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Stress Test transcript: How TikTok changed the vibe of personal finance advice

Stress Test transcript: How TikTok changed the vibe of personal finance advice

You had your best-laid plans and then COVID-19 came along and hammered the entire economy. But you’ve got this – if you have the right information. Join Rob Carrick and Roma Luciw on Stress Test, a podcast guiding you through one of the biggest challenges your finances will ever face.

ROB: Finding personal finance advice used to be pretty straightforward. People would go to their banks, talk to financial advisors or get tips from the media – say, from their favourite newspaper columnist.

ROMA: But there’s a new place that’s far more popular with 20-somethings. Gen Z and millennials are getting a lot of money advice from TikTok, the social media platform known for its viral dance videos.

ROB: Welcome to Stress Test, a personal finance podcast for Millennials and Gen Z.

ROMA: I’m Roma Luciw, personal finance editor at The Globe and Mail.

ROB: And I’m Rob Carrick, personal finance columnist at the Globe.

ROB: Today we’re talking TikTok. Personal finance videos have more than 5.8 BILLION views on the platform. Roma, what do you make of this trend?

ROMA: Well, young people are on TikTok. That’s where they’re getting their news and entertainment. So it makes sense that this is where they’re finding their first financial information. Most financial advice out there from traditional sources, it’s not created with 20 somethings in mind. It’s for wealthier, older people. So it doesn’t always resonate with a younger audience that’s dealing with their own specific set of financial issues. Rob, the big thing in my mind is discussing the quality of the money education and advice that’s out there. There is a big difference between getting personal finance advice versus stock trading tips. What do you think about that?

ROB: You know, the TikTok to me is like the whole rest of the personal finance universe. There’s people out there who it’s a hobby, and they just want to spread the good word. There’s people out there who are getting sponsorship money to promote a bank product or an investing product. And then there’s people out there trying to sell an investing system or a stock picking technique, and they’re just in it for the money. You need to be a savvy consumer of this information. One of the things that really jumps out at me about TikTok is how young people are giving each other financial advice. And it’s not sort of the older experience grizzled veterans talking down to the 20 Somethings.

ROMA: I mean, I think it’s just people speaking their language, right? There are some really good financial TikTok-ers out there that are breaking down complicated topics that are relevant for their peer group. They’re delivering this information without shame, without intimidation, they’re building relationships with their followers, they’re answering questions. They’re accessible in ways that financial advisors are not.

ROMA: I think we can’t also dismiss the element of fun that is in these videos, right? I mean, they are friendly. They’re in an interactive, there’s always good music. Why is that a bad thing? I think you just have to approach it the same way you do anything else with caution. And as a starting point.

ROB: After the break, we’ll hear from a TikTok user about how he started getting personal finance advice from this space.

ANTHONY: So my name is Anthony. I am 25 years old, and I am from Mississauga, Ontario.

ROB: Anthony landed a marketing job after university, but he found himself with extra time on his hands when the pandemic began.

ANTHONY: Right when the first lockdown hit, that’s when I was like, everyone’s on TikTok, I’m doing nothing with my time right now, I’ll just see what’s what. And that’s where it started. The first few things I was checking out on TikTok, they were primarily my own like hobbies as well as just like, big, like, very famous philanthropists, who would often just like, talk about, you know, a lot of what a lot of people my age who are kind of lost, right. We’re kind of in that middle phase back when the pandemic started. We were like, you know, we just got out of university. We’re trying to get our own career. And we’re trying to figure it out. So a lot of people my age, we’re kind of lost, kind of floating around not sure what to do.

ROB: Some of the creators he saw on TikTok inspired him to make a big career change.

ANTHONY: One of them was like Gary Vee or Gary Vee,

@garyvee clip: Doing it for the money is always a bad idea, especially before you’re 35. Please be practical in your youth and fight for your dream at all costs.

ANTHONY: That was one that was very inspiring, he would talk about how like, he was broke until the late 30s. And how like your 20s, or when you’re supposed to, you know, make those mistakes, take your shot, right. And it’s what really inspired me to move forward to start my own company. Just from my personal experience, I just recognized that I’d rather strike on my own, and if I make the mistakes, it would be on me. But it would be full accountability, everything would be fully under my control. And then moving forward, I’d be able to just, you know, be flexible my own way.

ROB: Quitting your job to start a company is a major life decision with big personal finance implications. But before we get into that part of Anthony’s story, let’s discuss how TikTok works. For people who don’t use it –  the app features short videos. You can follow specific creators, but TikTok also uses an algorithm to figure out what you might like. It serves you curated videos based on your interests. They show up on a “for you” page. That’s where Anthony gets most of his content.

