Why I’m Switching Up My Budgeting Strategy (Again)

When I started the shopping ban last summer, my main goal was to become a more conscious consumer, so I could learn how to enjoy what I had vs. constantly consume more more more. As part of that goal, I decided to switch up my budgeting strategy. Rather than map out a plan to save 20% of my income and spend the rest, I decided to try to live off 50% of my income, so I could save more as well as do more of what I love (travel). Fast forward 11 months and I have successfully lived off an average of 52% of my income (including the cost of a few big ticket expenses, such as new car tires and lots of doctor appointments), saved 31% and used 17% to travel.

It’s been an eye-opening experience, more than anything else – to first challenge myself and then physically see how much happier I am now that I consume less. There are still three weeks left in the shopping ban, so I’m trying to refrain from sharing too much of what I think needs to be in the final post about it… but one of the most unexpected outcomes of the experiment was that it revealed what I value and helped me see what I want out of life.

When I started this blog four years ago, it wasn’t meant to be a side hustle. I’ve still never put a single ad up or accepted any type of sponsored content (and don’t plan to), because I’ve always wanted to maintain the integrity of the message I share here. The only reason I decided to buy a domain and write was to stay accountable to myself throughout my debt repayment journey. Since then, however, a number of unique opportunities have come my way.

First, I landed an editorial internship at LearnVest, where I learned how to map out and implement a content strategy, including how to create a style guide and write in a brand’s voice. After that, I started writing for Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s Other Voices blog, which I did for 11 months. I was also given the opportunity to write for The Globe and Mail, as well as share my content on The Huffington Post. And I’ve been writing for Tangerine Bank’s blog, since it launched last spring.

In between all of that, I was also offered a full-time job. For the past three years, I have served as the Managing Editor at RateHub.ca. There, I’ve been able to use everything I’ve learned throughout my writing career and essentially create my own position (I was originally hired to do marketing) at a startup that’s constantly growing. When I started, there were only 5-6 of us on the team and we worked out of the CEO’s home. Today, we’re triple in size and the team in Toronto now works on King Street East. We’ve celebrated milestones for the site, birthdays, weddings and babies… and I couldn’t have asked for a better team to work with (many of whom I now consider family and friends).

All of this is why I’ve had so much trouble trying to answer the question that’s been on my mind for the last few months, which is… what’s next?

I’ve never been great at coming up with long-term career plans. Unlike some more traditional trades, writing doesn’t typically offer one straight path that you go down or ladder you can climb up. I’ve done everything from write blog posts about mortgages to write speeches for MLAs. I’ve written for free and I’ve written for a good chunk of change. I’ve had next-day deadlines and projects not due for months. And I’ve loved all of it, for one reason or another.

In my current position, however, I got to a point where I realized I had done all I could do; and it wasn’t just task-related but the fact that my time between all projects was being stretched too thin. Something had to give: my job or my side projects. And as soon as I realized that, it seemed like even more new opportunities started to pop-up, demanding me to make a decision. I immediately said “no” to some (and am a firm believer you should only accept work that excites you), but decided to explore a couple opportunities. And after a few discussions, plus some serious soul-searching, I took a very calculated risk and decided to give three weeks’ notice at work.

My last day is on June 26th. After that, I’m on my own as a full-time freelancer.

So, What’s Next?

Anything and everything! That’s how I feel right now, anyway. I’m pretty much booked solid for the next 4 months doing desktop and electronic publishing work. Working on Mindful Budgeting reminded me how much I love doing print layouts, and helping a few friends with their new online courses filled me with I-forgot-how-fun-this-is thoughts. I’m excited to work on a handful of different projects, but there’s no denying that I love contributing to the online learning space. Breaking down learning outcomes, explaining complex concepts in simplest terms, and then copyediting and making sure it all looks good… it’s so satisfying.

Of course, I’ll also be writing. I’ll mostly be staying in the personal finance space, but that’s not all I like to write about, so it’ll be fun to explore some new topics. And then I’m finally making myself available as a freelance editor and copyeditor. An editor is essentially a project manager who helps guide a writing project from start-to-finish, and offers high-level edit suggestions but doesn’t fix every typo they see; that’s a copyeditor’s job. A copyeditor knows their manual of style like the back of their hand, and will fix every last error (both grammatical and factual) until they think it looks and sounds perfect. I’ve been copyediting professionally for 8 years, but haven’t offered it on a freelance basis until now.

