After a year-and-a-half of my corporate communications job in my hometown in Texas, I was ready to call it quits.
Most days, my job was tolerable, but I was fed up with constant meetings, small talk with coworkers who were difficult to work with and company leaders who pushed back on every idea.
It was never my dream to sit at a desk and write corporate emails for a finance company, particularly one whose mission didn’t align with my interests. I had started the job nearly two years prior, after being a newspaper reporter, for one reason: Money. My goal was to pay off my debt, save money and move on.
Before that job, I was about $10,000 in debt from student loans and, despite having a job in my field, could barely afford to pay rent. It’s not an incredibly unique experience: That’s the life of many millennials these days.
Budgeting might have worked, although, on a $32,000-a-year reporter job, it could only have taken me so far. Moving in with a roommate could have saved me some cash, but I’m not sure I could have found something that much cheaper than my $500 studio apartment.
Just months into my new corporate communications job, my shiny new salary that amounted to a $20,000 pay bump allowed me to start making progress. I started making more than $1,000 student loan payments each month. I started saving a few hundred dollars every paycheck.
Then, a year-and-a-half in, I started planning. If I was going to quit corporate America, I’d need a savings goal and a realistic path for my writing career.
Because I knew I wanted to pursue journalism to some degree despite my day job, I began pitching freelance stories more regularly last fall. Not only would this beef up my writing portfolio, but it also meant getting some extra income each month. Almost each week, I’d pitch story ideas that interested me and do interviews and write on my lunch break, in the evenings after working 9-5 and on the weekends. After a few months, I started wondering what it might take to freelance full-time.
That January, I took a trip to Mexico City and Oaxaca with a friend. Other than visiting because I loved traveling, it was an opportunity to scout a possible relocation option. Given the instability of freelance work, and the high cost of living in the U.S., moving to Mexico seemed like a good option to get my freelance career off the ground without blowing through my savings.
Needless to say, I loved Mexico — and Oaxaca, in particular, was beautiful, quaint and affordable. I decided this would be my next destination.
I joined online writing networking groups, I read the work of a lot of other freelancers, and I scoured the internet for publications I liked and their writing guidelines. In a huge financial accomplishment, I paid off all of my student loans later in January, thereby becoming debt-free. My student loans amounted to about $16,000 out of college, and finally, nearly seven years later, I was one step closer to my goal.
The other part of my plan involved saving enough money to provide some financial security at the beginning of my freelance career. My online bank, Simple, made it easy since I am not a natural saver. Their app allows you to set up savings goals and calculates how much you need to put away each day to meet your financial goal by a specified date. Then it automatically takes that amount of money from your checking account to your savings goal.
Between hearing from other writers and doing a simple budget of expenses for my future life in Mexico, I decided $15,000 was good enough. By January, I had saved nearly $10,000. With my student loans all paid up, I knew hitting my goal would be easy. It was my salary and my modest apartment, not any specific money-savings hacks, that helped me save — and I know I was lucky to be in that position.
Five months later, in late May, I had met my goal. So, I paid a deposit on an apartment (sight unseen) in Oaxaca and took a few days off to start clearing out my apartment. In early June, I put in my two weeks’ notice at work.
I now make about $4,000 less each month than before quitting my job, but my expenses are considerably lower, too. I do have a few small bills, like my PayPal Credit account which I used to buy a new laptop. Otherwise, I only pay for rent (usually rent in Mexico includes utilities), phone and groceries. At the moment, my rent is $89, but my first month here it was $300.
My work schedule these days goes something like this: I get up at 9:30 a.m. and spend the next 10 hours working on-and-off on pitching new stories, following up on emails, interviews, edits or writing. My schedule allows me to take time from my day to go grocery shopping, go downtown for food or a drink, or do go to a new gallery exhibit or museum. I’m lucky that I get to work while experiencing a new place.
Of course, my job now has many uncertainties of its own: There’s no guarantee of work or good pay. Sometimes I pitch stories and never hear back. Sometimes I invest a lot of time and effort into stories that never published. Sometimes I try to advocate for even $50 more on a story, because $50 means food for two weeks, but I don’t always get it. And I have no health insurance.
This fall will bring another challenge as I’m moving back to Texas to live with my boyfriend. We haven’t figured out what we’re going to do about finances yet, considering that I now make far less than he does. But I can honestly say that starting my freelance career in Mexico has been exciting and a financially smart idea. I’m hoping that the transition back to a higher cost of living is equally seamless.
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(Images courtesy of Unsplash, the author)