BiggerPockets Money Podcast 209: Creating Financial Runway to Start a 7-Figure Business w/ Bola Sokunbi

BiggerPockets Money Podcast 209: Creating Financial Runway to Start a 7-Figure Business w/ Bola Sokunbi

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Growing up, Bola Sokunbi had some serious financial influence from her parents. Her father would tell her “Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish” while her mom showed her the importance of being an independent woman who could financially stand on her own. They both influenced her to become the financial author, mentor, and teacher she is today with Clever Girl Finance.

Bola split her youth between Europe and Africa, and when given the chance to go to college back in Europe, her mom cashed out her retirement savings to give her daughter the gift of education. Bola worked through college and graduated with zero debt! She then went on to live in New York City, making $54,000 a year at her first job, which to her, was like getting a million dollars!

As she saved up to buy her first home and later started investing in more growing assets, she saw her friends who made 3x her salary, spend all their money on designer handbags, expensive dinners, and luxury apartments. She knew she didn’t want to be surrounded by financially irresponsible people, so she distanced herself from those friends, and began her journey to FI.

Now, Bola has a business pulling in six figures every month! She teaches women how they can start investing, have financial confidence, and live life on their terms.

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Listen to the Podcast Here

Read the Transcript Here

Mindy:
Welcome to the BiggerPockets Money Podcast Show 209 where we interview Bola Sokunbi from Clever Girl Finance and hear her story of saving and saving and saving and investing and living her best life.

Bola:
When I had friends who were living in Times Square and they had an apartment that cost I think $7,000 a month. They both split it, so $3,500 each, not to factor in eating out, all those kinds of things. Some people even lived alone. Of course, you have to buy the Louise Vuitton bag and the Chanel bag to go with you power suit that you got from Fury that cost you $600. After a while, I just started to shy away from those people because I did like all those nice things, but I couldn’t afford it. I couldn’t keep up. I could barely pay for my dinner when I went out to eat with them because of where they wanted to go to eat.

Mindy:
Hello. Hello. Hello. My name is Mindy Jensen and with me as always is my compulsive reader cohost, Scott Trench.

Scott:
Word, Mindy. Thank you.

Mindy:
Scott and I are here to make financial independence less scary, less just for somebody else, to introduce you to every money story because we truly believe that financial freedom is attainable no matter when or where you’re starting.

Scott:
That’s right. Whether you want to retire early and travel the world, go on to make big time investments in assets like real estate, or start your own business, we’ll help you reach your own financial goals and get money out of the way so you can launch yourself towards your dreams.

Mindy:
Scott, I am super excited to talk to Bola today because she is just a delightful person, and I love her story. I was really wanting to get her on the show, and then somebody posted in the Facebook group, “I am so in love with Bola Sokunbi. Can you please get her on the show?” I’m like, it’s already scheduled. I love what she says in her story. She came over from Europe, from Nigeria, and her story is actually not that dissimilar to the money stories of people who have lived in America their whole lives. Other than having to figure out the way that American money works, she came from nothing.
Most of us almost have no financial background. She didn’t really have anybody she could ask, like her parents or brothers and sisters, because they didn’t really know how the American system worked. Again, not so different from people who have been born and raised in America. Unless you’re taught how the money system works, you don’t know and there’s not a lot of fallback on your parents because they don’t know either. I really enjoyed talking to her today and hearing her story.

Scott:
Yeah, I think it’s a great story, and I think it’s a reflection on her values that she was taught growing up, values that are shared across many different upbringings, both from folks that grew up abroad and in the United States, and then a slow journey of slowly accumulating knowledge about how to invest and build wealth and become an entrepreneur and those types of things. It’s really awesome to see how effectively and well she played her hand to become a very successful entrepreneur ultimately here today. I think it’s been a really journey, and hats off to her. That was awesome.

Mindy:
Yeah. I think she has an insatiable curiosity and drive, and it comes from the experiences she had growing up, like you said. But yeah, she is not going to be stopped, and she is like a freight train running down the track just, “I am going to succeed.” I love her enthusiasm. Bola Sokunbi from Clever Girl Finance, welcome to the BiggerPockets Money Podcast. I am so excited to talk to you today.

Bola:
Thank you for having me, Mindy. I’m excited to talk with you as well.

Mindy:
I cannot wait to tell your story, because I do see a lot of parallels between your money journey and frankly my own money journey. I would love to hear where your journey with money begins.

Bola:
I would say my journey with money begins just with earliest memories of what my parents would tell me about what to do with money if I had it, right? My dad would always say “penny wise, pound foolish,” which is a British saying that basically means if you cannot manage your money when you have a little, it doesn’t matter how much money you end up having, you’re not going to be able to manage it either. Both of my parents will always tell me that I never want to be a financial liability on anybody, not even myself. I always wanted to make sure that I had my own money.
This is something that my parents would tell me all the time. I think that a really significant part of my money journey or story just comes from observing my parents, observing my mother as a young child. My mom got married very young. She was 19 years old. My dad was in his thirties. He had a PhD. My mom had a high school diploma. As were the times back then, it was nothing unusual. Women typically got married very young, and they get married and they become stay at home moms, while the husband goes out to be the breadwinner.
My mom as she started to get older in her marriage, older in age, she started to see things that she didn’t feel comfortable with. She was seeing friends trying to leave bad relationships and they couldn’t because they had no idea of the family finances. She was seeing friends who unfortunately would lose a spouse and they would have nowhere to go because, again, no idea of the family finances.
There are many times where I would sit in the corner of the living room and listen to my mom console a friend of hers who was in a difficult situation or who had come over with suitcases and her kids because she had nowhere else to go and she was going to be spending the night at our house. Listening to the advice my parents would give me and just observing my mother, most especially, were the beginnings of my money story.

Mindy:
Let’s look at high school and college. Did you go to high school in America?

Bola:
No. I was actually born in Austria. I was born in Europe. I went to part of grade school there, and then I went to part of grade school in Nigeria. And then I went to high school in Nigeria, and then part of college in Austria, and then I came to the U.S. to graduate.

Scott:
Wow!

Mindy:
How did your financial situation look? That sounds like a lot of plane trips. I don’t know what the cost of college is in any of those countries.