ANTHONY: And I really liked TikTok for that reason, because you could find the same content on YouTube. But the way TikTok is designed, because there’s so much social media, that our attention span is so short, and we’re so lazy, that we just scroll and find that information rather than having to go through typing on YouTube and stuff.

ROB: So the algorithm figured out Anthony wanted to watch content about entrepreneurs. Eventually it started serving him personal finance advice, too.

ANTHONY : Starting your own business means that you go from a full time job where you have a regular paycheck, and it goes to a small business where everything’s on you, right? If you want to be lazy for a week, that means that’s one week delayed where you’re not getting a potential paycheck from a client. That’s, how you said before, we have to manage our personal finance a lot more. And TikTok really helped me with that. Like, for example, I was saving 50{797b2db22838fb4c5c6528cb4bf0d5060811ff68c73c9b00453f5f3f4ad9306b} of my biweekly paycheck into my account. So I was living off assuming I was living on half of what I was earning. And Tik Tok had kind of validated what I was saying, I would watch it. Like TikTok had these examples on my For You page saying like, hey, like if you want to save money, your mid 20s here are some examples. You know, save up at least 20{797b2db22838fb4c5c6528cb4bf0d5060811ff68c73c9b00453f5f3f4ad9306b} of your paycheck, put a portion of it, start it on your TFSA and make sure you stack up a TFSA every year to the max. And it kind of compounds. Like if you started your TSFA when you’re 25, it would amount to X amount we retire at 65 versus how much less it would be if you put it into the TFSA when you’re 35. Right. So it just kind of actually got me started to open up the TFSA and, and really do that search on you know, what a TFSA is and what are ETFs and, and how to really manage my income so that my checking money, my checking isn’t just sitting there, it’s working for me.

ROB: The personal finance advice has been key. But Anthony says the most important thing he got from TikTok videos was the confidence to start his own digital marketing company. Now that he has, Anthony also gets corporate advice from the app.

ANTHONY : Another thing that I saw on TikTok that I actually really resonated to me was, it’s kind of a running joke with my current team, is how like corporate language, like corporate verbiage is like another language by itself almost. Like there’s a lot of times where you need to articulate yourself in a very professional manner. And sometimes it’s hard for people who have lacked that less experience to do so. And one of the things that I did on my spare time was I would follow a a woman who is Loe Whaley, and that’s her name.

@loewhaley clip: How do you professionally say stop interrupting me? Thank you for your input Jeff, but please wait until I’m finished sharing my thoughts before you start speaking. Stop ignoring my interview requests. Your attendance is required for this discussion…

ROB: Anthony uses TikTok as a jumping off point to start research on topics that catch his eye. Like anything on social media, users need to be wary and make sure the advice they’re getting is legit.

ANTHONY : I see like a lot of TikTok content creators will be like flaunting I’ve earned x million of dollars in like Dogecoin or something and I’d be like, okay, but if it’s that easy to do, there’s gonna be a catch, So it’s like trusting your gut. Number one, if it feels too good to be true, nine times out of 10, it’s too good to be true. Although TikTok plays as a main jumping off factor, it doesn’t play in the final call that I make. A lot of times, like it would come to the fact where you get all like the stimulus from TikTok and you funnel it down to the Okay, these are the four or five main points that interest me. I’m going to now Google them through sources that are more traditional to authenticate or to elaborate on those ideas to see how they can be applied to my specific circumstance.

ROB: Sure, he has to sort through some bad advice. But there’s a reason TikTok is appealing to Anthony and so many other Gen Zs and Millennials as a relevant place to go for advice.

ANTHONY : But the whole point of TikTok that I found, that actually made it take over as one of my more used platforms as social media, is because it’s so easy for you to get a continuous stimulus of new content, all you have to do is swipe. One action. If you’re bored of it, you hit a refresh and it just refreshes from the algorithm, right? Versus Instagram, they change the algorithm where you just see like the first few select posts of the people you follow, and then it shows you recommendations. But even then, it’s still too slow. Facebook, it’s not bad, but it’s mainly a lot of articles and videos. And I think that they caught on that Tik Tok was, you know, capitalizing on people’s short attention span. So they started making like Instagram reels to kind of, you know, bounce off that TikTok kind of platform, but I think that’s where they got us, for better or for worse.

ROB: After the break, Roma speaks with a 27 year old from Calgary, Alberta who has half a million followers on TikTok.

