When I was 21, I bought a car on Craigslist for $400. That’s not a typo. I didn’t put the decimal point in the wrong place. My car cost four hundred dollars. I negotiated it down from the asking price of $450.
I drove it for a year and a half, and I didn’t put a dime into it other than standard oil changes. Of course, I didn’t drive much — I used it to get to the grocery store, the laundromat or a few friends’ houses who lived on the outskirts of town.
Most of the time, though, I walked everywhere. To be able to lead that pedestrian lifestyle, I needed to live in the center of town. But square footage in the center of town is expensive, so I lived in a tiny, tiny apartment. It was was so small that I could reach my kitchen sink from my bed. I could literally stand on my mattress and wash the dishes.
My rent cost $400 per month, including all utilities. I hated writing rent checks. “I could buy 12 cars a year for this money,” I thought.
When people hear about those days, they often share the same reaction: “Your life must have sucked.”
You know what sucks? Sitting in a cubicle all day. Wasting your youth in bumper-to-bumper traffic. I never have to do that again, and you don’t either, but only if you quit believing that consumption is the meaning of life. Spend your money on experiences, not stuff. And embrace work for its mission and purpose, not its paycheck.
Plot the Dream
My life was pretty awesome during those years. I hung out with friends. I snowboarded. I grew plants and read books and had long, leisurely breakfasts.
And I plotted out a dream. I wanted to visit all the places that I read about: Europe, Asia, the Middle East. At the time, I had zero debt and a 50 percent savings rate. Fifteen percent of that went into my 401(k), the other 35 percent went to my travel-the-world fund.
Every time someone looked at my junky old car or my microscopic apartment and said, “Wow, that sucks,” I’d think:
You know what sucks? NOT having the choice to see the Pyramids, snorkel the Great Barrier Reef, roam the Taj Mahal grounds, or see the Colosseum in Rome — all of which I did by age 25. Those experiences are leagues better than driving a new-model car.
Notice that I said “having the choice.” Not every Afford Anything reader wants to hop on the next flight to Paris, and that’s fine. Because the name of the game is about having the freedom to do whatever the heck you want.
That’s why I became a money blogger instead of a travel or real estate blogger. Rental properties are a means to an end, one of many possible tools in your arsenal. Travel is an option. But money is the underlying thread. It’s what makes everything possible. Money buys choices.
Keep Your Eye on the Prize
If you’ve been reading me for awhile, you’re probably thinking: Paula’s not saying anything new in today’s post. Yep, that’s true. If you’re thinking that, congratulations — you understand the core Afford Anything philosophy.
Many new readers have been e-mailing me with questions about real estate lately. I guess I’m developing something of a reputation as a “rental property blogger.” I’m happy to answer specific questions. But I also want to emphasize that everything I discuss here — investing, real estate, entrepreneurship — is not what this website is about.
This site is about a mindset: Cut ruthlessly on things that don’t matter so you can spend lavishly on what you love most.
It’s nearly impossible to find the motivation to go against the social norm, to spend money in ways that are considered “abnormal,” unless you know your Big Why. For some people, that “why” is financial independence. For others, it’s debt freedom. And for some it’s a dream that’s pressing and immediate, like a desire to move to New York or London or Los Angeles.
Dreaming big is abnormal. Most people have debt. Most people feel stuck. Most people say self-defeating things like “I can’t afford it.” People are prisoners of their own habits and minds.
Abnormal dreams demand abnormal effort. If you want to quit your job and travel in Spain for several months, drive a $400 car. Or drive a car that costs ten times as much, and whine that you “can’t afford” your ideal life. The choice is yours.
Thanks to In 30 Minutes Guides for today’s photo.