Fresh from a Kenyan safari, Karen Akpan, also known as “The Mom Trotter,” can thank her family’s newfound adventures to her unconventional financial journey.
While traveling has always been a priority for the mother of one, she was convicted to create a platform encouraging families to travel without breaking the bank. Launching The Mom Trotter blog in 2017, the family-oriented platform generated popularity allowing the family of three to create revenue from their travel experiences. Travel Noire reports that Karen also expanded the brand to launch Black Kids Do Travel, designed for families of color to share their travel experiences and inspire other families to follow suit. Despite the impressive traction the Akpans’ were gaining, the incoming revenue was not enough to sustain the family’s lifestyle.
While living in California, life was great for the family of three. Karen had received a high-paying contract job as a clinical researcher and moved into a beautiful home. Taking financial precautions, the family had at least six months of earnings allocated for emergency situations. Unfortunately, the family would learn very soon how vital financial provisions would be when Karen lost her contract position. As the family began projecting for a downward spiral, Karen would draw up an unconventional solution to begin to remediate the loss of revenue.
Beginning with their mortgage, which was a jarring $4,200 a month, The Mom Trotter suggested to her husband Sylvester Akpan, a bold idea — sell their home and embrace an RV lifestyle so they could essentially live rent-free.
Her husband initially felt uneasy but supported her decision. In February of 2020, the Akpan family took a leap of faith and pulled together $14,000 to purchase an RV rental. Their nomadic lifestyle would prove to be the greatest decision as it became the gateway to financial freedom. Within 18 months the Akpans managed to pay off over $200,000 in accumulated debt.
Akpan stopped by AfroTech to share why she took drastic financial measures to achieve financial freedom.
Editorial note: Portions of this interview have been edited and condensed for clarity.
The Goal Was To Eliminate All Debt
Early on the Akpans’ strategized optimal solutions to cut all their debt including monthly payments and utility bills. By adopting a nomadic style in The RV, Karen reveals their life changed drastically. Due to the bountiful quantity of free land on the West Coast, the Akpans’ were able to live rent-free throughout the summer of 2020. Quickly, the family of three were able to achieve their financial goal of eliminating all their bills due to having no expenses to pay for.
“Moving into the RV was the best thing ever. We were able to save every single income because we had nothing to pay for besides our phone bill and paying off outstanding student loans,” Karen tells AfroTech.
“It changed everything drastically. All the house upkeep, mortgage, and payments vanished. For the RV all you have to worry about is putting gas in it and where to park it.”
The Akpans’ also set a goal to operate off no more than $2,000 a month including their RV, RV parking, and groceries. Adopting a financial strategy set at a minimum budget plan allowed for outstanding earnings to be distributed towards their savings account.
Karen reveals although many did not understand their desire to not simply downsize their home, the priority was to remove all their debt.
“Everybody always asks “Why didn’t you just get a small home?’ This is California we are talking about so it’s not that simple. Put that money towards a house and you’re in the middle of nowhere. The goal was to be stress-free. I wasn’t trying to go to a cheaper house we wanted to eliminate that house payment completely and live on nothing,” The Mom Trotter says.
The Importance of Budgeting
To successfully adhere to a strict budget, adopting financial discipline is necessary.
The couple credits Google Sheets and YouTube as the preliminary resources helping them learn financial literacy and organize outstanding payments. By tracking each credit card payment, incoming bills, and student loan through Google Sheets the couple created an organized layout to accomplish their goal of becoming debt-free.
Karen believes many individuals fall victim to financial struggles due to their inability to recollect how each dollar is being spent.
“It is important to budget and to know where all your money is going. Being in an RV helped combat this because we did not have a lot of space for a lot of stuff,” Karen says.
“The biggest lesson is when you budget your money, you only buy what you need. When you budget in that manner, you realize that you were spending money in places that are not necessary.”
Live Below Your Means
Successful practices allowed the Akpan family to invest 80% of their newfound earnings by living below their means. They were able to accomplish this feat by committing to spend a set amount of dollars each month.
Once the funds were depleted, rather than frantically dabbling into their savings, they disciplined themselves to wait for the funds to replenish with incoming revenue.
“If you are making 10,000 a month live at 5,000 so you have that extra income to save and invest. That’s what we are doing right now,” Karen says.
“I met so many people in Facebook groups like this. There was one guy who said ‘My wife and I make like $50,000 a year and we are able to save 50% of that.’ And I’m just like, well, if he can do that, most people can. To be able to live on 50,000- which in California is considered poverty level- and to save half of that, well that takes strict budgeting. Not eating out, not spending money on extraneous things, or spending money on clothes is important to fit your lifestyle into a budget like that,” Karen continues.
As an advocate for being frugal, the Mom Trotter debunks the notion as people earn more income they need to spend more- a phenomenon commonly referred to as lifestyle inflation.
“You make more money and people tend to go bigger. Honestly, that’s one of the worse things. If you cannot downsize your house, sell your car and purchase a cheaper vehicle. It will give you more room to have the extra money that you will need. By downsizing your life it makes such a huge difference,” Karen says
Adopt New Skills To Generate Revenue
The Akpan family had begun generating revenue from their Instagram pages-currently boasting a combined following of 230K. However, Kay knew they could increase their five-figure earning if they developed new skills and approaches.
The tactic worked for the family as they were able to raise their annual earning from one of the top photo-sharing apps from $50,000 to a whopping $300,000 by enhancing their skills
“We have our blog and we’re making an income from it, but we weren’t really making a lot of money. So we got better photography, we got better at videography, and we got better at reaching out to brands. Our income quadrupled. Last year when we decided to hit the road in our RV, I started creating more travel posts on Instagram, more lifestyle content, and family updates as I reached out to brands. This kept us on lock,” Karen tells AfroTech.
The Akpans' Are Giving Aiden A Head Start
As one adopts a spirit of frugality into their finances, a reward system will be created allowing for the consumer to cash in on intended interests. For the Akpans’, this meant investing in their son Aiden’s future.
Unlike most eight-year-olds, not only can the baby boss explain what an index fund is but he is already earning $12,000 a year from direct payments stemming from modeling gigs for the family’s various brands.
“He has an IRA obviously because he works in the business so we pay him and the money is saved within his account. He also has a 529 so we are setting him up for success. I want to pass on generational wealth. If he wants to start a business he can go for it so he will have the money to do whatever he wants to do by the time he is 21,” Karen tells AfroTech.