat once a month, and wouldn’t spend too much on things like coffee or clothes.
‘If somebody asks me to go do something and it costs more than I’m willing to pay, I just say, “Hey, that’s not in my budget right now.” Or, “Instead, can you come over and I’ll make you dinner?” I do that all the time,’ she said.
She eventually designated three ‘value categories,’ things she was most willing to spend money on because they bring her the most happiness. They include travel, eating out, and nesting.
She also automated her savings from the start, starting small and increasing the amount over time. Eventually, she got to the point of putting away 27 per cent of her take-home pay — an amount that she said is a ‘sweet spot’ where she doesn’t feel deprived but is also saving a lot.
‘Most of my money is in the market,’ she told The Cut. ‘I have a six- to eight-month emergency fund that is liquid, about $12,000. The rest of it is invested, either in a retirement account or a non-retirement brokerage account.’
In one viral TikTok video, Dunlap urged other women to start investing — and not to believe that it’s only for the wealthy.
‘I hear two things about investing all the time,’ she said. ‘One: Investing is just for rich people. It’s not. Two: You have to have a lot of money to get started in investing. Also not true.
‘How do you think you get rich? You start investing. Saving your money is not gonna do it. You have to allow your money to work harder for you by investing in the stock market.
‘And this is our best form of protest as women. Yes, investing, growing our wealth, being able to have financial agency is our best form of protest.
‘The second thing: Time. Time is actually more important than money when you’re investing. So even if you have $50, $100 to get started, it’s more important that you get started now and allow time to work harder for you because of this lovely thing called compound interest.
She said that because she started early, her wealth will grow over time in the next 30 to 40 years, and she expects to have $6 million when she retires.
Though Dunlap started out making a steady income, she has had setbacks. In 2017, she took a new job with an $80,000 salary, but found it so ‘toxic’ that she quit after just ten weeks, without another job lined up.
‘I was unemployed for three months, and I had to live off my savings,’ she said.
Eventually, though, she did find a new job — making $70,000 — and started her side-hustle with Her First $100K, where she began offering career coaching workshops online.
Then, three months after her 25th birthday, she hit her $100,000 goal, with money spread across an emergency fund, a Roth IRA, a SEP IRA, and a non-retirement brokerage account.
‘Financial self-care and a commitment to a money date so you follow your progress was the key,’ she told PureWow. ‘I also kept track of my wins at work so that I could go in and ask for a raise and hopefully get it.
‘Bottom line: You can’t just say, “I’m going to save money! That’s great, but it’s not really a goal. It’s not measurable or specific. The $100,000 goal for me was visual as in, “I want to see that number,” but that number also meant, “I think I get to quit my job.” You have to think about how your life will change.’
She did, ultimately, quit her job altogether, and these days she is running Her First $100k full-time.
She’s also grown a huge following on social media, where she offers financial advice — and also makes some money from partnerships with brands like Credit Karma.
‘When I first started on TikTok, it was tempting for me to think that this young audience wouldn’t be interested in personal finance advice,’ she told BuzzFeed.
‘But I know now that they are going to be the most financially educated generation we’ve ever had — and I think my success on TikTok proves that they’re looking for financial information from someone relatable and who they can trust.’
‘For women, we’re dealing with not only the wage gap, but the investing gap. Compared to men, we’re waiting longer to invest or not investing at all,’ she added.
‘The number one reason women don’t get started is fear, and my account and work is all about giving them actionable advice and guidance so they feel less alone and scared.’
Dunlap recommends others get started with a tax-advantaged retirement account — like a 401k or IRA — build an emergency fund in a high-yield savings account, and invest.
She also suggests people make sure their spending is aligning with their values by writing down how each purchase makes them feel.
SOURCE: Daily Mail, Carly Stern