Needless to say, I’m going to be busy – but I’m ready for it. For the past 2+ years, I’ve been working remotely for RateHub.ca, which came with some unique challenges that I’ve written about before. Looking back now, though, I can see it prepared me for what’s next: managing my time working on multiple projects… from home. 🙂

What About Blonde on a Budget?

In my mind, this is the million dollar question. When I gave notice, Alyssa (my boss and friend) asked me: what does your ideal day look like? My answer came out like an automatic reflex: I want to wake up, work on Blonde on a Budget for a few hours and then get into client work. Over the past couple of years, I’ve dreamt up BIG ideas for this blog… but it’s been difficult to execute some of them, as I’ve struggled to make the time between work + all my other projects. Now, I want to make it my top priority – because it is my top priority; that’s something the last year has helped me see.

A few months ago, I wrote a post that outlined the 3 truths about minimalism I’d discovered so far, which were: it gives you more time, it helps you become more resourceful and it reveals what matters most. When I wrote that, I was still mostly focused on the physical objects in my life, and how removing 70% of them (yes, I’m up to 70%!) had changed my environment and lifestyle, as a result. Today, however, I can finally see the greater impact this journey has had on my life as a whole.

When I dream of the future, I want the work I do through this blog to be my entire career. I’ll always want to help people with certain side projects, but I want the stories I share here and the tools I create to be my main focus. I want to put Mindful Budgeting on bookshelves and partner with someone to turn it into an app. I want to do more public speaking and start a podcast. And I want to write a book – and I already have a literary agent who believes I can, and who has been patiently waiting for me to piece together my first proposal. These are all of my wants, right now. But if they remain as items on my side-project-to-do list, they will always be second priority. I want them to be at the top of my list.

Going back to those 3 truths, I know what matters most: sharing my story and spreading the message that you won’t find happiness through “stuff”; passing on my budgeting strategies to others, in hopes more people can adopt it and become conscious consumers; hearing your stories about how you’ve been able to feel grateful for everything you have, even on a tight budget; and just connecting with more people, in general; that’s what this is really all about. Now that I will have more time to do it, it’s time to become more resourceful.

It’s Not All About the Money, Money, Money

When I first started questioning whether or not I should switch over to full-time freelance, my top concern was obviously how it would affect my finances. I’ve always budgeted knowing I had a steady paycheque coming in, and the thought of not having that was terrifying. But when I set out to live on 50% of my income last year, I had no idea that I was preparing myself for this next step. I now know the exact amount I need to live off each month and be happy and it’s not much… in fact, most months I already make close to that amount just with the few smaller side projects I work on. I obviously want to make more than that, so I can continue to save and travel. But once I calculated how much extra work I would need to take on, and that work started to come in, I knew it was time to take the leap.

I’m walking away from a good salary, yes, but I already have enough freelance work lined up to make the same amount I would’ve made in the last half of 2015 – and now I don’t have to struggle to manage both. Would it be nice to have both income streams? Sure. But the past year has shown me that I value my time more than anything else… and I want more of it back. Like I told my boss, I want to wake up in the morning and work on Blonde on a Budget first thing. Then I want to get outside – either to go for a hike or to meet a friend – then come home and do client work in the afternoon. Of course, there will be weeks where freelance deadlines takeover and I’m prepared for that. But my goal will always be to wake up and work on Blonde on a Budget before anything else.

It feels like an oxymoron for a personal finance blogger to say they aren’t motivated by money, but it’s true – and that might be the greatest lesson I’ve taken away from the shopping ban and my decision to embrace minimalism. I believe in being paid what I’m worth, but I don’t dream about making a certain amount each year, or being “rich” or retiring by a certain age. I don’t want to struggle either, of course, and my work ethic would hopefully help me avoid ever being in that situation. But life is too short to spend it doing anything other than what we want to do.

I’m extremely grateful for all the opportunities I’ve been given, since starting this blog. I’m not lost on the fact that, without it, I wouldn’t be in this position. But now it’s time to switch gears and put my focus back on this blog first, so I can do some really great stuff with it.

In future posts, I can share what I did with my finances to prepare for this (and why I’m calling it a “calculated risk”). And I don’t know what my exact budgeting strategy is going to look like, so maybe you can help me navigate that this summer. All I know right now is that in two weeks’ time, I’m going to wake up on a Monday morning and not have a “job” to go to. The future is open and full of unknowns… and I can’t wait to see what it holds. 🙂

Any full-time freelancers out there? What’s your #1 tip for staying on top of your finances?