Bola:
I mean, it was really by virtue of what my parents did. My dad was working for the government at the time and he got an assignment to work in Vienna as an econometrician. It’s not something that a lot of people know, but there are about eight econometricians at any given time that work for OPEC Fund and they represent the highest oil producing countries. What they do is they are mathematicians and physicists and they set crude oil prices globally. That is what my dad did. It was on an eight year tenure working for the Nigerian government. I happened to be born there at the time.
And then his tenure ended. We moved out to Nigeria, and then I had the opportunity to go to college abroad. The opportunity to go to college abroad really came from just economic instability in Nigeria at the time. There was an unstable government where a lot of strikes by university professors and other workers where sometimes the strike would be nine months, and then they go back to school for three months, and they’ll be on strike for another 12 months. It was taking a long time. I had cousins who were in universities six and seven years later because of all of this instability.
At the time, my parents were like, “Okay, what are the options? Can you go to college here?” To give you a bit more backstory, when I was born, my dad is someone who if there’s anything he can give to a child, he’s going to give you education. Education is something that is valued more so than anything to him because of the opportunity that it gave him. My dad comes from a background of poverty. Both of my parents are first to go to college, first to go to grade school, them and their siblings, and that’s because my grandparents did not really…
They didn’t have the money, number one, and number two, my grandfather on my father’s side didn’t really trust the whole colonial education, just given the history of colonialist in Nigeria. My dad didn’t start grade school until he was 13. But going to grade school, going to college, getting scholarships, he was able to create this life for himself and his family. And to him, education was the most important gift that he could give. My dad spends the bulk of his earnings sending my brothers to the best schools that he could afford, to the best colleges that he could afford.
At the time that it was time for me to go to college, my dad had health issues that cost him to retire about 15 years earlier than planned. In the grand scheme of somebody’s retirement planning, 15 years is a huge amount of time. The question that became, can we afford to send you to college here, abroad I mean, or do you just have to just figure out the strikes and just hang tight and go to school here? At that time, my mom stepped about. She’s like, “You know what? I’m going to support you going to college because I’ve been putting money aside. Sending you to college abroad is at the expense of my retirement and it’s not your right.
It’s an opportunity that I’m giving to you. Your goal is to seek out whatever scholarships you can get and to do well in school.” My mom ended up supporting me through college with me getting a partial scholarship, and she was working her butt off for me to go to school abroad, starting out in Austria, which was the easiest place to go to. I went to the college my mom had actually gone to. After my mom started to see those things happening with her friends that she didn’t like, she decided that she wanted to take her own financial wellness into her own hands, whether or not my dad was bringing in money.
She wanted to be able to contribute to the household finances. My mom went to school with me as a three or four year old, and I went to all her college classes with her. I would sit in the corner and she would tell me to shh. I ended up going to the university that she went to, and she supported me through that. Going to college came at a very great expense. People sometimes hear, “Oh, your mom paid for college. You must have a money tree in the back of your house,” but the option was to stay and see when I would even start college, given the strikes in Nigeria, or go abroad.
I couldn’t qualify for any student loans at the time just because I was not a US citizen, even if I was going to an American university. I would have liked to have student loans if I could have afforded it to give my mom a break. Knowing that I couldn’t do that, I just went and tried to figure out how to get partial scholarships. I got a scholarship working at the library, and I got a scholarship working at the computer lab. Those two scholarships combined helped me pay for half of my tuition. And then it got to a point where there was just no money to pay, right, in between leaving Vienna and moving to here in the US.
I took a year out of college, right? For a four year degree, it took me five and a half years to complete it because there just was just not money to pay for college and I couldn’t get any loans, even though I wanted to. That’s in a nutshell the story of college.

Scott:
What’d you do for that year… Your break?

Bola:
I was able to get some part-time random work. I sold Avon to my mom’s friends. I went home to visit my parents. I did all kinds of random things.

Scott:
Nice. What was the position upon graduation? What were your debts? It sounds like you didn’t have any debts, but what was your degree in? What were you left with at the end of college?

Bola:
Fortunately, without really realizing it, I came out of college with no student loans. That was a blessing in disguise. My older brothers are American citizens. They have student loans. I didn’t really understand what it meant not to have student loans, but I quickly realized that it meant not having a payment and it meant not owing anybody tens of thousands of dollars, including my brothers who owed student loans as well. I studied computer science and business in school. I came out of college and I went straight into working in consulting. For me, I just wanted to be able to help my mom.
I wanted to make my parents proud. I wanted to make money. I got a job in consulting where I was about $54,000 before taxes in New York City. To me that was like, oh my god, amazing. The most amount of money I had ever made in my entire life. I was rich basically with my $40,000 after dollars. It quickly donned on me that if I was going to live, that was not a lot of money. But I somehow I made it work, because I just had never been exposed to that much money before. Even though to many people that was not a lot of money, to me it was like, wow, I’ve never had this much money before.

Mindy:
You studied computer science and business. What year did you graduate? First let’s go back to that.

Bola:
Oh my gosh, I graduated in 2004.

Mindy:
I think that right there is forward thinking. Graduating without student loans, I know a lot of Americans graduate with student loans, that’s just the thing. I mean, I don’t love that you couldn’t get student loans, but I do love that you couldn’t get student loans because look at what an advantage you have. And yes, it took five years instead of four, but I know a lot of people on a five year plan, the six year plan, and they come out with student loans. They squandered the opportunity because they don’t recognize what a huge opportunity it is to go to college in general.
I mean, I did not study computer science and business like an intelligent person would. I studied fashion design, which is not a passion of mine, and I worked in the industry once. Your dad started grade school at age 13 and became an econometrician, which is a thing I’ve never even heard of before, but I don’t spend a lot of time with OPEC either. The value of education is so big and I think that so many people don’t recognize what an honor it is to have an education.

