Quit Your Day Job: Our Journey to Financial Freedom
One question we get asked on a regular basis is how Thomas and I were able to quit our jobs and work together as small business owners. I'll let you in on a secret...it didn't happen overnight! Our journey to financial freedom is something we've been chipping away at for over a decade now. It's a constant work in progress that isn't always exciting, but we value the flexibility this lifestyle offers more than anything else.
When Thomas and I first started dating over 11 years ago, he had college loans and a hefty car payment, and I took out a personal loan for $10,000 shortly after for a failing design company. If we'd only known then what we know now...
Looking back, there are a lot of things we would have done differently. That being said, there are quite a few things we did do that helped jumpstart our careers as entrepreneurs. If you dream about working for yourself but don't know where to start, here are a few tips:
1. Put Egos Aside
Ten years ago, I was making $400 a month working at my "dream job" as a graphic designer. I showed up early and stayed late to make pennies on the dollar while Thomas spent 12-14 hours a day as an adult babysitter (AKA restaurant manager). I waited tables in the evenings and worked as a leasing agent on the weekends at a Section 8 apartment complex.
Most people don't often talk about the not-so-glamorous aspects of their career path, but let me tell you, our first few years together were rough. We spent very little time together and were simply working for the weekend (except we had to work weekends, too). The highlight of our days happened around midnight, when we'd drown our sorrows after work with fellow servers and bartenders who spent their days flingin' drinks and nights dreaming about a more rewarding lifestyle. On a good night, we'd end up at Waffle House to give our bodies one last beating before sinking into bed, fully clothed and smelling like greasy food.
Despite the crappy jobs we held and lack of a life outside of work, there were a lot of lessons to be learned during this time. We learned to be resilient and to put our egos aside while we worked toward something greater. We didn't know what that 'something greater' was, but in the meantime, we had bills to pay and responsibilities to answer to.
2. Pay Off Debt
Easier said than done, huh? As you have probably gathered, we weren't exactly raking it in during this time. With seven older siblings, I was raised in a household where we were taught to pay cash for everything and never to get into debt, so I had a pretty solid sense of finances from the time I was little. I never had much money, but I knew how to make a dollar stretch further than Gumby can stretch his limbs.
Since we didn't have much free time, every extra dollar we had (well, aside from the ones spent at the bar or Waffle House) went straight toward Thomas' student loans. They had the highest interest rate, therefore, they were the first beasts to tackle.
We refinanced our car loan in order to get a better rate, and once the student loans were paid off, we put all of our energy into being car payment free.
3. Set Priorities
"Wait, but how did you guys have extra money when you were making peanuts?" Once we had a goal in mind to live a healthier lifestyle that allowed for more freedom, everything else became unnecessary. Thomas still makes fun of me for giving him a hard time when he'd stop at 7-Eleven for a bag of chips or a drink. "How much did you spend on that????" Oh lord...I must have been a treat to live with!
Neither of us has ever owned a new car. Ever. This is a sure-bet way to save a huge chunk of change on your wheels. I cut and dye my own hair and have learned how to use clippers that make for a mean undercut. The first few home haircuts were...umm...comical, to say the least (Thomas is a trooper).
Here are other things that were easy to live without:
- cable tv
- a second car
- our house
- eating out
- nail/hair appointments
Once we sold our second car and moved into a studio apartment, it became easier and easier to de-clutter and get rid of all unnecessary 'stuff' that sat in the way of us and our dream life. With two dogs, a baby (eventually), and 650 sq feet of space, we were forced to be really intentional about bringing tangible goods into our space. I'd go through every box and drawer and put anything with monetary value on Craigslist to earn a few extra bucks here and there. To this day, I still do this! As they say, one man's trash is another man's treasure...
4. Track Your Progress
After you create a financial plan that works for you, it's important to track your progress so you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I had a file titled 'Debt Doc' that I'd update once a month as a reward for being so frugal. Super rewarding, right? I know...I know...this lifestyle isn't for everyone, but it worked for us. We've never felt like we were missing out and remind each other on a regular basis of how fortunate we are to have everything we need.
Once we met one of our goals, we'd celebrate by taking a trip or saving up to buy something fun that we didn't need but wanted - like new speakers or a new piece of furniture (from the outlets, of course, haha).
5. Remember to Enjoy Yourself
Now that we've paid off our debt and live comfortably in the burbs, we get to be a little less cautious with our moolah. When Thomas isn't getting home haircuts and I'm not picking out junk drawer treasures to list on Craigslist, here are a few things we do enjoy spending money on these days:
- good food
- random splurges
- giving back
The freedom this lifestyle has given us is far more valuable than any gift or gadget money can buy. Not only are we able to do what we love and travel when we want, but we are also able to watch our little girl grow and change each day. Each month, I work on at least one project for a non-profit or good cause, which makes this job even more rewarding.
Today, we split our time creating marketing templates for other small business owners and chasing our daughter around our kitchen island 300 times a day. Our lives look much different than they did a decade ago, and I'm thankful for every minute of the calm + chaos.
Life is too short to live it being unhappy. Find something that ignites a spark inside you, and do everything you can to turn that spark into a 4-alarm fire. It doesn't require a big paycheck or a perfectly curated Instagram account. A little time and a lot of passion can turn your dreams into a reality.
What's standing in-between you and your dream life?