How often do you scroll through your social media feed, looking at other people’s outfits, new homes or exotic vacations and wishing you too could afford to live the kind of life that would make your Instagram friends green with envy?
Paula Pant knows exactly what it feels like to be on the receiving end of such feelings. When she quit her job ten years ago, bought a one-way ticket to Egypt and spent the next two years backpacking around the world, she was the object of a fair amount of envy.
“I traveled across Southeast Asia, Australia, Europe and the Middle East,” says Pant. “As you can imagine, the immediate response from most of my friends was: ‘I’d love to do that, but I can’t afford it.’”
But was that true? Could Pant’s friends really not afford to travel the world? Or did they just think they couldn’t? Says Pant, “I knew for a fact that most of my friends who claimed that they couldn’t afford to travel earned much more money than I did.” So why did they believe that a trip like Pant’s was out of their reach?
Setting Priorities and Making Choices
When her friends said they couldn’t afford to travel, says Pant, what they really meant was that they hadn’t made travel a priority in their lives.
“They had larger apartments [than I did]. They drove cars instead of walking or biking. They ate at restaurants from time to time. They could have figured out a way to save a few hundred dollars a month—and doing that consistently for three years would have given them enough to travel,” explains Pant.
When she graduated from college in 2005, says Pant, she took a job with a starting salary of just $21,000 a year. When she quit three years later, she was making $31,000 annually and had saved up $25,000 from working side hustles and putting aside every penny she could. That’s when she quit to embark on her backpacking journey.
Pant created her blog, Afford Anything, to show people that they can, in fact, afford anything they want. They just can’t afford everything. “Every decision that you make is a trade-off,” she says. You just have to decide what you really want to be able to afford. “Get ruthless about your priorities,” counsels Pant. “What matters and what doesn’t? What trade-offs are you willing to make?”
Building a Community that Lives on Their Own Terms
So how did Pant go from backpacker to successful blogger? It was an organic process, she explains. “I was building businesses, investing and improving my financial life. I process my thoughts by writing, so I shared my own experience—and grew an audience along the way.”
While Pant focuses on creating content that will resonate with readers, including blog posts, a podcast and media interviews, a behind-the-scenes team handles web design, IT support, comment moderation, responding to an avalanche of email and the rest of the workload that comes with managing a successful business.
The majority of her audience, says Pant, are hardworking, successful professionals who want to take their financial lives to the next level. What do they all have in common? They share a dream of reaching financial independence so that they can live life on their own terms.
“Afford Anything readers are interested in entrepreneurship, side hustles and investing,” Pant explains. “Most are college-educated, and a significant number have graduate or advanced degrees.” Although 90 percent of Pant’s readers are based in the United States, and they are fairly young (the majority of them are between 25 and 45), there’s an equal split between men and women.
Taking the First Step
Pant’s mantra is, “you can afford anything, but not everything.” But she’s not just talking about money. It’s also true for your time, focus, energy and attention. We only have so much of each—and it’s up to us to decide how we’ll spend it.
“The first step to being able to afford anything is to eliminate the phrase, ‘I can’t afford it,’ or ‘I don’t have time,’ from your vocabulary,” says Pant. “There’s a huge difference between ‘I can’t’ and ‘I choose not to.’” Then you’ve got to get clear about your priorities. Decide what you really want to spend your time and money on.
After that, it’s just a matter of growing the gap between your spending and your income, says Pant. “You can earn more, cut back on spending, or both. What matters is the size of the gap.” She recommends starting a side business, using this income to repay debt, putting away as much money as you can and investing in index funds and rental properties.
“Until you reach financial independence, you’ll trade time for money,” Pant advises. As for what she’s striving to afford today? “I’ve got everything I want and need,” she says. “I don’t have fancy tastes. I’m happy with where I am today.”