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Smart Money Podcast – Embrace Financial Vulnerability to Get Out of Debt: Social Media’s Impact on Financial Freedom

Welcome to NerdWallet’s Smart Money podcast, where we answer your real-world money questions. In this episode:

Brittney Reynolds explains how sharing her finances publicly on social media helped her get out of debt and develop a new community.

What are the benefits of sharing your finances publicly?

How is social media changing the way people talk about money?

Hosts Sean Pyles and Elizabeth Ayoola discuss the rise of financial transparency on social media and its impact on community building to help you understand the power of vulnerability in achieving financial freedom.

Sean speaks with Brittney Reynolds, who candidly shared her journey of getting out of debt to her audience on TikTok, where she currently has more than 90,000 followers. They discuss the trend of people publicly sharing their financial journeys on social media platforms like TikTok, with tips and tricks on reducing debt shame, fostering supportive online communities, and navigating the pressures of content creation post-debt payoff. They also discuss the sense of class solidarity that comes from such vulnerability and how the online community champions transparency and authenticity in the pursuit of managing money.

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Episode transcript

This transcript was generated from podcast audio by an AI tool.

How much money do you have in your bank account? How about your credit card debt? How much is there? What do you have left to pay on your mortgage? Would you like to tell us all about it in public, on camera, without being disguised? No? Well, there are people who would and do share their finances publicly, and today we’re going to hear from one of them.

It’s so nice, that. I love seeing other people’s videos about finances. I love when people are like, “Oh, I’m going to post about my debt too. Maybe I can make something of this.” I’m like, “Yeah, you should. That’s awesome.” I feel like it helps so much, just having that conversation with people. It does really reduce the shame.

Welcome to NerdWallet’s Smart Money podcast. I’m Sean Pyles.

This episode concludes our Nerdy deep dive into weird money, the odd, unusual, funky things we do to make money or manage it.

My heart breaks, Sean. Did you say we’re concluding?

Okay. Well, I’ll hold on to the good times, and the good times are that this has been a fun series, Sean. I love how we’ve been going beyond the usual suspects in money management and exploring all these quirky things.

I’ve really enjoyed hearing some of the different weird and unconventional ways that people deal with money. I’m not sure I’m going to get a bunch more credit cards or start hoarding collectibles or spend my days looking for coupon bargains, but hey, more power to ya if you do. I do have a question for you, Elizabeth.

You always have a question for me, Sean. Ask me. Tell me.

I’d like to know the current balance on all of your credit cards,

Sean. Really? I’m a Nerd. I don’t carry balances, duh. Even if I did, I would not be telling you or all of the listeners, but I will just give y’all a hint and say my balances are low.

Yeah, same, although after a brief stint with credit card debt, I now pay off my balances weekly to keep my spending in check. A little bit of self-control and self-management there. Even though I talk about money every day for my job, and in a public forum no less, I don’t make a habit of telling everyone my loan or mortgage balances or the state of my savings accounts. I’ll talk about the buckets I use for savings, sure, but our listeners and you don’t know how much I have in them, right?

Right, Sean, because that’s none of our business.

Most of us do not talk about our financial situations with anyone but maybe a spouse or partner. A survey from NerdWallet partner Wells Fargo from earlier this year found that 82% of Americans consider money to be a private topic. Survey respondents said that money was more difficult to talk about than death, politics, religion, personal health and taxes.

Wow. Was there anything more difficult than money to talk about?

Out of all of the options, sex, but then when they were asked about just money and sex, almost half said an open and honest conversation about money was more challenging than discussing their romantic life. Again, for the most part, we as a people do not like talking about money, especially our money.

All right, so let me guess. Today’s weird money feature is going to be around people who do like talking about their money.

You are correct. There’s a whole movement of people out there who literally go on social media and tell everything about their finances, the good and the bad.

Okay, let’s start with my biggest one, which is my Chase one. It was at $18,100. I put $400 more dollars on this card this pay period, putting me ending at $17,700, okay? Then, girls, then we get to my Wells Fargo card, which was at $1,600, and I put $1,600 on the card, so that’s a zero, okay, putting my total debt from $27,500 to $25,500, which is so exciting.

