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In this episode, Chelsea sits down with YouTuber Aja Dang to talk about paying off exorbitant student loans and other debt, the unexpected difficulties of running a business selling products, secrets of the modeling world, and her journey to a successful career online.

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Aja Dang on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmiE7g4J3QXBwPUybbRdioQ
Aja Dang website: https://www.ajadang.com/
Aja Dang on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ajadang/
https://www.instagram.com/mstrpln.co/

The Financial Diet site: http://www.thefinancialdiet.com
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Hello everyone, and welcome back to what I think you guys might also think is the most exciting episode thus far in season two because it is by far our most requested guest on the show.

But more than that-- and this is actually a little emotional for me. We actually-- well it is because we recorded with this guest out in Los Angeles on one of our last trips.

We recorded with her shortly before the world stopped due to COVID. So first of all it was back in the time when I could be in a room with someone talking to them, which was in and of itself such a luxury that I did not even know how badly I would miss. But beyond that we actually had scheduled for this guest because her footage-- the audio and video footage-- were corrupted after we filmed together.

Meaning that we couldn't use the footage we had hyped up to our followers. Were like, oh, we're filming with this person that you guys so much want to see on the channel. JK, the footage was lost.

But it was not to worry. Because at the time we were like, well, no big deal, we'll just bring you out here to New York. You want to come be in New York for a couple of days anyway, it works out.

We'll film it here in our in-house studio that was scheduled for March 18th. And I'm sure those of you following at home probably are aware of what happened on March 18 of last year, which is that basically the world shut down and there's been basically no travel since a full year later. So we are finally getting to rerecord this episode and I'm sure it'll be a little bit different with all these new considerations.

She's doing different stuff in her life, we're doing different stuff in ours. But we finally will get to be sort of together, we are over Zoom. I'm here in studio, she's out in Los Angeles.

And then maybe, just maybe later this year Moderna willing, we will get to be in the same room once more and maybe do something like this in person for you guys. But we'll see, let's not get ahead of ourselves. In the meantime, both our most requested guest and the guest who had the most Mr.

Bean like series of errors getting the video filmed, Aja Dang. Yay. Oh my God I cannot-- I was thinking about when we first did this and was it in February or was it-- It was in February, .

It was in February. That is so crazy. That is so like, it's crazy how different a year-- like it was just a year ago and the world is completely different now.

It's completely different. And it's honestly-- it's not until I think I don't know do you feel the same but-- I don't know if you feel the same but I feel like the year anniversary of this shit is killing me. Like the fact that it's a year, it's too much.

It's crazy. I didn't normally have a problem with this because I just like to stay home. I normally say no to events, or to see people anyways, so it wasn't a drastic life change for me. but now that we're at a year of being forced to stay home and not having the option of staying home I'm just like, OK I just need to get out of here, I'm getting antsy.

But we just got to wait til-- [INTERPOSING VOICES] Got to wait til that vaccine. --we all got shots and are responsible, and respect other people's health I guess. But yeah, it's a lot. Well as a member of the most oppressed and maligned class of people on the internet-- which is to say extroverts-- I feel especially affected by this because unlike everyone else on the internet who always talks about how they say no to everything, and stay home and eat pizza.

Which I fully believe, I'm sure that you guys do that. I love to say yes to things, I love to go out, I love to see people, I love to have parties. I'm so upset.

Seems like you're living your best life just cooking at home though. All this delicious stuff at home. Well thank you but that really does go to show how much of a false image Instagram is.

Because although the pictures do look good, I must say that the difference between how much I enjoy cooking for myself alone and how much I enjoy cooking for even just my husband who I haven't been with most of this year-- night and day, night and day. It's so hard to motivate myself to do. For sure, totally.

So for those of you, I should-- we just could not avoid the COVID conversation because it just looms large over every human interaction these days. But for those of you at home who are wondering about who Aja is and why she is so relevant to TFD if you don't know-- so Aja made her mark on the internet, I guess one could say, by paying off $200,000 of debt in 23 months. We're going to talk a lot about that and that experience, but since then she's kind of leaned into the personal finance space online.

She recently started a company of planners called MSTRPLN, which helps you organize your finances in your life, and just sort of really taken an interest in financial education and communication generally. But obviously for most of our audience listening they're going to be first and foremost, curious about your debt repayment journey. So can you take us through that process, where you started, why you started, and how you were able to accomplish such an amazing feat in such a short amount of time.

Yeah I mean, I think the why is probably the most important part of that, because up until then I had just ignored my debt completely. Like not even paying minimums, I was just ignoring it. But one day my dog Luke, who's my second youngest dog-- he got really sick and we didn't know what was going on with him and we went to a vet and he needed to have emergency surgery and I couldn't afford it.

And I was at the vet just sitting there watching families having to take out debt at the vet's office to afford care for their animal or having to watch families, which is like the most traumatic thing in the world, having to put down their pets because they couldn't afford the surgery they needed. And it was at that moment where I was like, OK I've totally messed up my life. This is completely irresponsible for-- I think that time I was 30-- for a 30-year-old woman to not be able to afford care for a member of my family that I chose to have, we've got to fix this.

