- Bola Sokunbi, creator of Clever Girl Finance, saved her first $100,000 before age 30.
- She side hustled, made the most of her 401(k), automated her savings, and lived frugally.
- Her experiences inspired her to create a community to support women on the road to building wealth.
- Read more stories on Personal Finance Insider.
“Do you have a husband or a rich boyfriend?” a financial planner once asked Bola Sokunbi. “Where did you get this money?”
Sokunbi had gone to visit a financial planner after saving a considerable amount of money and was looking to discuss her goals, strategies, and plans for her financial future.
“I saved a good amount, and I was like, ‘The right thing to do is go to a financial planner’s office. That’s what the books say,'” she says. Instead of support, she was met with skepticism and disrespect. “I was so infuriated.”
Despite the suspicion and insult she faced, Sokunbi built her wealth herself. Fifteen years ago, when Sokunbi accepted her first corporate job after college, she began saving. So much so that, within three years, she’d saved $100,000 — all before she entered her 30s.
When people hear this, some assume she must have had a high-paying job or some other headstart that allowed her to accomplish so much in so little time. But Sokunbi wasn’t earning a six-figure salary or gifted with a large sum of money, she was making $54,000 at her full-time job, and only about $40,000 after taxes.
Her financial savviness only grew over the years, and Sokunbi is now the founder of Clever Girl Finance, a nationally recognized financial literacy platform for women, and the author of three money books.
A decade and a half later, she continues to share her story to empower and educate other women to take control of their finances, get out of debt, and build long-term wealth. To save her first $100,000 from scratch, Sokunbi implemented a few strategic steps.
1. She invested in her 401(k)
“Initially, I only wanted the free money,” Sokunbi says with a laugh. Before understanding how 401(k)s worked, and why they’re so important, she was just thinking about her employer’s match. “I heard free money, that got me excited.”
Sokunbi’s employer matched her contribution up to 6% of her salary, so she started with that. “If I’m gonna get that free money, I might as well just contribute the 6%,” she says.
Over time, she began to contribute closer to the IRS’s maximum limit — in 2021, contributions are capped at $19,500 — but she emphasizes the importance of contributing, at the minimum, whatever your employer might match.
2. She automated her savings
When Sokunbi first started earning an income, she felt she had two options. “I can either get used to spending [my full paycheck], which happens very easily,” she says. “Or I could just put half away and struggle with the half I had.”
She went with the latter and automated all of her paychecks. Half was immediately redirected into her savings account. “There was no other option but to figure it out,” she says.
3. She strategically kept her expenses low
Given Sokunbi was only living on about half of her salary, she had to implement strategic lifestyle changes to keep her expenses as low as possible.
She lived close to work to save money on gas and transportation expenses while taking advantage of all of her employer’s perks. For example, Sokunbi was a consultant and benefited from food per diems and provided lunches when she traveled. Her office also provided dinner at work for anyone who stayed after 7 pm.
“Even if I wasn’t doing anything I would try to stay,” she says.
4. She started a side hustle
Sokunbi also started a freelance wedding and lifestyle photography business deliberately with the intent of increasing her income. “I did enjoy photography, but it was never, ‘Oh I’m gonna do a wedding for fun,'” she explains.
She earned an additional $10,000 her first year doing this; the year after, she earned $30,000. “Having a side hustle is smart, it’s some buffer in your life,” she says. Her newest book, “The Side Hustle Guide,” is all about this subject.
She drew inspiration from her mother to empower other women
Sokunbi’s mom went back to school in her 30s after seeing her friends in difficult situations — particularly because of divorces — where they didn’t have any financial resources or options.
With a 3-year-old Bola on her hip, she went back to school and got her undergraduate degree, eventually a Master’s, too. “She went and got a full-time job, she started running different side hustles, and her goal was just that they would have money to save and to be able to have a say in our household finances,” Sokunbi says.
When Sokunbi’s dad had to retire early because of unforeseen circumstances, it was her mother who stepped in and paid for Sokunbi’s college education. “My mom sacrificed at the expense of her own retirement to help me go to school.”
She continues to use the lessons and motivation from her mother to empower other women through Clever Girl Finance. Says Sokunbi, “We cannot rely on this perception of the man to take care of us, we have to take care of ourselves.”