Taylor Cohen’s financial habits had landed her in a heap of trouble, pushing her into bankruptcy in 2019. And so she tried something drastic, signing up for a 30-day savings challenge she learned about on Instagram in November 2022.
“I’ve cut out completely spending on dumb stuff for myself and others and started paying myself first,” says Cohen, 32, who has also created a few side gigs for herself, found a way to reduce her rent and sold her car. She saved and invested $30,000 in one year. She has come a long way from the day she declared bankruptcy.
The challenge was marketed by Erika Kullberg, a lawyer and financial influencer who runs the @erikataughtme handle on Instagram. Kullberg is part of a growing number of influencers who are using social media to exclusively talk about personal finance. While some traditional personal finance advisers use confusing jargon, these “finfluencers” use their personal stories to connect with users and inspire them to learn more about personal finance. They repackage recognized financial advice in quick, free, bite-sized pieces of information spoken in an empathetic tone that seems to resonate with a growing population of people.
“The username ‘The Broke Black Girl,’ raised eyebrows for some,” said Dasha Kennedy, another successful finfluencer who was an accountant before she turned to financial activism. “But it was a deliberate choice to be genuine and vulnerable with my community. This was not just a persona.”
Influencer culture has its roots in the early 2000s, but its reach has exploded. According to Pew Research Center, 78 percent of women used at least one social media platform compared with 66 percent of men in 2021.
“It’s natural that people would turn to online personalities for all sorts of guidance [from] grooming [to] financial planning,” says Christine Benz, director of personal finance and retirement planning for Morningstar, a financial services firm. “I don’t think the industry has done itself any favors by making it really complicated [to get] face-to-face advice.”
Financial advice from a certified financial planner could be based on an hourly fee, a flat fee or a combination, according to the CFP Board, an organization that sets the standards for the certified financial planner certification. Depending on the complexity of an individual’s finances, overall fees can range from hundreds of dollars to thousands.
And for women, being ignored or misunderstood by financial advisers has been a common theme in the past. In a 2009 report entitled “The Female Economy” published in the Harvard Business Review, women stated that they experienced “a lack of respect, poor advice, contradictory policies, one-size-fits-all forms, and a seemingly endless tangle of red tape that leaves them exhausted and annoyed” when dealing with the financial services sector.
Delyanne Barros, better known as Delyanne the Money Coach on social media, has heard similar stories today. Women have spoken about financial advisers who talked down to them in meetings, and some have described being ignored while the advisers speak to their husbands even though the women had arranged the appointment.
Many finfluencers try to help their followers by starting at the beginning. Barros posts videos and graphics about investing across many social media platforms. She’s also designed a beginner’s investing course titled “Slay the Stock Market” to explain basic investing terms. Other finfluencers provide templates such as a customizable budget plan that users can download.
Kennedy says that the language of personal finance is tough to navigate. Even though she was an accountant by trade, Kennedy still had a knowledge gap when she was going through her own divorce in 2014. When she founded the Facebook group “the Broke Black Girl,” she had 60,000 members within a year. To date she has more than 391,000 followers spanning Instagram, Facebook and X, formerly Twitter. Her advice is exclusively tailored to systemic issues that Black women face, such as the gender and racial pay gap, and racial discrimination in the workplace and in financial education.
“Investing 101 to [professionals] is not investing 101 to the average person,” says Tori Dunlap, the founder of the financial feminism and money education platform Her First $100K, which has 2.4 million followers on TikTok. People typically need to be reminded that they need to fund the account they just opened, such as a 401(k) offered at their workplace, and choose their investments, Dunlap says.
Last year Dunlap sat on a panel where words like “asset allocation” and “portfolio rebalancing” were tossed around as terms new investors would automatically know. To Dunlap, this was more of an investing 102 chat; in her experience, people usually ask simpler questions such as what account they should open and how to do that.
Barros retooled the phrase “financial independence, retire early,” known as FIRE, to “financial independence, relax early” because many assume that retirement is only about older people. She says that revamping what FIRE stands for is marketing, but she hopes the new phrase inspires her more than 556,000 followers, just as it encouraged her. In 2021, she quit her high-paying job as a labor and employment attorney to be a full-time entrepreneur and she moved to Lisbon in May 2023 – a goal she shared with her followers.
This influencer approach to personal finance advice seems to be working. The roughly 200,000 participants of Kullberg’s savings challenge collectively saved more than $200 million, she says. These four finfluencers receive emails or social media notifications from followers highlighting their wins. They often ask how to budget or track their expenses, invest for retirement, or secure their children’s financial futures. Social media is making conversations about money less taboo.
“I didn’t set out to be on TikTok or make video content, but I did promise myself that when I got out of debt personally, I [would] help others,” says Kullberg who found the task of paying off $200,000 in student loans a lonely experience. She advises that it’s better to “be rich than look rich” to avoid lifestyle inflation, and she advocates for earning income from side hustles. She’s known for telling followers to “read the fine print” and encourages others to look at documents, warranties and tickets to know their eligibility for reimbursements.
Kullberg also adds that social media is the place where people are right now, and that could change in five or 10 years. However, if the social media landscape changes, she says, her mission will stay the same.