Bola:
It is. For me, it’s something that I don’t take lightly. Like I said, my grandfather was not a fan of anything that had to do with colonial education or what he would call the white man’s education. In his opinion, he felt that if he was going to send anyone to the school, then he was going to send his male child. My dad has a twin sister, who is not formally educated. My dad has a PhD. My aunt does not read and write in the traditional sense. She can do math in her own way, but it’s not the way that it’s taught in schools. She doesn’t speak any English, because she didn’t go to school in English.
She didn’t go to school at all. Seeing that contrast between the two of them, twin siblings, who are best friends, but have completely different lives just based on education, and also the fact that just given the time, the female child was not necessarily prioritized. I think that was something that was just worldwide, right? There is a woman’s place. There is a place for the girl. When you think about it, you look back at even the movies, or you look back at, depending on the age of your listener, your grandparent’s generation, even your parent’s generation, the daughters were always taught the recipes from the grandma.
It’s always something passed down a recipe, some great recipe, and then the boys are always pulled aside to talk about business and money. In today’s world, men are more comfortable talking about finances, whereas women it’s more of a struggle because generationally that was just never our place. Even in the States, in order to open a bank account or buy a house, you have to take a man with you at some points, right? Education is something that gave my family many opportunities. Like I said, Mindy, both of my parents and their siblings were the first to go to college, first to go to grade school.
My mom on the other side, her and all her siblings were formally educated, but her parents were not either, right? They were typically traders or farmers. They had some type of trade that they did that was not tied to a formal education. My dad just based on the opportunities he had with his own education, he wanted to… He doesn’t believe in I give you a million dollars and that’s your inheritance, because you can blow that money. But once you have your education, you always have it with you and you can use your education to become anything that you want to. And that was his philosophy.
My mom had that, and that’s why she was like, “You know what? At the expense of my retirement, I’m going to help you to go college so that you can get this good education.” My mom was working and hustling while I was going to college. She would use her savings. She would get paid and it would immediately go to my college tuition. It wasn’t like, oh, there was some tree at the back of our house that we went and pulled down the dollar bills. Keep in mind, at the beginning of my college education, they were converting from a lower currency to dollars. When I was in college in Austria, I was in an American university and my tuition was in dollars.

Mindy:
Wait, you were in college in Austria and your tuition was in American dollars. This is where my ignorance shows. I don’t know anything about the cost of European education. Was it the same price as an American education? You can come here and you can pay 30, 50, $100,000 a year.

Bola:
Yes. It was an American university in Austria that I went to, and I actually came to the American campus for my last year and to graduate. It was the same costs.

Mindy:
Okay.

Bola:
I think it was even more expensive because it was Europe.

Mindy:
Your mom was working and paying, and were you working during college as well, or were you just going to school?

Bola:
I had that work scholarship where I was working at the…

Mindy:
Oh, at the library.

Bola:
…library and the computer lab. I couldn’t work formally, like get a job in the mall or anything like that, but I took advantage of that. I would photocopy all of my textbooks. I never bought any textbooks because they were all in the library and I had nothing but time. I would sit in the library and copy hundreds and hundreds of pages. I was allowed to do that. That was a perk of me working there.

Mindy:
Nice perk.

Bola:
I always had textbooks, because textbooks are very expensive. They cost 100, $200 for one book. If you have six classes, that’s a lot of money.

Mindy:
Yeah, no, that’s like half the cost of college right there is the books. And then when you go to sell them back to the library or the bookstore, they can pay you like…

Bola:
They’re outdated. It’s last edition. You get 25 bucks for it.

Mindy:
Fast forward from college, you spent your last year in America at the university. You graduated with no debt. You started your job, and you were making $40,000 a year after taxes, which is… I hear that and you say you’re in New York City and I’m like, ooh, that’s not very much. Were you living with your mom or your brothers, or were you living by yourself? I mean, that right there eats up most of the money is the housing expense.

Bola:
I lived at home for the first six months. My mom was like, “Listen, you have a job. It’s time for you to go. Figure out where you’re going. Pack up your things. I’ve helped you pay for college. Now you are a free bird. Move out.” During those six months, I saved about $15,000 to put towards a down payment on a condo. And then I ended up getting… During those six months living with my mom, my brother also lived closer to New York City, so I would flip between both of them and go to work. I saved to purchase a condo, which I purchased in South Jersey. I would make the commute to New York City, which wasn’t that bad.
It was about an hour. And then eventually based on my consulting work, I wasn’t spending as much in New York City anymore. I was able to save to buy my first place within those first six months of coming out of college, getting that job. I think I got that job about a month out of college, but I was so hungry to work that I went and got a job at CVS as soon as I graduated, even just before graduation because I finished all my course requirements in March so that I could leave campus, so that my parents wouldn’t have to pay for tuition for, what’s it called, housing.
My graduation wasn’t until May. In March, I got a job at CVS, and I worked as a cashier and a photo shop photo technician where I… You know what they did do with the pictures when people have film and you would process all of that. I was making, I don’t remember, like $7.50 or $8 an hour. I started saving that as well, and I would walk to the CVS 20 minutes from my mom’s house.

Scott:
You have a condo and you have $15,000 at a year after graduation. What did you begin doing with your money and begin to… Where is your wealth building journey with money kind of begin moving forward I guess?

Bola:
I put that $15,000 towards the condo. That was my down payment for the condo. I think it cost me like $135,000, something like that after the down payment.

Scott:
This is in New York?

Bola:
This is in New Jersey.

Scott:
New Jersey.

