We always want to live the life we have always dreamed of and experience ultimate bliss. But life isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. It comes with challenges and obstacles along the way. In this episode, we have Sarah Wilson, a YouTuber, financial wellness advocate, and newbie real estate investor, to share her life’s challenges that led her to different side-hustles and improved her skills. Through this, she was nicknamed Budget Girl. Now she has seven income streams with a net worth of over $100,000. Listen and learn how to increase and build your wealth!
Watch the episode here:
Listen to the podcast here:
Building Wealth: Creating Your Best Life Through Real Estate With Sarah Wilson
I am so excited to have Sarah Wilson, Budget Girl. We met at FinCon and she’s amazing. She’s a YouTuber, debt destroyer, side hustler, financial wellness advocate and newbie real estate investor. She creates free resources and content on how to live a frugal, fun and fearless life. She builds wealth, creates income streams and lives your best life with the aid of a budget regardless of your current income level.
She’s a trailblazer for transparency in the personal finance space online. She documents her successes and challenges. She paid off $33,000 of student loan debt in three years on a tiny reporter’s salary of $26,000. She shared her exact budget and real-life numbers. She was side hustling, negotiating for better pay and positions, improving her frugal and financial skills.
She has created seven streams of income and I’m all about creating multiple streams of income. She has 2.5 properties, a net worth of over $100,000 and building wealth as a single woman, still on an average income. She loves teaching others how to master money and build the life they want. She’s at BudgetGirl.com. I’m so excited to have you, Sarah. Welcome.
Thank you for having me. I’m so glad we ended up with the same lunch at FinCon. It was Sarah from Nerds Guide to FI who introduced us and she is awesome.
They hosted a meetup for women in the real estate investing space. We came by and sat next to each other. I was like, “I need to have you on the show because you are amazing.” I love your story and it’s inspiring because a lot of people hear my story. “You were a lawyer and had a pretty decent salary or making six figures. You could do real estate investing but I don’t make that anywhere near that much money. How am I supposed to get in the game?” That’s why I love your story because you were not doing that and you got in the game. How did you get started in real estate investing?
Scrolling back from that a little bit, I did start on a very low income. I was making $1,600 a month as a newspaper reporter. I had $33,000 worth of debt and got laid off. I was in this scary place of I had never budgeted. I was a couple of years out of college and I thought I was going to have to be a waitress for a living, which there’s nothing wrong with that at all but I had a college degree. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to pay that off on that salary for three years.Refuse to be scared about money and the future. Click To Tweet
For three years, I side hustled, budgeted, figured out new ways to save, bring more money in and paid off that $33,000 in student loan debt. I started saving the emergency fund and documented the whole thing on YouTube, which is where my audience comes from. It’s been wonderful to be able to share that community with people where they’re cheering for me and I’m cheering for them. When it came time to start investing in something else, other than regular brokerage accounts, VTSAX and chill, I started learning about real estate a little bit.
I started with BiggerPockets, which a lot of people get their start there. I found it encouraging. Once I learned about house hacking, I was sold because the lower-income you are, the less money you have to work with, the more you have to evaluate every single expense. Housing is a huge expense for everyone. This is a huge percent of our budget.
Once I figured out that I could eliminate my housing costs and thereby free up that 25% to 30%, I was like, “We’re doing. This is what’s going to happen.” It also brought me a new stream of income because I’m a landlord. My renter lives on the other side of that wall. I live for free and that is also my income. I got started that way and it’s been fantastic.
Let’s break that down. You’re house hacking. You get a house that you own that you’re living in. What property did you buy? How did you do it? You could talk number. How much did it cost you had to do it?
I live in College Station, Texas, which Texas is pretty much known for a lot of people from the high cost of living cities have been moving here because our property is a little bit cheaper. I bought a 3-bed, 2-bath on each side duplex for $230,000.
Did you get an FHA loan or something?
I bought it at the very beginning of the pandemic. I put 3.5% down. I had more saved but it was a scary time, so I decided to keep a little bit of that back. I put about $4,000 in for renovations on each side and I make $140 over the mortgage each month while living in one unit.
