personal finance

‘I Went From Making $12,000 to $650,000—in 4 Years': How This 27-Year-Old Former Wall Street Trader Saves 85% of Her Income

Photo: Leila Simmons

At 22, I became the youngest full-time female trader on Wall Street, and the second African American woman trader in the New York Stock Exchange's 229-year history.

Now, as a 27-year-old entrepreneur and host of the streaming series "Going Public," I'm taking what I learned to help young people have intimate conversations about how to make smart financial decisions.

One thing I've noticed is that, in general, most people have poor spending habits and struggle to save money. It may sound intense, but I save 85% of my annual income. This was just something I was taught as a child; if my monthly allowance was $50, then I would only spend $7 to $8 that month.

While I realize that everyone's situation may be different, these are the frugal habits that have helped me build wealth and save money:

1. Limiting lifestyle inflation

At my first job on Wall Street in 2017, I was making $12,000 per year. Now my annual income has increased by more than 5,000% — mostly through my streaming show and speaking events.

So even though I went from making $12,000 to $650,000, I am very clear about my wants versus my needs and still stick to the 85% savings plan.

2. Paying rent in advance

I pay my rent for the entire year up-front. This way, if I run into an unexpected situation that affects my finances, I know I'm covered and don't have to stress about my housing expense.

If you can't pay for a full year in advance, try to pay for six months, then start saving for the next six months. If you set a fixed amount of money aside and stick to your budget, you'll be less likely to spend on things you don't need.

3. Choosing an electric vehicle instead of a gas car

When I moved from New York City (where public transportation is the norm) to California in 2021, I knew I'd have to buy a car. For environmental reasons, I opted for an electric vehicle instead of a gas car. It ended up making a world of difference for my budget.

While the average price per gallon in California is $4.68, I spend less than $30 per month to charge my car. There are so many new electric cars hitting the market, and I recommend looking for one that fits your budget.

3. Not spending money on junk food

I'm quite mindful of what I put in my body and how it makes me feel. Opting for healthier food options can be more expensive sometimes, but what I eat has helped me stay focused and energized.

That said, I keep a strict grocery budget of $250 per month. To cut down on costs, I don't buy sugary snacks or other expensive and unhealthy items. So rather than paying extra on junk food, I keep fresh fruit around me all day to snack on.

4. Sharing streaming subscriptions with my family

I pay for our Hulu family subscription. Meanwhile, one of my family members covers Netflix, and another covers Prime Video.

This lets all of us watch our favorite shows without having to hook up a cable box, and is such an easy way to get access to multiple streaming services while saving hundreds of dollars a year.

5. Canceling my gym membership and working out at home

Gym memberships can be great, but also very costly. In New York, it can set you back by up to $3,260 per year.

For me, bodyweight exercise that I can do anywhere is my best friend. I've also invested in weights and some other gym equipment, which allow me to work out at home alongside my favorite YouTube workout videos.

I also take advantage of hiking and other free, outdoor activities that gets me moving. I love biking, and while I don't own one, there are many rental services that offer the first hour for free.

6. Knowing my risk tolerance

Understanding your risk tolerance can help dictate how you save and invest. I'm conservative with my investing choices, but I balance it with practical risks.

For example, one of my savings accounts is worth $10,000 and only grew to $10,053 in two years. That's not ideal, but at least I know I won't lose that investment. Meanwhile, my investment in a higher-risk stock grew from $327 to $5,900 in less than 12 months last year.

7. Planning off-season vacations

Since we're still living in a pandemic, I often work from home. But even with increased flexibility, I still need to keep my mental sanity in check. So, I travel.

Going on vacation during the off-season helps me save a lot of money. One of my favorite places to travel in the U.S. is Florida. I pay 45% to 65% less on airfare and beachfront rentals in the spring and fall than I would in the summer. And the weather is just as amazing!

Lauren Simmons is an entrepreneur, host of the Going Public streaming show, and a former stock trader for Rosenblatt Securities. At age 22, she became the youngest and only full-time female trader at the New York Stock Exchange. Follow Lauren on Instagram @lasimmons, and Going Public @goingpublic.

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