I’m so excited to bring you this Slow FI interview with Michelle Jackson! You might know her as the writer and podcaster behind Michelle is Money Hungry.
When I first started following Michelle on Twitter a few years ago, my first reaction was, “Wow! What an awesome life she leads.”
I saw her spending time working on passion projects, like her ebooks and her Money on the Mountain Retreat. I saw her working on outdoor coffee shop patios. I saw her traveling and getting out into nature on a regular basis. She had a zest for life and a level of confidence that I rarely see.
Seeing her life made me realize that this is what I wanted my life to look like! And, it wasn’t in a “don’t make comparisons” sort of way. I saw her life and realized that I could make it a reality too!
At first, I assumed that the only way someone could have such an incredible life is if they were already financially independent or very close.
Over time, I came to learn that not only did Michelle still need to cover her expenses with active income, she was still paying off debt!
I vividly remember seeing a tweet from Michelle celebrating her debt payoff journey, and I knew I needed to learn more.
Many people (including myself) have such a scarcity mindset that we think our finances need to be perfect before we can take any risks at all. I knew there was so much I could learn from Michelle about designing my life and building an abundance mindset.
I hope you are as inspired by Michelle as I am. Let’s get into the interview.
1. Tell me a little bit about you.
Hi! My name is Michelle Jackson, and I often joke that I’m your typical Coloradan. I love to wander around the woods and hike, walk around my hometown of Denver, and explore. I also enjoy snowboarding, spending time in the mountains, and having conversations with random people about whatever comes to mind.
At the end of 2014, I quit my job. Since then, I’ve learned that I accidentally “Slow FIRED” even though I didn’t realize it at the time.
I’d spent several years before thinking about the life that I wanted to live. I found myself questioning why I accepted the American way of life as normal. I had what felt like an endless commute, a lot of stress, and anxiety that I was dealing with in order to work more than 40 hours per week.
Of course, I needed money to live, but I wasn’t living my best life. By the time I decided to quit my job I was deeply concerned about my physical and mental well-being.
Also, I will be the first to admit that in retrospect, quitting was a crazy decision.
At the time, I still had a ton of debt I needed to pay off. Yet, I decided to lead with my life first and then earn the money needed to hit my FIRE-focused goals for the future.
I’ve seen that most FIRE-focused folks lead with the money part first. Then, they think about their lifestyle once they retire. I decided to flip the script. Now that we’ve lived through a pandemic, I’m even more grateful that I made this decision.
You might be wondering, “Was this a complete disaster?”
Initially, it was less than ideal. Then, I figured out how to earn money online and with fun side-hustles while designing my best life now.
2. Could you tell us more about your reasons to quit your job?
I worked in higher education for a number of years and loved the work. In fact, it’s not unusual for people to work in education their entire lives. In my department, there were colleagues who had begun working there since the year I was born.
That said, as much as I loved working with international students, I always was a bit dissatisfied working for other people.
In every job I’ve worked, I felt like the employer would take as much as I was willing to give, and I gave a lot.
What I felt like I needed to live a happier life, traditional 9-to-5 work in the US made almost impossible. I hated the commute, the lateral promotions, and the reviews that could never be excellent reviews (because those didn’t exist).
In fact, the longer I worked professionally in the US, the more disillusioned I became. I’d lived abroad and had a lot of friends overseas, and their quality of life was consistently better than mine. This was astonishing to me because I live in a great state.
I wanted more time freedom and professional autonomy. It was also important to me that I be able to show up in professional situations and not worry about retaliation or other people having power over my ability to earn money.
So, after many years of working through an internal debate, I quit. It hasn’t always been easy as I wasn’t a natural entrepreneur. But, it has 100% been the right decision. And, the COVID pandemic has reaffirmed that I made the right choice for my life.
3. How did you prepare financially to quit your job?
Prior to taking the leap, there were several important financial steps I took.
First, I acknowledged the truth about what I liked and disliked. I like to travel and eat good food. And, yes, I enjoy expensive avocado toast and designer lattes. I was incredibly broke for a long time, so I was reluctant to let go of those small treats.
Then, I began looking at different line items in my budget. I’d thoughtfully consider what I enjoyed and ask myself the following question: “How can I continue to enjoy this good or service at the same quality but pay less?”
I had already affirmed that I liked good food. So, there was no way I was going to live on bad ramen for the next 10 years. I had to economize like that out of necessity for a number of years, and I wasn’t going back.
Here are some examples of what I did to optimize my spending:
- Cell Phone: I switched from Verizon Wireless to Cricket. That one switch changed my monthly phone bill from $120/month to around $35/month.
- No Shopping Challenge: I did a one-year no shopping challenge where I stopped spending on clothing and miscellaneous random items. I saved thousands of dollars during that challenge and also freed up an enormous amount of time to do other things like side-hustle to pay off bills. The challenge also gave me a lot of insight into the emotions connected to my spending. This challenge helped me save around $4000 a year on clothing and other random items.
- Travel: I reimagined how I would travel. I decided to focus on getting to experience the destination. I cared less about flying in style or staying at expensive accommodations. This has allowed me to travel anywhere I dream of traveling. For example, I spent 2 months in Australia and was able to economize by staying with friends and staying in hostels. My only concession was to stay in rooms with 4 people or fewer or, whenever possible, in my own room. I also became addicted to the 7-Eleven Flat whites that were $1 Australian. My friends thought it was hilarious. I used to live in France and believe me when I say that those flat whites were delicious. I also volunteered at business conferences and other events in order to get free admission or deep discounts on what would otherwise be an expensive experience.
