The following blog post is part of the The Road to Financial Wellness Blog Tour. Over a period of 30 days, the Phroogal team will go to 30 locations to raise awareness about financial empowerment. Today they will be in New York City! Our goal is to help people learn about money by starting the conversation. We understand that local conversations can help bring about national awareness.
I may have always been frugal, but it took my transition to freelance writing and a big trip on the other side of the world for me to start on the road to financial empowerment. It was a lesson that would teach me the importance of not just living frugally but smarter saving for my future.
Preparing to quit
A few years back, I decided that I wanted quit my full-time job, then take a months-long trip, and switch to becoming a full-time freelancer.
Quitting would mean two things:
- Establishing myself as a freelancer before I left and freelancing on the road
- Saving up enough money for the trip
I knew that my #1, the career shift, would be big, so to do it with as little stress as possible, I had to establish myself while I still had a steady paycheck.
I started to look for freelance opportunities a year before I left my full-time job, taking a gig writing a biweekly column for a website and another blogging for a local business. Having a little more disposable income was great, and I got high on watching my bank account make such dramatic increases.
However, it wasn’t long before I found that I spent every moment working, skimping on sleep, constantly passing up seeing friends on weekends, and finding it hard to plan dates with this mysterious new guy I was seeing (my now fiancé, Mario) 😉 . My breaking point came at work after staying up the night before to meet a freelancing deadline, that I caught myself making the careless mistake of misspelling my own name because of how tired I was.
#1 was unsustainable.
Traveling frugally and working on the road
Freelancing would grant me greater flexibility in my life to travel, to work on creative writing and essays, and to explore.
In January 2014, after three years, I quit my job at the magazine. A month later, I packed my backpack, and — in the middle of a solid New York blizzard — boarded a flight to Delhi, with plans to explore India, then Thailand, then Vietnam, and so on — all with no return ticket.
I had planned to write a few times a week while in transit. That income, combined with the money I’d save from not paying rent, would offset the costs of the trip. If I did it right, I’d come home with nearly the same amount of money I had when I left.
But with spotty Internet at best and dark, cramped overnight bus rides, I wasn’t able to get the work completed and turned in on time. Not wanting to risk my reputation for reliability, I had to make a choice.
While three months seemed long to not be making money and building my brand, I didn’t want to spend three months away — on what might have been the only chance I’d have to take a trip like this — with one foot back home.
I graciously let go of the more time-consuming blogging job, and scaled back to one piece per month for the column.
While away, I lived as frugally as possible — taking over-land transportation whenever possible, filling up on free breakfasts at guesthouses, and eating on the street. Still, because I wasn’t working, the money that I’d saved to launch my freelance career was now funding my trip.
Set up to fail back home
The three months passed even more quickly than I anticipated, and I came home to start my freelance career full time. Having put the money I earned from my two side jobs toward my trip, I found myself back in New York, making $300 a month (from the column) and burning through my savings — fast. I started drowning.
Being afraid of running out of money hindered my creativity and my ability to produce — so at a time when I needed to be more industrious than I’d ever been, I couldn’t write.
Down to a dangerously low number in my bank account, I was in the middle of a I’m-going-to-be-broke-and-homeless spiral.
Luck and learning from my mistakes
In the middle of one of these spirals, my best friend called. A candidate for a six-week copywriting job had fallen through and they needed someone to start Monday.
(Note to future freelancers: Make friends with recruiters).
As it turned out, the job lined up perfectly with my prior experience, and they hired me on the spot. They liked my work so much that they kept me on for four months. This time, I was determined to save smarter.
I volunteered for every opportunity I could at work, earning overtime as much as possible, and took advantage of food provided in the office to reduce the amount of groceries I’d have to buy.
The job also allowed me to get more serious about my financial goals again. A few months prior, I had filed forbearance on one of my student loans. I not only picked back up my loan payments; I was able to put enough extra money toward the principle balance to make up for the interest I’d accrued during my inactivity.
I finally closed my 401K with my old company and rolled the money over to a new, independent Roth IRA retirement fund, and — after remaining untouched for the last year — my retirement savings is on track to hit five figures next month.
By the end of the project, I had fully restored my bank account to where it was before I left for Asia. And because the job ended just before Christmas, I even got to spend a little extra time visiting family over the holidays as an added bonus.
Reaching financial empowerment
With a proper cushion behind me, I was able to start off the New Year stress-free and able to take the risks needed to succeed as a freelancer. I landed a steady writing gig at an online magazine and a part-time social media job for a non-profit, and I completed some of my creative work — a major reason behind wanting to freelance, but that I had been too stressed to allow the time for.
And while I will always have the travel bug, now I look for ways that travel can fit into my finances and help propel my career, like turning a trip into a story.
Sometimes I worry about how much I have saved or am earning compared to my peers, but I remember that as long as I continue to invest in my future, I can enjoy the present — being able to work from anywhere, while doing something I love.