Not only are you making $140, but you’re saving on what you used to pay for rent. You’re owning, creating equities and syndication.
The entire mortgage for me.
That’s why I love real estate.
Once I got into it, I was like, “This makes so much sense.” It feels lower risk, higher reward than buying a single-family home because my property is making me money. It’s an investment versus a single-family home where I’m responsible for all the bills and it feels like a higher risk situation than renting and higher loss for most people. I have had to put a new roof, regrade the lawn and do some renovations. All of it has been wonderful and I’m still on the block.
I started with house hacking too. That’s how I got into the game with a duplex. It’s a great way to start.
That’s the way to get into real estate. If you have the means to consider purchasing a house and you instead choose to purchase a multifamily home or something that you can use for something like that, you can set yourself up for having an extra stream of income and an asset for life. I wish more people talked about it, which is why I will talk about it to anybody who read ad nauseam.
You have 2.5. Explain that more.
I have a duplex and bought a vintage travel trailer, which I have been renovating to turn into an Airbnb or short-term rental property. I say 2.5 because one, it’s not an active property yet and two, I don’t have a place to put it. I got the property. I’m renting a field where it’s sitting while I’m fixing it up. That should hopefully be done. I live in a College Town. It’s going to be Texas A&M/Texas-themed. It’s a cute little 1-bed, 1-bath travel trailer from the ‘80s. It’s going to be adorable. I would love to stay in a place like this. I love going around and staying in unique short-term rentals. I anticipate it’s going to be very nice too.
Where are you going to put it there? Are you going to buy some land to house it? What’s the plan?
The plan is eventually to have a piece of land that I can put it on, ideally with a couple of other properties, maybe even some other unique properties and have it as a little Airbnb place. I’m touring a fourplex with a little bit of land and I might be able to stick it out there. I’ve put in bids for a couple of places but they all need to have that element of I can develop an additional spot for a trailer or something like that.
We focus here on real estate investing but a lot of people who aren’t quite yet ready will benefit from learning from you. When you were unemployed, you had $33,000 in debt and probably a little early to start investing in property. There are ways to start investing, even from that point of view.
It’s a dangerous game to play. I see where you’re going with this. If you’re starting and you don’t have a firm financial footing, it might not be the best time to invest in something that could potentially cost you way more than you can afford. A firm financial footing, having a budget, trying to pay off your high-interest debt and mastering the basics is what everyone should start with. A budget, an emergency fund, having some sinking funds, being prepared for things that are going to happen to you and then you can start saving for things like investments. Regular investments, stock market investments are pretty low risk. Don’t touch your retirement but you can fill that out.
Real estate investment is still passive but can have surprises for you. You can have tenants that don’t pay or something bad happen to the property. I don’t encourage anyone to get started without funds for bad things that happen. I bought my duplex. I already had a personal emergency fund of $10,000. I ended up saving up a $10,000 duplex emergency fund. I tap that first and don’t have to tap my stores in case of any maintenance, property, improvements or anything bad that happens here. That allows me so much freedom to work on the next property investment because I know that I’m covered here and I can handle anything that comes up.
We’re probably coming from a little bit different mindset backgrounds here. I’m coming from very low income, right on the pop paycheck to paycheck and poverty line. A lot of people who come into this space and want to build up multiple streams of income and real estate investments might be able to handle that mental risk if they have some emergency funds and emergency savings to deal with it. It helps you dip your toes in the water a little.Talk about your mistakes all the time so that people can avoid them. Click To Tweet
I also want to touch on one thing you talked about having multiple income streams. I think of financial stability as a table. Each leg of that table is a stream of income and most of us are only taught to have one leg, which is that job. We’re taught to have thick, very strong legs. Go to college and get a nice strong leg under the table but what happens when you get fired, sick or something happens, then there goes your leg and your table comes crashing down. They have real financial stability and security.
