Vivian Tu Is Emboldening Women to Step Into Their Financial Power

UPDATED: May 16, 2024
PUBLISHED: May 26, 2024
Vivian Tu

The holy trifecta of Barbie, Beyoncé and Taylor Swift showed the world the power of female spending in 2023. But thanks to social media trends like “girl math,” the stereotype still persists that women are shopaholics whose approach to finances is cutesy at best and wildly ineffective at worst. This is why Vivian Tu, New York Times bestselling author of Rich AF: The Winning Money Mindset That Will Change Your Life and CEO and founder of Your Rich BFF, has her work cut out for her when it comes to debunking the false narrative that follows the female population and their financial capabilities.

Here’s how Tu is shattering the glass ceiling and her tips on how to improve our bottom lines.

Vivian Tu: From trader to bestseller… and financial influencer

As the only daughter of two “very frugal, but very loving Chinese parents,” Tu’s ascent to social media stardom followed a very pre-planned path—at first. After graduating from the University of Chicago, she began working as an equities trader at JP Morgan, trading energy, industrial and materials stocks before pivoting to risk arbitrage stocks. 

A few years in, a new boss—who thought Tu was too “girly” for her role—saw her wearing a long cardigan at the office and bowed to her, calling the sweater a kimono.

“There are some work environments where you can climb the corporate ladder, while there are others where you’ll never get a fair shake,” Tu says. 

She began to explore other opportunities and ultimately left JP Morgan for BuzzFeed and its digital media and strategy sales team. Once her new colleagues learned of her financial expertise, they wanted Tu’s help in rebalancing their 401(k) plans and making open enrollment elections. She began publishing the advice she was giving them online and had 100,000 TikTok followers by the end of her first week. Her first video netted 3 million views. Eventually, Tu left BuzzFeed to produce online financial content full-time.

“While I wouldn’t have wished that moment at JP Morgan on anyone, I’m ultimately grateful for it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have left, as it was my dream job,” she says. “But now I can really change lives for the better.”

Stepping into our financial power

Women are often left out of the financial conversation, Tu says, because finance can feel like an intimidating topic and experts in the field are primarily men. That’s on top of cultural touch points like the “girl math” TikTok trend, which Tu believes infantilizes women’s ability, power and agency. “It’s not cute to be bad with money,” she says. 

Turns out, most women aren’t.

“More single women than single men own homes, they have less debt than men across all categories, except for student loans—and according to Fidelity, women clients’ portfolios outperform those of men,” Tu says.

So how can women drive a stake through those shop-’til-you-drop, simple-minded stereotypes and bolster their financial confidence?

“Talk about it more,” Tu recommends. “As a society, we’re more comfortable talking about sex and politics than we are about money. But you need to be talking to your friends about what they make, what they pay in rent, how they afford vacations. It provides you with so much information and allows you to better negotiate and make demands in the workplace.”

Vivian Tu’s financial do’s:

In the spirit of not gatekeeping good financial advice, Tu shares some additional do’s and don’ts:

1. Read one piece of financial news every day 

Do this to make yourself more financially literate. “The more we read about money, the less intimidating it becomes,” Tu says.

2. Use your 9-to-5 to fund your 5-to-9

Turn your side hustle into a full-time venture. Tu set aside $100,000 in cash from her day job before she felt comfortable quitting to pursue her next step. “I had enough money to cover my expenses for a year in case anything happened,” she says. 

3. Be mindful of your feast and famine periods when creating a budget

“A lot of businesses make a large amount of money in the fourth quarter and have a lull in the first quarter,” Tu says. “So a consistent budget might not make sense in that case, and you should plan to spend less and earn less in the first quarter.”

4. Open up a high-yield savings account

“Many people are still using the bank accounts they opened in college, which earn hardly anything (think 46 cents on every $100), whereas a high-yield savings account can provide up to 4.5–5.5% return, helping you to earn 10 times as much in interest,” she says. 

5. Call your credit card company every six to 12 months to ask for a credit limit increase

Credit utilization is a percentage—how much of your credit you’re using divided by how much credit you have. When you increase the denominator (how much credit you have access to) while spending the same amount, you’re helping yourself achieve a better credit score.

6. Use the avalanche method to pay down debt

First, make the minimum payment across all your debt. Then, put all additional funds for debt paydown toward the debt that has the highest interest rate in order to pay down your debt in the fastest possible time frame. 

Vivan Tu’s financial don’ts:

Just as there are financial security best practices, there are also financial pitfalls to avoid, according to Tu.

1. Don’t cancel your oldest credit card

Credit history length is a big factor in your credit score, which Tu learned when she cut up a credit card in her mid-20s in favor of a fancy new one. Her credit score then dropped by 60 points. “It cut my credit history from eight years to four and made me look like a less reliable borrower,” she says. 

2. Don’t get complacent at your workplace

“You should be getting a raise or promotion every two years. Right now, inflation is close to 5%. When you just rely on your 2 to 3% inflation raises, you’re making less money this year than last year,” Tu says. “And according to Forbes, if you don’t get a new job every two years that comes with a meaningful pay bump, you could be making half as much over your lifetime.”

3. Don’t simply accept terms

Negotiate everything! Tu reviews medical bills and compares pricey services to the Healthcare Bluebook to ensure that everything is error-free and corre. She also locks in introductory rates or deals for two years with her cellphone and Wi-Fi providers and streaming services. At the end of the promotion period, she threatens to leave unless they offer another promotion.

Photo by Heidi Gutman/Courtesy of Vivian Tu.

Jill McDonnell

Jill McDonnell is a Chicago-based content writer and communications professional. She has a bachelor's degree in magazine journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a master's degree in public relations and advertising from DePaul University. She is currently at work on a psychological thriller novel.