“If I can get more money into more women’s hands, everything starts to change,” she says. “Women can get out of toxic jobs or toxic relationships they don’t want to be in anymore because they have the money to do so. They have the money to start businesses, to have kids or not have kids, get married or not get married, donate to causes they believe in, and support their communities. When we get money into women’s hands, our entire society starts to change.”
So much is out of our control as women—and this is especially true for women of color—due to those aforementioned systemic structures that serve to lock us out of wealth; however, Dunlop does believe there is quite a bit within our control, and it’s those choices she is on a mission to help women recognize, understand, and ultimately make. “My work is to give women actionable resources to feel confident in their money, so they’re not dependent on anybody else to navigate their finances,” she says.
She accomplishes this through her platform, which she started as a side hustle, but it has since grown into her full-time job. (Note: She believes hustle culture is toxic, and only recommends a side hustle if it’s something you feel called to take on.) While you can find an abundance of resources on the site and through her newsletters, she’s sharing some of her best advice below.
How to accumulate wealth in 10 steps
1. Pay yourself first
One of the most important initial steps Dunlap tells people to take is to automate their savings. “That’s going to be really important, because it’s doing what we call in the industry ‘paying yourself first’,” she says. “If you set aside savings on autopilot, and you’re not having to think about it, and you’re not doing that at the end of the month when you don’t have any money anymore, it can allow your money to accumulate without you even realizing it.”
You can set up an automatic transfer from your checking account to your savings account, she says, or there are payroll platforms that will do it for you. “You can say, ‘I want five percent of each paycheck put into this high-yield savings account, and I want the rest in my checking account,” Dunlap advises.
2. Identify your spending values
While Dunlap says a lot of financial experts will tell you that the reason you’re not rich is because you buy too many lattes, she notes that this is not only sexist shaming, but also inaccurate. “The math doesn’t work—that’s not the reason you’re not rich,” she says. “There’s systemic oppression at play, and I don’t want you depriving yourself of a small joy that’s a $4 coffee.”
She doesn’t advise clients to stop spending money. Instead, she advises them to stop spending money on things they don’t care about. And to help clients be more discerning in their spending, she has them identify what she calls their three value categories. “These are the three areas in your life where you want the majority of your discretionary money to go,” she says. “They’re the three areas that bring you the most joy.”
So for example, hers would be travel, eating out, and buying plants. “It’s not like I don’t ever spend money on other things, but the vast majority of my discretionary money is going toward those three areas” she says.
3. Don’t wait to invest
Dunlap sees too many women doing this compared to men—or not investing at all. “We hear about the wage gap all the time, but we’re not talking about the investing gap,” she says. “And we’re not talking about the fact that women live on average seven years longer than men do, so we’re taking less money, it’s growing at a slower rate because we’re not investing, and then we’re expected to live longer on that money.” She offers a foreboding warning, too: “You’re not going to be able to afford to retire if you don’t invest.”
In her experience, the number one reason women wait to invest is fear—fear of getting started, or fear of doing it incorrectly. “The truth is that investing is not that scary,” she says. “The finance bros will tell you differently, but in reality investing is not that intimidating, and it’s our best form of protest as women, to get started investing.”
You can make initial investments, she says, through a work-sponsored retirement program such as a 401k, or by opening up something like an Individual Retirement Account (IRA). “You don’t have to wait until you’re making more money, or until you’re rich, or until you’re older,” she says. “Just get started, even if it’s just $50 a month, because when it comes to investing it’s important to think about time rather than the amount of money, because of compound interest [your interest earns interest].”
On that note, Dunlap says it’s important to keep two things in mind when you’re investing: The first is that, when it comes to investing, she says, there’s no such thing as short-term. “That in and of itself is an oxymoron,” she says. “The definition of ‘invest’ is to put in time, energy, money, blood, sweat, and tears over a period of time.” You’re not, in other words, going to make a short-term killing—nor should that be your goal.
The other thing to keep in mind if you’re new to investing is that even if you watch your investment drop in value on any given day, you haven’t actually lost any money until you sell. “And if we’re in this for the long-term, which we should be, these up and down fluctuations every day or every week or even every month don’t really matter,” she says. For this reason, she only checks in on her investments once or twice a month.
