Vivian Tu Wants You To Stop Feeling Guilty for Wanting to Get Rich

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Vivian Tu Talks Money Guilt and Nepo BabiesHeidi Gutman


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Ask any thrifty adult what they needed years ago (besides a rent-controlled apartment and an out-of-nowhere windfall inheritance, hah) and most will probably say the same thing: someone to just teach them how to handle their dang money. And I'm not talking about latte-shaming podcasters—I mean a real insider, willing to crack open the proverbial door and pass along the tips and tricks that most rich people are utilizing on the reg. Nowadays, all you have to do is talk to anyone with a TikTok account and they'll tell you that their door-opener of choice is Vivian Tu, the former Wall Street trader turned #FinTok creator (aka Your Rich BFF).

I sat down with Vivian ahead of the release of her first book, Rich AF: The Winning Money Mindset That Will Change Your Life, which delves into how to think like a rich person, get fees waived, pick the best bank accounts, and do the hard math to figure out how much it *actually* costs to manifest your dream life—all in one handy guide.

As soon as we hopped on our call, Vivian and I dove straight into everything from ethical wealth and living a “soft life" to what exactly you should do if you win the Powerball—the sort of insider info that feels like it should've been spilled over mimosas and truffle fries. Talking to Vivian is like sitting down at boozy brunch with that one friend who really knows her stuff and always, always shares the wealth (pun intended!)—so let's just say that it gets real juicy real quick, below.

Psssst: Cosmo got access to an exclusive excerpt of Rich AF where Vivian recounts an expensive 25th birthday trip to the emergency room that you can check out here, and don’t forget to grab your own copy of 'Rich AF: The Winning Money Mindset That Will Change Your Life'!

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Heidi Gutman

Vivian! Your book came out in December! I had the chance to read an advance copy and it really feels like this is like your “stick it to the man” moment. Do you have anything to say to the people who said you’d never succeed in the financial world?

If you read my dedication, I call this book my love letter to anyone who's ever felt left behind by the financial system. I want people to be able to pick this up and, for the first time, not feel judged or shamed. This book is a big ol’ “eff you” to my old boss who wasn't nice to me, didn't like me for being a woman, didn't like me for being Asian, didn't like me for all these things that I couldn't control. It feels like a very big act of rebellion. I hope that anybody who reads it feels like I adequately addressed the injustice of the financial system and gets that this book is saying the system is not fair, but you can still use it to your advantage and win.

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I loved one of your chapters is titled, “I Wasn't Born Rich, But my Kids Will Be.” That’s a weighty statement. Because everyone wants to be rich, right? But how do you handle that in a world where it can be frustrating to see peers (or not-so-moral people that I won’t name) benefitting from generational wealth?

People love to talk about generational wealth and acquiring it, but oftentimes can be frustrated when they see it in use. In modern society where the non-nepo babies are oftentimes struggling, it can feel a bit out of touch to see people not have to work hard because their great-great-great grandfather reached massive financial success.

But what I'm trying to make clear in my book is that it's not wrong to want money. It's not wrong to want generational wealth. It's not wrong to want to help put your kid through college or help buy their first car. There's a privilege in being rich, and once you do hit that level of financial stability and comfort, the point is to help bring up people in your community with you. Inject that money back into the pockets of people of color, of women, of the LGBTQ community, of immigrants, of low-income people. Get rich and know what you can and should be doing with that money.

As a first-generation Asian American, what’s been your experience talking to your parents about wealth? I know there can be a sentiment among immigrant parents that hardship is what helps you become responsible and/or successful.

I come from parents who told me they walked uphill both ways in the snow without shoes to get to school. But I think it's okay to want your kids to have a soft life and it's okay to want a soft life for yourself! Not everything has to be a battle! When you have faced adversity at every single turn in your life, you start to feel like that's normal and healthy. It's not. You should not constantly be in fight or flight.

When I make content that’s like, “Here's how you can help your kid have a high credit score before they turn 18,” a lot of comments are like, “Well, I had to build my own credit score.” Isn't the whole point that you want better for the person that you are, in theory, loving the most out of everyone on this entire planet? It’s important for your kid to be able to overcome adversity, but it’s also okay to want them to have it easier than we did.

How can you position yourself for financial success even if you didn’t grow up with parents who knew how to set you up with the best credit score? Like, how can Cosmo readers use what they're currently working with to ensure they can chillax later?

Some people want to retire at 30 so they choose to live in an Airstream. Other people want to own three vacation homes and send their kids to Harvard so they don’t mind working for a little bit longer. Those two people have very different happily ever afters.

