This is an interview with Dafina Sharpe of Dollars Plus Sense.
Hey, Dafina. Tell us about yourself and what you do.
I’m a lawyer and have a successful law firm that I’ve been running in NYC for over a decade. I’m also the editor and founder of a personal finance blog called Dollars Plus Sense.
My goal with Dollars Plus Sense is to teach professional women how to manage their money better so they can save more, get out of debt, and eventually become financially free.
How was your life like before you were financially free?
I was very stressed about my financial situation before I decided I wanted to be financially free.
Although I was earning a decent salary from my law firm, I was drowning in debt and living paycheck to paycheck. I had 6-figures worth of non-mortgage debt (mostly credit card and medical debt) and I had no idea how I was going to tackle it.
Even after getting my finances in order, I was still working like crazy.
Being self-employed means if I don’t work, I don’t get paid—therefore, I was always working. Because of this, I would miss out on so many events and memories.
Although I was less stressed about how I was going to pay my bills, life became all about work and was no longer fulfilling. At that point, I realized I wanted to diversify my income and achieve financial freedom!
What made you decide to get serious about your finances?
I decided to get serious about my finances when I saw the stress of my situation was starting to take a toll on my physical and mental health.
I have a genetic blood disorder called sickle cell disease that causes chronic debilitating pain. When I have a sickle cell crisis I usually have to be hospitalized anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.
However, one thing I noticed that triggers sickle cell crisis for me is stress—and my finances were a big source of stress in my life at the time.
So, I knew getting serious about my finances would help reduce the amount of sickle cell crisis I would have.
What steps did you take to educate yourself financially?
I bought books, listened to podcasts, and read personal finance blogs (like my blog Dollars Plus Sense) to get more educated about my finances. I consumed as much information as I could.
However, I knew if I wanted to take my finances to the next level, I needed to invest in some tools to help me manage my money better and find a mentor that has already accomplished what I hoped to one day.
How were you able to save $300K in 4 years?
This actually happened accidentally…LOL…meaning I didn’t say to myself “I want to save $300,000 in the next 4 years.”
It all started because I wanted to buy my first house in NYC. However, at the time, the prices were rising so FAST and I was afraid of getting priced out of the market.
So I knew if I wanted to be able to afford anything in my neighborhood, I had to start saving aggressively.
My goal at the time was to try and save the down payment within a year. This was a VERY ambitious goal because that meant I needed to save around $70,000 (real estate is SUPER expensive in NYC).
Even though I was making a decent income at the time, I definitely could not afford to save that much money in only one year. So basically my plan was to 1) increase my income, and 2) significantly reduce my living expenses.
I got a second job to increase my income, and I reduced my living expenses by moving to a much more affordable neighborhood. By the end of the year, I was able to save the $70,000 for my down payment and I went into contract for my first home.
To make a long story short, it took me 4 YEARS to close on my condo because the building had difficulty obtaining a certificate of occupancy.
During those 4 years, I continued to save on average $70,000 every year—leaving me with approximately $280,000 in savings.
I was able to turn $280,000 into $300,000 without having to save more money because I invested my money.
Read also: How to Pay off Your Mortgage in Half the Time
What inspired you to start a blog and who is Dollars Plus Sense for?
I was inspired to start Dollars Plus Sense after I became financially free in 2018.
Toni Morrison once said, “If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.” I knew once I was able to improve my finances, I had a duty to help other women and people of color that may have struggled with money as I did.
I figured a blog would allow me to reach and help as many people as possible.
I created Dollars Plus Sense specifically for professional women because, unfortunately, there is still a wealth gap in the United States.
At every education level, women are paid consistently less than their male counterparts. It’s even worse if you’re a black woman. Black women, on average, earn 64 cents for every dollar a white man earns.
As a black woman, I understand that the odds are NOT in my favor, but I’ve been blessed enough to beat those odds—and that’s why I made it my mission to help other women beat those odds too.
One of the first steps to breaking down inequality for women and instill power is to improve your financial education.
How did you bring traffic to the blog in the first year?
I got most of my traffic from Pinterest. I also got some traffic from Google and from collaborating with other bloggers.
Recommended resource: Pinterest Traffic Avalanche
How did you make your first $100 as a blogger?
I made my first $100 as a blogger from selling my own products. It took a while for me to make my first $100 because I wasn’t really focused on ways to make money.
