Save. Spend. Splurge.

Pick a goal, not an excuse – The Paradox of Success

I get a lot of comments on Instagram when I post things like my savings rate, or my income.

A lot of these comments are along the lines of:

  • Oh it’s easy for you to save 50% of your income overall because you make so much money
  • Must be nice to make a lot of money
  • What do you do? I’m looking to become a freelance consultant just like you to make lots of money

….and while I generally don’t mind answering questions vaguely on my career path and so on, I always think to myself:

Why don’t you focus on your focus and not mine?

Stop looking at my career, my career path, and how much money I make or save. That’s me, the individual who is doing that, and what is more important is the underlying principle of what drives me to do what I do, and what I have achieved.

What you see is the success iceberg; you know, the one where you only see the tip of it and not all the work and struggle that went to achieving all that?

What is more important, is not what I do, what I make, and what I save — it is how I do it based on my thinking and mindset.

“Oh it’s easy for you to save 50% of your income because you make so much money”

It is easy NOW but the work that took me to get to this point was not.

To say that, is to discount and downplay how much work it takes to get to where I am.

It is not so much insulting as it is amusing at how hard people are trying to convince themselves that their income is the reason why they can’t save anything.

Your income has nothing to do with it if you’re making over minimum wage – your mindset is what’s key.

There are people out there making $45,000 a year, saving half of their income. They don’t make my income, and yet they do it. How? The same way I do — they have a rich mindset not a poor one.

When I graduated school, I had $60,000 of debt, earning $65,000 gross a year.

I had zero idea about how money worked, investing, the whole shebang. All I knew was that I was paying $10 a day in interest to service these loans and that seemed kind of ridiculous to me to give away all this money for nothing.

I wholly regretted not being frugal in that instant that I looked at my loans, so I had a tiny freakout pity party moment, and then I set to work figuring out how I could smash this debt.

I read everything I could on money, and I kept my eyes peeled for opportunities of how I could shovel even more money into my debt so I could be free sooner such as:

Becoming a modern nomad

Realizing since I was a consultant who had to travel 90% of the time, I gave up my apartment completely and eliminated one of the biggest expenses in my budget, and just ended up living in the cities where I worked — I had my hotel paid for the entire time I was on contract there, and even a per diem or a daily allowance for food which I really relished.

What you see as the iceberg:

  • I socked 90% of my pay or more towards paying down my debt which accelerated the payments significantly.
  • I maxed out my employers’ retirement plan while I was paying down my debt to maximize getting a 100% return on my money and left with $7000 from my pocket, a $7000 match from them, and now, not having given a single penny over, after the vesting period, that $14,000 is now worth $38,000, a decade and a half later.

What you don’t see underneath it all:

  • How incredibly lonely I was. I was literally in a city, with no friends or family, alone every single day for months on end because I couldn’t travel back if I wanted to keep my hotel and per diem full-time to make it cheaper for the project; it was one or the other
  • Stress of being hassled by my manager for “eating too much” because I had to use the per diem every day as I was literally living there, and my amounts were far higher as a result, than anyone else, so they’d pick on me all the time.
  • Not really allowing myself to enjoy being in a new city – people on projects who live here, have their own lives and they don’t want to spend it with you, bottom line
  • Not allowing myself to spend any money – I was resolved to put every penny I could into my debt, and this meant I paid for as little as possible – even now, with money saved, I have to sometimes force myself to relax and say it is okay to spend money although sometimes I get too comfortable and then it is ridiculous…
  • I managed my money and had discipline to NOT spend my money even though I was cashing $20,000 cheques – you won’t believe how many people around me who make a similar salary, live to the edge of this paycheque, spend every penny and have credit card debt to boot
  • That I HAD to save 50% because I was stressed that money would run out as contracts at the start were touch and go

So yes, my average savings rate, has been rocky up and down since I started, peaking at 90% while I was employed for 2 years before I quit, and it is about 51% for my current career.

It wasn’t easy.

None of it was, and I made sacrifices and I am about to expose the underbelly of what it took to get to where I am.

“Must be nice to make A LOT OF MONEY”

I didn’t grow up, go to school and land onto a job that paid me this.

No one does… except maybe children of business owners who could technically just give them any job at any salary if they wanted (although many smart business owners don’t do this, because they don’t want to sink their business).

I started at $65,000 a year

Do you know how I got there initially?

I was offered $50,000 initially for this job, and because I had the gumption and took the risk to negotiate that starting salary, they gave me an extra $15,000 out of school.

No one else in my year at this company negotiated their starting salaries, they were all just grateful to get a job, any job, let alone one making $50,000 a year to start paying back loans if they had any.

I wasn’t any different – I had major student loans and was grateful for any job offer let alone 3, but I still knew I had to make the most of it at the start, and negotiated.

I quit 2 years in & INCREASED INCOME

Now, imagine being in a very stable job. Your pay already went up to $67,000 after a year because of inflation, and you got a small bonus of $2000.

If you have $20,000 in student loans left, only $2000 as an emergency fund, full benefits and a steady company to work for who will pretty much never fire you, plus allow you to travel and live on projects if you wanted (see Modern Nomad story above), would you ever think about quitting it?

90% of people say No.

The other 10%, say to give it a shot, what do you have to lose?

I was in that 10%, and I quit after 2 years, green as hell, no money saved, student debts looming, nothing set up for my company and I started freelancing.

Once I scored my first contract I knew it would never be the same again and never looked back.

In fact, on the same contract after that trial month, I had the guts to negotiate another $60,000 increase even though I was BARELY out of debt at that point. I mean I was in the black, but just barely, and I was still unsure if I’d find another contract soon.

