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Kiersten Crum's life was that of a typical college student before the pandemic. She attended the University of Kansas, where she was a business administration major, with a minor in dance, and was active in her sorority.
That was until spring break 2020, when she had to leave campus like millions of other college kids due to the Covid-19 pandemic. After being sent home and seeing her father's bar business completely shut down for several months, Crum decided to drop out of school and help support her family.
Amid financial desperation, she took a leap of faith and started investing during one of the worst stock market downturns in history. In just over a year, Crum turned an initial $500 investment in Carnival Cruise Lines into an $80,000 portfolio and built a powerful personal brand as the 'Stonk Queen,' gaining nearly 200,000 followers on TikTok. She now uses her brand to help educate young investors on how to start investing and grow their net worth.
Select interviewed Crum about her story, how she embraced the unknown and her advice to those that haven't started investing yet.
Crum's journey into business began in high school when she enrolled in business and personal finance classes — she was sometimes the only girl in her class. It sparked her interest enough to pursue it as her major at the University of Kansas.
During her sophomore year of college, she learned about compound interest for the very first time. But it wasn't until a few of her statistics classmates invited her to an investment club meeting in Feburary that she began to really dig into investing.
Apprehensive at first, she decided to attend a meeting, with the incentive that there was free pizza. When she arrived she found a room filled with young men flashing their Robinhood accounts, some of which displayed multi-thousand-dollar balances.
Over the next few days, several people helped her start investing, right as the market began to fall. Her very first stock purchase was an extremely risky one — Carnival Cruise Line. On Jan. 1, 2020, the stock price was $51. By the time the initial pandemic lockdowns went into effect in late March, the price bottomed out around $9. She bought in near the bottom with a very simple rationale: "What can I grab that is only hit because of Covid-19?"
While stock market plummeted, her father's restaurant business completely shut down. As the weeks wore on, things became financially bleak. Crum had to work two jobs at a grocery store and a local restaurant to help support her family. Still, she continued to build on her position in Carnival, investing any money she could in stocks.
As online school wrapped up for the 2019-20 school year, Crum turned the stock market into her new lecture hall. She studied markets incessantly, watched YouTube videos before bed and listened to audiobooks while working to further hone in on her day trading prowess. And as she was learning, she continued to buy into the market when she could.
She was torn between returning back to school online for the 2020-21 school year, or turning her focus to supporting her family and learning about the stock market.
Crum decided to take the latter option, and it paid off in more ways than one.
Eventually, she even decided to quit her waitressing job because she was making more money day-trading and posting videos on TikTok.
By the end of 2020, she had expanded her portfolio to include other companies, most notably, the famous meme stocks AMC Entertainment and GameStop. Crum used the same logic of buying stocks beaten down by the pandemic — these two stocks were so shorted and cheap that they had almost nowhere else to go but up.
She credits her decision to make these investments to the WallStreetBets, a sub-Reddit community with over 10 million followers where members discuss stock trading.
Because Crum entered into the market during one of the fastest economic freefalls in history, followed by an incredibly quick recovery, she was in the right place at the right time. It isn't typical to have a dramatic financial upswing like this, and Crum recognizes how fortunate she's been. Most investors typically do not see these kinds of returns.
Crum contributed about $10,000 to her account, mostly funded from her grocery store and waitressing jobs — and she's now amassed an impressive $80,000 portfolio. She's also created quite a brand for herself on TikTok, with one video reaching 4.5 million views.
"People recognize me now, which is so crazy," she says.
Crum uses her TikTok to share her story of stock market success, while also educating viewers about investing. She's found so much success on the platform that she was featured in a Wall Street Times story in April.
But she still bartends and this fall, she plans to return to school. She's shifted gears to be a finance major and is selecting courses around portfolio management so she can continue learning about the stock market.
Prior to the pandemic, many young Americans were not investing in the stock market. According to a 2018 Gallup poll, only 37% of Americans under 34 years of age owned stocks. That number has quickly increased as the emergence of investing apps like Robinhood have taken hold during the pandemic.
Crum suggests that young investors not only focus on the crazed meme stocks, but to think about investing on a larger scale.
"Put away any money you can to invest," she says.
She suggested taking a "chunk of every single paycheck" and putting it to work in the stock market. She argues that "you're not even going to realize you're missing it," and that the potential upside is huge.
While Crum used a more hands-on approach to investing, picking individual stocks can be incredibly difficult and risky. In fact, many new and seasoned investors lose money this way. Consider a more passive investment strategy like using a robo-advisor, such as Wealthfront of Betterment, or simply buying into an index fund.
Crum also encourages young people to understand the larger concepts of investing. "Get in the mindset of wanting to invest to understand how compound interest can work," she says.
But finally, Crum says to go with your gut intuition when it comes to investing.
"I think you have to take a few of those random risks...just go for it," she says.
Before investing into individual stocks, it's crucial to hit several personal finance milestones, including having a fully funded emergency fund, paying off high interest debt and contributing enough to your 401(k) to qualify for your employer's match.
Once you hit those markers, be sure to include index funds and ETFs into your portfolio. These are an easy way to get into the market without having to individually pick stocks.
After that, you can consider a no-fee brokerage account such as TD Ameritrade.