6 AAPI Financial Influencers to Follow in 2024

This Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, six AAPI financial influencers talked with NerdWallet about financial freedom, spending on experiences, and mental health within the community.
Pamela de la Fuente
Ronita Choudhuri-Wade
By Ronita Choudhuri-Wade and  Pamela de la Fuente 
Edited by Sabrina Parys

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Money shouldn’t feel taboo or intimidating, says Erika Kullberg. And you shouldn’t feel bad about your financial mistakes.

But, she said, she's been there, and now she wants to help others who might be feeling the same way.

“I graduated from law school with over $200,000 of student loans and didn't know the first thing about managing my money," she said. "I remember feeling intimidated and overwhelmed by traditional content out there around finances."

We tapped Kullberg and five other Asian American Pacific Islander financial influencers to share their thoughts about money, the way it’s valued, and how they work to make finances less scary.

The AAPI population is vast — one of the fastest growing in the U.S. — and the influencers we talked to had diverse opinions. Because when it comes to money, many said, it’s all about perspective.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Learn more about each financial pro below following the questions.

What does financial freedom look like for you?

Erika Kullberg, Erika Taught Me: “Financial freedom isn't a one-size-fits-all thing, but for me, it comes down to having options. It's about having control over your time and your life, not being chained to a job you hate just to make ends meet. Being able to do what you want, not just what you can afford. It's the peace of mind knowing you can weather unexpected storms, whether it's a car repair or a medical bill.”

Erika Kullberg

Erika Kullberg

Vivian Tu, Your Rich BFF: “For me, financial freedom is being able to buy back my own time. Time is money, and the older I get, the more I value my time. Whether it’s ordering delivery instead of pick up so that I can get a few more emails out, or snagging an Uber instead of connecting twice on the train, financial freedom is being happy and comfortable [enough] to trade some money for more time in my day.”

Vivian Tu

Shang Saavedra, Save My Cents: “After having my two kids I realized that I could do something that my parents could not afford to, spend more time with my kids instead of working day and night. So much of my life is oriented around the quality of my time: Am I spending my time on what matters the most to me? Improving my mental and physical health, loving and working on my familial relationships and my friendships. And then with what I have left, change the world in some way.”

Shang Saavedra

What do you suggest for impulse spending vs. a payoff much later in life?

Humphrey Yang, @humphrey on YouTube: “I always tell people to spend within reason. You don't take your money with you in the end, but we still need to exercise some practicality. It would be wise to have money for your future self, too.”

Humphrey Yang

Phuong Luong, CFP, Just Wealth: “It would be unrealistic not to spend money on things that bring you joy — just make sure you have your financial foundation in order. Building a strong financial foundation includes having a healthy emergency fund and paying off all high interest rate debt. If you're not sure how much you need to save, track your expenses for a few months to see how much your life really costs.

Once you have that in place, contribute to any employer-sponsored retirement account you have access to. If you still have additional cash available at the end of each month, then consider your goals. If you're saving for a major purchase or event in the future, then weigh your short-term spending against those other goals so that you can be in control and confident that you're making the right choices for you."

Phuong Luong

Vivian Tu: “You should do a little bit of both! I like to use what I call the ‘Your Rich BFF Is It Worth It?’ equation. Take the cost of any potential purchase and divide it by your hourly take-home pay. In other words, how much time do you have to spend at your job to pay for that good or service?

If your take-home pay is $20 an hour, instead of your pad thai costing $28.73, it’s about an hour and a half of work. Is that worth it? Those $80 yoga pants? Four hours. This helps put into perspective the impact some of these purchases can have.”

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. What money issue causes people the most stress and how do you recommend people handle money stress?

Jason Vitug, author, "Happy Money Happy Life": "We understand that financial challenges can bring about mental distress. But mental health issues can lead to financial stress, too. People who are experiencing mental health crises or are going through stressful issues often have their decision-making impaired, which can lead to financial challenges in the future.

Simply stating the answer is to save more, follow a budget, or pay off debt doesn't solve the root issues that are unrelated to money. We can't solve financial issues without first understanding what is actually happening.”

Jason Vitug

Jason Vitug

Shang Saavedra: "I actually would argue it's not money that causes stress, it's stress that causes money problems. Our mental health is completely tied up with our ability to work well, think strategically, and make prudent money decisions. When you feel stress around money — it's a symptom.

Look at your underlying causes. Might you be experiencing depression, anxiety, personality or mood disorders? Are you getting treated for that? Is work stressful and toxic? Are you going through a breakup or divorce? Have you experienced loss of loved one recently? Did you go through a health scare? Those reasons might explain why you have money stress. Address those underlying issues, and many of your money habits will also improve as a result."