ROMA: To learn more about how personal finance content is tailored for TikTok, I spoke with Ellyce Fulmore, aka Ellyce, what do you do for work? What’s your full time job?

ELLYCE: Okay so this is a question that I feel like I always struggle to answer concisely. But the easiest thing I’ve come up with is I’m a financial educator and content creator. And that involves about a million different things. But my full time job is kind of falls under all the things that fall under that umbrella. So I have my own financial literacy business called Queered. Co. And then I also create content on Tik Tok and Instagram. And yeah, so that involves, like having clients, it involves doing a podcast, doing sponsored videos, and a bunch of other things

ROMA: So you studied kinesiology in university? How did you end up in the personal finance space?

ELLYCE: It’s such a weird path because I never thought I would end up in personal finance, especially coming from kinesiology because I always envisioned myself doing more of an active type of job. But while I was in school, I started to realize that I didn’t want to do physiotherapy, and it just wasn’t a good fit for me. And so I was really lost on what I did want to do. And I also was struggling with my finances at the time. So I had about $15,000 of high interest debt. And then I had about 20 something thousand of student loan debt. And so I was kind of carrying a lot of guilt and shame around that debt, especially coming from a family who didn’t talk about money. And like the only thing I was ever told about money was save everything you can and don’t go into debt. So I felt like I couldn’t come to my parents really with the information that I was struggling. And I had really bad experiences talking to financial advisors in the bank. So I felt really alone and isolated. So I kind of started out actually doing life coaching, which combined a little bit of my kinesiology background and also with like, combining a little bit of that financial information that I was learning and I was targeting people that were in the same kind of situation as me, just unsure of what they want to do with their life. I started that in January of 2020. And then obviously, the pandemic hit all of us and I started talking more about money and career because I was like people need to hear this right now, because people are struggling right now. Most clients that I was getting, were in the same kind of spot that I was in where they had a lot of student debt, and they like work still weren’t sure what they kind of wanted to do for a career. So there was a little bit of that. But it really took off on TikTok. And that’s when I really started talking about it a lot more.

ROMA: What did you think or feel was missing from the financial advice that was already out there? And I don’t mean just TikTok I mean, out there in general.

ELLYCE: Yeah, so I really felt like there was a gap in the Personal Finance information that was out there that didn’t address the person, which is very ironic. And my kind of tagline is “keep finance personal” for my business. And I think that really encompasses it. I feel like a lot of the information out there does not take into account who each individual person is and what their identity is, and how that identity impacts their money, how their identity will impact the way that they make financial decisions, the way that they grew, like grew up to learn about money, the way that they understand money, all of those things. And I think that that’s even more important than figuring out like a budgeting system or like, looking at the numbers. And I think that a lot of the traditional personal finance advice really views finances in a vacuum, like just look at your money and like adjust the numbers, and you just have to work harder and make more money and save more and that kind of thing. Without understanding that like finances are intertwined in basically every single aspect of your life, and you can’t look at it in a vacuum, you have to look at it as like who you are as a whole person, and how all of those things have impacted, like the way that you spend your money and your money and decisions that you make and all of those things. So I felt like that was really missing. And that’s kind of the gap that I’ve been trying to fill.

ROMA: So you identify as queer, neurodivergent and feminist. I find the neurodivergent element of your TikToks really fascinating. How has the financial experience in the advice you provide specific to someone you know, who has ADHD, for example?

ELLYCE: First off, it’s important to acknowledge that people who are neurodivergent experienced things differently. So obviously, my content is not going to appeal to everyone who is neurodivergent. But I have ADHD myself. So that’s kind of what I focused on. And there’s certain traits that a lot of people who have ADHD have that will affect the way that you manage your money. So like impulsivity is a big one with ADHD. So like impulse spending, and just like, you know, not taking time to think through financial decisions. Another one is like, your lack of dopamine. So feeling like under-stimulated, or sometimes overstimulated. That can cause you like, if you’re feeling under-stimulated, you might choose to spend money to get that dopamine hit and to, you know, feel better about that. Forgetfulness is a big one, too, like, people with ADHD often struggle with, like forgetting to cancel subscriptions, forgetting to return items that they need to return, forgetting to pay bills, things like that, which all impact your finances. And so, a lot of the traditional personal finance education and systems that are introduced, like budgeting systems and things like that, often just don’t work well for a lot of people who are neurodivergent because our brains just work differently. And obviously there is some people who are neurodivergent who love budgets, spreadsheets, but there’s also a lot of people who don’t. I know for me like it, I almost need to gamify finances a bit like it needs to feel like fun for me or there needs to be reward there needs to be like some I’m sort of thing because I find like the traditional kind of like tracking systems to be just so boring and I will not do it.