Today we’re going to help our listeners understand things like why this phenomenon is happening, why it might be worthwhile for some people, and how to go about it if you’d like to give it a try. We’d like to hear what you think too, listeners, and we would absolutely love to hear about the different odd and wonderfully weird things that you do to either make money or manage your money. Leave us a voicemail or text us on the Nerd hotline at (901) 730-6373, that’s (901) 730-NERD, or email a voice memo to [email protected].

All right, Sean, before you break our hearts, tell us who the grand finale guest is going to be. Who are we hearing from today?

Today we’re talking with Brittney Reynolds. She’s 28, and has more than 90,000 followers on TikTok who’ve watched her pare down a sizable amount of credit card debt while talking about it openly on her channel. That’s in a moment. Stay with us. Brittney Reynolds, thanks so much for being here on Smart Money.

Yeah, thank you for having me. I’m so excited to chat.

You shared your experience of paying off debt on social media, and you garnered a lot of attention and followers in the process, but let’s start with the debt itself. How much did you have and how did you get it?

Yeah. I would say at my peak I had about $36,000 of credit card debt. I would say a good 80% of that was just consumer spending. I feel like people get really shocked to hear that, but it’s really like once you’re in a lot of debt, it’s easy to stay in a lot of debt, because of a million and a half other reasons.

Right. You get used to a certain way of spending, the interest on credit cards is exorbitant, and it gets hard to pay it down.

Right. I calculated my interest from 2023, and I think I paid somewhere upwards of $5,000 to $6,000 of credit card interest. Every single month, I was paying about $500 or $600 for one credit card, which was wild.

Just on interest alone, yeah. When did you know that you needed to make a change and get serious about paying off your debt?

Yeah, I think it was twofold. I was living in the Bay Area. I really wanted to move back down to Southern California. I was also in a relationship and living with a partner at the time, and I knew that I needed to end that relationship, but I also knew what my financial situation was. It was a lot of me just being realistic with myself, of like, okay, if I’m going to end this relationship, then I likely need to move back in with my parents, because I can’t afford to go get my own apartment. At that point, I had really looked at my financial situation and I was like, “Oh, my God, I will be able to allocate $4,000 a month to my credit cards if I don’t have that.”

The rent of the Bay Area apartment?

The rent of the Bay. The rumors are true. The rumors are true. It’s very expensive.

Yeah. As someone who also had Bay Area rent for a number of years, I can say worth it, until it’s not.

Absolutely. That is 100% what I would say. I think the first couple of years that I was in the Bay Area, I was like, “This is amazing. This is great. I love it here.” Then I was like, “I gotta go. I can’t do this anymore.” I stayed for probably another three to four years, as we do as people.

Well, Brittney, did you have a specific strategy for paying off your debt? At NerdWallet we talk a lot about the debt snowball and debt avalanche methods. Did you use one of those, or was also just sharing your story on social media part of your strategy too?

Yeah, I would say a mix of all of them. Initially social media wasn’t really a part of my strategy, but it became a part of my strategy. I did a mix of snowball and avalanche. I had three separate credit cards that were the $36,000 of credit card debt. My smallest one was about $2,000 at the time. Or no, I think it was $4,000. So I wiped that one out and then moved to my high-interest card, which I think at max was at like $24,000 of credit card debt. Then my third card was my zero-interest credit card, which was at $7,000.

Okay. I want to talk about the experience of posting these videos on social media. Had you made videos online before, or was this your first venture into doing this?

Yeah, I had a little bit. I would post on TikTok just for fun, just randomly. I had gone viral a couple of times, but it wasn’t something that had any consistency at all. I posted the debt video initially I think in September, was when I posted it, just poking fun at myself, honestly, like, “Oh, 28-year-old moves back home with her parents to pay off this debt.” I know everyone always says this, but I didn’t expect that this was going to become what it was, literally at all.

That video went really viral for both positive and negative. Of course, half of the people were like, “She’s just mooching off of her parents,” and all of these things. Then half of the people were like, “Oh, my gosh, I’ve never heard someone talk about this. I also have so much credit card debt. I feel so much shame.” It really at that point started building a community of people.

Thinking back to that first video, what was going through your head? Were you trying to connect with people who were paying off debt, or was it almost more of you putting a diary entry out on TikTok?

Definitely more of me putting a diary entry out, because at that point I honestly didn’t really even realize that so many other people were in so much credit card debt, which when you zoom out, it’s like, of course. There’s a lot of people who are in debt, but I hadn’t personally heard anyone. I thought it was more like, oh, I’m documenting my journey. I had no idea that so many people were going to resonate with it.

