It’s official: budget transparency is cool now.
As millions of Americans grapple with stubborn inflation and a cost of living crisis, many are looking at their budgets closely to see what they can adjust to make ends meet. One influencer is using her platform to facilitate transparency, both in how much we make and how much we spend.
“When my friends are like, ‘Oh, my husband manages our money,’ it drives me insane,” says Amanda Wolfe, 35. “We’ve got to bring some ladies in here.” During the day, Wolfe is a senior customer success manager living in Chicago. But in the wee hours of the morning, evenings, and weekends, she’s helping her 167,000 Instagram followers manage their money as the She Wolfe of Wall Street, making her one of the fastest-growing personal finance influencers in America.
One of Wolfe’s most popular post types is a video series entitled “What should I do with my salary?”, in which followers submit their earnings and current expenses to get the self-taught money expert’s thoughts and feedback. The posts invite commentary and conversation as young people continue to push for more salary transparency in America.
Wolfe says she grew up in poverty under a single parent who was involved with drugs, an unstable environment that led to an obsession with personal finance in her early 20s. A decade later, she’s reached a financial independence benchmark, Coast FI, in which her investments are frontloaded enough for compound interest alone to take her the rest of the way to financial freedom.
Here’s why Wolfe believes honesty and transparency around budgeting is the key to pursuing financial independence.
She Had to Unlearn Many Money Beliefs
Wolfe’s idea for the series came from an industry peer who was leaving personal finance to start a new career path. After getting her fellow influencer’s blessing to run with the concept, Wolfe replicated the process she had previously used when coaching others to create digestible posts that were fun to engage with.
“I did one on one coaching for a while, and I think that’s what really opened my eyes to many different unique financial situations,” she says. “People with several kids, people making so much money and still having nothing saved, people with debt that accumulated while they were in jail — many different situations and walks of life.”
The personal finance influencer says that much of her journey has involved “unlearning” perceptions and beliefs about money that were formed in her childhood. “When I was really little, I would always ask my mom ‘Why can’t I have new clothes? Why can’t we have a birthday party? Why can’t we have a house?’” she says. “The answer was always the same. It was ‘Well, it’s because we don’t have money for those things.’”
Licensed counselors and clinicians agree that many of our money habits are formed long before adulthood.
“Early on [in our lives], it’s ingrained in us that money is important, but we’re not really sure why, or how it works,” says Dr. Ashley Lowe-Simmons, a licensed clinical social worker and financial social worker. dr Lowe-Simmons says traumatic experiences from childhood related to money can persist into adulthood in the form of unproductive or counterintuitive thought patterns.
“We get those worries, those concerns, that constant anxiety that you don’t have enough,” she says. “That trauma is held within your body. And so, as you get older, that trauma doesn’t disappear, it’s still there. It’s not until you step outside of the things that you were exposed to, and start to really educate yourself, that you’re able to learn the skills and tools you need to cope with that trauma.”
The Birth of “She Wolfe of Wall Street”
Stability in her teenage years helped Wolfe get back on her feet. She graduated high school and college, got her first job — a sales job with a base salary of $30,000 — and was ready to live the dream.
“With bonuses, I ended up making $77,000 by the end of the year,” she says. “I didn’t even know how much money I made until I got my tax return. I looked at it and I was like, ‘Wait, I made $77,000? Where did it go? And why do I still have $37,000 in student loans?’” Wolfe pledged to channel her intensity into learning everything she could about personal finance, including asking her friends about it, and even helped create a financial literacy program at her workplace.
Even with helping her peers learn about financial literacy and making an entire course about it, Wolfe still needed a push from a trusted friend to start taking her knowledge online, which she finally began in the spring of 2021. Wolfe’s knowledge quickly acquired a large following ; she’s built her platform to over 167,000 followers on Instagram, and manages it herself on top of a full-time job.
“The thing that gets me is that ladies are never talking about money,” Wolfe says. She notes that the brand name is both a pun on her last name and a reference to the content focus. “My last name is Wolfe, so it kind of organically came together. I made it “She Wolfe of Wall Street” so everyone knows it’s for investing, but less douche-y.”
Your First FIRE Benchmark: Coast FI
Wolfe didn’t stumble into Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE) culture until much later. Upon running her initial numbers, she was pleasantly surprised to discover she had already reached the first rung of early retirement: Coast FI.
In the FIRE ecosystem, Coast FIRE, or Coast FI, is when the invested assets you currently will fill out the rest of your retirement income needs on compound interest alone — even if you never contribute another penny toward your 401(k) or IRA.
Minimum Coast FIRE Number:
(Annual Expenses x 25) / (1 + Annual Rate of Return)^(time in years)
The benchmark varies, depending on your current age and desired retirement age, but it favors the young; the more time your investments have to accrue compound interest, the better. Once you hit this net worth benchmark, you can “coast” to retirement, and your present-day retirement contributions are freed up in your budget.
“[Reaching Coast FI] provided me with this incredible peace,” Wolfe says, “because, due to all the childhood stuff, I still have the fear that everything is going to be ripped away one day, that I’m going to lose my job, I’m going to have nowhere to live, and that everything bad is going to happen. I’m going to obviously continue to invest, I’m going to continue to do more. But if a zombie apocalypse happened, I would be okay.”
Now, Wolfe focuses on using her knowledge to help others, and says the salary series has been especially good for bringing taboo money conversations out of the shadows.
“Personal finance in general is such a black box,” she says. “Most people don’t go around telling people how much they spend on things. People realize others who have their same job title are making more than them. Or they realize it’s time to take another look at where they’re living. Everyone starts chiming in back and forth, and I think it’s really created a sense of community.”
“You’re not going to learn everything all at once,” says Wolfe. “But you can do one thing a day. Be nice to yourself about money along the way — give yourself some grace.”