Bola:
I have a mortgage of about $900. My credit was great. I went and got a car, because I needed to drive to New York City and drive all over the whole place to my consulting jobs. I had a car note for I think about… With insurance and everything, the car note was about $300. It wasn’t any kind of fancy car. And then I had my basic utilities. I told myself, okay, I have this massive amount of money that I’m earning. I want to save. I want to just make my parents proud. My parents are not like, you’re going to take care of me in retirement. But having them see me do well, it made them very happy.
Them knowing that I was being responsible made them very happy. I just wanted to save. I didn’t know anything about the American system. I mean, I knew what my parents had told me penny wise, pound foolish, save the money you have, but I didn’t know what a 401(k) was. I didn’t know about credit. I didn’t know any of these things. I remember sitting at the first HR orientation for my job and they were talking about this 401(k). I’m like, why would you pay me, then I pay you back with my money so that you can invest it for me? I don’t think so. In my mind, I’d already canceled the whole idea of 401(k).
I was like, what a stupid idea. And then the next day, they came back to just talk about it again and she’s like, “Well, if you contribute, we’ll give you 100% match up to 6% of your contribution.” I had my pen on my table, and I did the math. I was like, wait a minute, 6% of this amount, whatever it is, times 100%, whatever it is, that’s a lot of money. You know what? Sign me up. I’ll take my chances with you this first year. I signed up for the 401(k) just to get that match. That was my first step. Second thing I did was I wanted to save cash. I wanted to put cash in the bank, so I opened up a credit…
My mom had a credit union in Tennessee at the time, and she’s like, “It’s a great way to save money. Credit unions are great. They’re customer friendly.” At the time, they didn’t really have a good online portal, so I had to fill out all this paperwork. I didn’t understand why I was doing it, but I did it anyway, and then I had a percentage of my paycheck sent there every paycheck. My goal was to save at least… If I’m getting my math right, my goal was to save at least 800 to $1,000 a paycheck to send to that credit union. I started saving cash. I started investing in my 401(k). I started teaching myself how to invest.
Made all kinds of ridiculous errors. Initially, when I first started learning how to invest, I thought that I needed to go talk to a financial advisor because they know about investing in America. I go to this financial advisor’s office after I had saved a good amount of cash. I think I had about 10 or $12,000. He started asking me all these questions that initially I thought they were in line with what I told him I wanted to do. I want to retire at 65. That was what they said we were going to retire at in the 401(k) meeting.

Scott:
And you walked out with a life insurance policy?

Bola:
No, no. He started saying, “Well, where did you get this money? Who gave it to you? Do you have a boyfriend? Are you married?” And I’m like…

Scott:
Oh, that’s way worst.

Bola:
He’s like, “But you’re 22. Why do you have this money?” He just wanted to know where I got… I think in his mind I had stolen it, and I had come there trying to get him to help me invest money that I took from somewhere. I was so angry when I left that meeting. You know what? I realized in talking to my friends that I was not alone. I had another friend who went to talk to a financial advisor and she had a lot of student loans. The guy basically told her, “The solution to your problem is to marry rich.”

Mindy:
No, it’s not.

Scott:
That is a viable path to financial freedom.

Bola:
That is what he told her.

Scott:
We never discuss that strategy here on the Money Show, Mindy.

Bola:
He’s like, “Marry rich. Help yourself. You’re in New York City. You can find a rich husband.” That’s basically what he told her. I left angry, and then I just started figuring out how to invest. I made all kinds of ridiculous errors. I bought high and sold low. I made gains and didn’t think about taxes. Eventually I started to learn and I started investing more. I ended up maxing out my 401(k), and then I started a side hustle.

Scott:
I think this is great, but you said, hey. You went your own path at 22. You get this horrible experience with a financial planner, and then you kind of figured it out. How long is that path of figuring it out? Do we just go through a three year period, a five year period, a 10 year period? What did that look like?

Bola:
Actually not 22, I’m sorry. I think I was 24 years old. I graduated college at 24. I had that five and a half years. I started like 18 and a half and I finished at 24. I was 24. Three and a half years later coming out of college, I had saved over $100,000. I had saved about $120,000 between my 401(k) and my cash savings. That was the window of time from 24 to three and a half years later, 27 and a half, 28 years old.

Scott:
During that period, you’re investing in the 401(k), and you’re also trying other things experimentally. Your opinion is that you’re doing a bad job with those investments, but it sounds like it couldn’t have been too bad with $100,000 at 27.

Bola:
I did do a bad job. The 401(k) was the saving grace, right? I didn’t max out the first year, because I thought it was a scam. But when I got together, when I realized that it wasn’t, I ended up maxing that out. I got advantage of the free max. There were a lot of gains before that 2008 recession happening in the market. That was beneficial. I was saving cash, and then I started this side hustle. I started a wedding and lifestyle photography side hustle, which I had for seven years, right? I had run it for about one and a half to two years before hitting that $100,000 mark.
On the first year of that side hustle, I made $10,000. The second year of that side hustle, I made about $30,000. The first $10,000 I paid the little taxes that I owed, and I spent all of the money buying equipment. And then the next year it was just really more profits, because I already had my equipment that I needed, and I was very much self-taught. That was very helpful. But the side hustle was… It was something that I wanted to do to increase my income. I felt that I was limited by the few percentage raise I was getting. By the time I got to that 28 year age, I think my salary was about $70,000 before taxes, $72,000.
I was like, if I want to try to save as much possible, I need to think about how to bring in more money. I stumbled into photography by accident, but I made it a gig because I realized that people would pay me even if my pictures were not that great. And then I realized the better I got, the more I could charge, right? Well after I had reached that $100,000 milestone, my highest earning year working full-time. Doing wedding photography was about $70,000, which most of it was profits because, like I said, I already had the bulk of my equipment. I was doing that.
I was doing that evenings, weekends. I was shooting Friday, Saturday, Sunday working. Sometimes getting in an airplane traveling all over. I would take my work laptop and my personal laptop, and I would be editing on the plane or editing in the hotel, wherever I was, editing at home. I was always editing. I remember at that time, a lot of my friends who I had met working in New York City started to ask me questions like, “What is wrong with you? Why are you doing all this? Do you have money problems?” It was a lot of pressure for me because these were friends that worked on Wall Street.
Their bonus was two, three times my annual salary. I just couldn’t understand why they were making hundred plus at 24, 25, 100K plus, getting bonuses of 50 to 100 to $150,000, and they had $60,000 of student loans, but they had not paid it off. They was just like, “Oh my god, I can’t believe I have these loans. It’s just so expensive. It’s so stressful. I don’t know how I’m going to pay it off,” but you make 200 or 250 combined, but their lifestyles were really high. Back in 2006-2007, I had friends who were living in Times Square, and they had an apartment that cost I think $7,000 a month.
They both split it, so $3,500 each, not to factor in eating out, all those kinds of things. Some people even lived alone. Of course, you have to buy the Louis Vuitton bag and the Chanel bag to go with your power suit that you got from Fury that cost you $600. After a while, I just started to shy away from those people because I did like all those nice things, but I couldn’t afford it. I couldn’t keep up. I could barely pay for my dinner when I went out to eat with them because of where they wanted to go to eat. I just threw myself into my work and saving and investing so that I could tell my mom my balance at the end of each month.

