“I Don’t Want to Be Ordinary” — Can This Woman Escape the Ordinary?

Do you want to escape the ordinary? Do you dream of the day you can say goodbye to your job and travel? It's completely possible. Life is what you make it.

A Reader Says: I Don't Want to Be OrdinaryHere’s a recent reader question that grabbed my heart. One reader said:

“I am a single woman with children who believes I can live a great life traveling and making life grand, in spite of the statistics out there. Do you think its possible? Can you offer some saving/investing tips?”

I’m so glad you wrote to me. YES, I think it’s possible to live any life that you desire. I absolutely, completely, 100 percent believe that.

Ignore the statistics. You’re not a stat. You’re an outlier. The upper end of the bell curve. You’re unique.

How do I know that? Because you dared to ask. You wrote to me — a complete stranger — for advice. Most people wouldn’t do that. Most people would sit on the couch watching American Idol reruns.

Most people — regardless of their age, income, family or financial situation — don’t have the courage to dream big. Most people spend the whole day saying self-defeating things like:

  • “I’ll never be rich.”
  • “I could never afford that.”
  • “People like me don’t get to do things like that.”
  • “Good for her, she gets to galavant and have fun, but I have to (fill-in-the-blank with crummy obligation).”

And you know what? Whether you think you can, or think you can’t — either way, you’re right. Life is completely what you make it. Especially if you live in a free, first-world country. Then there’s really nothing stopping you.

Regarding the second half of your question — do I have any saving or investing advice? Of course I do. But I won’t tell you to clip coupons (ugghh) or invest in index funds (though I love ’em!), because those are tactics, and tactical maneuvers are secondary.

The best advice I can give anyone is to align your spending with your values and priorities.

Almost every financial stress that I see is the result of people spending in a way that’s misaligned with their priorities. It leads to staggering debt, bankrupt college funds, meager retirements, and — perhaps most terrifying of all — cubicle jobs. Eek!

But when you can kick back and say, “The most critical thing is food, water, medicine and safety. Let me make sure I can pay for that, not just today but years into the future. And after that, my real dream is …”

That’s the moment when driving an old car no longer feels like a sacrifice. Would you rather drive an Audi or quit your crummy cubicle job? Would you rather have granite countertops, or the flexibility to take a major career risk?

(By the way, I realize I might sound like I’m anti-luxury items. I’m not. I’m pro-anything that’s a conscious priority. And I’m anti-anything that’s not.)

In my own experience:

When I was 22, I wanted to travel more than anything else in the world. I wanted it so badly I could taste it. I thought about it constantly. And I aligned my spending with this top value.

That meant that I lived incredibly frugally. I lived in a tiny, tiny studio apartment (I could reach the kitchen sink from the bed — I’m not kidding.) I drove a car that was older than me. I wore thrift-store clothes. And I saved almost $30,000, which allowed me to travel the world nonstop for more than two years.

But another example:

Right now, my priorities have shifted. I don’t want to do a two-year round-the-world trip anymore. I want to build streams of passive income — so that my money can buy time. I want to live in a comfortable home, work on a MacBook, and enjoy a gym membership — even if it comes at the expense of travel. So my spending has shifted to align with my new priorities.

That’s what it’s really all about. All the details that financial bloggers talk about — insurance premiums, coupons, the price of gas — those are all just details. That’s minutia.

Step back and take the big-picture view: is your money flowing in the same direction as your values and priorities? If so, you’re in the right place. If not, make a change.

It’s as simple as that.

When to Quit Your Day Job

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Today I’m running a guest post from Juliana Weiss-Roessler, who quit her day job pursue her dream of writing full-time and making her own hours. Take it away, Juliana!

When to Quit Your Day Job

When to Quit Your Day Job

When I embarked on my freelance career, I was bored during my day job. I had a lot of down time on my hands (seriously, a lot of down time), and I thought, why not try to do something productive with it?

But within a few months, I noticed that I was sometimes earning more with the handful of writing jobs I took on than I was in my full-time position. What’s more: I found the work more enjoyable. I loved the fact that I could jump around to different projects, learning about new things and switching it up if I needed a break from a particular topic for a while.

Still, I wasn’t willing to let go of that regular paycheck. Not yet. The idea of letting go of a “real” job at a time when the economy was struggling made me nervous. I had enough regular clients that I would likely have some income, but I would have to rely on getting new clients and one-time projects to make up the difference. Would I be able to find enough of them regularly to make ends meet?

But in the life of any successful freelancer, there comes a point when you have to pull the trigger. A full-time position may provide consistent pay, but it doesn’t give you the opportunity to grow your own business and become truly independent. Eventually the workload from your side jobs becomes so overwhelming that you risk affecting your reputation as a freelancer if you don’t focus on it.

