Close this search box.

Financial influencers want to make finance cool – Quartz

Haley Sacks’s Instagram feed is heavy on celebrity gossip and fashion memes. But the influencer, who goes by MrsDowJones, wants her followers to eventually afford that lifestyle, not just aspire to it.

Scroll through her social media accounts, and you’ll come across posts on what investing has in common with Kourtney Kardashian and Travis Barker’s relationship, or why a Roth IRA is more dependable than a boyfriend.

Sacks, 30, is part of a new crop of financial influencers catering to a growing class of retail investors. Unlike their more traditional counterparts, these “finfluencers” give their advice for free and don’t usually boast three-letter certifications before their names. But at a time when young people are flocking to commission-free trading apps, they have found ways to make money by translating financial jargon into engaging posts via social media.

It’s the kind of resources Sacks wished had been available to her in 2017, when she found herself jobless and financially illiterate. That inspired her to start the Instagram account @MrsDowJones, which now has 225,000 followers. Since then, she’s evolved her business from financial memes to videos, live events, and partnerships with big financial firms like Wealthfront, a robo-investing company she promotes in her posts. (Sacks did not disclose how much she makes from these partnerships.)

Sacks, who majored in film at Wesleyan University, calls the licenses the financial industry banks on “gatekeepers to making money management simple for all.” (She is, however, studying to be a certified financial planner.)

Quartz talked to her about being a financial advice influencer, what she can offer that a traditional advisor won’t, and why finance isn’t hard to learn. The conversation was edited and condensed for clarity.

Quartz: What got you interested in finance? Have you always had an interest?

Sacks: I’m the primary example of a woman who felt confused about money, but intrigued by living a nice lifestyle. But I did not have the tools to bridge that gap and felt really othered and uninspired by what was available to me to learn. I’ve always grown up loving pop culture and admiring celebrities and loving to read celebrity gossip and I ate that up.

But then when I would try to learn about finance, no one was making it salacious and fun like that. So it was hard to be motivated. Like, of course, I wanted to get a Brazilian butt lift because Kim Kardashian has one. But if Kim Kardashian had a high-yield savings account, I’d probably want one too. So I thought, OK, that doesn’t exist. So then I became it.

The more that I learned about it, I was just like, “OK, this is what I should spend my life doing. It’s actually important and not that hard.”

How did you learn about finance?

Through reading, and I still do this every day for 30 minutes to an hour. And then I learned through teaching. They always say, teachers are the best students, because in order to explain something, you have to know it so well. So if I wanted to explain what compound interest is, it’s not like I could just Google “What’s compound interest?” and then know it. I had to learn it. I had to flip it into like, “Oh, what does this remind me of? And, how can I tell the stories?” It was such a deeper way of understanding it.

So I would read all these books and I’m like, “OK, they’re all saying the same thing.” That’s why I don’t feel competitive at all with other people. I’m like, “who is working for other people to connect with?” You have to spend less than you make and to put money away for retirement. You have to make sure that you’re saving, and you have a sinking fund. Here are all these financial basics that are sort of universal, but it’s just about how you’re telling them.

Were you influenced by your parents? Did your parents ever teach you how to manage your money?

No, no, that’s important to know, too. A lot of people think that I was like a little girl who had her lemonade stand, and I was hustling. And I had girl scout cookies. Like, no, no, no, I was bad. I was paycheck-to-paycheck. I was stupid. You know, I had no idea. Every cliche that’s cringe was me. And my dad works in finance. He just didn’t bring his work home with him. It just makes sense. He’s talking to people all day about money. He doesn’t want to come home and “let’s learn about financial literacy.”

But I remember—my big thing—and this is what women do a lot: I was hoarding my cash. When I was little, I would have ten dollar bills, five dollar bills, one dollar bills, and I had maybe $600. Somebody had given me a little Louis Vuitton pochette for my bat mitzvah, but I also kept the box because it was a big deal to keep the box. And I had the box and the money was there, and that was my secret stash. And my dad was like, “We should invest your money.” And I was like “OK.” I thought that owning a stock was like, I own Starbucks. I could go to Starbucks and say “I actually own stocks, and I’m going to need an extra whip on my Frappuccino.” But I was a hoarder with cash, and I didn’t know what to do with it. And also, I didn’t really feel secure in my ability to grow it, or invest it, or make it.

What made you want to be a financial advice influencer, and why be a financial advisor on Instagram and not at a traditional financial institution?

Now you see on all the gift lists “What to get for your niece who wants to be a TikTok influencer” or whatever. I started in late 2017, and it was not a thing. It wasn’t like there was a mold that I was trying to fit into. I was just trying to connect with people.

And how I ended up connecting with them was through this shared desire to be financially literate, love money, be fun and excited about money and our lives and living well. That was something that also was so unappealing to me about the people that were doing it. Suze Orman made me feel like I had to drive a Subaru and only have one blazer for the rest of my life. And I love fashion, and I love eating out. I’m as frugal as I am expensive. Like, I understand both sides completely. But I think that lifestyle is a huge part of it. And that’s something that I try to make clear to people that they can enjoy.