So fortunately my boyfriend was able to pay for Luke's surgery. He's alive and well sleeping on the couch right now. But that was kind of the why I started my entire journey and that kind of propelled me to be very, very, very aggressive.

When I first started my journey, I wasn't making the kind of money that I'm making now. So I think when I first started I was making about $50,000 a year and now I'm making six figures. So I think sharing my journey online has not only been really good for me financially obviously, but personally, because I always say that I don't think it would have been possible for me to pay off my debt as quickly and aggressively as I did if I didn't have this YouTube community to help push me, and to motivate me, and to keep me responsible for what I wanted to do.

So that was kind of how that whole thing started. And how did you-- was your initial debt mostly student debt? Yeah it was $180,000 of student loan debt that was a mix between undergrad and graduate, and then I had a small car loan and a small credit card, but the majority of that was student loans.

When you were initially just not paying it-- been there, have also done the same with a much lower number. But nonetheless I can relate to that-- what was your mindset about it? Were you just like screw it, it's so much debt I'll never get out of it?

Or did you resent it? How did you feel about the debt that was leading you to just not even deal with it? I 100% thought that I would have debt for the rest of my life.

I really thought that I would always struggle with money, I always thought that I would have some kind of debt. The idea that I'd be sitting here with you talking about how I'm debt free just never even occurred to me. And at that point I just couldn't even afford to pay student loan debt, rent and health insurance at the same time.

So I kind of just chose two of the more important ones, which for me is a roof over my head and health, over paying student loan debt. I wouldn't say better to ignore it because I had major anxiety. My anxiety manifests in me not being able to sleep and I had many, many sleepless nights.

So I guess I always thought I would have anxiety for the rest of my life because I did not know how I was going to pay my student loan debt at the time. I was very much kind of in an eerily similar situation. I was in debt, pretty much all consumer debt credit cards.

But I was similarly like, I'll just always be in debt, this will always just be how I relate to money. I similarly suffer from anxiety that manifests in insomnia. And similarly to you, I was-- especially because I was living in Europe and working on East Coast hours it just lent itself to me getting to bed at 4:00 AM every night-- I was just living in such an upside-down way and I feel like there's almost a point when you're overwhelmed with a financial situation.

Especially something like debt where you almost integrate it into your personality. You're like, well that's just who I am, I'm just terrible with money, and I'm good at other things but I'm not good at money. I mean, that's what people say all the time like, oh, you'll always have debt.

You know, that's not actually a normal thing. Owing people money is not a normal thing. So it's good to normalize that and the fact that we're talking about it but normalizing the fact of having debt is just really not a healthy thing.

Especially emotionally, and physically, and mentally it's not healthy. Totally, and there's obviously some forms of debt that I think can be healthy and productive. Like most people will need to take out a loan to buy a house, for example. 100% yeah.

But I do think there's a tendency with-- I think especially the student loan crisis has really caused this blurring between what is good and bad debt. Because it really not only exists in that kind of in-between space where on the one hand, yes you are investing in your education, which statistically will probably make you a higher earner over your lifetime. Although for many people it doesn't necessarily work out the way they thought it would work out.

But at the same time many people didn't even finish their degree or they didn't need to go to the school they needed to go to, so that kind of debt is very gray area in terms of the utility of the debt. And it's also so pervasive and for so many people such a high number that I feel like, because of most people's relationship with that debt specifically, it sort of blurs together the whole concept of debt. And that's when you start to be like Oh well what's a credit card here or a car note that's too much there you know it's very it all becomes one big pile because you're no longer distinguishing between the value you're getting out of the debt. 100% that's a great way of putting that.

And as you take out more debt you don't really learn how to pay it off. And when you finally want to tackle it it's just at such a huge number that it's just easier to ignore it, like we both did. Totally, and when you first started paying off your debt what was your approach?

Especially when you were at that lower income how did you start managing it logistically? Also, isn't it crazy that we're saying that $50,000 a year is a low income? Well it's lower than what you're making now, and to pay off 200,000 in such a short time buy yes, good point.

I mean, but even in L. A. I was thinking about it like, how did I even live off of that?

And I'm not even that big of a spender, but even that was a struggle to live in L. A. On that kind of income.

It's crazy. But actually as I was driving down to the vet with my dog I was talking to my girlfriend, Jen, and she recommended Dave Ramsey. And now it kind of makes me uncomfortable to talk about Dave Ramsey, but at the time that was kind of my only intro into someone who might have had a solution for my problem, and I read his book The Total Money Makeover and it kind of just made sense to me.

I mean there were some of his baby steps that I tweaked along the way and some of his teachings that I didn't fully follow. But baby step one of a mini emergency fund, I saved that up. Baby step two of paying off your debt from smallest to largest, I did that.

And that took me two years and that was kind of the only-- I would say teaching-- that actually took hold of me, and I understood and I could grasp for some reason. And after I read his book, literally that night I paid off my credit card, and it was just-- from there on, it was just following those baby steps. Totally.

