Holly Johnson had an average job with an average salary, but she wanted more. She wanted to travel, spend more time with her kids, and feel in control of her life.
A little more than five years ago, Johnson was a director of family services at a funeral home, making $38,000 per year. Now, she and her husband earn roughly 10 times that amount and spend three months a year traveling.
It’s easy to see a successful person and ignore how they got there. We often view their experience as unrealistic and make excuses for why we can’t do what they’ve done. But Johnson’s story is one of a regular person building a successful business from scratch — all because she wanted to try something different.
Living an average, stressful life
Forty-four percent of Americans frequently encounter stress in their daily lives, according to a recent poll by Gallup, and 41% say they don’t have time to do the things they want. Both facts described Johnson perfectly.
“I really liked my job, but it was a lot of work and a lot of hours,” says Johnson. “I did a lot of paperwork, made cards for people’s funerals and their memorial folders, typed obituaries, and filed insurance paperwork.”
She worked between 40 and 50 hours a week and got 20 days of paid time off each year. At face value, that sounds like a lot. Americans get 10 days of paid vacation per year on average, according to payroll company Gusto. But in Johnson’s case, there was a catch.
“It was your vacation, your sick days, your kids’ sick days, and everything,” she says. “So, it was really more like a week and a half of vacation, and the rest was sick days for the kids and me.”
Johnson also struggled with major back problems that required two spinal fusions. “I didn’t know at the time, but stress made my back problems so much worse,” she says. “And that job was really stressful because you had to have everything perfect. You can’t mess up somebody’s funeral.”
The tipping point
In 2011, Johnson’s husband, Greg, a mortician earning roughly $50,000 a year, talked her into creating a personal finance blog. The couple found similar blogs online and figured they could do the same thing and maybe earn a little money. Johnson wasn’t sure at first. She had no formal experience with writing or personal finance other than having a real estate license.
But she felt she had natural writing skills, and she wrote a lot for her job at the funeral home. So, she agreed to start Club Thrifty.
Not long after she started blogging, Johnson realized that she enjoyed it and looked for other opportunities to write. She sent eight guest posts to a popular website called Get Rich Slowly, asking the owner if he’d be willing to publish them on his site.
“Eventually, they published some of my posts, so I reached out again and said, ‘If you ever want to hire me, I can write regularly,'” she says.
That was Johnson’s first paid client, and she quickly found more for her new side hustle. She and her husband attended FinCon, a financial media conference, where she networked with people in the industry and connected with new clients.
Dealing with growing pains
Working full time and building a side business is no picnic, and Johnson often struggled with fitting everything in.
“I had one child and was pregnant with another,” she says. “I worked full time plus some, and I was exhausted. All I could do was get up early in the morning and write before work, and then I’d write after work and nights and weekends.”
All that hard work paid off, and within a year or so, Johnson was making $2,000 to $3,000 a month from her side business. “I was over my full-time job at that point,” she says, and she decided that if she could sustain it, she’d quit her job and run the blog and freelance write full time.
She did just that in April 2013, when the couple had mostly paid off the $50,000 they owed in auto and student loans. It took them 18 to 24 months to eliminate the debt once they got on a budget and cut their expenses. Johnson’s new side hustle income also helped them get rid of their debt faster.
But once she had more time to work on her business, she had other problems to deal with.
“I had a lot of people in my life ask me, ‘What are you doing? Why are you doing this?'” she says. “They kind of made fun of me for my decision to quit my job and write full time.”
Johnson learned that she not only needed discipline and work ethic to be successful at her new business writing online but also had to ignore the naysayers.
“I didn’t like my life, and I wanted to do something different,” she said. “All these people who thought that I was wasting my time, I was going to make sure that they were wrong.”
Fast-forward 5 years
Johnson took a major risk by quitting her stable, full-time job to focus on a career as a personal finance writer, and that leap of faith has paid off.
“I consistently make around $20,000 per month writing,” she says. And now that her husband has quit his job and manages their blog full time, their total monthly revenue can range from $30,000 to $40,000.
In the meantime, they’ve paid off the mortgages on their home and a rental property they owned from before Johnson started writing. They’re also finishing a $100,000 home improvement project they’ve been able to pay for in cash.
Looking back, Johnson remembers how different her life was before her husband convinced her to start a blog.
“We were spending everything that we earned,” she says. “It seemed like such a shame that we were working so hard and didn’t have the money to do what we wanted to do.”
Now, the couple is financially independent, and Johnson spends roughly 12 weeks a year doing what she loves: traveling the world.
“I love succeeding and failing by my own efforts,” she said. “I would rather do that than work for somebody else and have the stability of a salaried job.”
If you feel the same stress and discouragement she felt seven years ago, Johnson recommends that you stop wishing and take action. Find a side hustle that suits you and don’t look back.
“Some people look at someone successful in their field of choice and think, ‘I can’t do it now because they’re already doing it,’ and then other people look at somebody and think, ‘If they can do it, then I can too,'” she said. “That second mentality is what I wish people had more of.”
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1 Important Disclosures for Earnest.
To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: https://www.earnest.com/eligibility. Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants will qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.
Earnest fixed rate loan rates range from 3.89% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.87% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 2.47% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.87% APR (with Auto Pay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 years to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 1.82% and 5.50% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of Month/Day/Year, and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.
Auto Pay discount: If you make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic, monthly deduction from a savings or checking account, your rate will be reduced by one quarter of one percent (0.25%) for so long as you continue to make automatic, electronic monthly payments. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance.
The information provided on this page is updated as of 08/21/18. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice. Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 302 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest.com/terms-of-service, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 888-601-2801 for more information on ourstudent loan refinance product.
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2 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.
Laurel Road Disclosures
Savings example: average savings calculated based on single loans refinanced from 9/2013 to 12/2017 where borrowers’ previous rates were disclosed. Assumes same loan terms for previous and refinanced loans, and payments made to maturity with no prepayments. Actual savings for individual loans vary based on loan balance, interest rates, and other factors.
Application detail: 5 minutes indicates typical time it takes to complete application with applicant information readily available. It does not include time taken to provide underwriting decision or funding of the loan.
Instant rates mean a delivery of personalized rates for those individuals who provide sufficient information to return a rate. For instant rates a soft credit pull will be conducted, which will not affect your credit score. To proceed with an application, a hard credit pull will be required, which may affect your credit score.
Total savings calculated by aggregating individual average savings across total borrower population from 9/2013 to 12/2017. Individual average savings calculation based on single loans refinanced from 9/2013 to 12/2017 where borrowers’ previous rates were provided. Assumes same loan terms for previous and refinanced loans, and payments made to maturity with no prepayments. Actual savings for individual loans vary based on loan balance, interest rates, and other factors.
3 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
4 Important Disclosures for LendKey.
Refinancing via LendKey.com is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via LendKey.com. If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on LendKey.com reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it endorse, any educational institution.
5 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
6 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
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