You need multiple legs under your table and most of them should be passive so that they’re not reliant on you. When you lose a leg, you have these other legs that keep your table steady and firm. I love that you’ve created all of these legs under your table. You have a real estate leg but what are some of your other legs?
I still have a day job. I’m a Communications Coordinator at Texas A&M and I run the social media. I do some writing and marketing for one of the colleges there. I also have Budget Girl, which I started as an accountability YouTube channel for showing my debt payoff and that has turned into a business that makes me money every single month.
I have YouTube ads on there. I do sponsorships sometimes. I have website ads on BudgetGirl.com, all of that. I have real estate investments that pay me passive income. I have my rental, which pays me income. I have two renters. I do a little bit of money coaching and a couple of others. I’ve got some baby legs that don’t even touch the floor but they’re there to keep me off the ground if someone went wild with a chainsaw.
I want to ask you my favorite question because you were saying, “Ask me about a mistake or anything.” What was your biggest mistake? You’re still early on in your real estate journey but if you’ve had your biggest real estate investing or financial mistake, if you’re not quite there yet, what did you learn from it?
I have a couple of little things. Here’s the thing. Jumping into real estate, not knowing anything about it and not having people in your life that have done it before. My dad was military. He had that one stream of income his whole life. That’s all you got and my mom was staying at home. I didn’t have a ton of people ask on this other than the internet and it has been the most wonderful community but sometimes you get different opinions and you haven’t had to learn as you go.
One thing that stands out is I didn’t do a final walkthrough on the rental side on the day that I bought the house. We asked the sellers to do several things. One of them was to replace a toilet over there that was cracked. They said they did it. They gave us paperwork that said they did it. We didn’t want to bother the renters that day. We decided not to tour that side of the house. We later found out that they hadn’t done some of the work that we had them contracted to do.
It’s a big mistake there, which I will never do again. I like to talk about that as well because bothering the renters once the papers are signed, there’s nothing you can do about it. You accepted the house. Also, we tried to do some yard/lawn maintenance ourselves. This house had never had a flood issue. It’s not in a flood plain but there were some drainage issues in the backyard. I had to spend several thousand dollars trying to figure out how to get it fixed.
I don’t necessarily think I would go back and do it differently because I started with the cheapest way to fix it first and then had to eventually go up to the most expensive way to fix it. Maybe I must have got more opinions because every single person you bring in is going to say, “My service is going to fix your problem.” The first option was digging our French drain and that did not work. We’ve had historic rains in Texas and eventually, my entire kitchen and one of the bedrooms flooded. We had to rip all that out and put it back. The insurance didn’t cover any of it because it was less than the deductible so I had to pay it.
We tried the French drain and gutters, which did nothing and eventually, we had to regrade the whole yard. Fortunately, that has fixed the problem. I anticipated something. I just didn’t know what that was going to be. I know a lot more about drainage and that’s the way you go. I had those emergency savings. I’m glad it happened on my side instead of the renter side because that’s a mess and a half to get the flood people in here with the blowers. That’s several days and then getting the floor all redone. It’s a nightmare.
Would you have done anything differently?
I probably would have brought in a few more opinions rather than going with the cheapest option and continuing to the next level when it didn’t work. We spent a couple of days when there were bad writing storms, bailing out our backyard with buckets, trying to stop the house from flooding again. Though that was excellent for my arm muscles yet it was horrible. I might’ve gone nuclear option for regrading the lawn a little bit sooner. I wasted money on the gutters that did not work at all.
I have learned to go with the best. Find the experts that are the best and work with them. They won’t cost you money and they’ll make you money in the end. They’re not necessarily the most expensive but they’re rarely the cheapest.There is nothing more powerful than to be able to write a check and get out of a bad situation. Click To Tweet
There are other things where I’ve gone with the mid-tier range and it has fixed the problem. It’s one of those things you don’t learn until you learn it but I’m glad it’s behind me.
What are you most proud of?