I didn’t have a lot of subscribers or traffic, so my focus was more on trying to produce good quality content. I knew if I could attract more people and be helpful to my readers the money would come.
How much are you earning from the site and in what ways?
I don’t share income from my blog because quite frankly I don’t make most of my money from blogging. I make most of my money from my law firm and from investing my money in the stock market and real estate.
However, I’m happy to say the income from my blog has steadily increased over time and I’m starting to see my hard work pay off.
Most of the money I earn from my site is from selling my own products. I also get some affiliate income from the products I recommend to my readers.
I’m very picky about what I recommend to my audience, so my affiliate income is very small compared to what I make from my own products.
What products do you offer and how do you promote them?
I offer my readers a few different products, but my best selling products are my Monthly and Yearly Budget Spreadsheets and Personal Finance Binder. I also offer services where I make budgets for my clients and one-on-one coaching services.
I promote my products directly to my email list or I might mention it in a blog post.
What’s your favorite blog monetization method and why?
I like selling products to my readers because I KNOW it works and it’s exactly what they need to meet their financial goals. I’ve had the same struggles my readers have, and I know what it takes to turn your finances around.
I also like this method because it’s a pretty passive way to make money. Since my products are digital, I only need to create them once and I can sell them over and over again.
When and why did you decide to also become a personal finance coach?
I became a personal finance coach even before I started my blog Dollars Plus Sense. I didn’t choose to be a personal finance coach—it chose me.
Once I achieved financial freedom my family and friends came to me for advice about money. A lot of them knew they needed more than advice and wanted someone to hold them accountable. Therefore, we started to meet more regularly to discuss their money goals and make a financial plan to actually achieve them.
When I saw I was able to get results for other people, and not just myself, I knew it was a service I wanted to offer to my readers.
What are the biggest financial problems your clients struggle with?
The biggest problem my clients struggle with is changing their negative money mindset to a positive one.
A lot of them feel like “I’m just bad with money” or always tell themselves “I can’t afford it.” I understand, because I also struggled with this when I started my financial journey.
Having control of your thoughts and feelings about money can help you change your reality. By thinking positive thoughts and keeping your goals in mind you can actually manifest these things in your life.
For example, as I mentioned in my story about buying my first house and needing to save $70,000 in one year…instead of telling myself “I can’t afford it” I asked myself “how can I afford it?”
I find when I ask “how can I afford it?” my mind starts to look for solutions to a problem, rather than just giving up.
When you have a positive money mindset you look for solutions rather than looking at all the obstacles. You also look at money from a place of abundance and manifest good things to happen.
Do you think anyone can benefit from coaching?
Absolutely! A financial coach will help you make sure you achieve your financial goals FASTER. A lot of people waste time and energy trying to figure things out on their own, or they think penny-pinching is the answer.
For example, when I started my financial freedom journey, I desperately wanted to save more money and get out of debt.
There were a lot of free resources online, so I decided to go that route in an effort to save money. I REALLY didn’t want to put that extra money towards something I thought I could figure out on my own.
Well, MONTHS passed and I was still in the same spot. I was setting myself up for failure because I was focused on the WRONG thing. I was focused on trying to hold on to every penny I had instead of concentrating on ways to build more wealth and earn more money.
I had a scarcity mindset—I saw money as being scarce and hard to get…so I never wanted to let it go.
Instead of wasting time trying to figure it out on your own, learn from a professional who has accomplished the goals you want to reach in life. I guarantee that investment will give you a higher return than penny-pinching.
Hiring a financial coach is necessary when you have NO IDEA where to start or when you’ve tried to do things on your own but it’s never worked for you. A financial coach is also great for those who know what they need to do but just need an accountability partner.
What are your biggest financial goals?
I’m excited to say, I’ve already accomplished my biggest financial goal—which was financial freedom. Today, I only work because I want to.
However, it would be nice to grow from Financial Freedom to Financial Abundance.
Financial Abundance is the ultimate level of wealth where your monthly passive income can cover the total monthly expenses of your dream lifestyle—and let’s just say, my dream lifestyle is pretty luxurious! LOL.
What’s next for you and Dollars Plus Sense?
I would love to continue to grow my Dollars Plus Sense platform and help more women. So I’m thinking of creating more digital products as well as making more content for my YouTube channel.
Also, I want to increase my passive income by continuing to invest in real estate and the stock market.