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Update: As of September 2020, @FinanceSnacks is no longer active. Co-creator Rebecka Zavaleta has launched a new personal finance platform called @FirstMilli_.
Scrolling through the latest posts by Finance Snacks on Instagram, it’s easy to see how the brand lives up to its name.
The feed is made up of shareable, succinct, easily digestible advice on a range of personal finance topics, from core concepts like compounding interest and reducing fixed expenses to more complex subjects such as closing the racial wealth gap and surviving a recession. By breaking down a financial education into bite-size pieces, Finance Snacks offers an access point to the complex world of finance for even the most novice readers.
Finance Snacks founders Nathalie Figueroa, 27, and Rebecka Zavaleta, 29, know personal finance is not an easy topic. And what’s more, an education in financial essentials such as saving, budgeting, and investing isn’t always readily available for people typically underserved by financial institutions, including members of impoverished communities, people of color, immigrants, and women.
Without formal certifications or titles, they aren’t your traditional financial advisors, but Figueroa and Zavaleta use their personal experiences, from paying off debt to testing accounts and financial products, to help inform their community. For Finance Snacks, knowledge sharing and discussion is as much the focus as giving advice.
“Our community is made up of a lot of people who are taking personal finance education into their own hands,” Figueroa says. “They are just coming to it, whether they’re 18, 25, or 45 years old. The one thing that we all share in common is that we didn’t have someone breaking these concepts down for us.”
In the months since the brand’s creation in August 2019, Finance Snacks has grown more than 12.5 thousand Instagram followers into a thriving community founded on financial empowerment through accessibility and education.
Finance Snacks’ Foundations
Figueroa and Zavaleta met as undergraduates at the University of Pennsylvania in 2012 and initially connected over the lack of campus representation from their coastal home cities, Miami and Los Angeles.
But they also discovered a shared passion for economic empowerment.
“We found that we kept talking about our frustration with the [lack of] tools available that would encourage people from lower-income backgrounds or people who are not thinking about wealth to actually start on that path,” Figueroa says.
After graduation, they took different individual approaches toward their shared goal; today, Zavaleta works full-time in tech and Figueroa in the nonprofit sector, both in California, where they reunited post-graduation.
Since they both hold full-time positions, Finance Snacks is truly a passion project for Figueroa and Zavaleta. Their free time in the evenings and on weekends is devoted to Finance Snacks: turning their passion for the ideas they’ve exchanged into action, and enhancing the financial literacy they’ve identified a need for in their communities.
“[Nathalie] is bringing in her social impact knowledge from the nonprofit world and I’m bringing in my tech knowledge: how to scale products, iterate on customer voice, and create a product that is self-sustaining and truly provides value to the user,” Zavaleta says.
But today, their focus is on education. By equipping people with the necessary information to make smart financial decisions, their hope is people will feel empowered to start taking action themselves.
Spotlight on Community Education
Building community is central to the Finance Snacks brand; it’s evident throughout each post’s conversational comments section, in regular Saturday “Office Hours” Q&A sessions on Instagram Live, and especially in Figueroa and Zavaleta’s direct message inbox.
They say these one-on-one conversations and personal approaches to education have been essential to the brand’s growth. They cover widely-ranging topics: whether you should maximize your 401(k) or IRA contributions, making the decision to put extra money toward low-interest student loan debt or invest it, how to roll over a retirement account when you change jobs, and more.
Figueroa and Zavaleta never tell community members what they should do with their money or give specific recommendations for products and services. Instead, they present options, empowering people to make the decisions that are best suited for their own situations.
But the information sharing doesn’t end with the limited character count alloted by Instagram.
Figueroa and Zavaleta have begun to move beyond their social media roots, expanding the complex topics they cover into regular newsletters and increasing their output of more thorough, explanatory content on the Finance Snacks website.