Why did you decide to call your handle Mrs. Dow Jones?

When I was creating it, I was thinking about @girlwithnojob or @thefatjewish and how they have personified themselves. My sister and I went to the Berkshires and I was driving back from there, and we were just talking through it and it just felt right—MrsDowJones. And it took on so much more meaning because it’s like you’re married to your investments, you’re not married to a man for money. You’re standing on your own two feet financially. The future that you’re looking towards is not the traditional one. It’s one where you take care of yourself. It ended up being like so many more meanings. You’re married to your own financial future. That is what financial freedom is. It is straight up the ability to choose. It’s really a beautiful thing.

What can you offer that someone in a more traditional setting wouldn’t be able to?

Like, soul. I think it’s sort of nice not to be traditional because I don’t have to worry so much about if I’m within every regulation, like when sharing my opinion on the Sweetgreen IPO. We’re in a really confusing time, especially as millennial investors, because every day there is a new IPO for a brand-new company that we are customers of. And so you hear about everyone getting rich and you’re, like, “Shoot. I buy a kale caesar all the time, should I put my money where my mouth is?” Being able to then go on my platform and talk about actually why I wouldn’t buy that IPO was something I don’t think you could really do as a traditional advisor—being so off-the-cuff and unregulated, but not unregulated in a way where I’m abusing that power like short GameStop or whatever. Just being able to be honest.

What are the pros and cons of learning finance and investing via social media?

You need to be really careful on who you take advice from. The pros are that you can find an amazing community. People have a hard time talking about this stuff with their friends, or finding people in their lives who are passionate about this. With the internet, you can find so many like-minded people who are obsessed and you can ask questions too. Like, we started a Facebook group, and it’s cool just to see people talking to one another and spitballing and getting advice. You can make friends from that. At my live events, before the pandemic, I swear to you with every live event, people would leave and would go get drinks with each other, and they were always chilling. It was so cool because I’m not MrsDowJones, we’re MrsDowJones. It’s us, it’s all of us. That’s so powerful with the internet.

As a content creator, I have those buckets of things that I’m talking about consistently and I’m showing up on your feed and I’m consistently telling you about those things. I’m going to drill it in your head. It’s like how marketing works—with someone telling you over and over again to buy that thing. But if I’m over and over again telling you to open a high-yield savings account, start saving an emergency fund, max out your Roth IRA, talk to your boyfriend about money, you will do it. It’s the same thing. It’s just about who you listen to.

The worst thing with social media is that people highlight the great parts of their life, like facetuning their body or whatever. People facetune their financial gains, too. It creates a lot of FOMO, and a lot of feeling of “Oh, I’m not doing a good enough job,” or “I’m not doing enough,” or “I’m missing out on this big deal.” I’m like no, you’re a value-investor, we’re long-term, it doesn’t happen overnight. Sure the economy is crazy right now, you can be a doomsday theorist, or you can play the long game, and look at the history, and trust the score card, which I think is a much more logical way to be.

Who’s your audience? Has it changed over time?

I would say it’s 70% women. It’s not all women. We definitely have men, which I’m honestly super proud of. Not that I work it. But I’ve always thought that stuff marketed towards women is a little degrading. Like, I don’t want to be a tampon commercial for finance.

If something is funny, it’s funny. I like that it would appeal to both genders or if you don’t have a gender at all. I would say, 18 to 34-ish and that these are people who want to figure it out. You’re feeling like, “OK, it’s time for me to get my life together and I don’t know how, so who can help me? How can I connect these dots so that I’m not like being dumb?” or people are always like, “I’m so bad with money.” No, it’s you just never learned or have never tried.

Have we made progress on making finance less of a male-dominated field? What will it take for us to reach parity?

We need to close the wage gap, first of all. And then we also need women to invest more, of course. We need to normalize women being rich. I love to see women succeed. I love Whitney Wolfe Herd or Trace Ellis Ross. I just love seeing women in business, being entrepreneurs, making their money. It’s such a good example. We’re definitely pushing the ball forward. But you know, every woman has to do it for herself, and we can all do it in our own way. We’re not all going to start Bumble, but we can all try in our own way to just do the best that we can with our finances and not abdicate it to someone else.

I have a wall of women in my office, rich women. I look at it every day and I’m like, “Yeah, like, fuck yeah.”

I believe that financial wellness is the third tier of wellness with physical and emotional wellness. So having people suffering because they’re not financially literate or they don’t know how to start or they don’t feel confident enough, they’re silently suffering. They don’t need to. The more that we can help them and create resources and easy tools and ways for people to understand that this is completely doable, and the better we’re all living, then we’re all winning. We’re a happier, healthier society.