My parents immigrated to Canada from New Delhi in 1997, when I was just four years old. We moved around Ontario as my dad looked for work, living in Hamilton, Waterloo, London and the Greater Toronto Area. My dad was a tool and die maker in New Delhi and he continued to work in manufacturing for a while after we came to Canada. He wanted to try new things, too: he dabbled in car sales for a while and bought a gas station in a small Ontario town where we lived. My mom helped out with the gas station and took on a few side jobs: she passed out chocolate milk samples at a grocery store and worked at a call centre.
One Halloween, when I was 11, my mom sat down with my brother and me and told us we would have to be creative with our costumes. My dad had just bought the gas station, so money was tight. I realized then that my parents struggled to provide our family with financial stability.
As I got older, I noticed there were things other kids had that we didn’t, like yearly family vacations. But my parents made our childhood special anyway: my mom was great at finding free activities when we were little. We enjoyed hanging out at the library and doing summer reading programs.
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Although I realized as a kid that my parents were struggling with money, I didn’t think seriously about my own financial future. By my mid-20s, I was a student at the University of Waterloo and had already held several jobs: I worked at a McDonald’s for $9.60 an hour, at a bubble tea shop where I was paid about $11 an hour, and as a research assistant while I studied. Even though I was earning money, I wasn’t saving much: I spent a lot of it on clothes and going out to restaurants and bars.
I graduated university in 2017 with $35,000 in student debt. A good friend of mine, who is also an accountant, looked at my student loan payments and spending. I wasn’t spending extravagantly, but he encouraged me to be more mindful with my money and asked why I was only making minimum payments toward my loans. I became more serious about paying off my debt—I saved bonuses from work, for example, and put them toward my loan. After university, I got a job as a product manager at an education start-up and lived in a basement studio apartment in Toronto’s Little Italy.
When the pandemic hit, I had about $14,000 left in student loans. I paid it off in one lump-sum payment and moved back in with my parents. I suddenly had a lot more disposable income and fewer expenses, so I started looking into investing. The ability to build long-term wealth was a luxury my parents didn’t have. They taught me the basics, like saving and how credit works, but investing was something I had to teach myself.
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I wanted to share what I was learning with other first-generation immigrants and young people online, so I turned to TikTok in 2020. (Plus I had more free time than ever before and was looking for a distraction.) I started my TikTok account in March and posted a few videos about my daily life. It wasn’t until October of 2020 that I started posting regularly. In December, I went viral for the first time after posting a video of my fiancé playing tabla, a traditional hand drum, for my parents.
I didn’t gain a significant following until November 2021, when I posted a TikTok of a budgeting tool I had created for myself. Most spending trackers divide your spending into categories like “entertainment” and “groceries.” My tracker was structured as a calendar on a spreadsheet that allowed me to track how much I spent each day. It’s easy to ignore your spending by putting off looking at your credit card statement, but the ritual of writing it down forced me to be mindful of where my money was going. I made it available online as a free template for others and gained 50,000 followers in one week from that video. I now have over 100,000 followers, which I’ve gained by posting consistently over the last two years.
@ohmygoshnaJust like last year the template is free, all I ask is that you follow me 🥰 I would suggest opening the link on desktop. Please let me know if you have any questions!♬ original sound – Ashna ✨
I make educational finance videos, like talking about what a Tax-Free Savings Account is, what an investing account looks like and the importance of letting your investments grow over time. My finance knowledge is self-taught—I watch a lot of YouTube videos and learn from the Wealthsimple blog—and I don’t claim to be an expert. I also try not to give prescriptive cookie-cutter advice because I know everyone’s financial situation is different. I’ve also monetized my TikTok through brand deals with Secret, Food Basics and KitchenAid. I usually make a few thousand dollars per deal, but it varies.
It’s been meaningful for me to share financial advice that helped me with other young women in their 20s. I post videos about my everyday life too—what I’m doing, eating and wearing—and I do it because I want to share my life with others. But seeing a South Asian woman living a full life, where she’s happy and trying to have it all, resonates with people. One woman messaged me saying that she and her husband moved to Canada from Sri Lanka, and that she hoped her children could live like me one day. I know a lot of South Asian women didn’t grow up with someone they could look up to and take advice from. If my viewers benefit from my videos, whether that’s learning something that helps them take control of their finances or gives them a sense of community, then that’s good enough for me.
—As told to Leila El Shennawy