‘I’m 27, I Have Made Enough Money To Retire in 2021’

I grew up talking about money with my parents, it was normal for us to have conversations about not overspending on credit cards or how to save and budget.

My parents didn’t grow up with a lot so they wanted to make smart financial decisions to give me the life they didn’t have as kids. I am an only child and my dad set up my first business when I was 9 years old to help me learn how to manage money. I owned vending machines, the kind where you put a quarter in and take out a handful of candy. I owned 15 of those by the time I graduated high school and all the profits went to my college fund, so I was saving for college before I was ten years old.

But I never wanted for anything as a child. We took at least one big family vacation a year and travelled all around the U.S. We even visited Europe when I was 13. My family was frugal in certain ways so that we could spend money on the experiences we wanted to have.

I went on to work during my senior year of high school and when I went to college, I had one job in freshman year and three jobs by the time I was a sophomore. I also earned merit scholarships and worked every summer when I was home from college. But I fully acknowledge that it was a privilege to have parents who were able to financially contribute as well.

But they didn’t just hand me a check, it was a collaboration. We sat down before every semester; my parents would tell how much they could contribute and ask what I would contribute. I think I was paying anywhere from $18,000-$22,000 a year for college, but the cost before scholarships would have been around $50,000 a year. I also had to take on more work during college in order to graduate debt free. I almost didn’t make it.

I graduated in May 2016 at the age of 21 and I got my first job in July the same year. It was a 9-to-5 corporate job, but I was also doing some freelance work on the side. Around that time, I read a blog story about a woman who had achieved a net worth of $100,000 by the age of 25. I started looking at what I would need to earn, save and invest in order to save or “nest” $100,000 at 25. My joke was always that if I could do it the day before I turned 26, it still counted. I was 25 years and three months old when I hit my goal. I still think that’s amazing.

I’m the first to say that hitting that first $100,000 would have been harder if I had had student debt. I graduated debt free, by 2019, I was saving 27 percent of my take home salary. Some of my savings also went into investments.

My first job out of school had a salary of $55,000 a year. And though I had a job for three months that paid $80,000 a year, it ended up being super toxic and I had to quit. My next job had a salary of $70,000 and after a year I got a bump to $77,000 but, of course, that was all pre-tax.

I started by saving 10 percent of my salary and incrementally increased it to 27 percent. I also automated my savings through my payroll platform, but I could have done that through my bank. To begin with, I was renting a room in a house and paying $750 a month in rent, then I moved into the apartment I have been in for the past four summers. The apartment was $1,400 a month initially and I was paying bills on top so spending about $1,500 a month.

Any money I had left over after savings, rent, expenses and groceries, I could spend on what I wanted. I loved my life and had fun, but I became really clear about what I wanted to spend my money on. It was mindful spending. I considered which purchases brought me the most joy rather than spending my money everywhere. I had three categories, which I call the “three value categories” that I spent this leftover money on. For me, these were travel, eating out, and plants. I have around 55 plants now!

Tori Dunlap was able to accumulate $100,000 in savings and investments at the age of 25. She has now made enough money to retire in 2021, at the age of 27.
Tori Dunlap

The $100,000 figure I reached consisted of every dollar I had saved or invested; my emergency fund, retirement accounts and my general brokerage or investment accounts. I don’t own a house and I didn’t count my car. The figure wasn’t made up of assets.

I actually use an app that allows me to see all my accounts in one place and when I reached $92,000, I got to a point where I was checking it obsessively.

One day in mid-September 2019, I was in my apartment after a workout and I took a look. There was the $100,000 figure. I left on a holiday with my best friend to southern Italy shortly afterwards and when I got back, I quit my job after three weeks to run the business I had been cultivating on the side, Her First 100k. I wasn’t intending on spending the $100,000, but the knowledge it was there and the security it offered allowed me to quit. I had wanted to be my own boss for a while and the money was the permission slip to do it.

The figure isn’t $100,000 any more. The big change has been that my business skyrocketed. I built an online business I can run from anywhere, which keeps overheads low. We had a really good year in 2020 and we’ve had a blockbuster year so far in 2021. In March 2020, we had about 30,000 followers across all our platforms and now we have 2 million. We launched a podcast and it hit a million downloads within two months. I now have a team of nine people, and it’s soon to be ten.

I just turned 27 in July and I have hit the financial independence number I was trying to save for. The way I reached this number was by taking the amount of money I am spending, or anticipate I will spend each year, and multiplying it by 25. For example, if you spend $30,000 a year, experts say you multiply that by 25 in order to be comfortable in retirement, with the idea that you will withdraw 4 percent each year from your savings and investments to maintain life throughout your chosen period of retirement. I’m not currently spending the annual number I assigned, I’m giving myself leeway with a higher number, knowing that I might have children or a more expensive lifestyle. I could retire next month, but I’m not going to. I expect when I eventually retire it will be with a figure like $12 million, but I’m not there yet.

I’m making more money than I ever have before, but I am also helping other people, and women in particular, to make money. We will be a team of 11 by the end of the year, including myself, and most employees are women under the age of 23. I am paying good money considering their experience, because I value these people and want them to have a good financial foundation.

Right now, I am packing up my apartment so I can become a digital nomad. I’m travelling to Europe and then Dubai in January 2022. That’s my next big life step. I’ve wanted to do it for a while and I have enough money now that I can be a little more flexible, so I’m putting my belongings in storage and fostering my plants with friends.

I think I am living proof that when you have money you have choices. I want to show people, especially women, that when you have money, you get to leave the toxic situations you don’t want to be in. I used to joke that I get messages from people we have helped every day, but we get messages every 10 minutes now and people say things like, “I was able to leave my abusive husband because I have enough in savings to support myself” or “I negotiated $30,000 more in my salary.” That is incredible. We now have this community of 2 million people who are learning how to save money and invest.

I am doing what I believe I was put on this earth to do: fight for women’s financial rights and give them resources.

Tori Dunlap is the founder and CEO of Her First 100k and soon-to-be digital nomad. You can find out more at herfirst100k.com or follow Tori on Instagram @herfirst100k.

All views expressed in this article are the author’s own.

As told to Jenny Haward.