Probably DIY-ing a lot of renovations. I wouldn’t have learned a lesson at all but I did all the painting and DIY fixes, especially when I went and raided the other side. I did my own first before we moved in. I had a renter turnover, was able to get over on the other side of the duplex and fix a lot of bad old work that had been done with previous owners. It cost about $4,000 total and it took me a month. I contracted out a little bit of work but a lot of it, I did myself.
I hated it at the time but it was fun and satisfying. I saved thousands. I also pride myself on finding improvements that are a deal. I’ve replaced both of the back doors since there are no windows on that side of the house with nice, beautiful windowed back doors to let in a bunch of natural light. I got one for $20 and one for $80. These are $400 doors. I’m a thrift pro and I’m continually proud of myself for that.
That can be extremely satisfying, especially when we’re doing a lot of flipping. I so loved not doing DIY and having contractors do the work but that’s me. I love being able to source things that look super expensive and are nice bitter. They are inexpensive and economical but make a huge wow.
I get contracting out all the work because you can write that into the cost of the home and against your taxes. You can’t charge for doing work yourself but I also want to learn as I go through this and hopefully as I get more properties. I know what it takes and I can’t be tricked.
What do you attribute your success to?
Cheers stubbornness to fail, I refused to be scared about money and my future. When I was in that original place where I lost my job, I had all this debt. I had no idea what I was going to do. I realized how many options money gives you. It’s not a love of money and the root of evil but knowing that I have myself financially prepared and I have options. There’s so much personal power in that. It has given me more confidence as I go through life because it means that I don’t have to deal with a crappy job, person or situation. I have options on ways to get out of it because I’ve prepared myself financially. Especially as a single woman, there is nothing more powerful to me than to be able to write a check and get out of a bad situation.
I love that you’re bringing this up because a lot of people I have heard them said that the love of money is the root of all evil. It’s idolizing money, playing money on its pedestal, money for money’s sake.
I’m not putting it out of people or putting money ahead of relationships. I put money to protect myself and the people that I love. That’s a good way to use money.
Money doesn’t change who you are. It amplifies it. It allows you to do more. Mother Teresa said, “It takes a checkbook to change the world.” When you are more abundant and financially empowered, then you can share it. You’re in this place, taking what you’ve learned to help others. That’s how we’re wired, especially as women. We have more. We’re going to do what we can to share that.
Whether it’s our knowledge or finances, we share from our abundance and overflow. That’s partly why I have my mission to help one million women become financially free because when we have that freedom, then we do amazing things with it. What advice do you have for a woman who’s starting in real estate investing?
Get multiple quotes and ask for recommendations from people that you trust. I’ve gone with people I can Google. Tons of them have been wonderful but tons of them have not. The people that I’ve found through my relationships, like my best handyman, I found through my boss. I was asking around like, “I need somebody to help me with this, that or the other.” Trust people that you know, who can give you an honest recommendation and also trust your gut because I had a handyman come out once we did the most terrible job.
He kept saying all of these racists, sexist and homophobic things. I should have been like Andrew Gone. I let him finish the work. I later had somebody come and check the work. They’re like, “This is going to burn your house down.” That guy got a very bad review and also, I should’ve kicked him out of my entire life. Trust your gut. My gut, the entire time, was being like, “Nope. This guy needs to go.” I should have listened to it.
What do you wish you’d known at the beginning that you now know?
Debt isn’t necessarily evil. I started on the Dave Ramsey style program and worked myself to the bone. I was convinced that I didn’t need a credit score. Having a good credit score later helped me purchase real estate and save me hundreds of thousands of dollars because I was able to get my home at 2.5% interest versus I don’t even know how much it would have been. I have a credit score manufactured. You can use high-interest debt as leverage. It’s still not good. It’s bad. I don’t keep any myself but you can use debt as a positive when you need a credit score.
I don’t believe in having debt for twos and purses but to buy income-producing assets secured debt for that all day, every day, especially when debt is so inexpensive.
I’m making money off of that debt every month and other people are paying down my debt for me. No matter which way you run those numbers, it’s a good thing all day, every day. Before, I had made myself scared of debt because I had student loans and listened to these people who were like, “The credit cards are terrible. They’re like snakes.” I’ve been beyond that, fortunately.
