The Leap Q&A with Rachel Renock and Tori Dunlap, founder of Her First $100K.

The Leap: Building financial freedom with Her First $100K founder Tori Dunlap

Welcome to The Leap! For this IG Live series, Wethos CEO Rachel Renock sits down with entrepreneurs who took the leap toward working independently or starting their own project.

In this episode, Rachel sat down with Tori Dunlap, founder of Her First $100K, host of the Financial Feminist podcast, and author of the upcoming book, Financial Feminist. After saving $100K at the age of 25, Tori quit her corporate job in marketing and started her personal finance company whose mission is to fight financial inequality for women and underserved groups. Tori’s helped over 3 million women negotiate salaries, pay off debt, and build savings, and is a globally-recognized money and career expert who has been featured in Forbes, Good Morning America, The Today Show, and more. 

Watch the full interview here or read the highlights of the conversation to learn more about Tori’s journey to financial freedom, what women and other marginalized groups are doing right on their financial journeys, and how (and why) to talk about money more often. 

Note: The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Rachel Renock: Tori, thank you so much for joining us today. I’d love to hear a little more about your own journey to independence and how that’s evolved over time. 

Tori Dunlap: I was lucky enough to have parents who educated me about money, who taught me not to overspend on credit cards, and who taught me how to save money. I thought that was the case for everybody — I thought, okay, everybody knows how to manage their money. When I graduated college, I realized that wasn’t the case, and that I was the friend that all my friends were coming to for advice and guidance. 

The other funny part about the financial equation for me is that I graduated college in May of 2016 and Donald Trump got elected not soon after that. So I was trying to figure out how to come into adulthood and really into womanhood in a very different country than I think all of us expected and started researching and realizing in my own life that we don’t have any sort of equality until we have financial equality. If we get more money into more women’s hands, the entire world starts to change.  

I was running the social media for a company during my nine to five, and then I was growing Her First $100K on the side. I hit my $100K goal in 2019 and went to Europe to celebrate.

I got the call for Good Morning America when I was abroad, I did an interview, and quit my job three weeks later. And the rest has been crazy since then. We have a podcast called Financial Feminist, a book called Financial Feminist, and we have a community now of almost 4 million people. It’s just been absolutely crazy as we fight the patriarchy by getting people rich.

RR: When it comes to women on their financial journey, we tend to ask a lot about what we’re doing wrong. So I wanted to ask you, what do you think women are doing right when it comes to their financial journey? 

TD: I love this question. There are actually so many statistics and so much data that show that when women are managing their money, we manage it better than men. We are more successful in building wealth, and through investing, in particular. We are less likely to invest than men, but when women do start investing, we outperform. Women are better investors than men. 

I think women are both conditioned and expected to be very altruistic, which, unfortunately, I think a lot of groups weaponize. But it provides us a really beautiful opportunity to change the systems that exist, to change our communities, and to use money as a tool and a resource to better our own lives and to better other people’s lives. And I think that generosity is huge. 

I also think when women become business owners, there is so much empathy that happens. Again, we know from statistics that women run better businesses than men. They’re more profitable, they sustain themselves for longer, and people who work there are happier. When women have money, they have options.

RR: It sounds like a lot of the challenges that women face are systemic. There are circumstances that are just out of our control. How do you navigate a system that’s built to work against you versus focusing on what an individual is specifically doing wrong themselves?

DM: If you are a member of any marginalized group — if you’re a woman, if you’re a person of color, if you’re queer, if you are disabled — you exist in a society that was built by and for cis-gendered straight white men. And we’re expected to navigate that society. 

So for me, financial feminism, as we define it in the book and on the podcast, is all about oxygen masks. You gotta put your own oxygen mask on first, and then when you’re taken care of, you get to help others. You get to make sure that everybody has the opportunity to have an oxygen mask in the first place. But you can only do that if you have oxygen and if you’re able to breathe. 

I say in the book that I don’t want to win capitalism because that means I’ve probably exploited somebody. If I’m a billionaire, I probably exploited somebody. But I don’t want to lose capitalism either because that means deep suffering to myself and to my family, and my community. Unless you choose to opt-out and you pull a Discovery channel show and live off the grid in Alaska — which is not realistic for most people — then you have to participate.

The idea is, how do we participate [in capitalism] by doing the least harm, and taking care of ourselves so we can then change the system that exists to make sure everybody’s taken care of? You’re going to do it imperfectly. There is no perfect decision that doesn’t affect anybody under capitalism. The pure version of feminism does not exist under capitalism. It can’t. However, we’re dealing with what we got. I’ve written the book and started the podcast as a survival guide to navigating all of this to the best of your ability to, again, do the least harm.

RR: When a system is working against you in any way, shape, or form, it conditions us to think in a certain way. What do you think is the biggest mindset shift women need to take in order to be successful? 

TD: I love this question because it’s why I spend literally every half of every chapter in my book talking about all of the narratives or preconceived notions that we have believed or that have been perpetuated. I’ll give you a few that everybody has heard.

One, talking about money is taboo. Talking about money is impolite and you shouldn’t do it. We are statistically more likely to have any other uncomfortable conversation before we’ll talk about money, and that includes death, sex, politics, religion, anything.

And my not-so-conspiracy theory is that that narrative is perpetuated to keep us underpaid and overworked because if we don’t talk about money, we have no idea what’s going on. 

The second narrative is that the pursuit of wealth is wrong or immoral. A stack of government-issued paper has no moral value. It’s a stack of paper. But what you do with that stack of paper has the opportunity to either, again, change society in a great way or a not-so-great way. There are plenty of people who are using money in really corrupt, evil ways. And there are plenty of people who are using money as a tool to build lives that they love and to create communities that they want to see.

So pursuing wealth is not wrong, yet we condition women, or any marginalized group, to not pursue wealth because they’re greedy. It’s evil, but that keeps you underpaid and overworked. 

A third narrative is that, if you are not rich it’s because you don’t work hard enough. And, of course, that’s not true. It’s systemic oppression. [The system] is the reason why you’re not able to get ahead, not necessarily your own hard work or your own lack of hard work. There are so many narratives…that investing is intimidating; that if you have debt, you’re a bad person; that in order to save money, you need to halt all of your spending, or that you can’t spend money *and* also save money.

And we talk about this in every single chapter of my book. The first half is like, what are these narratives? Why are they bullshit? And what can we do about them? Money is emotional. It’s psychological. And so many of these narratives are actively holding us back from pursuing wealth just because we’ve been conditioned to believe them.

RR: A large part of our product is pricing data, which we share through our free scope of work templates. We publish this community-backed data because when we don’t talk about how much money we’re making or how much money clients are paying, it’s a race to the bottom. But it’s hard to talk about money, it’s taboo. What has been something you’ve seen people do to dispel some of those narratives you’ve mentioned?

TD: I think when you’re trying to have any uncomfortable conversation, leading with vulnerability is huge. If you want to have a relationship with your partner, with your friends, with your family, with your coworkers, where you talk about money, you have to offer some sort of vulnerable thing.

First is [to offer] the permission that the other person needs to feel vulnerable. So if I’m like, I think I want to start talking about money more in my relationships, then I might try talking to a friend and say something like, “Hey, I’m really struggling with debt and I don’t know how you feel, but I just need somebody to listen for a while.” Or, “I got this promotion at work, do you want to go out and celebrate?” And that is such a simple way that you can start having those conversations. 

Brene Brown is quoted in my book like 62,000 times, and she has this great quote that is like, “shame lives in shadow.” The more we don’t talk about it, the more you feel siloed and alone. So when you do have conversations about anything potentially scary or vulnerable, but especially with money, you are opening yourself up to a beautiful interaction with the other person, and for that other person to feel less alone, just like you will inevitably feel less alone.

RR: There are a lot of people going through layoffs right now, which means there are probably a lot of people going freelance, too. Do you have any advice for folks who are looking to take the leap into starting an independent business?

TD: One, ask “what is your budget?” all of the time. Like, as opposed to giving your rates, ask what the budget is. Because a bunch of people will want to pay you more than you realize, and you don’t want to undercut yourself. Also, a bunch of people will have the audacity to ask for your services and not pay you. 

In terms of like the more touchy, feely, fluffy advice, I would say give yourself so much grace. There were so many things I didn’t know when I started freelancing and started running my own business. If you can, and you have the resources to, get people around you who do know. Follow people and follow companies who can guide you.

Every day — at this point it’s more like every hour — I am challenged with something new. You navigate it to the best of your ability and sometimes you’re gonna f*ck up. So just having grace and understanding for that and then using those moments of failure or error to make a difference in how you show up later.