It became really, really special, because many people were messaging and being like, “You make me feel so much better about my situation,” or, “It’s so nice to have someone else who’s also doing this.” So a big community formed, for sure.

Yeah. Well, you did gain a lot of followers, and you eventually appeared in my own TikTok feed as I was swiping in bed before going to sleep, something you shouldn’t be doing, but I do. How did it feel to get more visibility and more followers? Did that change the way you thought about your finances when you talked about it?

Yeah, a little bit. I think at the time, I was also feeling really isolated at my parents’ house because I wasn’t around my friends. I didn’t have the same routine. It became a little bit of a social thing too, of like, “Oh, this is so fun. I get to have this creative avenue to focus on while I’m here paying off my credit card debt, because quite transparently, I have not been doing anything else besides hanging out here, going on walks.” I feel like a big question that I get is, “How are you avoiding those temptations?” I’m like, “I’m not around my friends. I don’t have the same temptation of dinner parties or going to bars and whatever.” It was a lot easier than I anticipated it to be. Yeah, a big mix of stuff.

Yeah, I feel like you can just walk down the street in the Bay area and spend $50 before you get to the end of the block. That’s part of the fun but the danger of the Bay Area, or any big city really. Brittney, were there ever parts of your debt payoff journey or your finances in general that you thought were maybe too personal, that you didn’t want to share online? Were you like, “This is just me, I’m an open book, let’s talk about it”?

I feel like a lot of the times I felt pretty like, “I’m an open book, let’s talk about it.” I’m totally fine to talk about pretty much anything. I think the issue that I would face occasionally is people would feel very entitled to information if I didn’t mention something, which is never me just, “Oh, I’m keeping this secret from everyone.” It’s just like me being a person and being like, “Yeah, I spent a couple hundred dollars on this other thing.” People get very like, if I had a weekend trip, “Oh, how much money did you spend?” It’s like I’m fine to tell you that, that’s not a secret, but it also feels very like, “Oh.”

When you put yourself out there, people feel or can feel entitled to know every single thing about you. If there’s a little bit of inconsistency in the story, because maybe you just forgot to include a detail, oh, suddenly there’s a conspiracy where you’re hiding something.

Exactly, exactly. That’s what I found a little bit, but I’ve always been a very open-book type of person, I mean, I just signed for an apartment with my security deposit and stuff. I am with that also getting messages of, “Okay, well, tell us about your savings goal. Did you hit your savings goal?” It’s like I hit it for my security deposit. I paid my security deposit. I’ll hit it again at the end of the month for the move. It’s interesting.

I think at a certain point when you share your story online like this, when you’ve chronicled it over many months, you become a little bit less than fully human to people who watch you. You are a vessel for a narrative about people’s finances, and so they want to have the details of this fan fiction that they’re projecting onto you, who is a real person. How do you grapple with that? Because it must feel surreal, having thousands of people engaging with you and following you and wanting more from you, and you’re just like, “I’m just a person, trying to pay off debt and get an apartment.”

Oh, it feels so crazy. It feels crazy, because it’s like whenever anyone refers to me as an influencer or something, I’m like, “I don’t necessarily see myself as an influencer. I’m just a girl. Just a girl.”

You’re living in the Warholian future of TikTok, where everyone gets 15 minutes of talking about their finances on the internet.

Exactly. I think 99% of the feelings towards it are really positive, I would say. I love interacting with people. People recognize me in public, which is crazy. That has been so fun, so a lot of it is really positive. I think the insecurity of things performing well or having things to talk about, or now in this stage of my life where I’m like, okay, I’m not paying off debt, so what content can I create? Then I’m like, I’m not a content machine. I can figure it out, and will post what works or what I want to post. It’s interesting.

People want the story to continue forever, but you’re in a different chapter now, right?

Totally. People like to see someone struggling.

Yeah, yeah. In part because I’m sure they’re struggling too, and they can relate to it. Also there’s the hero’s journey that you’re on financially, but you’re not the only person who’s sharing their financial story online. I would like to hear what you think it is about social media culture today that makes this something people are more willing to share. Because historically, talking about your finances has been very taboo.

Yeah. I mean, I think that the millennial and Gen Z generation is more of an open-book generation, I think, as far as, yeah, we share whatever, which is blessing and a curse sometimes with certain things, but it’s something about finances. I feel like it’s like we’re commiserating together, because we also know that things, like with the systems that we have in place from our government or just how society is set up, we know we are not set up for success. There’s all these things, these factors at play.