Before you take that big step, though, you have to make sure you’re really ready for it. Just because a lucrative one-time project comes your way doesn’t mean you should quit your day job immediately. In some cases, making use of vacation time (or sick days) might be a better option.

So how do you know when it’s time? I spent a lot of time crunching numbers and planning for a worst-case scenario. If you rely on your current clients as well as a spouse’s employment, what would you do if one or both income streams dried up? How much time would you have to get things back on track?

Don’t think it can happen? Well, it did for me. Just a few weeks after I left my full-time position, my husband unexpectedly lost his job, along with our health insurance. Even worse, I found out I was pregnant just a few weeks before, so that insurance coverage was more important than ever.

Luckily, we had ensured that we had enough money saved up to cover us for at least 6 months – longer if we cut back on optional expenses like our nice cable package and our monthly maid service.

In the end, his job loss ended up being a blessing instead of a curse, allowing both of us to focus whole hog on building our freelance careers, and within a few months, business was booming enough that shelling out for those expensive COBRA payments didn’t seem so painful. We even restarted our maid service (we never got rid of the cable, that was just too painful!), and now we’re both able to be at home with our new baby.

If we hadn’t planned for that worst-case scenario, we likely would have both rushed back into the job market, accepting any position that came our way. We’d do this to the detriment of our freelance work (and our happiness).

If you’re still struggling to balance your full-time position and a freelance career, do the math. If you’re not ready today, prepare by building up your safety net and cutting back on your lifestyle.

But don’t wait forever, because you’ll never be 100 percent certain. You just have to trust in your talents and skills, close your eyes, and take the leap!

Note from Paula: Thanks Juliana, for today’s great guest post! I love stories of people who have made the leap into chasing their passions … and who complemented that leap with a ton of common sense and number-crunching!

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My Cheap Month in New York — an Accidental “Digital Nomad” Story

There’s a trendy little movement being tossed around the blogosphere that encourages people to become a “digital nomad” — a fashionable way of saying, “why not work from your computer rather than an office?” A digital nomad, as we are told by a myriad of blogs, is free to live a spur-of-the-moment lifestyle and is able to travel anywhere in the world as long as she has an internet connection.

I tried this lifestyle a few years ago — before the phrase “digital nomad” became trendy — when I decided to backpack across the Middle East, Asia and Australia. The reality was sorely disappointing. First, it required me to spend all my time in cities large enough to have strong, reliable wi-fi hotspots or high-speed internet cafes. This meant that after flying all the way to Cambodia or Thailand, I couldn’t venture to a remote island that lacks wi-fi but abounds in coral reefs and pristine beaches. I was shackled to large cities with high-speed internet.

Furthermore, I was freelance writing for magazines and still needed to conduct interviews, but the time difference between Thailand and the U.S. required me to Skype those interviews at 4 a.m., leaving me bleary-eyed and grumpy the next day. Regularly, I’d schedule an interview with someone at 3 a.m. or 5 a.m., only to call him at that hour and hear him say, “I’m sorry, I’m stuck in a meeting — can we reschedule for tomorrow?”

After only two weeks of “digital nomading,” I decided the trade-offs were no longer worth it. I gave up trying to work and lived on my savings.

When I returned to the United States, two and a half years later, I realized that my freelance lifestyle was ideal for traveling among major U.S. cities, where high-speed internet is guaranteed and the time change is negligible. I’ve always wanted to spend some time checking out New York, so why not go there for a month?

So I packed my laptop and headed to the Northeast. Here I work for a couple hours everyday from my discount hotel room, across the river in New Jersey. Then I ride into the city on the train and spend every afternoon and evening exploring NYC: browsing shops in SoHo, people-watching in the East Village, marveling at the homes on the Upper East Side.

The best New York experiences have been the free or cheap ones. Most tourists head to the high-dollar attractions: dinner at a fancy restaurant, shopping on 5th Avenue, gaping at the skyline from the top of the Rockefeller Center. I’ve tried some of the traditional tourist traps, but — as the cliche goes — the best things are free, or at least cheap-and-local.

Being here for a month, I’ve found little pockets of New York that most visitors who are only here for a week never find: my favorite used-book stores, vintage shops and bakeries. I’ve found “unknown” rooftop bars with spectacular views where the drinks are cheap(er) and the crowds are sparse.

I’ve even made some new friends, the types of people you’d only meet in New York, including an aspiring actress from the Midwest who came here with a dream of making it big on Broadway. I love how she believes in her dream and is devoting every minute of time to making it come true — and she’s not the type of person I’m likely to meet at home in Atlanta. I love Atlanta, but almost no one moves there with just a few bucks in their wallet and a dream in their eyes.

My dream was never to become a “digital nomad” — but somehow, it happened, and now it would require a major opportunity to convince me to head back to an office.

Then again, I loved the buzz and excitement of the newsroom when I worked there. I miss collaborating with co-workers on stories and features. Perhaps the right office would just be the next big adventure.

