Noah: Today, I’m excited to bring you an amazing story of a side-hustling master on the journey to financial independence. After meeting at FinCon San Diego way back in 2016, we quickly became good friends and would often meet up in Seattle with our significant others to indulge in some deep dish pizza. J never ceases to amaze me with her entrepreneurial success and always seems to be finding new ways to bring in extra money on the side.
This is a guest post, so I’ll get out of the way and let J tell the story in her own words:
The Starting Point
By 25 my husband and I had accumulated over $100,000 of debt.
We had tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt each, credit card debt from furnishing our new home, and a loan for the shiny new SUV sitting in our 3-car garage. We also had store credit cards for the guitar my husband bought, our new flatscreen, stuff from a few Home Depot runs, and some clothes I bought for work. Last, we found out that my parents had taken out Parent Plus loans for my education that they had not been able to pay back and would not be able to realistically pay back before retirement. This totaled to $116,000.
The crazy thing is that we didn’t realize we were in rough shape financially before this point in 2015. How is this possible? I don’t know. We were two twenty-somethings who thought we were doing well because we had good jobs and we had time on our side.
We were only concerned about the student loan debt which we had started to pay off but the rest of it felt fairly normal? We could “afford” the payments for all of our things and were saving some money so we thought we were good.
We were lucky to find financial independence when we did before we dug ourselves into a hole any further.
Picking our FIRE Strategy
We had two things going for us at the time – our age and income potential. I switched fields a few years prior to technology and had increased my income to six figures fairly quickly.
I got my Masters degree online at night reimbursed by my employer which opened up more growth opportunities for me in tech. The degree was difficult because my undergraduate was in Political Science and my day job was demanding but I powered through, staying up until 2 or 3AM on weeknights to do homework.
My husband didn’t have the same income potential in his day job but he could take on a few clients on the side to increase his income, which he did. He works in his passion and increasing his income has never been part of our strategy since he already found what he wants to do for the rest of his life.
We knew that if we could reverse some of our past spending mistakes, we could accelerate towards FI.
I doubled down on the increasing income side of the equation when I attended the Grace Hopper conference for women in technology that same Fall. I went on a scholarship that I found online and applied for during my Masters program. I ended up networking with someone at the conference which led to an interview and then a job offer at a tech company in Silicon Valley.
I knew that if we moved to Silicon Valley, I could open myself up to more career opportunities in my field and increase my salary. If we could keep our same spending level, we could save the difference and move more quickly towards FIRE.
Just one year in Silicon Valley allowed us to pay off the rest of our student loans in entirety and start saving aggressively towards FIRE. We lived in a teeny, tiny apartment and tried out all of the nifty FIRE tricks we learned from the blogosphere including the Backdoor Roth and Mega Backdoor Roth.
We also opened a brokerage account which was the first time either one of us had invested outside of our retirement accounts. We cut back on our spending and saw the process working. It felt good.
We also got married during this time and planned a budget $15,000 wedding on the East Coast for 100 people. It was a Game of Thrones themed wedding and I think we pulled it off well without going overboard. We cut other wedding-related costs by choosing a moissanite engagement ring instead of a diamond and choosing an Oregon coast road trip for our honeymoon.
We didn’t have a wedding registry or throw a bridal shower or bachelorette/bachelor parties since it felt weird to make our friends/family spend money and the thought of filling our apartment with more stuff after we just downsized was stress-inducing. We haven’t regretted any of those decisions.
The Slower path to FI (kinda)
We only lasted a year in Silicon Valley before we decided to move on to Seattle, Washington. Even though the Valley was great from a financial independence perspective we missed the outdoors and thought we would fit in better in Washington. The job opportunities for us in Washington were also better fits for the lifestyles we wanted to live.
At this point in our lives and financial journeys, we put our happiness first above FIRE and we won’t take jobs that jeopardize our well-being for more money. It’s important to us that we have time to workout every day, have time for our hobbies at night and can perform at a high-level in a job without a constant state of stress. We have that now.
I also realized that I need to help out family a bit more than I had anticipated when we first calculated our FIRE number. I feel very fortunate to have the job I have since it allows me to both help family pay off their debt and save. We don’t care if it slows our path to FI slightly and we are both lucky to have amazing families who will always be there for us.
This isn’t something discussed very much in the FIRE-sphere but I think there are many people out there who are calculating family financial support in their FIRE numbers.
Enter Entrepreneurship and alternative paths to FI
I discovered Tim Ferris before Mr. Money Mustache and I have always dabbled a bit in online hobbies. I was involved in a student travel startup right out of college and have started a few blogs over the years.
Last year, I decided to open an Etsy shop to sell temporary tattoos for bachelorette parties.
This side hustle has been successful and has brought in $5,000 to-date. I also have a blog, millennialboss.com, and a financial independence podcast called FIRE Drill. Last year, my side hustles topped $40,000.
I’m starting to consider that my path to FI will be a bit more flexible than I originally thought. I also realized that I really like working and I don’t think I will ever be the “RE” part of FIRE by choice.
Ramping up my passive income
Last year my former podcast co-host, Gwen of Fiery Millennials, and I ran masterminds with our listeners where we find inspiration from a guest who we brought on the podcast and try to start a similar business to that guest ourselves in 6 weeks with listeners.
For example, we brought on a podcast guest who makes six figures per year selling online printables, so we ran a mastermind where we all tried to start our own Etsy printables shops.
All you have to do to sell printables online is make a PDF that people would want to buy, upload it to Etsy, and then thousands of people (hopefully) can download it and print-at-home, with no further work from you.
I have found success selling printables for bachelorette parties such as scavenger hunts and signs. Others start by selling printable debt thermometers, garden planning worksheets, and printable meal planners.
The printables brought my Etsy revenue up to $500 per month and growing. I have no idea why people will pay money for a PDF but I have found that I can charge at least $7.00 per download. It’s also much more passive than selling the tattoos since I don’t have to worry about inventory and shipping.
My blog has also grown over the years from making $0 September of 2015, to over $700 in January 2017, to over $7000 in December 2018.
I save 100% of this income now and have opened a solo 401(k) so I can save even more than the standard limit for 401(k)s since I am contributing as the employer instead of the employee. I found out that I can save on behalf of my spouse in the solo 401(k) too which is another way to supercharge our savings.
We could technically pay a fee for a 401(k) which offers the mega backdoor Roth but I want to make more money from my side hustles before I choose an expensive plan.
I’m super passionate about side hustling as a means to speed up the path to FI and even though I have a solid day job, I still think it’s worth it for me to invest my time in these endeavors.
I’m also having a baby in August and I’m grateful that the income from these side hustles has provided us with more options (and potentially paid-for daycare if we use this income to cover the cost).
I now teach others how to start blogging and Etsy side hustles through my new business, Gold City Ventures.
I teamed up with another blogger, Cody of Fly to Fi, to offer a series of side hustle courses to listeners:
Each course is a series of video lessons, text step-by-step instructions, and bonus content provided by experts with each of these side hustles.
Some FI bloggers such as Grant Sabatier of Millennial Money and Paula Pant of Afford anything are featured in the bonus content of the courses.
The course is open for enrollment Thursday, June 27th to Sunday, June 30th and the price point is $197 for this first launch.
I look forward to helping others start their own side hustles and speed up their path to FI!