What you see as the iceberg:

  • I went from $65,000 a year to over 6-figures a year in 2 years
  • I work 50% of the time
  • I run my own business which means I can write off a few things now
  • I am a freelancer who chooses her contracts to work when she wants
  • I take the minimum I need to live as dividends from my company which means I no longer take a salary and pay maximum taxes, which has been a big money saver

What you don’t see underneath it all:

  • I wanted to quit, 5 months into working. This job was hard AF and still is sometimes. I was really stressed, doing 100-hour workweeks (including commuting), away from my family and friends, and completely lost
  • I spent those 2 years working like a dog. On top of the project, I spent my free time learning, studying and absorbing as much as I could, as fast as possible
  • I was living like a modern nomad – I was alone because I was focused on paying down my debt as soon as I could
  • I took the risk to quit very my steady job to freelance with a rocky income and no steady paycheque which is where money management comes into play – it could have all gone so very wrong as easily as it went right
  • I didn’t let myself rest for a moment, I knew I had to prove to myself and to everyone else that I could do this job
  • That day I quit my job? I thought – WTF DID I JUST DO!?! … and freaked out, and started making endless budgeting scenarios for 3 days until I landed my first contract (which by the way, I negotiated again because I can’t help myself)
  • I traveled a lot at the beginning of my freelancing career – you have no choice if everyone takes all the best contracts in the city and you need the money; so I lived again like a modern nomad away from everyone in cities, alone in a long-distance relationship with my now partner
  • The years that I spent not working where not always by choice – sometimes there were literally no jobs at all and I had to sit at home, stew, come up with budgeting scenarios of how I could make this work, until I found another contract
  • Sometimes I chose not to work (pregnancy and baby) and turned down contracts even though I really needed the money, and that hurt
  • I had to study and pick up a second language to make myself employable – I now speak, write and read French, but learning a second language from scratch isn’t easy by any means – I REALLY worked at this particular skillset
  • It took me 15 years to reach a comfortable position where now I am work-optional if I want to be
  • While on contracts, I didn’t allow myself to take vacations, sick days or time off because every single day represented a lost income.
  • I have to fight with myself to NOT take every contract that comes along and to wait for good ones because I know I will rage quit and that is not good for my reputation or my mental health and sanity

“What do you do? What did you study? I’m looking to become a freelance consultant TOO”

I studied business, and I work in a STEM profession (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math).

Knowing all of the above, if you still want to get into it, I am going to say the only thing that matters in whether or not you can freelance in what you do, is this:

Is there a demand for your skillset and do you see other people freelancing?

If you don’t see anyone else in your area as a freelancer in what you do, then this is not a viable option. /end

If you do see freelancers – go pick their brains.

Many freelancers are actually very helpful in explaining the pros and cons of what goes on. Every industry and every freelancer is different, so don’t rely 100% on what I am saying, I am only speaking for myself.

You cannot replicate my path. No one can replicate anyone else’s path – their path is uniquely their own.

Just as how I cannot replicate [insert some brilliant wunderkind here]‘s path, I graduated at a certain time, working for a certain company, with a certain background. To replicate that would mean to graduate at the time I did, for the university I did, and to join the company I did, plus have my brain and skillset.

Furthermore, to think that you  can just pick up what I do and be equally as successful makes me uncertain you understand what you are saying for 2 reasons:

90% of people who were already in my area, quit yearly because it is difficult and stressful if you don’t know what you’re doing

Of course with experience, it gets somewhat easier if you learn it, but I have observed people go for years without understanding their jobs and wake up with knots in their stomach each day they have to go to work.

They come into the office, in the “same” job that I do, and can’t deliver anything. They’re in constant fear of being fired, and find ways to hide behind consultants who show up and do the work but don’t care about taking any credit because we get paid for it.

To top it off, I have 2 specialties in my area, which makes me even more valuable to a client.

Most people who are employees in my area, never freelance because they’re scared

Again – who would give up a steady job for a chance at quadruple the income?

I know lots of people who keep telling me wistfully: Is freelancing nice? I know you can make lots more money……

Me: It’s great. I’m unemployable. I love being a freelancer.

Them: Oh but I have a mortgage, children in daycare/school/university … [insert excuses]….

Not everyone can be a freelancer AND THAT IS OKAY.

Being an employee is PERFECTLY FINE.

You do NOT need to become a freelancer to make lots of money and/or be rich.

As a freelancer you have to have:

  • Guts – quitting a steady job with benefits is not for the faint of heart; you pay everything out of pocket now, no more perks, vacation days, sick days or time off. This is super risky, and if you haven’t got the stomach for it.. do not go for it, imagining $0 paydays.
  • Money management skills – income, expenses, budgeting skills, taxes for personal and corporate
  • Discipline – to not spend all that money and to save as much as you can because you don’t work 100% of the time.
  • Willingness to do what it takes to succeed – I was trying to help a new freelancer in my area, and her disastrous attempt is chronicled here. You may need to travel, work in a trailer, work with people who openly hate you or are hostile.
  • Attitude – You figure it out on your own; there is no team to help you now, no manager to step in, no one to help you negotiate for the best anything. If you screw up and get fired, that’s on you. If someone hates you at work who is an employee, you can’t report them to anyone – you gotta suck it up, work it out, or find another contract.
  • Perspective – It can be hard to take ANY time off (e.g. sick days, vacation days, funerals, family emergencies, events) when you are on contract because every day you don’t work is a day lost. This is a terrible mindset to be in and it will suck you under if you aren’t careful at keeping it separated from your personal life and money. A lot of people are stressed out because of this freelancer mindset because they cannot let themselves have even ONE HOUR to themselves because that’s an hour lost of billable time.

So…

Focus on your focus (not mine).

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