How a 20-something saved $100,000 in 3 years without ever working a job that paid over $80,000

Courtesy Sarah Wolfe

In 2016, right after college, Tori Dunlap read an article about a woman having a net worth of $100,000 by the time she was 25. Dunlap, then 22, thought to herself, "I might be able to do one better and hit $100,000 saved by the time I'm 25."

"The joke was that as long as I could do it the day before I turned 26, it still counted," she says. "I ended up completing my goal at 25 years and three months."

What started as a "somewhat arbitrary" milestone, Dunlap says, inspired her blog and company, Her First 100K. By sharing her own saving journey, she aimed to inspire other women to set lofty financial goals. Now, she coaches women on how to budget and grow their wealth by investing.

Here's how she reached her own goal.

The strategy: Side hustle, automated saving, and accountability

First, Dunlap says, she recognizes that "privilege was part of my story." She graduated from college with no student debt and says she wouldn't have been able to save as quickly if that wasn't the case.

She focused on saving money from her full-time work as a social media manager. At her first job out of college, when she was making $55,000 and paying $750 in rent, she saved 25% of her income.

Switching jobs a few times allowed her to negotiate higher salaries, but Dunlap never made more than $80,000 before taxes. At the peak of her savings journey, she was putting away 27% of her take-home pay. "Automate your savings," she says. "It was growing my savings without me having to think about it."

Still, the most important part of her strategy was her lucrative side hustle working as a financial coach for all three years. "I probably made around $40,000 from side hustling alone," she says.

She put all those earnings, minus taxes and expenses, into savings and investments.

I probably made around $40,000 from side hustling alone.
Tori Dunlap
Founder of Her First 100K

She prioritized her spending so she only shopped for items that were really important to her. "Those three categories for me are travel, food out, and nesting," she says. "I like buying plants. I like buying throw pillows. But the rest of the stuff, I don't buy often. I'm not a coffee drinker and I don't spend a lot of money on clothes."

Dunlap also invested early, opening a Roth IRA account when she was 21 and maxing it out every year. "I was putting $5,500 or $6,000 every year in a Roth IRA," she says. She also invested in a 401(k) and a SEP IRA.

She also had to cope with challenges and setbacks. At her second job, she negotiated a salary of $80,000 but was only able to enjoy it for 10 weeks. "That job ended up being extremely toxic and I had to quit without another job lined up," she says. "So I actually spent three months unemployed. Not only was I not earning money, I was spending what I had saved. I was spending my emergency fund."

During that time, she had doubts about whether she could meet her goals. But after finding a new job that paid her $70,000, she got back on track. At the beginning of 2019, she had between $65,000 and $70,000.

Tori Dunlap teaching a money workshop.
Courtesy Karya Schanilec

Up until February of 2019, she had only told a few close friends about her plan. Then she officially launched Her First 100K, a brand built around the mission of her saving $100,000 by age 25. This solidified her commitment and also garnered some welcome support.

"When I was vocal about my goal, it helped me get there, not only because it kept me accountable, but because people were so supportive and cheering me on," she says. "My dad called me in the summer of last year, and was like, 'So what if you don't hit it,' and I was like, 'Honestly, I've built a really supportive community and even if I don't hit $100,000, if I hit $80,000, that's still super-impressive."

In September of 2019 she hit her goal and was able to share the news with her friends and supporters.

The celebration: An overseas trip

The day after she announced she had saved $100,000, Dunlap and her best friend flew to Italy for a 10-day trip where they went to a farm and swam off the coast of Capri.

"We called it 'friend moon,' like we went on a honeymoon as best friends," she says. "I call her my platonic soulmate. She is one of my favorite people in the entire world."

The opportunity: Pursue her passion

A few weeks after returning from Italy, Dunlap quit her full-time job as a social media manager and made her side hustle her full-time gig. Now she calls herself a professional "financial feminist and millennial money expert." An audience of 50,000 women use her platform, take her workshops, and pay for her consultations.

She says she hasn't touched the $100,000 she put away and she doesn't plan to. The money feels like a safety net that lets her pursue her real passion of "fighting the patriarchy through financial education."

"Having fun means having freedom," she says. "So having the money and resources to choose the life you want is an absolutely incredible feeling, and that's the feeling I want every woman to be able to have."

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