Once you identify what your specific goals are, it's about maximizing your income as much as possible. We talked so much about cutting out every little discretionary purchase that brings you an ounce of joy. But it is so much more important to earn because it's a lot easier to get a $5,000 raise than cut out $5,000 of expenses out of your life.

Also, investing early and often so that you can take advantage of time instead of trying to pick the perfect investment. There is a slow and steady way to grow your wealth and it's not cherry-picking meme stocks, it's by being a responsible investor who invests in a diversified portfolio that is appropriate for your risk tolerance. And I walk through all of this in my book.

What is Your Rich BFF's happily ever after? What does your dream future life look like? Paint the picture for us!

I have a beautiful town home near the West Side highway so I can go for a little jog every day. I probably have a vacation home. I probably have one or two kids and I help put them through school for whatever they want to major in. My parents offered doctor, lawyer, or engineer. I want my kid to be able to be an art history major if they want to. I have a lazy old slobbery English bulldog named Pickles. And I get to travel at any point, but I still get to work with philanthropic causes that empower the teaching of personal finance in low income communities and communities of color.

I love that life for you and Pickles! Dreaming up your happily ever after is such fun, practical tool. Any other tips on how to apply an abundance mindset to your financial situation especially if you’re not quite working with an abundance just yet?

Do the hard math behind the life you want to manifest. If I want a certain type of apartment or home, what does the monthly mortgage payment look like? If I want to put my kids through private school in New York City, what does the monthly cost look like? Build out what that costs in a year, and then calculate your F.U. number. It's essentially understanding how much money you need to invest so that the passive income from your investments can pay for all of your expenses.

The number is reminder that you don't need to treat yourself every single day. You can treat yourself once a week, and the rest of your treat money can go towards that larger, future treat. It's not like that money disappears when you tuck it away! That money is still your money, and you're going to be using it to take care of yourself and Pickles in the future.

I feel like that's why people don't like saving. It's like, “If I save, I don't get to spend on myself.” But you're right—saving now is actually spending on your future, happier self.

There are some truly evil, meme-level tropes about millennials and our spending. The avocado toast, the home ownership. If you have a $5 coffee every single day for an entire year, it works out to $1,825. Can you buy a home for $1,825? Not anywhere that I'd want to live. But I do encourage my BFFs to realize is that even though $1,825 isn't buying you a house, you can trim spending that isn’t that important to you and put that additional money towards something you want more. Whatever it is that you can spend your money on that’ll make you happier than a cup of coffee.

People forget that giving up something right now doesn't mean you’re losing that happiness forever. You get it in another form. You are simply using money to craft the life you want.

Okay, pivoting a teeny tiny little bit. A very late congrats on your engagement! I’m sure the wedding planning process has opened your eyes to a whole new world of financial ridiculousness. Any Rich B.F.F. tips for people who have recently gotten engaged?

Pick two or three non-negotiables and then be flexible on the other stuff. One of my non-negotiables was the food. I've attended too many weddings where the food is so bad. I can't choke down one more dry chicken breast. I'm having my wedding in Italy, so we're definitely spending a little bit more on the catering, but guess what? We're not spending on the flowers. I'm getting married in an incredibly beautiful venue. Flowers are a nice touch, but I highly doubt that's the thing that I'm going to remember at the end of the day.

There are also so many cool little wedding hacks. I have a really wonderful planner and I told her I want the most magnificent, magical, extraordinary cake for photos, but it doesn’t take that big of a cake to feed 100-120 people. She suggested we make one of the cake tiers real, and then the others will just be iced plastic rounds. It’ll look enormous, but it's so much less wasteful, and I still get to have a five-tier wedding cake.

Genius. Can we get an exclusive Your Rich B.F.F. wedding menu reveal for Cosmo?!

As soon as people arrive to the wedding venue, we are handing out welcome drinks. Prosecco, lemonades, things like that. Then we're having a full aperitivo, so aperol spritzes, a charcuterie and cheese station, passed hor d’oeurves. My favorite is the carbonara egg. I don't know what is wrong with me, but carbonara is like, my favorite flavor. I could drink carbonara sauce.

For the first course, we're doing a little seafood shout-out because we're right on the lake with a little thinly-shaved squid tagliatelle and a vegetarian option. For mains we have a fish option, a steak option, and an amazing veg option. And then we have a full dessert course with panna cottas and tiramisu and other fun stuff, not to mention the actual cake itself. And then at midnight we have a pizza truck coming. I hope people have to be rolled out of my wedding.