“We don’t want to oversimplify things that require proper attention,” Figueroa says. “We think about Instagram now as our launching pad; we create shareable, one-on-one, glossary-type content there. But the way to really implement it and get the most out of these things — the tips you really want to know — that’ll be found on our website and our newsletter.”
Perhaps the best example of Finance Snacks’ community-oriented approach to financial education is also one of its most popular features: PayDay Diaries.
The idea stemmed from questions and feedback from community members following posts about “Millionaire Moves” to make in your 20s, 30s, and beyond. Those posts highlighted investment strategies for long-term wealth-building, but they found they needed to contextualize the advice further.
“We can tell someone to invest, but that’s not doing anything,” Zavaleta says. “That’s why it was important to start showing opportunity costs. If you start investing $100 or $200 a month, what does that look like for you?”
To help their message better resonate, they began using real examples from members of their community to illustrate how building financial habits can lead to financial health.
In an effort to encourage as much honesty as possible, readers anonymously submit their personal financial information, including income, fixed expenses, savings, and other information, which Figueroa and Zavaleta use to create a financial snapshot. Then, they evaluate that snapshot and offer recommendations for how the diarist may choose to allocate their money to better serve their financial goals.
But that evaluation is just a canvas to start the conversation.
“We post it on our Instagram, and then people start crowdsourcing strategies for how to best address your paychecks,” Zavaleta says. “What can you really do with your $2,000 paycheck based on these fixed costs, your budget, and your goals? Everybody helps each other figure out the best solution.”
They see PayDay Diaries as the democratization of a service that, through traditional channels such as wealth management and financial planning, can have steep barriers to entry when it comes to net worth and income.
“It has validated what we love about the community in the sense that they all are rooting for each other,” Figueroa says. “The fact that they are willing to share their learnings with the community at large, coming out publicly and answering these questions.”
Personal Financial Habits and Systemic Change
In some ways, Finance Snacks is very much focused on individual empowerment: Its content provides actionable information on personal decisions like choosing between a mutual fund and an ETF, or to help build your credit score, for example.
Finance Snacks also emphasizes the importance of building lasting habits through persistent actions that will allow you achieve your goals, whether that’s saving money to buy your dream home or quitting your job to start a business.
Figueroa and Zavaleta believe these individual actions taken by members of a community can help lay the foundation for broader systemic change.
When individual community members feel more financially empowered through education and healthy habits to achieve their own goals, they have the ability to make a difference in their communities, lengthening the chain to a more empowered community at large.
But the formula of awareness and persistent action leading to change extends beyond individual financial literacy. More systemic challenges within our financial systems can inhibit people in underserved communities or from underprivileged backgrounds from achieving financial health. Figueroa and Zavaleta believe creating a more just system for communities at large requires not only individual habits, but systemic action, too.
For Finance Snacks, highlighting what both individuals and institutions can do to help broader communities achieve financial empowerment is a priority.
“We want to make sure that people are aware that it’s not just individual action; there’s also some accountability that we need to hold our financial services institutions to a standard, and our government which regulates those institutions,” Figueroa says. “If there’s a takeaway for people that’s different from all the content already out there telling you how to use your money, it’s that we need to focus introspectively, but also on asking the people who are delivering these products and services to do right by us.”
The Future of Finance Snacks
Looking ahead, Finance Snacks is ultimately a tech company, Figueroa and Zavaleta say. They want to build tech products that help people put their educational foundation into action and begin saving, investing, and budgeting.
“We want to keep things as cheap and accessible as possible,” Zavaleta says. “We also want to find ways to make this sustainable for ourselves, but ultimately, Finance Snacks wants to stay accessible.”
In the meantime, their focus remains on education.
They’re continually learning how to best package difficult concepts and break down complex or intimidating topics into those digestible, bite-size pieces that will bring community members one step closer to their own financial empowerment.
“It’s like a breath of fresh air; money is no longer this thing to avoid because it creates anxiety,” Figueroa says. “Now, they’ve embraced that it takes baby steps.”