Three Awesome Ways to Earn Side Income (Without a Job!)

earn side income without a job
My friend Kim has an unusual talent: hula-hooping.

She can perform tricks and twists with a hula-hoop that few people have ever seen. To her, hooping is a serious sport, and she approaches it with the discipline of an athlete.

When she moved to Olympia, Washington, she needed some extra cash.

And she decided to get creative.

She approached a local fitness club and asked if they’d be interested in taking her on as a hula-hooping instructor.

“Just list me on the schedule,” she said. She’d teach the class; they’d provide the space and collect the student fees.

They said yes. It was a total win-win.

The fitness club was happy to be able offer a class that none of their competitors could offer. And Kim was happy to earn extra money on the side without having to rent a space or advertise for students.

The Power of Earning More

Some people insist that it’s not what you earn that counts — it’s what you save.

That’s not entirely true. Earning more won’t benefit you if you blow your paycheck as soon as you get it. But you can’t save your way to riches, either.

Wealth comes from a combination of earning more AND saving more, just as losing weight comes from a combination of diet AND exercise.

That said, who wants a second shift from 6 pm to 10 pm every evening, as soon as you’re finished with your day job? Isn’t the point to increase your quality of life?

The best way to earn side income is through No-Obligation Jobs … side projects in which your responsibility (for even the most basic tasks, like showing up) is minimal-to-none.

This allows you to work only when you want to, and relax when you don’t.

Here are three ideas:

1. Freelancing

Companies are less likely to hire a full-time staff person to fulfill their needs. They’d rather take on a freelancer: someone who can do the work if it’s there, and who disappears when the project pipeline is dry.

The companies benefit because they don’t need to pay health insurance, payroll taxes, and all those other pesky little fees that come with hiring an employee — plus they have no obligation to keep the employee on salary.

You benefit because of the quid-pro-quo: you have no obligation to keep working. If they ask you to fill a freelance assignment next week, but you’ve already booked a trip to Aruba, you just smile and say “no.”

Freelancer jobs include writing, copyediting, web design, programming, data entry, web research, customer service, advertising, sales generating, and foreign-language translating.

Check out Elance for freelance opportunities — or try looking at industry-specific websites within your field, where employers usually advertise if they need freelancers.

2. Consulting

Consulting is similar to freelancing in the sense that you drop in (like Mary Poppins) to help a company in need, then leave when you’re done.

Consultants are prized for their specific skills, long-term vision and direction. Freelancers complete specific tasks, while consultants help shape the company’s direction.

Consultants are usually in fields such as accounting, legal, finance and management, and have a solid track record.

Building a consulting business from scratch can be a demanding full-time job, but you can venture into it by:

  • Talking to people in your industry about what companies might need your services. Word-of-mouth referrals is the best way to get jobs.
  • Scanning industry-specific websites and publications for opportunities.
  • Printing business cards that offer your services as a consultant and passing these out at conferences.
  • Listing your services on websites like Elance — by using this “middle man,” you may get a larger volume of work without investing the upfront time in finding clients.

The trick to making money is to go to the spots where people who want your skill will congregate.

Are you a history buff? Teach classes at your local museum.

3. Teaching

Chances are, someone out there wants to learn what you know — whether it’s a skill within your professional field (like how to file taxes, or how to write a press release) or a hobby you’ve cultivated at home (guitar lessons, cooking, photography, knitting).

If you go this route, decide first whether you want to teach a class or teach one-on-one.

Teaching a class:

The pros to teaching a class: You prepare one lesson plan, deliver one lesson, and reach 5, 10, or even 25 paying students at the same time. This gives you a large “bang” for your hour.

The cons: Teaching an entire class can be a large undertaking. First and foremost, you’ll need to find a space to give the lessons. You could rent a space — but suddenly, your “earn money” plan now includes an element of risk. What if no one comes? What if you don’t earn back the money you shelled out on renting a space?

Think carefully about how you can create a win-win situation that will allow you a teaching space for free.

Here’s an example:

Christine is a yoga instructor. One day, she was walking down a busy section of Boulder, Colo., when she noticed a coffeeshop that didn’t have many people inside during the daytime.

She walked in, introduced herself to the owner — and scored a free place to give lessons, on the second floor of the coffeeshop. She was happy to have a free teaching space. The owner of the shop was happy to have yoga students who stayed after class to sip chai.

One-on-one instruction:

Of course, if you’d rather start with one-on-one instruction, or if you have a skill that lends itself better to one-on-one teaching, then you won’t have to worry about organizing a space. Your main tasks are twofold: design a lesson plan and advertise for students.

These days the standard “go-to” advertising area is Craigslist (in England or Australia, use Gumtree), but this is where you’ll encounter all your competition — many of whom are willing to undercut you in price.

You’ll tweak your approach as you progress. The most critical piece is to get started.

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