Scott:
What was the why behind it? Why were you doing this two jobs basically full-time, work weekends and during the work week, to save all this money? Was financial freedom the goal, or was there something else that was driving this?

Bola:
It wasn’t financial freedom. For me, I was young. When you’re so young, you don’t think about financial freedom. I mean, you do, but not to that extent. That was not something on my mind. I didn’t have problem working. But for me, it was just like the sacrifices my parents had made. My dad had retired 15 years earlier. The college tuition my parents had paid could have gone towards my mom not having to work as hard as she had to work. My mom not having to move with me or immigrate to the States so that she can create some sort of landing spot for me to come to when I came to that last year of college.
Just thinking about my aunts and thinking about other people in my family who were not as fortunate as me, right? My cousins who were taking seven years to go to college. There are many circumstances in terms of my background that I just wanted to have my own security. And also, I got to sit and listen to my mom and watch my console her friends. The fear of broke I think is one of my… The fear of being broke is definitely a big mindset challenge for me just watching that. Seeing a mother with her children and suitcases crying in your house because she cannot go back to a husband who’s beating her is something that you don’t…
As a child, it stays with you, and I just never want to find myself in that position. I never wanted to be in that position. I always wanted to be able to… If my parents said, “You know what? We need money for this,” I wanted to be able to say, “Here it is.” If I needed to exit a bad relationship, I needed to be able to pack my bags and just go immediately. For me, it was just that fear of not having anything and wanting my parents to be proud and just wanting to just have better opportunities knowing where I come from, knowing that my aunt did not have those opportunities, and just doing well.
Financial wellness, financial freedom, yes, but that was not necessarily the why at the time.

Scott:
You’re 27 and you’ve got $100,000 in the bank and you’re making really good money and saving up and really in what appears to be the midst of a big grind here. Where do things kind of progress from here, and does financial freedom come into the picture?

Bola:
I continued to save, which is not a story I shared often, because I think people are excited about that first $100,000 because they say that’s the hardest… The first $100,000 is always the hardest. That’s what Charlie Munger said. And then after that, it just becomes plain boring. I just continued to save. I continued to invest. I make more money mistakes in real estate and in investing, and then I also relaxed a little bit, right? I get more comfortable with the fact that I have saved $100,000 and I have spent the last three years eating ramen noodles, which I did actually eat.
I remember at work, because I was so aggressive saving every penny, I would get to work early and walk around and talk to the admins to see who was retiring today, who was having a baby shower today, whose birthday is it today so that I knew exactly when to show up at the conference room and be like, “Happy Birthday! Happy Retirement! Here’s your piece of cake. Here’s your free lunch,” and I would take that. It got so ridiculous that one of the admins at work, she got to know me. And at the end of every night, if there was leftover food, she’d say, “Hey, Bola, let’s go grab the leftover food so we could take it home for dinner.
I had no shame in my game. I continued to save. Obviously I splurged more. I bought designer handbags, but I never stopped saving. And then obviously I got married, had kids. When you bring children into the world, the dynamics of your savings change. I started a business. Quit my full-time job. For me, one thing that my parents taught me is that no matter how little money you make, you always want to save a percentage of everything you earn. It’s a dollar, save 10 cents. It’s $100, save $10. That has always just been part of…
Even though I spend money, even though I’ve overspent sometimes, I always save, and then I figure out my overspending without touching my savings.

Scott:
We just skipped through a ton of key points there, but let’s highlight a couple of the big milestones. At some point, you flesh out… You said you made investing mistakes. At some point, you flesh out a more holistic investment approach it sounds like. When was that developed? It could be over five years. But what is that and how was that developed over this period?

Bola:
For me, I can be impatient sometimes, right? Sometimes I like to invest in the companies I like, but may not be necessarily be a good fit for my life. Sometimes when I tie in the impatience to that, it just doesn’t work. I remember back then I really used to like Gap, and Gap was going through a lot of financial instability. I think their stock was something like $7. I don’t know what it is right now. I don’t think it’s $7 anymore. I would buy Gap stock, and then they went through some issues and the stock fell. I sold it and I lost all this money. It’s things like that.
And then taking stock tips from coworkers, who had no idea about investing either, and going to buy the Kmart. Kmart obviously went bankrupt and their stock fell to 32 cents, or something like that. It was like 31 cents, 32 cents, something ridiculous. Lost all my money. I just realized that for me, slow and steady, diversification. A 401(k) offerings had only mutual funds. Eventually moved into index funds to minimize on cost and not try to time the market. I still do invest in individual stocks, especially now that I’m teaching my kids how to invest. It’s a concept that’s easier for them to understand than a big blob of an index fund.
But now my investing strategy is just very, very simplified. I had also purchased real estate because I thought that maybe I could be a landlord, and I realized I actually hate being a landlord, so I sold those. For me, it’s more simple. It’s more less stress investing. I’m not a stock picker. I have no interest in doing that. That’s kind of where I’m at now.

Scott:
You start feel comfortable or at least less pressure from money around the $100,000 mark. When you got married and started having kids, how did you kind of feel about your financial situation there, and did you make any changes to your career or lifestyle based on those events?

Bola:
I mean, obviously I made changes with my kids. Kids cost a lot of money, and I have twins so it’s a lot of money all at once, right? But getting married, I was also the breadwinner in my family, because my husband was still in school. I couldn’t be a scrappy anymore, right? I couldn’t say let’s eat ramen noodles for dinner every day. It just didn’t seem fair. That just how I felt, because we didn’t have to. But I think for me, one of the adjustments was just my husband and I getting on the same page when it came to finances, right? My husband is very confident.
He was very confident as a student, even though he wasn’t making any money just in his capabilities, whereas I’m like I have to pinch every penny. He’s like, “Calm down. Just create your plan and work your plan.” I’m like, “But what am I going to do while I’m working the plan?” Just getting on the same page, making it so we’re aligned with our goals, just talking about money, and just the whole idea of joint finances, because I’m like, I’ve worked so hard for this. Why should I tell you how much money I have? It was just getting into that space. My husband is very much an open book.
We kind of found our money language and have been able work accordingly. It also helps that we have some of our goals and we’re able to work on our goals together now.