ROMA: I love what you’re saying about making personal finance, fun and empowering because there does seem to need to be a reward at the end. And then it will take away a lot of the struggle and the shame that comes with this idea of not being good with your money. Now you don’t have any formal training in financial planning or anything like that. So what is the expertise that you feel that you bring to the space?

ELLYCE: Yeah, so I’m actually working on my CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNING certificate at the moment. So I am working on that. But I very much like I very much am aware of like my scope of work and you know, what, what I can teach on and what I can’t. Part of the reason why I’m working on a certification is so that I can give you know, investment advice and things like that, which right now I don’t touch on at all just because of, you know, don’t want to do anything illegal here. And it’s out of my scope. But I really feel like I bring a unique perspective because I’ve not only been through the situation myself of like struggling with my money, being very in debt, but I also am queer, I’m neurodivergent, I’m a millennial and I am speaking about finances in a way that meets other people my age exactly where they’re at. And I feel a lot of other Personal Finance information does not do that. Like no one wants to listen to Dave Ramsey, like no one my age wants to listen to him like we’re over it. And so I think that that’s something unique that I bring. I also have a background In working with people with disabilities, that was my major and university. And so I’ve worked with a lot of different people from a lot of different backgrounds with both like cognitive and physical disabilities. And that’s really taught me a lot on how people’s identity impacts their life. And also like the importance of figuring out systems that work for you, as opposed to trying to like, force people to follow a system that is like, quote, unquote, normal.

ROMA: Tell us about a specific video of yours that went viral.

ELLYCE: Well, I’ll do my first one. Because I think that’s, that’s an easy one to talk about. So essentially, it was, I was just lip synching to the song Humble by Kendrick Lamar. And I was talking about the situation where I was at at the beginning, like my financial situation, and then I kind of I said since then, and then I started naming all the things I’ve been able to do since I was in that spot. And that included like paying off X amount of dollars of debt, saving up an emergency fund, like moving to the sixth most expensive city in Canada. That was when I lived in Kelowna. And just like, you know, naming those things, and that video went viral. It was my first viral video. It was terrifying, and exciting at the same time. I went from, like, I had just over 1000 followers when that video went viral. And then I think I had like 75,000 followers, like in two days or something like that. It was crazy. Yeah. So that one, I think, just resonated a lot with people because so many people could relate to the kind of before that I was showing in the video. And like, Oh, that’s my situation right now. And then me kind of showing, it was kind of more of a, I guess, an inspirational video of showing the things that I’ve been able to do. And people were like, I want that too.

ROMA: You also use other social media like Instagram, you’ve talked about that to share personal finance content, what makes TikTok different as a platform, both when it comes to how you create content and how people interact with it.

ELLYCE: So I think there’s a lot of unique things about TikTok, I think one of the biggest things is that it’s very easily digestible, like fast consumable information that is not necessarily on Instagram. I mean, now they have Instagram reels, which is obviously trying to compete, but like I said before, it really meets the person where they’re at. And so whether like, depending on what their For You page is like if they like watching like dancing videos, and they’re gonna get like me dancing and talking about money or if they like more educational videos than they might get my like, sit down videos. Like the For You page really is very smart. It will sort things really quickly and it allows me to reach an audience that was not necessarily seeking out financial information, but then found it on Tik Tok. And it’s like, oh, I want to learn about this, like this is really helpful. This is like funny, this is entertaining. And that wasn’t necessarily the case on Instagram because the algorithm doesn’t work the same. And so someone would have to go and search like personal finance, which they might not be searching. So I think that that’s something really unique about Tik Tok is it’s allowed me to reach way broader audience and reach people that weren’t necessarily looking for this. But once they found it, they were like, oh, I want this. It also is, yeah, like I said, like entertaining. And so it’s like a fun place to be on like, I love Tik Tok. It’s my favorite platform. I love creating content on there, I find it just really fun. It allows me to be really creative and what I’m doing and it’s a cool, like, I don’t know, it’s a very cool like community and environment on there. It feels more like a close knit community I feel like then Instagram does. So I really like that. And I like that it’s less curated. And I think that a lot of like Gen Zs and Millennials also really resonate with that it’s just more like people showing up you know exactly how they are like, I’ll come all the time looking like I do now with like, the hair on top of my head, no makeup like, sick voice like I’ll just be on Tik Tok and people will still love the content. Whereas like Instagram, I feel like people like more curated content, and so you have to put more like effort into how you look for a video and things like that.

