Straight out of college in 2016, Tori Dunlap (whom you may already follow on TikTok and who is also a spokesperson for Coupons.com) set herself an epic financial goal: To save $100,000 by the time she turned 25 years old. Based in Seattle, she had a few things that gave her an advantage—a job in digital marketing (with a $55,000 salary) and the privilege of graduating from college with zero debt (more on that later). But the rest came down to a commitment to both her goal and her blossoming side hustle—now a full-blown business—called Her First $100K. Here, her strategy from start to finish, plus the savings advice she picked up along the way.
How she targeted $100,000 in the first place. “I actually read an article about a 25-year-old with a net worth of $100,000. I hadn’t really thought about setting a goal like that, so I decided to try it. The joke was that as long as I did it by the day before I turned 26, it still counted. But I was able to achieve it at 25 years and three months.”
Her cost of living wasn’t cheap and she had zero debt. “I live in Seattle, Washington and my rent at 22 was $1,300 a month for a one-bedroom apartment. I get asked all the time: ‘Oh, you were living with your parents.’ Nope. ‘Oh, your parents were paying for something.’ Nope. I was entirely on my own except for the first three months when I commuted in from my parents’ house. As for debt, I did have a car loan, but my interest rate was less than 2 percent. 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.”
Her side hustle gave her a boost. “I made $55,000 pre-tax at my first job right out of college. The most I made was $77,000 pre-tax. But part of my $100,000 journey was setting up ‘Her First $100K’ where I earned money by training others on how to be better with their cash. That meant that I was not only able to save a percentage of my 9 to 5 income, but anything I made after taxes and expenses from my side hustle went immediately into a savings or investment account. Of course, those side hustle earnings fluctuated. One year, I did really well and then one year I didn’t make any money at all. But I hit $100,000 via assets in my emergency fund, my Roth IRA (which I maxed out the contribution to every year), my SEP IRA (self-employed IRA) and a non-retirement brokerage account.”
The two steps that helped her get a running start. “There are a lot of components to hitting $100,000 and I’m the first to acknowledge that some of it is privilege. 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. 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. I also automated my savings right from the outset. By the end, I was saving 27 percent of my take-home pay without even thinking about it. I worked up to that percentage over time, but 27 percent ended up being the sweet spot where I didn’t feel like I was completely depriving myself, but was also saving a good amount of my income.”
There was a moment where she almost gave up. “On the path to my goal, I spent three months unemployed. I ended up taking a toxic job after negotiating $20,000 more than what they wanted to pay me only to realize, ‘Oh no, they paid me more because they needed to fill this role.’ It was a very tumultuous time where I cried myself to sleep most nights. In January 2018, I quit without anything else lined up. That meant for three months not only was I not saving money, I was spending the money I had saved because I wasn’t making any money. This was the moment when I was like, ‘Well, if I get to $50,000 or $60,000 saved, that’s still great.’ But then I got a job I really liked and re-branded my business and everything just took off. I had a really great year for my side hustle in 2019 and that’s what pushed me over the edge.”
She got creative with her social life. “This is going to sound ridiculous, but my parents were so frugal growing up, I had to learn how to spend money after college. In the early days, I brought my lunch to work every single day. If I went out to eat, it was once a month. I also came up with something I call ‘value categories,’ which helped me define the things that were really important to spend my money on. Eating out in a big city with a lot of really good food and travel were top of the list. But I discovered I really don’t care about makeup or clothes or coffee. So, I found ways to do the things I love in a smart way. With travel, for example, I only went in the off-season and with my best friend, so that we could split the cost. There are ways to do the things you love while saving. Automating my savings was a huge part of that—I paid myself first. There were times where I was like, I can’t spend money on this because it means I get to spend money somewhere else, but I don’t think I deprived myself. There was never a time where I thought, ‘Man, I’m completely missing out.’”
In the end, it all comes down to an actionable goal. “I have a client right now who is trying to save $10,000 by the end of this year for a down payment. We took that number and divided it by 12 to make the steps to get there more bite-size. I did that with my first $100,000. It’s less intimidating. But you also have to set a plan to track your progress. Financial self-care and a commitment to a money date so you follow your progress was the key. 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.”