Mindy:
Did you talk about money before you got married? Did you have the money conversation?

Bola:
Yes. For me, my conversation about money was I was not going to marry somehow that had no ambition, even if they had no money, and I would certainly not marry a dead beat broke ass, because I know where I’m coming from. I remember when I told you I saved that $15,000 for my house down payment, I was dating a guy at the time and I had told him, “Oh, I want to buy a condo, and I’ve saved $15,000.” He took that information in and he came back to me the next day. He’s like, “I have this amazing business idea. It’s only going to cost $15,000. Can you loan me the money?”

Scott:
That’s a big coincidence.

Bola:
And that same day I broke up with him, because I was like, mm-hmm (negative), no. Hell no.

Mindy:
Good. Good. Good.

Bola:
Because he didn’t have a business plan. He was not very ambitious. He was all about get rich quick. My husband and I, we definitely had this conversation. It was stuff that sounded stupid the time. When do you think you’d be a millionaire? When do you think you’d be a millionaire? Where do you see yourself five years from now? What are your long-term goals? What kind of life do you want to live? What kind of car do you want to drive? What kind of house do you want to live in? It was just stuff that was just so outlandish. Like a millionaire? Come on. That’s a joke. But we would have those conversations.
He’s a very hard worker. He was very open. My husband had lot of student loans, unlike me. We got on the same page about money very, very easily, although there were conflicts, right?

Scott:
One of the big milestones in the financial freedom journey is that transition to entrepreneurship. Some folks retire, and some folks quit their jobs and make them an entrepreneur. With the entrepreneurship, the story often goes that the first year there’s not very much money, kind of similar to your side hustle. And then in out years, you make way more money if things go well, of course. How did the work you put in for the many years before you started your business or went to work for yourself, how did that financial position contribute to your decision to start a business?
What was that factor? Was that comfort level with the strength of your financial position? Did that come into play?

Bola:
Yes, it was definitely a factor. I mean, just even knowing that I had money in the bank, it was still difficult for me to quit my job, because I just didn’t want to miss out on an opportunity for consistent income. I didn’t want to miss out on this opportunity for a 401(k). My husband would say, “Well, if you have this entrepreneurship, you’ve sold this Avon, you’ve had this photography business for seven years, you know you have what it takes to build a business. Why not take a chance?” In my head, I was like, that is one year of $120,000 in salary, plus my bonus, plus my 401(k) match that I’m putting out the window.
He’s like, you’re no throwing it out the window if you can build a business that succeeds. Quitting my job was a big challenge for me, even though I had saved, because I didn’t want to quit my job and then have to start tapping into the savings I had built. I acted like my savings did not exist, and I spent 18 months putting money aside to meet my own household financial obligations, while I gave myself 12 months to get my business into the stride, which is Clever Girl Finance, and to see if I could even make it work. That’s what I did.

Scott:
You had a financial position. You continue working the job for another 18 months in preparation, or how did that work?

Bola:
I put aside 18 months of my household obligations. I didn’t quit my job. I think I had been running Clever Girl Finance part-time for two and a half years before I quit my job, but I had saved 18 months of runway to give me that mental comfort that I can do this and not touch my savings. If it doesn’t work out, I can go back to work.

Mindy:
How much was Clever Girl bringing in in terms of monthly or annual spending before you decided to completely quit your actual job, the real job?

Bola:
The first year I made $200.

Mindy:
Nice job! Woohoo!

Bola:
I was like, this is a hobby. This is not a business. Do not quit your job. At the time I quit my salary, my base salary was $120,000, and I had a bonus. Let’s just say I was making let’s say between 120 to 140, if I got the bonus. The year that I quit, Clever Girl Finance was making $60,000. I had made $60,000 that year. I remember talking to a friend of mine. I was like, “I’m going to quit my job for a company, a business that’s making less than my salary. No 401(k). No match. No tax deferred benefits.” She was in the same position, and she’s like, “I don’t know how we’re going to do it, but let’s just do it.”
I had my 18 months, and so I quit my job. It’s really, really interesting because a couple ago, I was having this conversation with the same friend, and we exchanged income. We’re like monthly income accountability partners. I was like, “Can you believe that we didn’t want to quit our jobs at that time, even though we had businesses that were making money that we knew we could grow, but we just had this big fear of what if, because we were so tied up to our 401(k) and our income?” I mean, it’s a big risk and obviously I had the comfort of having money in the bank, and I had the comfort of having a working spouse, right?
Not everybody has those things. But it’s just interesting that that was one of my biggest fears and I was so not willing to take the chance until I forced myself to do it.

Scott:
And then things failed from there, right? That didn’t work out?

Bola:
No, things did not fail. I mean, it was hard. There were many times I cried. I didn’t pay myself a salary for the longest time. I remember that when I was able to pay myself a salary, I chose instead to pay a nanny to help me with my kids, because I was worn to my thinnest, thinnest. Many times I would update my resume. My resume was always updated, and I had applied for a few jobs. I even went on a few interviews, and I was like, “Don’t do this.” I just knew that I had the opportunity to do something. I’ve done businesses where I’ve known that this is just a waste of time.
End it out now or cut your losses now. But for this, I just felt like you have to give this a chance. You have to give it an opportunity to grow. I just would never follow through on the interviews. I even got hired once, and I just went back to my hustle struggle to make it work.

Mindy:
I think that’s important though. That’s a really great piece of advice. My resume was always updated, because you never know what you’re going to…

Bola:
I was ready.

Mindy:
Yeah, you do have to take care of people.

Bola:
I was ready. I would even look for a part-time job if I could. If I could find a part-time job, I would have done that, but it was just harder to do with my kids. There were many times I just cried, and my husband is like, “What are you crying about?” I’m like, “I gave up my salary and my 401(k) to do this.”

Mindy:
The 401(k) that you thought was a scam.

Bola:
I know.

Mindy:
Where is Clever Girl Finance now in terms of your annual spending? It sounds like you’re covering your financial obligations to your family, and you have grown even more.

Bola:
Yes. Without sharing my income, we’ve grown. Most months we do six figures.

Mindy:
Most months?

