LET'S TALK ABOUT MONEY: The world's top fitness influencer says success isn't about money — it's about the freedom to make your own decisions

Kayla Itsines says she wish she had lived with her parents longer instead of "wasting money" on rent.Courtesy of Kayla Itsines
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Kayla Itsines sits atop one of the Internet's first fitness empires.

The 29-year-old personal trainer, along with ex-fiancé Tobi Pearce, pioneered the 12-week "Bikini Body Guide" (BBG) fitness program in 2014. BBG quickly garnered a cult following as Itsines began publishing before-and-after photos of her clients on her Instagram profile, which exceeds 12 million followers today.

In 2015, she and Pearce launched personal training app SWEAT App. It features all of Itsines' BBG programs and the programs of four other trainers, creating an online fitness community of 50 million. Forbes named Itsines the world's top fitness influencer in 2017, calling her the "Internet's undisputed workout queen."
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As part of its millennial finance series,"Let's Talk About Money," Business Insider spoke with Itsines about pivoting her business during a pandemic. Here's Itsines on how to find success in the business space, her first set of workout equipment, and why she should have delayed moving out of her parents' house.

"Let's Talk About Money" is a series of conversations with millennials about wealth. Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Fitness influencer wasn't a career that existed until the 2010s. As a child, what did you imagine you'd be when you grew up?
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I've always led a pretty active lifestyle, and I had a real passion for sports. Both of my parents were teachers and I was always inspired by them and their passion for helping young people grow. Looking to combine my love for being active with a desire to help people in some way, I wanted to be a physical education teacher.

After finishing school, I decided to become a qualified personal trainer, and I never looked back. I can't imagine doing anything else. You created BBG in 2014. What moment made you realize you had something big on your hands?
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During a boot camp we held in Perth, Australia, back in 2014, we had just started to run boot camps, so I literally had no idea if 10 or 100 women were going to turn up. When I walked out to more than 4,000 women ready to train with me, it was one of the most surreal and humbling moments of my life!

The power and energy of so many women in one place at one time was just amazing. I felt quite emotional.

You're a pioneer in online fitness empires driven by social media. What's your advice for aspiring influencers looking to enter the fitness space today?
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My advice for anyone looking to enter into the fitness space is to create a business or brand based around something you enjoy and are truly passionate about. When you work in building something you love and believe in what you are doing, you will be successful.

I would advise any would-be fitness entrepreneurs to understand your customer and what they are looking for from your fitness product or service. Listen to what your customer wants and to put their needs first.

Gyms have been hit hard by the pandemic, but at-home workouts have been thriving. How has your work day-to-day changed since the pandemic started?
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Like many women through COVID-19, I was trying to juggle working from home, being a mother, doing household chores, and adjusting to a new routine.

Many women did not have the knowledge, time, space, or equipment available to them to continue their regular workout routine. We quickly shifted our focus to increase our at-home workout offering, creating workouts that require basic or no equipment from each of our SWEAT Trainers.

Speaking to women around the world and understanding the challenges they were facing when it came to exercising from home inspired me to create my new BBG Zero Equipment program. My focus is creating workout content that can further support women to keep active through these tough times.
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At what point during your career did you feel financially stable?

I first felt financially stable when I was able to live comfortably and help my parents pay off the mortgage on their house in Adelaide, South Australia. For me, financial stability is having the freedom to make decisions on my own terms, and support my family. The health and happiness of my family is my priority, so being able to give back to my family and bring them joy has been incredibly fulfilling.
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What practical things do you like to spend on, and what do you like to splurge on?

I'm from a big Greek family, and mealtime is a cherished time of the day for us as a family when we come together and enjoy each other's company. We spend a lot of time together preparing and eating big Mediterranean-style meals, so the most practical thing I spend my money on would be food for a big Greek-style family dinner.

When it comes to splurging, I'm a self-confessed neat-freak and love cleaning — it's sad but true! So I usually invest in quality cleaning equipment like Dyson products, and derive a lot of happiness from a great vacuum cleaner.
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What's the best $100 you've ever spent?

The first set of workout equipment I bought many years ago when I first started my group training sessions in my parents' backyard. This was way before I created my BBG programs, so I would have never imagined at the time where that basic workout equipment would lead me!

What does financial success mean to you?
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I don't really think of success in terms of finances. For me, being successful is about being able to make my own choices as a woman, supporting my family and using my skills as a personal trainer to help as many women as possible achieve their personal health and fitness goals.

Through the success of SWEAT, we've built a global community of more than 50 million women. This is what professional success looks like for me, providing a platform that can help guide and educate women to live a happy and healthy lifestyle, and connect with other like-minded women.

What's the worst money advice you've ever gotten that you've followed?
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The worst financial mistake I made was moving out of home when I was 20 and renting my own place. I wasted a lot of money over many years on rent when I should have stayed home with my parents for a little longer and saved enough money for a down payment on a house.

What's your last receipt from? A pair of little Adidas trainers for my daughter Arna — they are too cute on her!
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