Well first and foremost there's something to be said for extremes, right? A lot of people really latch on to the feeling of being very black or white and binary in the early days of their thinking because they need to be, because it's such an extreme situation. So I definitely understand how the baby step method can be very useful.

Also I don't think-- obviously our audience knows Mr. Ramsey, we're not going to get into it, but a problematic fave to say the least. That being said, I think you can take things from all kinds of problematic sources.

I mean, I love a lot of Armie Hammer movies and he's literally allegedly a cannibal, so I don't know if I can really be throwing stones here. But suffice to say, it doesn't really matter where you're getting what works for you. You really just have to-- and especially I think when it comes to how you're managing your finances, it's inevitable that you're going to take a little bit from here and a little bit from there and whatever works for you, just lean into it and don't overthink it, I feel.

Yeah I feel like you have to lean into something and then go with the flow with what works for you. Because for me I liked how very clear cut, and black and white Dave Ramsey was, but also I need a little leeway to have fun. There was no way I could live off of rice and beans, and beans and rice like he says.

Because I don't know, I like to treat myself on occasion. I like to get monthly facials, and I like to go out and eat sushi. And I found out really quickly that if I took those things out, that gave me joy out of my life until I paid off debt, I would have given up.

You have to be able to live your life responsibly, while also paying off debt if you want this to last past financial independence, to last past paying off debt. It has to be sustainable. And that can only be determined while you pay off debt.

How are you able to sustain this throughout your payoff journey? Because for many people it's going to be years, and years, and years to do that. So what's going to keep you staying committed while doing probably the most difficult thing that you'll ever do ever?

And for me it was treating myself to things that Dave Ramsey probably would have yelled at me for. Listen, that manual's about a lot of things, so you're in good company. Yeah it's kind of angry sometimes.

Yeah. So obviously, even though you did keep certain luxuries and that was a huge part of you staying motivated over the course of two years to be so aggressive in your debt repayment, which is still we should say a really short time window. But it is still-- especially the trade off for it being a short time window-- is that it was very aggressive.

It was a lot of your disposable income. So kind of aside from keeping those little luxuries, how did you manage to stay enthusiastic and joyful on a day to day basis with such a scaled down lifestyle? And more importantly, how did you decide, especially in the initial days, what to keep in your budget, what to get rid of, and how did you find that motivation when you would get unexpected income, or extra money, or side gigs or whatever to be really aggressive about putting it toward debt?

Totally. So two things. One, is I think just who I am.

I'm not really a big spender on things that I don't really find important like clothes. I don't really spend a lot of clothes I wear my boyfriend's clothes all-- he's looking at me right now. I where my boyfriend's clothes because I just don't like to spend money on stuff like that.

But things that were important to me were things that-- or I don't like getting my nails done so that's not a big deal to me. But facials are something that I needed. I mean, I haven't gotten a facial in a year because you know where we are.

Or my lash extensions were important to me too. So those are things that I kept in my budget at a sacrifice for maybe going out to dinner, or going out with my girlfriends, or going on a trip. So those are things that were non-negotiables to me, and very early on when I first started building my budget the comment section would be like, you need to take out your facials, you need to take out your eyelash extensions, those aren't necessary.

All your extra money needs to go to debt. And I'm just like that's just not something I'm willing to sacrifice. But I am willing to sacrifice other things in order to keep those necessities in my budget.

So I knew pretty quickly that what I wanted to keep and what I didn't. In terms of how to keep motivated, is I'm a very visual person. So what I did was I actually built these charts, I call them my debt flow charts.

So any time I pay off a debt I would actually highlight it. So it's kind of like a video game right? And I would just see all my highlighted numbers and that kept me motivated because I'm not someone that just throws money and is like yay that's exciting.

I need a visual representation of that. And that's where my debt flow charts came in very handy. And when I wanted to go on a trip or when I wanted to treat myself to a really fancy dinner, I would save up for it and I use that same method of my debt flow chart for my sinking fund.

So every time I added money to a really nice restaurant I would highlight that in my books, so I'd be one step closer to treating myself to something or one step closer to paying off my debt. So I found that that was kind of a crucial way of me sustaining the amount of debt that I was paying off. I feel like it's so important to show yourself what you're getting in exchange for saying no to something.

Because I feel like it's incredibly hard, because the idea of Oh OK, I can spend $50 going out for a meal with my friend, or I can put $50 toward this massive number. Unless you really take the time to visualize for yourself and see the trade off, it's almost impossible to feel motivated to make that longer term sacrifice. And I feel like it also helps to really visualize and take time to think out like what that would represent in compound interest.

If that additional $50 were to stay on your debt for another several years, what would that turn into? Because by nature our brains are primed to prefer instant gratification and to prefer what's tangible, and to have a really hard time to think in the future and think long term. And especially to naturally be able to understand things like compound interest.

So I feel like really that visual component, even for someone who's not a distinctly visual learner, is very important. I have a question though that is a bit of a digression. But I think a lot of people who are fans of yours would want to know, and I want to know as a person who sees your Instagram.

You surprised me by saying that you don't spend a lot of money on clothes because you're always so fashionable on your Instagram and you always look like-- to me you're like one of those cool Instagram girls. And I'm like look at Aja just in her cool new outfit, looking cool. Really?

Oh my, girl, what? OK I'm sorry for the people watching the video. Maybe Emily can put up some photos from your Instagram because you are always looking so fashionable.

What's your secret? I think anyone has ever called me fashionable ever. But right now I'm wearing sweatpants and dirty socks, and a sweater I got from Thred Up, it was like $9.

Wow, I feel like I'm being gaslit right now, you have the coolest Instagram. So in all seriousness, what is your method for clothes shopping? Because clearly you do buy some clothes.

So, well when I was in debt I honestly really didn't. I'm really serious when I say I live in my boyfriend's clothes. He's the fashionable one.

So anything that's designer or cool looking it's probably his. But now that I do have extra money to spend on clothes, I make sure that I spend a little extra money on clothes that are timeless, and classic, and sustainable and good quality. Like I don't shop at Zara or Forever 21.

And there's nothing wrong with that if that's what you need to do. But for me I spend a little extra money to make sure that I get things that are of quality and that will last me forever. Because I just hate shopping. so if I can buy one thing that will last me for the rest of my life, I will do that.

It's really depressing when you realize that yes, the fast fashion shops have terrible practices, but so do a lot of the expensive shops. That's the real sad thing to realize, because you you have to read shit. It's a bummer.

It's like we as consumers need to put it upon ourselves to really dig in to see if what they say that they're providing is actually what they do. So I try to just shop locally and female owned businesses, personally. I love that.

Yeah I do not have quite so high standards, but I will say my whole adult-- like all my 20s growing up I was like I'll know that I'm successful when I can shop at Club Monaco. And I shop a good amount at Club Monaco now. Like I'm slowly integrating it more and more into my wardrobe.

Like this skirt is Club Monaco, actually this sweater might be-- anyway I like buying more and more of it. And I'm so happy that that's my life now that I'm like, if they have bad practices nobody tell me because I don't want to know. Right.

I don't want someone to derail me after I've come this far. But anyway, so when it comes to the post-debt life-- because I feel like a lot of people are so curious about that experience, especially if that's something they're really working toward-- tell me about what it felt like the day, the moment, that you became debt free. What was that emotional experience for you?

And how has your life changed, and your approach to money changed post-debt payoff? I mentioned this in one of my videos. I feel like I kind of had some post-traumatic stress, debt stress, after I paid off my debt.

Because the moment I did it-- it's in one of my videos-- I just broke down because I could not believe that I accomplished something that I thought was impossible. And then just the weight off of my shoulders of not having any debt at all was unexplainable. I cannot explain that feeling to anyone, because it's just something that you have to experience.

It was just like, to say I felt 50 pounds lighter would have been an understatement. It was an amazing experience. But after that, it's like I always-- maybe for like a month or two after I paid off debt-- I still had the thought that I was in debt.

I was still very much worried that I missed some payment of a payment that didn't exist anymore. And I had that anxiety for a little bit. That anxiety came back of me worrying that I missed a payment, or I had some kind of debt that I didn't have, and it was very weird.

No one really talks about that after we pay off debt, but when you commit yourself so aggressively and spend so much time-- One. Believing that you'll always be in debt. And then two.

Actually paying off debt. That feeling of being in debt doesn't just disappear. So that was something that I did not expect.

To feel anxiety over not having debt, that's so weird. But as of now, my spending habits have not changed at all. And the only difference is instead of throwing a bunch of money towards my debt, is I'm throwing a bunch of money towards saving up for a down payment for a home.

So my lifestyle hasn't changed at all, my spending habits haven't changed at all. The only difference is now I'm putting a lot of money towards a down payment and money towards a retirement. So I'm not splurging on anything.

Interesting. So you currently rent your place? Mm-hmm.

Yup, currently rent. Then the goal is to save up 200,000 actually, by the end of the year. Or close to that.

Wow, getting that million house are we? No, we actually might be moving to Texas to buy something more manageable. OK, so just a really substantial down payment, so you have a small mortgage.

That's nice. Yeah, Yeah. That's really cool.

Where in Texas? Probably Houston because that's where my boyfriend's family is. Aw, nice.

So I guess that is a good thing to maybe plan for if you are in the process of paying off a large debt. Which obviously forces so much structure on you, and forces you to have a very clearly defined path financially. Have some other goals lined up for right when you get debt free because then you're not going to just suddenly slip into all these bad habits, or feel like you can do whatever with your money.

Mm-hmm, totally. I do feel though if you spend all that time being financially motivated to pay off debt, that you don't very quickly regress. I feel like it really is a lifestyle change.

And that is the thing that I am most grateful for, is that my relationship with money throughout this whole process has completely changed. And I don't foresee myself regressing in any way. I mean we'll see, maybe in like 10 years something will happen and that would be crazy.

But I think it's really hard to commit all this time, and all this work, and all this money to a financial goal and then regress into your old ways. It's very much a habit that will stick with you, being financially healthy, I guess. This is a slightly different topic, but one that I'm really curious about for you because you obviously-- through sharing your debt journey you've become an influencer.

You've become a creator, as we say. And are very front and center to your brand and people really look to you in that way. And I'm curious how you feel about that emotionally.

Like how you've navigated it and especially as it comes to-- you're at an interesting nexus of-- which I can relate to in a lot of ways-- advocating a financially conscientious lifestyle and a budget friendly lifestyle, while being a very high earner and someone who does have a lot of disposable income, and who is saving up $200,000 by the end of the year. So I guess the two part question is first of all, how are you emotionally navigating being this influencer and having this public presence, and what kind of pressures that puts on you? But then also, how you navigate the balance of speaking to a very budget conscious audience while maybe not being in the same place.

Totally. I was actually a creator before I shared my debt free journey. Me becoming this financial influencer, that was never a part of the plan.

I was on YouTube for a couple of years before I shared my journey and I think the reason why I was able to share something so personal is that I really just don't give a shit about what people think about me. So I wasn't really embarrassed about sharing my journey, and the mean comments that I got about how I was a stupid bitch and deserved being in debt didn't really bother me. And the only reason why I continued to share my journey is because the majority of the comments were like wow, for the first time in my life someone actually is talking about this, and I can relate to this person, and we're going through the same thing.

So that's really the only reason why I continued this, was because I saw that there was a need for a community for a debt free journey and becoming a debt free lifestyle. But yeah, my life has completely changed from when I started to where I am now. And it really does make me wonder because every single month since December 2017 I've posted my monthly budget videos and I used to use real numbers and I'll use percentages, but now I feel like my income is getting to a point where it's not remotely relatable, and I do have that concern.

And even in the comment section sometimes it's like, Aja's rich now I don't know why I'm still watching this, yadi-yadi. But the majority of the comments are-- now this is aspirational, this is something that as a woman of color being such a high income earner, this is something that I want to see. So I think it's just me being honest of where I am at financially, which I've always done.

But also honest about-- I still don't know really what I'm doing. I'm now in this whole phase of saving up for retirement, which I've never done and people are asking me questions about retirement. And I'm like, dude I don't know anything, I'm paying someone to do this for me.

But I'll let you when I figure out all the answers for you, but right now I don't have them. So it's just me continuously being honest about where I am mentally and financially, and that's really all I can do. Yeah, totally.

It's interesting being the owner of TFD. It's diametrically opposed with the idea of staying at a low income because by nature if TFD succeeds, I'm succeeding. And definitely there's no gains in representation there because being a hot, wealthy white woman-- we've clearly seen plenty of that in the media-- so that's not even really probably a new aspirational thing.

But I will say that I think the thing about women versus men having money, or spending money, or even just being visibly financially comfortable, is that I think we treat women having money very differently than we treat men having money. And listen, I'm as progressive as they come politically. I think all rich people should be less rich for sure.

And there should be a way lower discrepancy between the wealthy and the poor in this country. However, I do notice that a man who is successful at what he does, who has earned a strong income, who has disposable income, I feel like we are less bothered by that. I feel like we're way less scrutinizing what he spends his money on.

Like in the personal finance YouTube world for example, there are so many videos ripping apart women's spending decisions, and ripping apart their budgets. And people would tell you that, Oh, getting a facial every month is such a waste. Whereas would they tell a man that going to the barber is a waste of money?

Or if a man chooses to spend money on a watch, that's acceptable. But a woman buying a necklace is not acceptable or what have you. So I do think there is that issue of feeling like you have to be very conscientious about the way in which you spend money and what purchases are and aren't deemed acceptable.

But as far as taking it to the next level, you say I'm not an expert on things like retirement, et cetera. Do you have an aspiration to become more of a voice and of an educator on some of these topics that go a little further in the financial space? I really want to go back to what you said because the one thing that I've learned about-- the one thing that has been just so jarring for me-- is that people are really uncomfortable when women have their financial shit together.

It is really, really interesting to see. And I think that's why people like you and me are so important because we're normalizing women not only being financially independent, but also high income earners. And we're not afraid to talk about it, we're not ashamed of it.

And it is just mind boggling to me how many-- especially men-- how many men are uncomfortable when women don't need to rely on them for money. And I see it all the time in my comment section and it is crazy to me. I totally agree.

I'm sure your comment section is similarly female to the TFD comment section where I think it's 82% women on YouTube on our channel. But that 18% or whatever of men, they are quite vocal. They want to make themselves heard.

And they are always the ones, usually, who will have really maybe not nice things to say about how a woman-- how much she earns, the money she chooses to spend. We also have a lot of other women's stories on TFD where women will be very candid about their spending habits and things like that. And I think a lot of men like you said, I think A, are very uncomfortable with the idea that a woman doesn't rely on them, that she doesn't need them.

But I think B, so much of-- now we're really getting to toxic masculinity here but I really want to go there-- so much of what we teach men about their utility in the world, what they're supposed to be, who they're supposed to aspire to be, their role in life and in a relationship is so centered around finances and them earning more, and them being in control. They pay for the date, they buy the engagement ring, they surprise her with a Lexus with a bow on it. It's just so centered around that idea of you are providing money and I think that that is something that we don't confront enough because I do think it's also very tied into our consumer spending problem as a society.

Because if you're not able to buy your family the nice car, and upgrade to the nicer house, and do all of these things that are very financially centric, a lot of men are probably wondering well, what else am I supposed to be bringing to the table. Totally. Well first of all, I think you'd find it interesting that my audience is very much split 50-50 men and female, because when I first started I was actually a Maxim model, so I had 100% male following.

And that has slowly creeped up. We're at half. I have I think 52% female following right now, so we're getting there.

But I still have a heavy male following and a majority of them are very supportive. I think also because their girlfriends are like, get your shit together because you're following Aja, and we're all about female empowerment and financial independence so figure it out. But yeah, I still have those comments and they're just blocked at this point.

I just don't have the patience and I don't want the people who follow, who are in my community to read that and think it's acceptable. Whatever bullshit comment they leave. So that's probably actually why we're creeping up on the female balance because I'm just blocking assholes left and right now, it's just no shame.

I'm sorry, wait, you were a Maxim model? Yeah, that's how I started. I was in the Maxim Magazine, I had my own show on Maxim called Maxim Sports One on One.

I interviewed Shaquille O'Neal, Danica Patrick. I emailed all these athletes and they talked to me and taught me how to play their sport. It's a whole thing girl.

Yeah there's bikini pictures of me everywhere. Wow, this is how suburban mom I am and my tastes-- when you said a Maxim model I heard the letters m- a- x- a and I was like a maxanista like a TJ Maxx model. Yeah, it's actually kind of crazy what my journey is.

It's all kind of weird. That is really interesting. I say this all the time, female financial independence is the ultimate form of female empowerment.

And I think I came up in a really unique position in which my parents were divorced. So I saw my mom doing everything my dad would traditionally do, and I saw my dad doing everything my mom would traditionally do. So I didn't really have-- I didn't think that such toxic masculinity existed until I came on the internet.

It's a really weird place. And even now my boyfriend, we've been dating for seven years and we live together-- but as of right now, because he's a choreographer that makes his living off of traveling internationally, which he can't do anymore. Now I am the high income earner in the relationship and it took a little for him to get used to because when we first started dating I was making zero money.

I was probably making $30,000 a year. And he helped me many of times to pay off rent when I couldn't afford it. So it's been a really interesting dynamic shift in our relationship and fortunately it's not something that he's embarrassed about.

And I think he. Enjoys it quite frankly, sometimes that I'm kind of like this boss ass bitch in work and in the relationship. Yeah.

But it is really, really interesting to see how a powerful, financially independent woman scares certain type of men. Totally. Totally.

Out of curiosity, are your finances very combined or very separate, or kind of a mix with your boyfriend? No, they're 100% separate. Yeah no, I'm very similar with my husband and we're married, so I definitely can relate to that.

I mean, I think you just need to find out what works best for you. Brian is very new to tracking his finances and he doesn't have any debt just because he didn't really go to school. He doesn't have any credit card debt or anything, but he's still very new to this whole-- I think he feels the pressure of being my boyfriend, that he needs to have his financial life together.

So I'm just going to let him take care of his finances until we can both be at a place where we can combine it. But I don't think that you have to subscribe to the fact that you're in a relationship with someone and/or married and you need to mix finances. I don't know.

I guess we'll see once we get married, but as of right now our finances aren't mixed. They're very much separate and that works best for us. So now that you're on this totally different part of your financial journey and you are past the debt payoff, you know what your next goals and steps are.

So you started this company to create planners for other-- I guess mostly women, but probably listen, men can join in too I'm sure-- to reshape their relationship around money and life choices and mindfulness and things like that. Tell me a little bit more about why you did that, what your plan is for it, and what you know it's been like running a business with actual physical inventory, which is extremely intimidating to me. It is probably the worst experience of my life.

It has been so difficult. I felt the pain and that. I am having such a hard time.

Anyone who follows my Instagram knows that it has been such a struggle. But we'll come back to that. But basically I launched a company called MSTRPLN in January.

And it was honestly for selfish reasons, I love a planner. I live my life on a planner but there hasn't been a planner in which I could do everything in. I've always had to have at least two or three planners or journals in my life to document or write down everything that I needed.

So I just built myself my perfect planner. And it is a weekly planner that is heavily focused on finances. So we have a debt overview page, we have a weekly expense tracker, we have a monthly budget tracker.

All within kind of this planner that you would normally see every day. It's just a great opportunity to take hold of your finances and even I use my planner very aggressively and I'm not in debt. But this is for anyone who just wants to be more financially responsible with their life.

But let me tell you girl, I did not know what I was getting myself into when I thought that this was a good idea and it has been so difficult running a small business, especially by myself. Like I'm the one that does everything. Customer service, social media.

I built the planner, the design is mine. Especially in the time of COVID, it's been such a struggle. It's so hard.

Yeah we've been-- it's on our short list for 2021 of things to do to get into a few physical products. And we'd like to self publish for a second book and do a couple of things that are in the book-ish space. But running the numbers on it from a logistics point of view, like the cost of printing, the cost of shipping, the actual back and forth.

It is really difficult to figure out a situation in which it's at all financially viable and doesn't require us to charge like $100 for a book. Yeah I mean, I think that's why-- I tried really, really hard to keep my planner in the US. But it is so expensive because I want the quality of something that is very luxe, but I also know that the majority of people buying my planner are probably still working on their debt and I don't want to charge them a stupid amount of money for a planner.

So the best option I have found is in China and that's where my paper manufacturer is. The feedback I've gotten from the planner is very positive, the quality is amazing. The price point is only $30 for everything you get into it.

But I had to go to China in order to get the quality and the price that I wanted because here in the US-- which is impossible. Canada was even more expensive. And then also what I found was as I was doing research the people in America get their stuff from China anyways, so just cut out the middleman and just go straight there.

Drama. And hopefully one day we'll be able to move production back stateside, but as a new company it's just like you said, not financially feasible at this point to stay local. Totally, totally.

There's not much to consider on that front. So before I let you go we-- although you've technically answered these questions before, no one has gotten to hear them. So I'm going to ask you once more, our rapid fire questions.

Oh, no I hate these, OK. Oh my God no, well you don't have to. No do it, come on.

All right, all right. Number one. What is the big financial secret of your industry?

And can I make it really interesting by asking you to answer this on the modeling industry? The big financial secret in the modeling industry is that you just don't really make that much money. What did you make as a Maxim model?

Oh girl, this was like 10 years ago, I don't remember. Let's just say not enough money to where I didn't have to sell things to pay rent. Wow.

That's not a lot of money, indeed. Although I guess, I don't know, I feel like so much of the modeling industry is kind of built around like you also are being paid-- like you go to things for free, and people send you free things, and that's my perception of it anyway. Well also, this was-- like I said, I haven't been in the modeling industry in a really long time.

So it could very much change. I know women who make a lot of money modeling but I'm not that type of body type to do the kind of modeling that they did. What does that mean?

So all the pictures when you go on a website, all the models that you see, and all the different clothes, they can make a lot of money. But you have to be very much a sample size, which is the size probably zero and you have to be very tall, and lengthy, and gorgeous. And I'm not tall and I am not a size zero.

But if you are a sample model for a website you can make a lot of money. Got it. And if anyone who's taking those photographs of women wearing the clothes on clothing websites is listening to this, please stop photographing the models in these extremely awkward, hunched over positions, or kicking, or jumping, or hula hooping.

Just let them stand there so I can see what the clothes look like. Sick of that. I just want to see the clothes.

I know I'm like why are we-- Why are we so creative? They're like, in a marathon just slow down, I want to see the clothes. OK, what do you invest in versus what are you cheap about?

What am I cheap about, that's interesting. I'm actually not cheap about anything any more. Any time I make the conscious effort to buy anything it is an investment to me.

Oh, I like that. I'm trying to look around. Give me an example, what are you cheap about?

So much. I'm cheap about jewelry. Except for like my wedding and engagement ring, I only buy costume jewelry because I have lost so many nice things in my life.

I'm never taking that risk again. That's fair. I'm cheap about-- that's a good question actually, what am I cheap about, do you know?

So, for your jewelry example I just don't wear jewelry too much, so I don't buy it. And if I do have jewelry, like we were talking about our earrings earlier, this was definitely gifted. So I don't spend money on jewelry.

I don't spend money on clothes, like I said this was $7 from a second hand store. But yeah, I think now I just spend more money on things that'll last me forever so I never have to spend money on it again. I just really hate spending money on things.

That's true, no that's right. But I will say I'm definitely-- one of the things that I'm-- it's not cheap necessarily, but I will run things into the ground. And although I have-- I literally for an entire year and a half up until two months ago, I was using a broken hairbrush.

I know what I'm cheap about. Yes. I'm cheap about parking.

I will spend two hours driving around the neighborhood for free parking. I will not spend a single dollar, I will not spend $1 to pay for parking. It's not going to happen.

That's admirable. That's what I'm cheap about. That's admirable.

Yeah. I haven't driven in 10 years so I don't know what I'm doing. I know, you're lucky.

Really-- It's impossible in L. A. So let me tell you, the fact that I accomplish it every time is a feat.

Nice. And then, so obviously you do sort of invest in everything, but what's one thing that you go really luxe on when you buy it? I would say my pampering experiences.

I will spend some good money on the best massage in L. A. Oh yeah, that's another thing I'm cheap about.

Don't touch me. I don't want to be touched. I don't want to be-- I don't like any beauty anything, I don't, oof, I hate it.

It grosses me out. So you don't get massages. Do you get your nails done or do you get facials?

I will occasionally get a facial, like if I have to for a dermatological issue but I hate the experience. Any time I get my nails done, I really don't like getting my nails done and when I do, I'm always like, no, thank you to the massage. And then there's also-- I don't know, manicures whatever, but with pedicures especially, there's like a weird class dynamic.

I'm like I don't want someone touching my feet. I wouldn't want to touch my feet. I don't know, the whole thing weirds me out, I don't want people touching me.

Oh my God. I mean, I'm totally there with the mani pedi's. They chip, I don't want to spend money on something that won't last me more than a week.

But a good facial girl. I mean luckily my aesthetician is really affordable here in L. A.

But you need to get your monthly facials. Listen, you have beautiful skin. I have rosacea, I'm not wasting a lot of money trying to re-do this.

But that's why you need to get your monthly facials. I go to the dermatologist, I go to a doctor, so I get it, no I get it. And honestly no, here's the real truth about it.

I am cheap about all of that stuff. But that's all about to change because I'm 32 now. I am fully starting with the more, let's just say heavy duty, structural face changes.

I'm ready to start exploring the Botox filler world, lasers, chemical peels, that kind of stuff. I'm ready for it. See that's why I do my monthly facials, because I'm really scared of getting Botox.

I'm just afraid that I will look like a different person. So that's why I'm very, very adamant on my monthly facials to keep the Botox at bay. Well listen, everyone's got their own thing.

I also do a retinol regimen, like I do stuff I just hate being touched, It's just weird to me. Fair. I mean, that's fair.

Yeah, I should really get over that. What has been your best investment and why? My best investment has been in myself and paying off my debt, because now I can do whatever the fuck I want.

That is a good investment. What has been your biggest money mistake and why? I think people would assume I would say going to spend a lot of money on college but I don't view that as a mistake, it was just part of my journey.

I've learned from it. If I have kids I won't force a private school upon them like my parents did on me. So that has been a learning experience and I wouldn't change that because I probably wouldn't be here with you knowing what I know now.

I think my biggest money mistake is, I guess probably just not owning up to my shit earlier. Nice. Yeah, that's a good one.

What is your biggest current money insecurity? Girl, if I see another person on Instagram buying a goddamn house in L. A.

I'm going to freak out. I don't know how people are doing it but that is my biggest money insecurity right now, is just not being able to buy a house. It is crazy.

I'm just like what money are you making to buy a house in Los Angeles, I need to know. What do houses cost there? It's crazy, It is crazy.

I'm struggling. It's a jealousy I'm struggling with right now. It is.

I'm so ignorant but what does a house cost in L. A.? I live in New York, so my brain is poisoned.

I mean you can definitely get a variety of prices but I would say the average that I'm looking at is at least 850. And that's without-- that is a house that needs updating. Like you need a new kitchen at 850.

See, this is why it's deranged in New York because I'm like, 850, that's a steal in Manhattan for a shoe box apartment. Yeah it's crazy. That's why my boyfriend and I are seriously considering moving to Houston.

Not that I want to, because I do enjoy L. A. But I'm viewing the move and buying a house there more as a long term investment because then I'll be able to pay off a house very quickly and then buy more real estate in places that I actually want to live in.

Nice, not a bad strategy. What has been the financial habit that has helped you the most? Budgeting.

Yeah. For sure. Actually I look at my bank account now almost every day.

And before I started my journey, I would go months without acknowledging my bank account. So that's a habit that has totally changed my life. Very much in the school of like, when you swipe your debit card it's just like close your eyes and pray.

Totally. When did you first feel successful and what does that word mean to you? I guess when my parents told me that they were proud of me.

I come from a very Asian household where we don't share emotions, so having people say that to me was like, are we about to hug too? What is this? This is weird.

But yeah that was a really cool moment. And also when my dad stopped asking me if I needed money. Aw.

That was good. That's so surprising that your upbringing was so unemotional because I feel like you're such a warm person and your brand is so warm. Yeah no, I mean my family is very warm and loving but when it comes to I love you's, my popo doesn't slang that word out to everyone.

My popo is my grandmother, who's turning 92 in April. And my cousins and I joke that I don't think she said I love you to any one of us, and that's just how popo is. So that's just how it is, I already always know that my family is there for me and I did come up in a very much loving household in the fact that when I needed someone they were there.

And I always had someone at every one of my games, every one of my performances, someone was always there. But I love you, man that's an Asian unicorn. That is an Asian unicorn.

Both of my grandmothers, deceased and living are/were like that too. I don't think either of them have used that phrase so that may be-- Maybe it's the generation, I don't I was going to say I think once you lived through World War II, and the Great Depression and stuff, that word is probably not-- it doesn't come to mind as often. Totally.

So thank you so much. We may ask you to come back so the audience can ask you some questions too, later in the season. Because you're just so highly requested and we have so many questions for you all the time.

But in the meantime when people want to get more of their Aja Dang fill where can they find you, where are you living, where are you making content? Yes you can find me on YouTube @ajadang, on Instagram @ajadang. Everything is @ajadang.

And then if you want to check out the planner, it is MSTRPLN. M-S-T-R P-L-N. We had to be fancy with the names because people are swiping up domain names left and right, man.

It is crazy out there, it's like the wild, wild West. But mstrpln.co, and then mstrpln.co on IG as well. Amazing.

Well thank you so much for joining us. And I'm sure you will be around the TFD universe again soon. But in the meantime, have a great rest of your week and to you guys at home, we will see you next Monday on another episode of The Financial Confessions.

Bye everyone. Bye.