ROMA: Why do you think young adults are willing to trust their peers on TikTok rather than rely on traditional sources like bank or investment advisors or mainstream media for their financial information?

ELLYCE: I think there’s a couple of factors. I think that listening to people that are your age, they grew up with the same things. And they’ve had the same experience with like, the cost of housing and education and all of that, so it’s more relatable. And then another thing I would say is that a lot of financial advisors and banks, I know so many people who have had not great experiences, and I am one of those, like I had very misogynistic advisors in banks that have just said horrible things to me. Also, I think that Millennials and Gen Zs that are making financial content are just breaking things down a lot more and delivering it in a way that makes sense. And I think that a lot of the older generation, maybe hasn’t bridged that.

ROMA: It’s a big responsibility for someone with a wide platform the way you do to provide the right kind of financial advice. How do you make sure that you do that?

ELLYCE: So like I said, I’m very aware of like the scope that I have, and that what I’m qualified to teach in and not so I’m very careful to not give any investment advice. So I’m really careful to like stay within information that’s not going to harm someone in the long run. I really just make sure that, I’m educated on the topic that I’m talking about, and that I’m not just like guessing on information or, you know, giving information that I just heard someone else say or something like that. I think it’s really important in in the finance space to be really diligent in like the work that I’m doing. And I will also say like, I do think that some of the responsibility is on the consumer as well to do their research on like, who they’re getting information from. And I think I really view myself as like a jumping off point, like, I’m telling you about these things and helping you learn about it. And then you can go and do your own research. If you want to learn more about it. Obviously, like a 15 second video is not going to tell you everything you need to know. And so I think that that’s also important as like the consumer to you know, take everything with kind of like a grain of salt or like, you know, know who you’re listening to, and then make sure you’re still doing your own research, especially when it comes to things like making investments or, you know, getting a mortgage or things that could really impact your your long term financial future.

ROMA: Now, some people, some of them potentially older folks can be skeptical about money advice found on social media. What would you say to them?

ELLYCE: I would say that, if money advice on social media is what’s getting the younger generation excited about money and interested in money, that that’s a good thing. And that, you know, anything, any form of information that is going to challenge someone to look at their money and to make different financial decisions, I think is a positive thing. Obviously, there’s like good and bad with everything. I know, there’s not great financial information that is out there. And there’s people that are, you know, just saying like go buy this stock, go buy this, go buy this, go buy this crypto and you know, people just like blindly following it. Again, I think it comes down to the consumer a little bit as well of like making sure you’re consuming information from a reliable person. But you know, for the older generation, I think that it’s a form of content that is getting us excited about money. And the older generation’s form of content like books or magazines or like blog posts just aren’t working for us. So I think that I understand some of the skepticism. But I also think that it’s it’s only a positive thing that more people are talking about money and then it’s becoming more normalized and that the younger generation is also excited about it.

ROMA: There’s no question that young adults are excited about the personal finance videos they’re seeing on TikTok. But there are still risks of bad advice. Rob, what are some red flags that TikTok users can use to steer clear of that?

ROB: Well, to me, the best TikTok videos are the ones from people who are just trying to share basic, smart, sensible advice. They’ve had this realization that the best thing to do is to save hard and curb your spending and get rid of debt and they’re trying to spread the good word. That’s where the value is. I worry more about people trying to sell their expertise, sell a product, sell a system. That’s where you’ve got to be careful.

ROMA: And that brings us to our three takeaways. One, there is both good and bad personal finance advice on TikTok, but these videos are a starting point. So it’s up to you to follow up by doing your own research. Two, approach investing videos pushing specific stocks or cryptocurrencies as get rich quick schemes with the utmost caution. If you get scammed or lose money, you will have no recourse for getting your money back. Three, if TikTok gets you thinking and talking about how best to manage your money, that’s a good thing. And if you laugh or dance along the way, even better.

ROB: Thank you for listening to Stress Test. This show was produced by Kyle Fulton, Emily Jackson and Zahra Khozema. Our executive producer is Kiran Rana. Thank you to Anthony and Ellyce for joining us this week.

ROMA: You can find Stress Test wherever you listen to podcasts. If you liked this episode, please share it with a friend and leave us a five-star rating.

ROMA: Next up on Stress Test – Mortgage 101. You’ve got questions about mortgages, and we’ve got answers. We’ll walk through the basics of where to get a mortgage, what terms are most important and how to give yourself the best shot at approval. And of course, with rising interest rates, we’ll talk variable versus fixed rates and what that means for your bank account.

ROB: Until then, find us at the Globe and Mail dot com. Thanks for listening.