Still unsure if you’re ready to take the plunge into investing? To help women overcome their fear of it, Dunlap is launching an investment education platform and community this summer. “What we’re seeing out there now is a bunch of education platforms, but nothing gets people started and vice versa,” she says. “Ours will actually get women started investing through this non-shaming, non-judgmental education platform.”
4. Keep a money diary
To understand, track, and potentially curb your spending, Dunlap highly recommends keeping a money diary for two weeks to a month. In it, you’ll write down everything you spend your discretionary money on and include the amount of the spend, why you spent it, and how it made you feel. “[Through this exercise], we’re kind of Marie Kondo-ing our money,” she says. “We’re finding the things that bring us the most joy, because what often happens is you’re sitting on Instagram trying to fill an emotional void and you see an ad for something that you don’t need or really want, but you buy it to make yourself feel better. Money is psychological, money is emotional, and we make spending decisions based on our mindsets on that day.”
That said, it’s important not to judge your actions, she says, but more so to observe them from an almost anthropological perspective. “Like, ‘Oh, she bought that pair of shoes she didn’t need or want because she had a shitty day at work,'” says Dunlap.
This exercise will help you see where your money is going, and if where it’s going is actually worthwhile (like toward your three value categories) or just serving as a temporary dopamine hit.
5. Check yourself before you buy something
Another way to curb needless, and ultimately unsatisfactory, spending is to assess whether the thing you want to buy is actually worth the amount of money you’re paying for it. Dunlap means this in two ways: First, assess whether or not the item or experience is overpriced for what you’re getting; second, assess whether or not the item or experience is worth going into debt for, increasing debt for, delaying accumulation of your emergency fund for, etc. “We can afford pretty much anything, we just can’t afford everything—my lovely friend [financial expert] Paula Pant says that,” Dunlap says. (In a similar vein, I like to think of a purchase in terms of the hours I have to work to pay for it. No matter how much you love your job, there are probably a million things you’d rather do than work most days, and when you look at an item in terms of the hours you spent toiling away for it, it usually depreciates your interest in said item fairly quickly.)
6. Move your cash to a high-yield savings account
Dunlap talks about this one a lot, and for good reason. “It’s the easiest switch you can make to better your money,” she says. “Because if we’re saving for an emergency fund, for example, the money’s just gonna sit there—that’s what we want it to do, we want it to be readily available in case of an emergency—so it may as well be working harder for you while it sits there.”
Basically, a high-yield savings account is no different than a regular savings account, except it’s going to offer you 25 to 50 times the interest. “Our average savings account, whether that’s at a local bank or a national bank, is going to offer you 0.01 percent in interest,” she says. “Before the pandemic, high-yield savings accounts were at two and a half percent. Now they’re at half a percent, but that’s still like 50 times more than we get from 0.01,” she says. If you’re interested in opening a high-yield account, Dunlap recommends Chime.
7. Pay off your high-interest debt
For the most part, credit-card debt is extremely expensive, so Dunlap recommends working to pay that down. “If you’re in credit card debt, that is costing you at least 15 percent interest, it’s costing you more money than you could be earning elsewhere,” she says. “Interest rates are so ruthless, and it only continues to accumulate. If you’re paying 20 percent to a credit card company, you’re paying 20 percent on the original amount of money you went into debt for, plus 20 percent on your interest.”
If you have multiple debts, start by paying off the highest-interest-rate debt first, and work your way down from there. “It’s important that you pay off that debt as quickly as possible because it’s going to free up so much of your money to save for other things, or to start investing,” says Dunlap.
8. Don’t stay in a job that doesn’t value you
Women tend to feel as though they need to stay loyal to companies, even if they’re not being properly valued, Dunlap believes. “The truth is, you don’t have to stay,” she says. “And actually, one of the best things you can do for your salary is a bit of job hopping—you have more negotiating power when you first start a job.”
To her, staying in a job that isn’t valuing you is not dissimilar from staying in a relationship in which you are undervalued. “Don’t be afraid to see what else is out there; don’t be afraid to negotiate your salary,” she says.
10. Listen to the “Financial Feminist” podcast
If you want more tips like these, Dunlap suggests tuning in to her new podcast, The Financial Feminist, which is now the number-one business podcast. “We have so many resources on there,” she says. “We talk about how to boost your credit score; we talk about what financial goals you should set and in which order; we break down exactly how to get started investing; and then we also have these deep-dive interviews about the systemic parts of money, like how money affects us differently as women.”
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