I feel like it’s a lot of commiserating together, which like, thank God. I feel like it’s so nice, that. I love seeing other people’s videos about finances. I love when people are like, “Oh, I’m going to post about my debt too. Maybe I can make something of this.” I’m like, “Yeah, you should. That’s awesome.” I feel like it helps so much, just having that conversation with people. It does really reduce the shame.

To me, I see all of these people sharing their financial stories online, and there’s the Loud Budgeting movement where people are talking about their budgets very openly, in contrast to the whole Quiet Luxury trend. It seems to me to be an act of class solidarity. Do you feel like that’s true? Do you feel like you are connecting more with people who have similar socioeconomic experiences as you, when you are talking about your finances so openly online?

Definitely, yeah. I think we’re all realizing the issue with how things are set up is it doesn’t feel like we have any room for error. It doesn’t feel like we can mess up, because we have to pay rent and we have to buy groceries and we have to do all of these things. At bare minimum, at least have people that you’re able to talk to about that and be like, “Oh, my God, my $90 grocery bill is really stressing me out,” or, “I don’t feel like I can get my friend a birthday present, and how do I tell her that or how do I tell them that?” It’s like the conversation is just so much easier, I guess. Easier isn’t the right word, but it’s like, people get it.

There are more avenues for it, yeah, because financial experiences can feel very individual and very isolating, and TikTok asks for the opposite of that. It asks for you to share everything and connect with other people. You’re bridging those two, just through your day-to-day posting.

Totally, yeah. It’s so funny. I don’t remember whose podcast it was, but they were talking about me. Someone sent it to me. They were talking about me on the podcast, and it was a queer podcast and I’m queer. They were talking about we don’t get any messy gay characters, that are just not doing things correctly or showing the hard of that. I’m like, “Yeah, that’s true. Let us be a little bit messy sometimes too.” It’s nice to have different perspectives.

Yeah. I’m wondering what you hope your followers get from your story, if you have any sort of intentionality around that.

The sense of community, to be able to feel like they have a place that they go where they know it’s going to be a good energy. Not to say that I need to come on and be smiling and clapping every single day. I’m going to show up where I’m at at the time, but I hope that that also makes people feel like they can show up where they’re at and have a little bit of a partner in life, of just like, “Yeah, we’re doing this role, doing this together, and these people understand me in a different way than my friends might,” and whatnot. I have garnered a lot of parasocial relationships with followers, which, I mean, it’s fun. It’s so funny.

Let’s talk about where your finances are now. You paid off your credit card debt, right?

Yes. Yes. We’re officially debt-free.

Congratulations. That’s amazing. You’re about to move into an apartment, also congratulations. It’s very exciting. What do you think is next for you?

Getting good at budgeting, and also being patient with myself I think is something I’m really, really trying to sit with, of like, “Okay, you paid off this debt. That was a huge accomplishment. That doesn’t mean that you have everything figured out.” No, I’m not going to get into that big of credit card debt again, of course, but I also am trying to be like, “Okay, we’re going to figure out budgeting.” There may be some errors, there may be some moments of stress, but that’s fine. That’s okay.

This is something I’m doing for the first time. I am going to have the temptations of hanging out with friends or buying clothes or what have you. When I do move, as we all know, moving is incredibly expensive. This next month I’m just really focusing on building my savings, and making sure I’m set up in a good way to move and get the things I need.

Yeah. Well, that’s great to hear. I’m also wondering, have you been able to leverage your popularity online, your followers, to make money? Do you have any affiliate partnerships? Has that helped you out financially at all?

Oh, absolutely. I mean, TikTok played a huge, huge role in my debt payoff. My original timeline, I was supposed to be debt-free by, I believe, end of July, but we hit it mid-March, which was nuts. I started getting brand deals around December of last year, which it felt insane to me. It felt just like Monopoly money. I was like, “This is nuts.” Also it’s so fun. I also, for my nine-to-five, work in influencer marketing. It was so fun to be on the other side of it, where I was like, “Oh, this is cool. It’s fun to talk about this.” As far as that continuing, it’s one of those things that I’m like, I hope it continues. I don’t know. We’ll see.

Yeah. It seems like that is an incentive for you to continue this narrative, this next chapter that you have, and follow your financial journey through to whatever you do next.

Oh, for sure, for sure. I think I also, when it comes down to it, I just really enjoy making videos. It’s something that I definitely will continue doing, and the money that I make from that, I’m feeling incredibly lucky. We’re fingers crossed that it continues. Fingers crossed.

Yeah. We’re doing this podcast series that’s kind of the umbrella of weird or unconventional money behaviors. Do you think that going public with your finances is weird at all, or even a little unconventional? I mean, obviously you’re not shy about it.

Yeah. No, I definitely think it’s unconventional, but it’s so funny because it’s just, like I said, I’m a Gemini. I feel like I’m always just telling everyone my business. It didn’t feel weird or unconventional. I mean, it never felt weird or unconventional to me, but after I posted it, everyone was just like, “Oh, my God, I could never do that. I can never do that.” I’m like, “What?” My friends all knew that I was in my credit card debt. It wasn’t a secret. Even when I told my parents, they were very, I mean, obviously not stoked that I was in that much credit card debt, but they were like, “Yeah, we also did a similar thing when we were in our early twenties. It happens.”

So many people have credit card debt. As a fellow Gemini, I can say I can relate to oversharing about yourself publicly.

I can’t shut my mouth sometimes. I really can’t.

Well, Brittney Reynolds, thank you so much for talking with us and sharing your story.

Thank you for having me. It was so great to chat. I’m glad we were able to connect.

Wow. Sean, I think one of my biggest takeaways from this is that when people are all up in your business, you might have a chance of paying down debt in nine months, and I think that that is major. I also think another important thing here is, as I mentioned earlier, when you talk about your finances openly, it can be uncomfortable.

But It can also take away the shame and open you up to a level of accountability, which I think is sometimes missing when we find ourselves, and I know debt is caused by different reasons, but maybe having challenges with controlling our budget or impulse spending. When you know you have millions of people, or thousands of people in her case, on the internet watching you, you might be a little bit more cautious about your spending. I think that’s something that I took away from the episode.

Yeah. What surprised me when I talked with Brittney was just how normal this whole thing seemed to her. Sure, it’s weird having thousands of people watching your every financial move, but to her it’s just another day, and now it’s become a way for her to make some money too.

Absolutely. I also think it’s brave. I imagine that she’s helped so many people who feel ashamed to talk about money, just by sharing her finances daily. Also, sometimes when you see how other people spend their money, it helps you feel seen as well. Especially if you feel like, “Ooh, I shouldn’t have spent $50 buying croissants at Starbucks,” talking to myself.

Sean, I have to say again how much I’ve enjoyed this series. It’s been really fun to hear all the weird and wonderful ways that people make and manage their money, especially outside of the usual jobs and savings and investments accounts that we usually talk about on the show.

I agree. Now, of course, extreme couponing and collectibles and making your finances public, they’re not for everyone, but if it works for you, we say go for it.

Exactly. I think the highlight for me has been seeing how people use quirky hobbies or interests to save and how dedicated they are too, because these people are committed, okay? Over 20 credit cards, collectibles, couponing, the list goes on. It has also made me realize how boring I am when it comes to saving money, but it’s fine, because I’m exciting in other areas of life. Balance.

There you go. Life is all about balance. After all of the interviews for this series, what I keep coming back to is what one person thinks is weird is just another person’s passionate dedication. Whether you’re using over three dozen credit cards to get tons of points or making a business from extreme couponing, people are going to think that you are a little off for doing these things that are outside of the norm, but guess what? The norm is boring. So I say let your financial freak flag fly and live your best life.

All right, y’all. For now, that’s all we have for this episode and this series. Tears, tears, tears. Do you have a money question of your own? Turn to the Nerds and call or text us your questions at (901) 730-6373. That’s (901) 730-N-E-R-D. You can also email us at [email protected]. Finally, visit for more information on this particular episode. And remember to follow us, rate us and review us, wherever you are on the planet.

This episode was produced by Tess Vigeland. I helped with editing. Kevin Berry helped with fact checking. Sara Brink mixed our audio, and a big thank you to NerdWallet’s editors for all their help.

And here’s our brief disclaimer. We are not financial or investment advisors. This nerdy information is provided for general educational and entertainment purposes, and it may not apply to your specific circumstances.

With that said, until next time, turn to the Nerds.

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