I have to disagree with Dave Ramsey and those things in terms of all debt are bad. If you had to wait until you could spend $220,000 or whatever that you bought for the house for and you had to build that savings up before you even got started in the game, when would you get there?
He says you can do a fifteen-year loan with 25% down. That’s still a lot of money for somebody who’s renting and most people are on a fixed income. It’s not great advice. It might work for some people but I do think it’s a dangerous message to spread.
It will take too long to get there. By the time you’re there, that property is worth double the amount. You got in 3.5% down and you’re making money in that. You can cash-out refinance after a while and use that money to buy more properties. You keep recycling that money and using OPM. I like leverage. It helps you be able to do more with less. Before we get into our famed end of the show, Trinity, which is a brag, gratitude and desire, what is the best way for people to find you and learn more about what you do?
It’s time for our Trinity, brag, gratitude and desire. What is one thing that you were celebrating? What is your brag?
Honestly, the trailer things, I’m getting close to finishing it. I’m doing so much of the work myself and I’m so excited about venturing into short-term rentals. It’s going to be awesome and I can’t wait to open up that phase.
It sounds like you might be getting a fourplex or something.
I keep shopping for the next real estate deal. I keep running the numbers on it. The houses are going far above what they’re being asked. I’ve put in two offers and been outbid each time but that’s fine because I ran my numbers. I knew what the property was worth to me. If it goes through above that, it wasn’t the property for me.
What’s one thing you were grateful for?
The internet. That sounds weird but honestly, in the space of real estate, there are all of these people out there talking about it. They’re being transparent and the community around BiggerPockets and REI Goddesses. There’s a place where you can go and learn. It’s completely free and you can connect with people like we’re doing now. Learn from each other and ask questions. That is the most powerful thing that our parents could never have conceived of.
There are so many resources. Many people like you are completely willing to share your knowledge and help us avoid mistakes, which is a lot of what my channel is about. I talk about my mistakes all the time so that people can avoid them. People will tell me like, “I didn’t do that thing that you did stupidly. Yay, both of us.” If it helps somebody else not make the same mistake, I feel like that makes my mistake a little better.
What’s one thing you desire?
Patience and wisdom. We’ll go double there for the real estate deals. I’ve put in a couple of offers and been saving up. I hope the next deal goes as well as my first one did and I can be patient and wait for the right one to come along.
Shall your desire be or so much better than you can imagine. Thank you, Sarah. This was awesome. I love hearing your story, energy and how generous you are with what you’re doing and sharing with the world. I’m super excited to have had you. I can’t wait to see what happens next for you.
Thank you. I feel like we’re kindred spirits. We’re trying to teach other people and help them grow. I’m sure you are so close to those million women or you will be very soon.
Connect with me at REIGoddesses.com. There you’ll find out about our events, training or investor club, all the ways that you can learn, grow and build wealth. Also, subscribe, like and follow us so you won’t miss another interview.
- Nerds Guide to FI
- YouTube – Budget Girl
- Texas A&M
- @GoBudgetGirl – Instagram
- @BudgetGirl – TikTok
About Sarah Wilson
Sarah Wilson, aka Budget Girl, is a YouTuber, debt-destroyer, side-hustler, financial wellness advocate and newbie real estate investor. She creates free resources and content on how to live a frugal, fun and fearless life, build wealth, create income streams, and live your best life with the aid of a budget — regardless of your current income level!
A trailblazer for transparency in the personal finance space online, she documented her successes and challenges paying off $33,000 of student loans in just three years on a tiny reporter’s salary of $26,000/ year, sharing her exact budget and real life numbers while side-hustling, negotiating for better pay and positions and improving her frugal skills. Now she has seven streams of income, 2.5 properties, a net worth of over $100,000 and is building wealth as a single woman still on an average income. She loves teaching others how to master their money and build the life they want at budgetgirl.com.
Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share!
Join the Real Estate Investor Goddesses Community today: