BOSTON – “You don’t have to live off beans and rice. You’re allowed to have life’s little luxuries as long as you’re still making a plan for the future,” Vivian Tu explains. “We focus so much on cutting out every little thing that brings us joy. But why aren’t we just asking for 10 to 15% raises every year or finding a side-hustle we really enjoy to maximize our income?”
If that sounds like something you think you could never do, Vivian hopes you will listen to her advice and reconsider. The former Wall Street trader and tech sales strategist shares financial information in a way that people who have never felt comfortable talking about money can hear it. She hopes that what they learn helps them live better, fuller financial lives.
Her strength-as a content creator, podcast host and now, a best-selling author-is helping people devise a financial plan based on no-nonsense strategies and information. Information that, seemingly forever, was shared among people born into wealth, which Vivian was not. “I grew up in the family of Chinese immigrants,” she explains at Boston’s Abe & Louie’s restaurant a few hours before the first stop on her book tour. “We never talked about growing our money or investing or doing that type of stuff. That was for other people-people who lived in gated communities and drove BMWs and that wasn’t my family.”
She says it wasn’t until she was in her later years of high school that her parents really started to “find their footing” and feel confident that they could retire someday. Her relationship with money was based on spending as little as possible, budgeting and saving. It wasn’t until years later, as a student at the University of Chicago, when her friends were applying for finance jobs, that she did too. “I said, ‘If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me,” she said. “I wound up getting a job on Wall Street and it taught me so much about money, just not in the way I thought it would.”
She began her career as an Equity Trader at J.P. Morgan. While most of her colleagues were men, Vivian’s first manager on Wall Street was a woman who became her mentor. She took Vivian under her wing and asked her the questions that became the basis for a financial strategy that’s served Vivian very well. “Am I investing in my 401k? which health insurance plan did I pick? I didn’t know what any of these words meant,” she laughs.
Vivian was a quick study and a successful trader. But when a bad manager made her working life insufferable-complaining about her fingernails click-clacking on her keyboard, her “girly” clothing and a long cardigan that prompted him to bow and ask, “Is that a kimono?”-she quit.
But her financial knowledge was about to pay off in a whole new way. Vivian became a sales strategist at a tech and digital media company. When colleagues found out that she had worked on Wall Street, there was no end to their questions on how best to manage money, whether to take advantage of company stock options and how to choose insurance. She found herself answering the same question over and over.
Her decision to answer the questions in a YouTube video was a function of efficiency-a way to save herself from repeating the same advice. It was lightning in a bottle. Or, more accurately, online. One hundred thousand people watched her first video the week she released it. While most first-time content creators might have been thrilled, Vivian insists she was horrified. “How was I going to keep up with that demand? I had a full-time job. I wasn’t good at making content. I look back at some of those oldest videos and… it wasn’t polished,” she said.
What followers saw was a smart, earnest young woman who wasn’t born into privilege giving solid, understandable (and entertaining) financial advice. Questions and comments flooded in, fueling future videos. “Every video for months was just me answering questions,” she said.
Three years later, Vivian (also known as “Your Rich BFF”) is a full-time content creator with more than six million followers over eight platforms. She hosts the podcast “Net Worth and Chill” and appears on national TV shows and magazine covers.
Her address, financial status and relationship to money has changed. But her goal is unwavering-to provide people with a financial education they didn’t get in school so that they can raise their own standard of living. The key, she says, is to follow the rules that wealthy people have always used. “Money has never been equal. It’s never been fair,” Vivian said. “But there are ways to work the system so that we can all still get ahead and help our communities get ahead as well.”
Her new best-selling book “RICH AF: The Winning Money Mindset That Will Change Your Life” (offers step-by-step advice for saving, budgeting, paying down debt and investing. Followers had been asking Vivian where they could find all of her information in one place. Many financial books, she says, are too “male, pale and stale” for the audience she aims to help.
“I felt like there were tons of other books that were doing it for the last generation, but very few that addressed some of the inequalities that we currently face. Did you know that Black families are still being red-lined out of certain housing areas? LGBTQ couples are oftentimes discriminated against when they go in for mortgages and certainly in the workplace,” Vivian said. “There’s still good ol’ fashioned sexism. There is the gender pay gap.”
Based on the turnout at her first reading in Somerville, she may need bigger venues. It’s clear that her fellow millennials and Gen-Z followers are eager to learn how they can, even with debt, become financially independent. She says the key is investing. “You can’t get rich through saving,” she explains. “You have to invest. Investing is the only way you can keep up with inflation-how the cost of living is rising.”
Vivian insists that you don’t need a “ton of money” or a financial adviser. “You can literally go to an online broker and sign up with as little as one dollar and buy fractional shares of an ETF that tracks the broader stock market. And with a dollar you can be invested in the entire stock market… It’s essentially like being able to buy a huge bag of Halloween candy instead of buying a bag of chocolates and a bag of gummies and a bag of… whatever sweets. You get a whole pot-a ton of different stuff-for a dollar.”
Another piece of advice-don’t beat yourself up for past financial decisions. It won’t serve you now and might even prevent you from taking steps to build wealth. Many of us have experienced “money shaming” from someone in our lives who scolded us for buying, for example, a daily latte. On this score, and others, Your Rich BFF has your back. “Can I tell you? I did the math. If you get a $5 latte every single day for an entire year, it works out to roughly 1800, $1900,” Vivian said. “You know anywhere in the country you can buy a home for a down payment of $1800 or $1900? There are not a lot of places. The latte is not why you can’t afford to buy a home. The latte is not preventing you from being successful. Though, that latte may be the difference between whether or not you can buy that new laptop at the end of the year. It might be the difference between whether or not you can take that really nice vacation.”
In the end, she says, if that coffee brings you so much joy that it helps you get out of bed in the morning, it’s worth it. But if the coffee is just ‘meh’? “That money could be better spent somewhere else where it’s really, really going to serve you. And maybe even better-invested for your future,” she said.
Finally, she says, she and other rich people have an obligation to help others-particularly in their communities. “People like us do deserve to have money,” she says about anyone who has ever been discriminated against or disrespected in a financial transaction or at work. “And we can do it! And once you have somebody who has done it in that community, for them to go back and really lift everybody else up with them? That’s the whole point.”