Talking money is ‘a form of protest,’ financial expert Tori Dunlap says

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Agents have been getting loud about the commission lawsuits for months. As we celebrate Women’s History Month, I want to advocate that women in our industry need to be the loudest of all about their finances.

Historically, it’s only been since 1974’s Equal Credit Opportunity Act that women have been able to have their own bank account, credit cards, and home. That’s right, a short span of 50 years.

Today in 2024, women in all industries (including ours) still face wage gaps, and challenges with equity in leadership roles. Why is this still a problem?

Women have been conditioned to speak softly about finance, and financial expert Tori Dunlap says it’s time for women to speak up and get loud about building wealth and creating financial security for their futures.

Dunlap is The New York Times No. 1 best-selling author of The Financial Feminist. Through her podcast, Her First 100K, she has helped over 4 million women organize their finances.

Tori Dunlap

I discovered Dunlap’s content a few years ago, and it was wildly and refreshingly different from anything that Dave Ramsey or even Suzie Orman had ever recommended. It was realistic and attainable, and it also called out the most important fact — that being in debt or admitting you are in a financially challenging position doesn’t make you a bad person.

You shouldn’t be punished because you have debt; however, you need education and support.

Women do not need a lecture from someone who never had the circumstances of growing up with student loans, being a single parent, harsh economic conditions and impossible-to-avoid wage gaps.

Dunlap’s perspective is like getting a pair of glasses and finally being able to see a clear picture of why you are struggling so much to make ends meet despite your very best efforts.

Change your mindset about finances

With 1.9 million Instagram followers and a New York Times best-selling book, financial expert Tori Dunlap is educating women about living their best lives with financial security.

In this exclusive Q&A, she shares her best advice for women in real estate at this pivotal moment and why it’s time to start talking about money out loud.

What are some of the challenges women face with their finances?

Women worldwide have to save money to pay off debts or cheat on their personal investments to get ahead. 

Unfortunately, a lot of the conversation has been focused on individual choices. That’s about 20 percent of your personal finance equation, which is what you individually control, and 80 percent is circumstantial. 

What is circumstantial? Just two examples are that we have a trillion-dollar student debt crisis and many minimum-wage families that live in the United States.

All of these issues and more have a lot more impact on how you manage your money or navigate money. So, I’m really focused on not only teaching women how to control what they can control but also how we use money. 

“In this system that has gatekept financial information and tools from marginalized groups, it is an act of protest to be financially independent. It is an act of protest to overcome negative beliefs about money in order to save, pay off debt, invest and find fulfilling work. It is an act of protest to prioritize rest instead of hustle, abundance rather than scarcity, and generosity in place of stockpiling. In a world that actively works to keep us playing small, it is an act of protest to be stable, content and powerful.” ― Tori Dunlap, Financial Feminist

Many women in real estate are feeling stressed to the point of burnout. This is a common theme for women in general. What can we do to combat this? How can women get past financial beliefs that have been ingrained in them?

For women, if you are struggling, it’s not your fault. You’re not doing something wrong. It’s not something you could be doing better, more or harder. It’s just like this: Unfortunately, this is the demand of your time and of your labor.

You can’t be afraid of your money. You have to look, and you have to check in all the time [with your money].

One of the strategies I use both as an individual but also as a business owner is what I call the money dates. This means sitting down and having a designated half-hour to look at your money to review your finances to see where money was going in or out and to start making financial decisions as opposed to just saying, “I’ll check it with the two minutes I have in between meetings,” or “I will look at it later.”

Set aside a designated time at least once a month for you to sit down and figure out: “Where’s the money coming in? Where’s it going out? What do I want to do with it?”

[Thinking that] talking about money is taboo is a narrative.

It’s meant to keep us underpaid and overworked. It’s meant to keep us playing small. We are more likely to talk about any other uncomfortable topic before we talk about money — sex, politics or religion — because when we talk about money, we gain power and community.

We don’t know that somebody else is making two times more than us but has way less experience when we don’t talk about money. We feel ashamed of our debt even though a bunch of other people who are in our friend group also have it.

So talking about money is a form of protest. The easiest thing you can start doing is having financial conversations, and that doesn’t have to be how much did you bring in last year? How much money did you make? It can just be, “Hey I have this financial goal. Are you working toward anything this year, too?”

Or, “I’m really stressed about my student loans,” or “I’m really stressed about everything that’s going on at work right now. Can we talk about it?”

Or, “I just sold this incredible house. I’ve got a huge commission; can we go celebrate?”

That’s a conversation about money.

We have been told our entire lives that wanting money is greedy, and the pursuit of wealth is wrong. I highlight this narrative in my book.

But again, this narrative is meant to keep you playing small. It’s meant to keep you in a box and to keep you controllable when you are not pursuing wealth.

You are not pursuing freedom for yourself but freedom for your family, your community and women in general.

Money is not bad. It is inherently neutral, morally neutral, and has no inherent good or inherent bad. It is a stack of government-issued paper. — Tori Dunlap

Sixty-two percent of Realtors are women who are dealing with being commission-based independent contractors and battling wage gaps, high interest rates and inflation. The median age of Realtors is 60. What do you recommend for the volatility real estate is prone to right now? Where do women get started if they are feeling overwhelmed?

We’re going to make more money some months and less some months, and we have to figure that out. If you do have a month where you know you’re going to be able to sell more, try to plan around those seasons.

That’s the time to start putting reserves in for times when you might not sell as much. So you can begin to predict some trends for you in your business.

It sounds so obvious if you’ve been doing it for a while, but especially for newer folks who don’t know, [it’s] any money you’re getting you haven’t paid taxes on. And this comes to bite you later when it’s tax season. You realize, “Oh, where’s the money going to come [from] to pay for those taxes?”

Any money you [make], about 30 percent of it should be set aside immediately for taxes you don’t touch. You can open a high-yield savings account and start saving there. The money that you’re seeing is not yours. It’s not like a 9-to-5 paycheck, where the money you pay in on your pay stub is the money you actually get.

In terms of more tips for inconsistent income, like I said about seasonality, for example, see if you can save a base amount of money every single month or a base amount of money, and then, if you do get more, cool, add to that pile. And if you don’t have more flexibility that month to add more, that’s great.

When thinking about the future, and how to have conversations with our children about finances, what are some important things for women to relay to the next generation to help create a healthier relationship and education around finances than our generations previously offered?

As much as you can, model good behavior.

One of the things I think my parents were really good about is that there were times where, of course, as a kid, I wanted something, and they’re like, “No, we’re not going to buy that for you.”

But there was always a reason for their no. “We’re going on a family trip together that we really value,” [for example]. And so, they were focused on using money as a tool to build a life that they wanted and create memories for us.

I really learned about value-based spending from my parents, but there were certain things that they weren’t going to spend a lot of money on so that they could spend it somewhere else. That’s a really great thing.

It’s like teaching your daughters what you’re teaching your sons. I would argue that your daughters need it even more because they’re not going to get it as they grow up. We have so many resources on the podcast and in the book about [the point at which] you start teaching them.

If you’re having conversations about money, make sure they’re not shame-based. Make sure they’re not about what we can’t do, but rather how we’re going to use money as a tool.

Final thoughts?

There are plenty of people who have money who are terrible, and there are plenty of people who have money who are great and are doing great things with it.

I would argue the world only gets better when women have more money, so if you feel bad for making money, it’s totally normal, and it’s been conditioned into you.

I would encourage women to probe into that a little bit more. Realize that you having money is having choices and options and freedom, and that’s the feeling I want for every single woman.

Rachael Hite is a former agent, a business development specialist, fair housing advocate, copy editor and is currently perfecting her long game selling homes in a retirement community in Northern Virginia. You can connect with her about life, marketing and business on Instagram.