When Tori Dunlap was just nine years old, her dad bought her a three-slot gumball vending machine — with the expectation that she would turn it into a “business” and pay him back over time.
Little did the young entrepreneur know that this one “really cool gift” would influence her money mindset — and ultimately, her career — as a young adult, when she would go on to launch a financial education platform, Her First $100K.
It took Dunlap two years to buy the $300 machine from her dad. After that, she used her profits to buy more gumball machines, reaching a total of 15 by the time she graduated high school — and she put all profits into her college fund.
“I didn’t invent anything, [it] wasn’t anything new or novel. I didn’t go on Shark Tank, but I was understanding how to manage money,” she told Moneywise in a recent video interview. “I had my first checking account when I was 10. I was writing checks for my product to go in my machine. I was learning what profit and loss meant.”
You don’t have to own a business to benefit from thinking like an entrepreneur — but you do have to be the boss of your lifestyle, career and money choices. Dunlap sat down with Moneywise and shared three ways to be entrepreneurial with your personal finances.
1. Acknowledge what’s outside of your control
In the spirit of her business today — which is all about financial empowerment, specifically for women — Dunlap ended up selling her gumball vending machine business 11 years later. She sold it to another budding entrepreneur, a 10-year-old who also happened to be named Tori.
“I thought everybody knows not to overspend on credit cards and everybody knows how to manage money. Only then did I realize … that financial education was a privilege,” she reflects. “For me, that privilege came with a responsibility to start and grow Her First $100K.”
Being entrepreneurial and building wealth may seem tricky at a time when many Americans are still feeling the sting of 11 interest rate hikes since March 2022 as the Federal Reserve worked to tame rampant inflation.
The country’s collective household debt rose by $16 billion to reach $17.06 trillion in the second quarter of 2023, according to the New York Fed’s quarterly debt report, as people struggle to cope with inflation, elevated interest rates and the high cost of living.
Dunlap says it’s important to understand those systemic socio-economic challenges and keep things in perspective
“A trillion dollar student debt crisis, rising house prices, stagnating minimum wage, lack of paid family leave — all of these issues have a much bigger impact on your money than your day-to-day choices, whether you know how to budget or not,” she explains.
“That’s the first thing I always like to acknowledge. … Give yourself a lot of grace and understand that a lot of these things are outside of our control. Only through systemic change do these things actually get better.”
Instead of dwelling on those big-ticket items, Dunlap says you should focus on the things you have more control over, like your income and career and how you manage your money.
2. Diversify your income
In the same way that businesses seek multiple revenue streams to increase their financial stability and spread out their risk — you should consider diversifying your personal income, according Dunlap.
That doesn’t have to mean taking on a second job or a side hustle, at the cost of your spare time or your mental health. Instead, there are lots of financial tools and accounts you can use to put your money to work and generate passive income.
Dunlap says a good place to start is with a high-yield savings account because you’ll earn a lot more interest on your money and benefit from greater compound interest — when you earn interest on your interest — than you would with a traditional savings or checking account.
“A lot of people don’t think of a savings account as another form of income, but it is — it’s passive income,” Dunlap explains. “If you can put … even a small amount of money in a bank account with a higher interest rate, you can start growing your wealth.
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“Compound interest works regardless of how much money you have, and regardless of your age,” she adds. “It’s what makes debt suck so hard and what makes investing so magical.”
Dunlap says the best way to “build long-term, lasting wealth” is to invest your money — and the earlier you can start doing that, the better. She says tax-friendly investment vehicles like a 401(k) account if your employer offers one, or an individual retirement account (IRA), are great “foundations” for building sustainable wealth.
There are many other accessible ways to invest. For instance, you can invest in individual stocks, or index funds, or even alternative assets like gold or real estate. Whatever investments you choose, Dunlap says it’s important to have the right mindset.
“Investing is not a day-to-day thing,” says Dunlap. “Investing shouldn’t be sexy, it shouldn’t be exciting. It should be stable, consistent and over a long period of time. And so, the focus is not perfection, the focus is not getting a bunch of money overnight, the focus should be consistency.”
3. Be your own hype person at work
The average person will spend at least one-third of their life at work — so why not turn that to your advantage? One way to be entrepreneurial with your finances is to treat your career like a personal business, according to Dunlap.
If you want to be the standout person at work who is always considered for wage raises, promotions or opportunities, you have to “be your own hype person,” she says.
“You are your own business that you’re pitching on Shark Tank,” Dunlap adds. “You are the brand [and you get to determine] how you present yourself, how you execute and what you stand for.
“It’s really important that you acknowledge and showcase to your superiors when you’re doing great work — and if that work is not being acknowledged anymore, or not being rewarded, it’s time to find a new situation.”
Dunlap doesn’t buy into the common narrative that job hopping is bad for your career. In fact, she says switching jobs is “one of the only ways you’re going to be able to get ahead” in the current labor market.
“It’s okay if you’re only staying in jobs for two years in this current landscape,” she says — stressing that you need to take control and be the boss of your career. “If a career situation is no longer working for you, you’re allowed and encouraged to find something different.”
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This article provides information only and should not be construed as advice. It is provided without warranty of any kind.
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