Bola:
Yes. It’s very surreal at times, and it’s also very stressful, because there’s people who rely on the company for income to support their families, so I have this massive obligation to make it work no matter what. It’s going well. I sometimes sit back. I’m like, “Wow! I can’t believe that we’re at this point where there is this company.” But it’s going well. I am able to meet my financial obligations. I am able to pay myself a salary. I’m excited about potential growth into the future, and I’m proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish over the last six years.

Mindy:
You left a six figure a year salary to now make six figures a month. Are you working every minute of the day?

Bola:
Sometimes, not always. Sometimes. Sometimes. That’s revenue. I have expenses. I have salaries to pay. There’s a lot of things that go into keeping a business afloat, right? I don’t want people to be like, oh my god, wow! Because a lot of times there’s a lot of smokes and mirrors on social media, right? It does cost money to make money.

Mindy:
Social media influencers are keeping you broke.

Bola:
The goal is to increase that revenue, and in turn increase those profits.

Mindy:
What’s next for Clever Girl?

Bola:
I have a book coming out this month that’s what’s next, my third book called The Side Hustle Guide, which is something that I’m excited about. My mom was a side hustle queen. I have always had some sort of side hustle going as a way to buffer my income, to help accelerate my savings goal. I think especially now in a world of a pandemic, if people can think about ways to create multiple streams of income, that can be so impactful.

Mindy:
I’m super excited about that. That’s your third book, you said?

Bola:
Yes.

Mindy:
That’s going to be an awesome book. Well, we are now at the point of our show where we go to our famous four questions, which are the same questions we ask of all of our guests. Bola, are you ready?

Bola:
Yes.

Mindy:
What is your favorite finance book?

Bola:
Mine. My first book, and I wrote that. I’ll tell you the quick story. My first book, it’s called Clever Girl Finance: Ditch Debt, Save Money and Build Real Wealth. This was a book I wrote to my younger self. Because when I first graduated from college, didn’t know anything about money. I went to the bookstore Borders, which is no longer around, and I went to find a personal finance book for women. For some reason, I wanted to find a personal finance book for women. The number one best-selling book for women was written by a white man. I did buy that book, and it was my favorite book for the longest, Smart Women Finish Rich.

Mindy:
I was going to say David Bach.

Bola:
Yes, I read that book to shreds on the bus, on the commute to work, wherever I was going, until it was tattered, and then I bought a new one. I love that book, but I was like, this is from a guy’s perspective and it’s a number one New York Times best-selling book. It still is for women if you look in that category. I’m going to write my own book to my own self. So that’s what I did.

Scott:
Geez!

Mindy:
That sounds a lot like J. Collins Simple Path to Wealth. He wrote it to his daughter.

Bola:
I love that book.

Mindy:
I really like that. I like that you wrote it to yourself. These are all the things that I wish I knew.

Bola:
Yes.

Scott:
What was your biggest money mistake?

Bola:
I have so many, but the one I talk about most often that hurts me the most, not the biggest, but the one that hurts me the most is my designer handbag collection. No shame in my game. I love designer handbags. Once I hit that $100,000 mark, I got super, super comfortable, and I was like, I’m going to buy a Chanel handbag. It cost me $2,850. Ridiculous, I know, but just to make you feel better, they actually cost closer to $7,000 today. I bought this bag, and I was like, “Wow! I bought a Chanel bag. I love this bag,” and I carried that bag so much. I got my cost per wear.
I didn’t buy any other bags. There was no $100, $25. I got my cost per wear. I got it down to cents on the dollar. And then I was like, “You know what? I need another one, and then I need another one, and then another one.” What happened was that I was saving a lot less in order to buy this bag every time I bought a bag. I had this huge collection of bags that just didn’t make any sense, because I was barely using them. I was using that first one I bought. And then to make it worst, my husband, then boyfriend, was like, “These bags are so ugly. What a waste of your money.”
That’s what he said to me. He’s like, “What a waste!” He’s like, “You have thousands of dollars stacked here in your closet rotting away.” That was like my wake up call. It was like, you know what? To hell with these bags. I can put this money in my bank account. I remember looking at some math that if I had taken the money I had spent on that first bag, $2,850, and I had invested it, I would have something, when I did the math, like $40,000. But fortunately for me, I bought a brand that held its value and increased in price, so a lot of those bags I sold for more than I paid.
A couple thousand for some, but it did not equal the money I could have made if I had invested it in the stock market.

Mindy:
Wow! I can’t believe you spent $2,800 on a bag.

Bola:
$850. $2,850. I sold that bag for $5,000.

Mindy:
Well, that’s good that you made money on it, but that’s wow. I’m not in that space of really expensive bags, and it’s always shocking to me that purses cost more than $100.

Bola:
Yes.

Scott:
I can’t even pretend to know what I don’t know about those.

Bola:
You don’t want to get involved in that, Mindy. You don’t want to get involved in that. Don’t. Because once you fall in love, it’s hard. Listeners, don’t do it. Learn from me.

Mindy:
What is your best piece of advice for people who are just starting out?

Bola:
Just start. I will also tell people to be very mindful about who they share their goals with. I’ve seen so many dreams be killed because they’ve shared it with people who have no ambition, no goals, and they make you feel stupid about wanting to be great, about wanting to succeed, about wanting to do well, about wanting to have financial security. Keep your goals close to your heart and give them time to grow. Give them time to establish roots, and then you can share. But don’t let anybody kill your dreams because of their issues or their mindset blocks, right, and just start.
I remember in the early stages of saving on my ramen noodle diet, I had done my budget and I had an extra $1 that I didn’t have a purpose for. I had opened a local credit union that was 20 minutes away from my job, and I drove 20 minutes to put that $1 in the bank. It cost me more than $1 to get there, but I wanted to continue with the habit of saving and the mindset of saving. The teller looked at me like an idiot. You’re going deposit $1? Really? But I deposited it anyway. That was such a huge confidence and just self boost for me that I did it. I didn’t spend that dollar.
I put it in my account. It sounds stupid, but I did it. But it really helped with my momentum and it really helped with my focus and my consistency. It doesn’t matter where you’re starting with. It doesn’t matter how small you have. It doesn’t matter if you have a ton of debt. Start with where you are and what you have right now.

Mindy:
Ah, so good.

Scott:
Love it. All right. What is your favorite joke to tell at parties?

Bola:
I’m terrible with jokes, but I’ll tell you a joke that my kids think is so funny. What is a cat’s favorite color?

Mindy:
I’ve never heard this one.

Bola:
Purr-ple. I apologize for that terrible joke.

Scott:
That’s awesome.

Mindy:
No, Scott loves those jokes. Okay, Bola, where can people find out more about you and give us all the places?

Bola:
Yes. You can find out more about me at clevergirlfinance.com. We are on Instagram and YouTube @clevergirlfinance. You can also get the Clever Girl Finance book series wherever books are sold as a physical book, audiobook, and eBook, and we have over 30 plus completely free courses that we offer with no catches and no charge. You don’t have to give us your credit card to help you as you work on improving your financial wellness.

Mindy:
And the podcast?

Bola:
Yes, it’s called Clever Girls Know. Oh my gosh, yes, I have a podcast called Clever Girls Know, and I interview women from all kinds of backgrounds on money, life, and business.

Scott:
Awesome. Well, we will link to all of that or as much as we can in the show notes at biggerpockets.com/moneyshow210.

Mindy:
We will link to all of that because we have unlimited page length, Scott.

Bola:
Thank you.

Mindy:
Bola, thank you so much for your time today. This was a fantastic episode, and I’m so happy I was able to talk to you.

Bola:
Thank you so much for the opportunity. I appreciate being able to share with you.

Mindy:
Okay. We’ll talk to you soon.

Bola:
Okay.

Mindy:
Okay, that was Bola Sokunbi from Clever Girl Finance. Scott, what do you think of her story?

Scott:
I think it’s great. I think that she had to invent or reinvent a lot of the basic processes of the financial independence journey. Because she’s brilliant, she was able to do that with saving large amounts of money, and then kind of smelling the bad advice when it come across and being skeptical, but then ultimately taking action after she did the math. Ultimately, she was able to kind of have an opportunity to start a business and become very successful with it. Her instincts I’m sure are continuing to serve her really well, as she’s helping hundreds of thousands of people and bringing in a sizeable income now with her business.
I think it’s a fantastic story, and I think it should be encouraging to folks listening. Because if you can hear stories like this and replicate, hey, if I just begin investing according to this formula much earlier on, or I’m doing a little less saving, a little more investing, or I’m going to put myself in a position to take that opportunity a little sooner, these types of stories you can learn from and then piggy back on, jumpstart, and accelerate by following the playbook and learning from folks like Bola.

Mindy:
Yeah, a little less buying Chanel handbags. That’s funny, Scott. Oh, I don’t know anything about this. Yup.

Scott:
That’s how you buy yourself some bigger pockets. You see what I did there?

Mindy:
I did. That’s awful. They have $30,000 handbags, Scott. You have to get on a wait list to buy it.

Scott:
I did purchase a couple of those little drawstring bags for $7 each. I just carry to the gym and all that now that it’s opening back up, but I don’t know what I don’t know about these handbags.

Mindy:
I know what you don’t know and it’s ridiculous. I love the tenacity, tenaciousness with which she pushed herself towards her goals and towards her, “I’m going to accomplish this.” Even when she didn’t have those goals, she knew she had to save, and her parents telling her, “Save your money, save your money, save your money.” What are the four tenets to financial independence, Scott? Spend less, she did that. Earn more, she did that. Save your money and invest wisely, and start a business.
She did all of them, and now look at her. She runs her own company. She’s employing other people and helping people live their best lives. I’m just so excited that she took all this chances, because now she’s got her own best life.

Scott:
Yeah, absolutely. One thing I do want to additionally point is the grind factor here. Bola is making $100,000 or at least per month from her business nowadays. My belief is that to have that type of opportunity at her stage in life, in a disproportionate number of cases, there is a period of years where there’s a complete all out grind going on. She is complete evidence of that work in the two jobs, spending very little, disassociating with certain people that didn’t resonate with those values during that period of time.
There are some friends that didn’t understand why she wasn’t living in $3,500 a month apartment and those kinds of things. That grind I don’t think it’s a requirement for fi, but I think that it is disproportionately associated with story of folks who seem to have gone on to amass a large amount of wealth and become entrepreneurs very early in their journeys here, at least so far to what we’ve seen on the Money Sow.

Mindy:
When she was telling her story, she would skip a little bit and I thought that’s the part that was grinding out. It’s no fun to talk about, so for the next six months, I spent very little and saved a lot. I kept putting it in index funds. That’s not an exciting, sexy story.

Scott:
Three years, right? Three years for her of ramen noodles and photographing weddings and slogging it out at her day job and seeing consistent raises and dramatic increase in income from her side hustle and stock piling the money. From there, from that financial fortress that she established, she’s able to begin kind of reassessing and accelerating her trajectory with that.

Mindy:
The key to financial freedom is not the sexy story. It’s not the fun and excitement. It’s the slog. It’s the grind. It’s the, now what? We’ve spoken with a couple of people who are just starting their journey, and they’re in a good spot, but they’re at the beginning of the slog. Oh, now what? Well, now you just keep doing it. It’s not fun. It’s not exciting. It’s just part of how it keeps going. That’s a good point, Scott. The slog is what gets you there.

Scott:
Yup. That’s how I’m wired in how I think too. I’m looking for that. Take that with a grain of salt. But everything to me is 1% or a tenth of a percent better every day. Over a long period of time, that compounds into just extraordinary outcomes. That’s what I see in a lot of these stories.

Mindy:
Okay, Scott, should we get out of here?

Scott:
Let’s do it.

Mindy:
From episode 210 of the BiggerPockets Money Podcast, he is Scott Trench, and I am Mindy Jensen saying, bye, bye, butterfly.

 

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In This Episode We Cover

  • The importance of education, even in today’s world
  • The great sacrifices Bola’s parents made for her to be successful
  • Starting side income streams so you can invest and save more
  • Selling the investments you don’t feel comfortable with, and why everyone doesn’t need to be a landlord
  • Saving a massive financial runway before quitting your full-time job
  • Starting Clever Girl Finance and her new book The Side Hustle Guide 
  • And So Much More!

Links from the Show

Book Mentioned from the Show

Connect with Bola: