Today, I have Monica Paslawski from Financial Fitness to Freedom! Monica is amazing. Not only is she a mother of three daughters but she’s built a mini-empire real estate empire part-time while juggling a family, a cattle farm and as a teacher.
She is an entrepreneur and life-long learner at heart. She started investing in 2001, and has evolved her investment strategy from land to rental properties and now her all-time favorite – rent to owns (aka lease options).
Because of her financial savviness, Monica has broken free of the shackles of a ‘9 to 5’ job and living her ideal life.
In this insightful interview, Monica will share her immense wisdom on:
Pros and Cons of Rent-To- Owns
How to boost productivity so you can manage it all
Systems in building your business even if you only have one or two rental properties
Sharing her wisdom in leaving the shackles of a ‘9 to 5’ job
How she has reached financial freedom and helping others do the same with her new business
And much, much more.
So, without further adieu…
Monica Paslawski – What led you down the path of starting your own business?
I’ve always been interested in working for myself and have done so to a greater or lesser extent since I was a child. Growing up on a mixed cattle and grain farm, entrepreneurship has been in my blood from my earliest memories. Our first real businesses started in 1997 when we purchased land and got into the cattle business with a 40 head herd.
It was an abundant life and our girls grew up learning the value of hard work and the joys of the great outdoors, along with all the delightful things that farm life brings. They are all very capable workers, can drive tractors, work cattle, ride horses, and operate equipment with proficiency. They have helped calves, kittens, and even baby chicks come into the world and have also faced the sadness of death on the farm. We wanted them to experience a childhood close to the land, and were dedicated to provide that for them.
My husband moved from his position as an employee with an Environmental Consulting company to consulting under his own umbrella at about that time. The goal was for me to be home with our small children and take care of the farm as his profession took him away from home a lot.
How long did you teach and when did you make the big jump of leaving your teaching job?
I taught for several years before having children and then after we moved to the farm, I started teaching again when my youngest was 5. Half-time teaching math at our tiny local school for 12 years was a great fit and I enjoyed it.
But – Then came a year where life circumstances beyond my control forced me to quit my teaching job. It was very sudden and not planned, but that’s another story.
Sometimes the best decisions in life are made for us. I’m grateful in hindsight that the circumstances in that “year from hell” forced the decision to finally stop working for someone else. I’ll never go back.
How did you get started in real estate investing?
Investing in real estate was a natural progression. We bought and sold our first home, built our second home (I did the general contracting), sold that, and finally were able to buy our present home in 1997 on a quarter section of land. I love land and know the value of it, so within a few years we purchased three more quarters of land. My part-time teaching position allowed me to make all the payments on the land, while my husband’s consulting supported the family. Slowly we built up a fair bit of equity with the natural appreciation of land values.
While land is a fantastic investment for capital appreciation, we could not make it pay for itself, and I knew that we needed investments that would be self-sustaining, so in 2001, we purchased our first rental house. It paid for itself and then some. We call that house “The Great Teacher”!
What is your “why” for real estate investing?
In 2011, our second daughter moved to New Zealand to work for a year and ended up in a relationship that we thought could be serious. It was the trigger that made us realize that we needed to “up our financial game”. I knew that if she ended up living in New Zealand, we needed to be able to buy property there. Sounds like a crazy reason, but I figured out that with a few more good quality real estate investments, our financial ability and freedom to be wherever we needed to be for our family in the future would greatly increase. So we leveraged the equity in our land and started investing in rental properties in a much bigger way.
We started by purchasing quality single family homes in great neighborhoods with amenities that would always be attractive to prospering couples and young families. My experience managing “The Great Teacher”, led me to the idea that better houses would attract better clients with a lot less hassle – although less cash flow. It’s been a great strategy and one which has allowed us to grow our portfolio without me growing more gray hair!
So – my big “why”?
To give us the financial freedom to visit or be with family wherever and whenever we need or want to be without having to sell any farmland – ever.
Describe one investment type/class that excites you the most and why?
I am excited by the Lease–Option strategy and plan to do more of those deals in the future. A correctly executed Lease-Option or Rent-to-Own can be a massive win-win for both client and investor. I like the fact that I can help people own their own home and also build in a profit that benefits our investors. I like the management aspect – and just being able to help people achieve their dream of home ownership.
What type of rent to own do you specialize in and how does it benefit the investors?
There are two types of Rent-to-Own strategies and I believe there are times when either is a good choice.
I have done Tenant First (this is where the client chooses the property). I like this strategy because when the client loves their home, they get emotional about it, and this produces a better chance of a successful outcome. However, when choosing this option, you as the buyer MUST ensure that the property fits your own strategy so that you have options should the Rent-to-Own fail. You must always think of multiple exit strategies.
The Property First strategy is where you as the buyer find a great property at a great price, and then market to the client. When this is the case, you will be smart to ensure that you have a good buy with a property that could also be used as a flip or a buy and hold. Again – multiple exits is key!
We are currently looking at doing Rent-to-own as an exit with a property we have owned for some years and would like to sell in about 5 years. Our current clients are interested in purchasing this property. This is certainly a win/win as we have excellent clients and “caretakers” for the property before the sale goes through, and these good people will be able to purchase the home they currently live in and already love.
I recommend educating yourself before attempting these advanced strategies and always think of a way to make your deals work for both parties.
Do you have any scary stories or financial hiccups during your real estate investing journey?
I have MANY of these! For now, I will tell you about “The Great Teacher”. Our first tenant took it upon herself to spend her social assistance cheques to wallpaper and paint our house. She did a beautiful job on that, but unfortunately could never manage to pay the rent on time or in full. We even lowered her rent, and still it was hit and miss! The last straw was when she gave my husband an envelope with the rent and when he got around to opening it later, it was filled with grocery coupons! I still remember the phone call I got from him cursing this new venture of mine.
At that time the basement tenant was wonderful, and since “The Great Teacher” was a cash cow, we could afford to let the upstairs tenant off the hook although we did this way too many times! We liked her, you know . . .
Then our fantastic downstairs tenant gave notice. The young couple we rented to next for the downstairs suite were very young and seemingly very sweet. They had everything they owned in their car, but did not have cash for a deposit, and not even a bed to sleep on. But they seemed nice and had got jobs in Grande Prairie, so we found a bed for them and leased the suite to them. We never got a penny! After giving them notice we finally got them out, but it took about 4 months – and when they left, they even took the bed!
Not having the heart to kick out the upstairs tenant, we finally hired a property management company. We found dealing with the property management company had its own challenges and in the end, we sold that house in a few short years. We still did okay financially, but I decided that although I was very good at sorting out the financial details of the rental property business, I had an awful lot to learn about the people part of the business. So, I invested money in education in real estate investing and earned my “masters”. Educating myself was the best move I ever made, and we were much better prepared when we started investing again. Our real estate ventures have gone well since, although – yes – there are always a few scary stories – like the potential tenant I interviewed, whom upon further research turned out to be convicted of a drive-by shooting! Dodged that bullet!
Here are more insightful and refreshing interviews to help you on your journey - check them out at: Financial Nirvana Mama Interview Series.
What are the key tools, apps that you use to automate your real estate investing business?
I’m a believer in systems and automation, and I believe in networking with others so as not to always reinvent the wheel. I have collected, modified, and created checklists and forms for everything from move-ins, to inspections to move-outs and it is quick and easy for me to access needed files from anywhere using Dropbox. I also use Google Forms, Quickbooks, and Excel spreadsheets. We are constantly improving on efficiency and as a result our business runs smoothly most of the time.
How do you use google forms to simplify life?
I use google forms for rental applications as a pre-screening tool. When I get an enquiry about a vacancy, I will email them a google form to get their basic information. Google forms are easy to learn, people fill it out online, and it’s so quick and easy for me and for my clients.
How did you manage to juggle a teaching job, a cattle ranch, a growing real estate portfolio, raise three girls, and still maintain a solid social life?
Our social life was my work, visiting with parents around our girls’ play dates, and sports, farm work bees where families got together, camping with other families, and school functions. While the girls were home, there wasn’t any time for hobbies or extra socializing. Our lives revolved around the girls’ activities, the farm, and work.
There were times when I would be dashing home at the 20 minute recess or lunch break to check on a calving cow or thaw a frozen water pipe when my husband was away. I remember fixing a fence at 5:00 a.m. and then getting to school for 8:25 a.m.. Fun and games. One time, I was plowing snow in April very early in the morning so that I could feed the cows. It had drifted overnight and I couldn’t get the tractor through to the feed yard before school. I started to cry in frustration – then, as there was no one to feel sorry for me, I pulled myself together, headed to the house, got the girls ready for school, and off we went.The minute the noon bell rang, I was dashing out the door to finish plowing and get my cows fed. It was sometimes very difficult, but – the cows got fed.
We did make very good friends and spent time having wiener roasts and playing volleyball in the yard or down at the river in the summer time, and we often had family dinners with our neighbors in the winter.
All the real estate business had to be done between 2:00 p.m. and the evening craziness with kids at home. I could not take business calls at school – ever – as my focus during school hours had to be 100% on my students.
I learned to be laser-focused on whatever that I had on at the time, otherwise I would have gone crazy. For the most part it all worked out fine, and things were always much easier when my husband was home.
Any actionable tips you can give readers to boost productivity like yours?
Your phone should be your slave, not your master. When I’m working, I don’t answer my phone, I don’t look at my phone, I don’t think about my phone! Turn your phone on silent when you are working. Heck – turn it on silent when you are eating dinner with your family! That’s just as important.
Set a timer. When I have to do focused work, I will set a timer on my phone for 45 minutes. That’s a magic number for me. Once that timer is set, I do NOTHING but the one thing that I have set out to do. You would be amazed how much you can get done in 45 minutes. When the timer goes off – I get a break.
What is your favorite real estate investing book? Personal Finance Book?
My favorite real estate book is the first one I read after “The Great Teacher”, Don Campbell’s The Little Book of Real Estate Investing in Canada
I wish I had read that book first because I believe we would still own that great little house! That book got me on the right track. The lessons I learned from my membership in REIN, and later from Julie Broad,
, with RevNYou provided me with a solid education in the business of real estate investing.
The first personal finance book I ever read was The Wealthy Barber by David Chilton. I was probably only about 17 or 18 when I read it. Among some solid financial gems, the one takeaway that I have always, always practiced from that book, was the concept of “pay yourself first”. We have always put away 10% of our gross income no matter what and although sometimes it seemed useless, today we’re pretty happy that we did since our financial security is solid.
If you can wave a magic wand and go back in time, what would you tell yourself?
I love my life and I have very few regrets. I think the older a person gets, the less one worries about the past. I’m just grateful for all the wonderful experiences I’ve had and the lessons I’ve learned.
But the one thing I would change is the many years of trying to fulfill a role due to my perceived expectations of others dear to me. It’s complicated.
As a woman, I felt that I needed to play the womanly role of homemaker and support my husband pretty much exclusively. I could never quite pull that off because of my interest in business and entrepreneurship, but my conflictions made me keep that side a secret. I loved being a mother and wife; my regret was the fact that I felt guilty about my business interests. The result was that I did not discuss or network with others in business and tried to do everything myself without anyone knowing. I felt like a fraud – and I was.
I’m happy that I’m finally able to openly pursue business interests, because it is only with networking and education in areas of interest that you can truly grow and achieve. My own worst enemy was myself all those years, as I suspect is the case with many people. Why keep your passions secret?
You are entering a new chapter in your life now. Would you mind sharing and telling us more?
Not at all. You might have guessed by now that I have a constant need to be challenged, learning and trying new projects. When life settled down after a couple of difficult years during which time I quit teaching, (the years from hell) I found myself restless. Our real estate portfolio was the right size and we were not planning to grow it too quickly. I liked teaching and I was good at it, but I didn’t want to go back into the public sphere. People often would call me for advice about real estate, mortgages, and investing, and a few years ago a friend outright asked me if I could teach her and her daughter some financial strategies.
So the idea started brewing that maybe somehow I could take what I’ve learned and help others gain financial freedom too. Freedom to choose what, where, and when they work. I am so grateful that our situation was such that I could quit my job when I needed to.
I knew from my students that many people are in bad financial situations, and I knew that there is a lot of fear among people my own age.
The situation among women is often dire, and many are plunged into uncertainty and confusion when life happens such as divorce, or a spouses’ death. But, money is just not openly talked about. Often women have never dealt with the money side of the equation and may feel intimidated and insecure speaking about these matters to professionals, let alone their friends. They feel inadequate and don’t know where to seek advice or what to ask. Yes – there is still a stigma out there and I know personally how hard it is to break free of this. Many families’ finances are in terrible shape, but many women still do not get involved.
I believe everyone needs a basic financial education and understanding of wealth building strategies for their own security and freedom to be able to make life choices. When I see women my age yearning to break free of the shackles of their 9 to 5, but simply can’t, it breaks my heart. With a little planning ahead, financial freedom is not only possible, but achievable. In fact, this freedom to stop working for someone else and pursue your own dreams is possible at a much younger age than most realize.
So – my new business is financial education and coaching. My purpose is to help others (especially women) gain the fundamental knowledge, strategies, and especially confidence so that they can grow their financial net worth to the point where they can make life choices that suit them.
I am very excited about this new venture and I hope to be able to reach people and help them change their future – especially women.
I welcome you to check out my Facebook page “Financial Fitness to Freedom” and sign up for my free starter program at www.financialfitnesstofreedom.com. The best is yet to come.
About: Monica Paslawski was raised on a mixed cattle ranch and loved the life there. She completed an Education degree and spent several years in her 20s traveling and working in Australia, New Zealand, Alberta, BC, and the Yukon. With her husband Kerry, she settled down in Northern Alberta with their three young daughters in 1997 where they bought a small farm and made a permanent home. Kerry soon started his own Environmental Consulting business, and Monica worked as a math teacher part-time while increasing their land holdings and investing in rental properties in Edmonton and Grande Prairie. Monica has now left the public education system and has started her own online financial education business, recognizing the enormous need for basic financial literacy today.