Sounds like it’s going to be the wedding of the century. Alright, are you ready to play a couple rounds of quick-fire questions? I’ll give you a scenario, and you hit us with your best money solution.

Scenario #1: One of your friends or family members is atrociously bad with money. How do you help ‘em along without overstepping?

Be mindful and use “I” statements. Like, "I just opened up a high yield savings account and I'm earning so much in interest. If you want, I'm happy to text you the link. You'll earn so much more interest.” Try positioning it as something that you are already doing and give them a little bit of healthy FOMO. It's a fun way to get your friends to start making those same smart choices without feeling pressure or shame. It’s more like, "I'm doing something cool. You wanna do it with me?"

Scenario #2: You've been dating somebody for awhile and you feel like it's time to have the big talk about money. How do you get the conversation started?

Have these conversations starting on the first date. It’s not, “How much money do you make?” It’s more like, “What's your dream vacation? What job would you have if money didn't matter?” It gives you a sense of somebody's values.

Another good time to talk about money is when you’re moving in together and need to find an equitable split for rent, because sometimes it's not 50/50. Make a night of it by ordering your favorite pizza, getting a giant 2-liter bottle of soda, and going over your finances at home together in a super relaxed setting. When you talk about money in the context of new beginnings that you’re both excited about, it becomes way less icky.

Scenario #3: You're saving as much as possible, but you really can’t make a more noticeable dent in savings without getting a raise. How do you make a game plan to up your income?

Make brag books! All you have to do is basically make a little folder in your Outlook. Anytime somebody from your company is like, “Omg, we couldn't have done this project without you,” forward those emails to that inbox. During review season, you have a laundry list of all the cool stuff you've done all year.

Another thing that I recommend is talking to your manager about a raise six months before you actually want it. Everyone loves to ask for a raise in December, and your boss is like, “Oh, awkward, I already divvied up the budget.” You start setting time aside with your boss in June, my friends. There was a study done that if you do not get a raise every two years over the course of your lifetime, you will make 50% less. I don't know about you, but I can't afford to be making 50% less over my lifetime. And the way to avoid that is to ask for a raise every single year.

Scenario #4: You win the lottery. What do you do?

Reach out to an attorney and an accountant who specialize in estate planning and large windfalls of money. Claim your winnings anonymously. If you can’t, depending on how much you won, I’d consider getting security. Decide how much money you're going to be giving to family and friends. Typically, I would say rule of thumb is 20%. Once you get the money, invest at least half of it into a diversified portfolio of low-risk bonds and index-tracking ETFs. You want to maintain that wealth for generations while still having funds set aside for any life improvements you want to make.

Scenario #5: You've been chasing down your friend on Venmo for months. How do you get your money back?

I may or may not have held people at a dinner table and said, “You can't leave until you Venmo me” because I covered the bill that was over $1000. I don’t wanna be out $900, so it’s just easier to collect while people are still at the table.

But say your roommate is giving you the runaround for weeks and you’ve already used the Venmo reminder button. Go talk to her in person. If she says, “Unfortunately I just can't afford it right now,” work together to figure out a plan to pay you back in installments. Talking to someone in person, reminding them, and being flexible is probably the easiest way to actually get your money back.

One last fun question: You’ve said in previous TikTok videos that getting your lashes done is one of your favorite splurges. What are your other guilty-but-not-guilty pleasures to spend on?

DoorDash, Uber Eats, GrubHub, The gas in my building is currently off due to a corroded pipe so I’ve been ordering a lot of delivery. At first I was like, “This is irresponsible.” But then I realized that time and convenience is worth spending on. I also splurge on traveling. When I took my first vacation with my fiancé, we took planes, trains, and cars just to get to our destination. We took some random bus and didn't speak Italian and almost got lost. Now when we travel, I’ll pay for a direct flight.

And I’ll splurge on anything relating to my sleep. We spend a third of our lifetimes in bed asleep, so if there's anything to spend money on, it's getting the right mattress, sheets, pillowcases, and white noise machines. It's a valuable investment for me.

I love that there are deeper values for every splurge you listed, like buying time back or being in peak rested condition for the work day. It goes to show that you can support deeper priorities in your life with intentional spending, you know?

Yes. 100%. People always ask me, “What is the point of being rich?” Money doesn’t just exist to buy me nice stuff. Money exists to give me optionality, freedom, the ability to walk away from a job and leave a bad boss. I could leave a toxic relationship or buy myself an Uber home at 12 A.M. because I don't feel safe taking the train as an Asian woman in New York City. Money doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Money provides you options, safety, all those intangible things. It’s money well-spent.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

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