Interview with Paula from Afford Anything

afford anythingThere are few blogs out there that catch my attention these days.  Paula from Afford Anything is one of the exceptions.  Her blog is dedicated to helping you achieve your dreams and finally conquering the things you want without going into debt for them.  I love the passion she has in her articles and personality that comes through her writing.  After getting to know Paula through this insightful interview, be sure to check out her blog!

1- Hello Paula, it’s a pleasure to interview you! I’ve enjoyed reading your blog Afford-Anything. Tell us about how it started and what your mission is.
In 2008 I quit my job, sold all my possessions â“ my car, my furniture, my phone â“ and bought a one-way ticket to Egypt. For the next 2 years, my boyfriend and I traveled across the Middle East, Asia, Europe and Australia.  Throughout that time, my friends kept saying: I’d love to do that, but I can’t afford it.❠ And yet, not a single one of my friends was working a second job and directing the money towards a travel fund (or towards a fund for any other major goal, like buying a house or a saving for a wedding.)

Instead of taking the steps necessary to achieve their dreams, many friends would let themselves off the hook❠by either assuming that I came from a wealthy family or that I was running up massive credit card debt to fund the trip. That’s not only false, it’s  dis-empowering.  So I started Afford Anything to show people that whatever you want â“ world travel, a nice home, a lavish wedding â“ can be yours. If you utter the words I can’t afford it,❠you’re selling yourself short.

2- Outside of your blog, what is your personal story? Give us a run-down of your life up until this point.
I was born in Nepal, a Himalayan country sandwiched between China and India. My parents and I immigrated to the U.S. when I was a baby.  At first we were typical hardworking, low-earning immigrants. Dad rode the bus almost 50 miles roundtrip everyday to get to work. Mom stayed at home to raise me. We ate mostly rice and lentils. Meat was a rarity. We never ate at restaurants or took vacations. We wore cheap clothes.

But as my Dad’s salary increased, our living standards stayed the same. He bought a used car to take himself to work â“ instead of the bus – because his time was more valuable. But we never took vacations or ate at restaurants. We never bought clothes from expensive❠stores like Old Navy or the Gap â“ those stores were too far outside our clothing budget. In short: we avoided lifestyle inflation.  Now my parents are 70 years old and they’ve just made a $150,000 donation to a charity that helps orphaned children in Nepal. They’re a true personal finance success story.

3- I know that you’re self-employed, how in the world did you do that?
Quite simply, I live below my means. (Far, far below my means). This helps me prepare for the income fluctuations that are incumbent with self-employment.  A lot of people live paycheck to paycheck. A guy who works at a car dealership told me that sales at his dealership peak after tax refunds are mailed out. That’s a great example of people spending money as soon as it arrives.  If you’re waiting for the next check to arrive in the mail, you’re spending too much.

4- You’ve done some extensive traveling. What countries have you been to and how did you afford these trips?
I’ve been to 27 countries. Here’s the list:
Asia: Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, India, Nepal, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Burma/Myanmar
Oceania: Australia, New Zealand
The Americas: Costa Rica, Colombia, Sint Maarten, Canada, Mexico
Middle East: Egypt, Israel
Europe: Czech Republic, Holland, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Austria, Germany

I afford to travel in the same way that anyone affords anything: by prioritizing it.  It’s funny that no one ever asks, How did you afford a car?❠or How did you afford a down payment on a house?❠These are big-ticket items that no one questions. People assume that you’ll save for purchases like this.  But the moment you start spending on unconventional experiences like world travel, the questions come out of the woodwork. If it’s conceivable that a person might save for the down payment on a house, what’s so different about saving for a two-year trip around the world?

5- What are some of your best articles on Afford Anything? What were your goals when you wrote these?
Here are my four favorites:
If I Had a Million Dollars, I’d Go Into Debt . This was the first post that put me on the map,❠so to speak. It describes my favorite passive income strategy, owning rentals.
Quit Your Job, Travel, and Live Remarkably. I was honestly surprised by how popular this post became â“ it seems to resonate with a lot of people.
Stop Crying That There Are No Jobs. Create One. This is easily my most popular post, and it describes why I ditched my job as a news reporter for the rough-and-tumble entrepreneurial world.
Find a Niche. Conquer It. Create Something Amazing. The title says it all.

6- What are some personal finance decisions that have kept you out of debt?
Simple: It’s not an option. I won’t consider going into consumer debt. It’s just not a choice that’s on the table. Discussion closed.  Once you remove debt❠from your possible choices, you re-arrange your life accordingly. Since going into personal debt isn’t an option, I’ve always learned frugal hacks, worked second jobs, and found joy in the simple things.

7- Do you have some examples of bad financial decisions you’ve made? If so, how did these affect your finances and how did you get out of the mess?
Probably my worst financial❠decision was going into a career that’s not lucrative â“ my first job was as a newspaper reporter. I’ve always believed that you should work jobs you enjoy, not golden shackle❠jobs that pay well but make you miserable.

But I never realized that there are best-of-both-world careers out there: work that you enjoy that also pays well. Job satisfaction and income are often presented as dichotomous, mutually exclusive options.  I also underestimated how being poorly paid for long hours can cause you to dislike a job that you once enjoyed.  I’m recovering from this now by focusing my efforts on building my own businesses, but I’m starting at 28 rather than at 22 or younger. That’s going to set me back several years.

8- Tell us about the real estate you own. As a renter, I’m on the fence about this type of investment. What are the benefits and has it worked out for you?
To put it simply: it’s awesome. There are many different real estate investment philosophies out there. To succeed in real estate, you have to choose your strategy.
Some people believe in flipping houses â“ buy low, sell high. Good for them.  But my strategy is specific: buy and hold. I’m the rare real estate buyer who doesn’t care if the market value of my property rises or falls. That’s theoretical. All I care about is the rental income and the operating expense.

The media hype focuses on the market value â“ the resale value â“ of property, so that’s what many real estate investors tend to think about.  If that’s your strategy, fine. But I ignore all the noise and clatter about resale value, and focus purely on monthly cash flow.  Think of flipping houses as stock picking❠and owning rental properties as buying bonds❠or other fixed-income investments. Stocks and flipped houses can make you a millionaire, but they require a much greater risk exposure. Fixed-income investments are a great way to slowly create passive income.

9- As a blogger, what advice would you give someone who is just starting out?
Like with real estate, you have to pick a blogging strategy and stick to it.  Some people want to make money through advertising impressions. If that’s your strategy, then page views are your most important metric.  Some people want to sell text links and sponsored posts. If that’s your strategy, then page rank (not to be confused with page views) is your most valuable metric.  Some want to gain the trust of their readers and sell affiliate products. This will take a lot longer â“ establishing that trust is an ultra-long-term strategy â“ but it might (or might not) pay off better in the end. If this is your strategy, then subscribers plus average time on site❠are your most important metrics.

10- We all want to know one last thing, what’s in your wallet?
Loads of receipts that I intend to process â“ that I intend to check against my credit card statements to make sure my charges are accurate â“ but that I never, ever get around to processing. They just accumulate into piles of well-intended trash.