Vivian Tu: “Debt is the money issue that really causes people the most stress because it can really hang over you. Despite how stressful debt can be, facing it head-on is much more effective.

My personal favorite way to pay down debt is the avalanche method. The avalanche method teaches you to organize your debt not by the highest balance, but by the highest interest rate. This allows you to prioritize eliminating your scariest and grow-iest debt.”

Phuong Luong: “People tend to feel money stress when they don't feel control over their money or feel like they don't have enough information to decide what next step to take. A strategy that I've found helps people tackle money stress is to make three lists: a list of life and/or financial goals they want to accomplish in the short, medium, and long-term; a list of all of their assets and debts; and a list of their actual monthly income and expenses.

I recommend trying to complete these lists without judging yourself for past financial moves that you may or may not have had control over. There are also pro bono financial advisors available for support, such as through Advisers Give Back.”

Why do you think underrepresented communities are more active in crypto?

According to a 2023 Pew Research Center report, Asian, Black and Hispanic adults are more likely than white adults to say they have ever invested in, traded or used a cryptocurrency, so we asked the influencers why they think that might be.

Humphrey Yang: "I think there's a potential in crypto to get huge gains, never before seen in the stock market, in a relatively short time. That's the appeal. It all comes with more risk, though, and as to why underrepresented communities gravitate towards that, I'm really not sure. I don't agree with the Pew survey, not from my anecdotal evidence."

Vivian Tu: “Personal finance education is abysmal overall in this country, but in particular, communities of color get even less education than white communities. With less education, you aren't equipped with the same tools to make more informed decisions about diversified and longer-term investments.

People are always searching for the next get-rich-quick strategy, and if you don't have the tools and are more likely to be economically disadvantaged, you might find yourself more willing to take risks and invest in more volatile asset classes.”

Jason Vitug: “Many are simply surviving and thinking long-term isn't a luxury we've grown with. That impacts who we believe are investors in the stock market, which often aren't the people we see in the mirror. So if the stock marketing isn't for us, perhaps, the crypto market is our only way to create wealth.

And it's important to note the financial industry has historically marginalized people of color, and a very loosely regulated crypto industry, in my opinion, is following suit by marketing heavily to underrepresented communities.”

More about the influencers

Erika Kullberg, Erika Taught Me

Erika Kullberg, a lawyer and personal finance expert, leverages her legal expertise to create financial literacy content. Erika paid off $225,000 of student debt in two years and is passionate about empowering others through her website and podcast.

Instagram: @erikakullberg

Humphrey Yang, @humphrey

Humphrey Yang is a creator and entrepreneur who has been making content since 2019. Previously a financial advisor who worked in tech, Humphrey loves answering personal finance questions for his friends, family, and audience.

YouTube: @humphrey

Jason Vitug, author

Jason Vitug is an wellness entrepreneur, producer, and the bestselling author of “You Only Live Once,” “Happy Money Happy Life,” and “Make Your Money Smile.” Jason has traveled to 49 states and visited 40 countries, sharing his adventures of discovery and growth. Jason is also a certified yoga teacher and breathwork specialist, incorporating the practice into his teachings for better health, wealth, and happiness.

Instagram: @jasonvitug

Phuong Luong, CFP

Phuong Luong, a certified financial planner, is the founder of Just Wealth, where she helps individuals and families invest and give in ways aligned with their values. She also teaches and writes on racial and gender wealth divides, financial history, and sustainable investing.

Website: justwealthplanning.com

Shang Saavedra, Save My Cents

Shang Saavedra is the founder and CEO of Save My Cents, Inc., where she teaches people the importance of mindset and its impact on wealth. Shang finished saving for her retirement by the age of 31 and is an expert on the habits and behaviors needed to become less fearful of money and live a wealthy life with joy. Shang received her bachelor's degree in economics from Harvard and her MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

Instagram: @savemycents

Vivian Tu, Your Rich BFF

Vivian Tu is a former Wall Street trader, personal finance educator, entrepreneur, and author. She is the founder and CEO of Your Rich BFF, which helps make the rules of personal finance accessible to nonexperts and marginalized communities. Vivian is the author of "RICH AF: The Winning Money Mindset That Will Change Your Life," hosts the podcast "Networth and Chill" and writes the Substack "enRICHed with Your Rich BFF."

TikTok: @yourrichbff

NerdWallet writer June Sham contributed to this story.

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