- Groceries: I continued to eat organic groceries like I normally would. The big difference that saved me money was by eliminating grocery shopping as an activity. I love food. I love cooking food. What I discovered was that I would roam in grocery stores and farmer’s markets for enjoyment. Then, I would buy everything. Switching to one shop a week saved me a ton of money and time.
- Car: Once my old, paid-off car bit the dust I decided to forgo purchasing a new car. Why? I acknowledged that I couldn’t afford the expense of a new car and instead signed up for a car share. At the time I really couldn’t afford a new car because I was trying to pay off a significant amount of debt. A new car would have included a car payment, insurance, maintenance, and upkeep. Signing up for the car share ended up being one of the BEST long-term financial decisions I’ve ever made. A car-share works like it sounds. You pay a small monthly subscription fee. Then, you pay for each use and for gas whenever you use a car. The average American spends around $9,000 a year on car-related expenses. I will spend around $1,000 in 2021. This amount includes 3 or 4 major road trips that I will be taking this year. The cars are hybrid cars and meet three of my main criteria: great to drive in, good gas mileage, and earth-friendly.
Going through this process gave me a lot of insight into what I valued and what I wanted. My current budget ranges around $1600-$1800 a month. I keep my spending low because I still have some debt that I’m paying off, and I’ve begun working on renovations in my tiny awkward place.
My tiny awkward place is in one of the best neighborhoods of Denver, so my quality if life was already very high going into this process.
The main focus as I went through my budget was always to maintain the same level of quality. Ultimately, these financial changes have allowed me to pay off well over $60,000 in unsecured debt. That debt was a huge drag on my mental state and I’m so excited for it to be gone.
4. How has your decision to quit your job impacted your quality of life?
Currently, I am an online entrepreneur. I make money in several different ways. Here are my various income streams:
- Sales of my course “Make Money with Ebooks”
- Nonfiction and fiction book sales
- Affiliate income
- Freelance writing
- Speaking gigs
I love that I can lean into whatever inspires me and what excites me intellectually at the moment.
I currently work 10 months (ish) each year and front load my weeks. The majority of my deep thinking work is done Monday-Thursday. Over the weekends I may work on easy tasks or just take the weekend off.
I also wake up naturally (no alarm clock and jokingly lead a “free-range life”). I work from coworking spaces or my favorite patios throughout the year. I also go on frequent road trips throughout Colorado and work from the mountains. As long as there is wifi, I can work.
If you’re wondering how I socialize, Denver is an easy city to live in as a virtual entrepreneur. There are a ton of other online entrepreneurs, meetups, and people who are around to hang out with, go hiking, skiing, or have a nice coffee on a patio and talk about life with. In fact, with the exception of wearing a mask basically, my life didn’t change that much during COVID. I still went to the mountains, hung out at coffee shops (patios only), and enjoyed the outdoors.
Pursuing accidental Slow FIRE has been the best decision I could have made for my life. I have absolutely no regrets. Especially after sitting at home for the past year due to a pandemic. Slow FIRE has allowed me to do the following:
- Focus on my health and well-being
- Pursue and explore professional interests that I wouldn’t have been able to focus on in my previous job.
- Live at my self-determined pace.
- Spend more time with people
- Work from locations that foster my personal happiness and well-being. I spend a lot of time working from the mountains.
- Pay off a significant amount of debt at a pace that was healthy for me.
One of my favorite movies is a Justin Timberlake movie called “In Time.” For anyone thinking about pursuing FIRE, I highly recommend it. It takes place in the not-so-distant future where every hour worked is basically an exchange for life lived. Basically, it’s a much more entertaining explanation of the exchange of time for money a la Vicki Robin’s book “Your Money or Your Life.”
5. How did quitting your job impact your financial goals or timelines?
By leading with my life first, I’ve noticed that I have A LOT more energy to focus on creating a solid financial foundation. That foundation has been the key to accelerating debt payoff, investments, and savings in order to hit my FIRE number.
Because I’ve been living a FIRE lifestyle for 6 years now, I have the energy to grow the revenue of my business without financial stress. I earn more money than when I worked in a traditional job, and I’m a lot less stressed out.
This has allowed me to continue working toward my financial goals.
At this point, I’m basically done paying off over $60,000 in unsecured debt and now owe student loans and one other small debt. I’m also now able to aggressively accelerate my FIRE investment and savings goals.
I also own a property here in Denver that has appreciated quite nicely (thanks, Colorado real estate market)! I plan to use the rental income from this property as part of my future FIRE income as well.
My hope is to actually hit financial independence in the next 3-5 years. This is way earlier than what I was planning for prior to discovering Slow FIRE.
6. What enabled you to quit your job and stay self-employed?
There were three things that helped me move towards making these shifts.
- Community: I was connected with people who were doing the same thing. And, more importantly, I was connected with other POC who were actively designing their best lives.
- Education: I’m constantly learning about my money mindset, educating myself about how to earn more, investing, and taxes. I acknowledge that I came into this journey with a financial deficit, so learning is very important.
- Belief: I believe that it’s possible. I continue to build on the smaller wins in order to hit the bigger wins.
7. Were there things in your life you adapted so you could continue to work toward your goals?
The main thing I focused on was earning more so that I could pay off my debt faster. But, I didn’t want to compromise my quality of life.
As a result, I focused on how I could earn more in a lot less time. I decided to become more efficient about the time I spent working. This is the other reason why I pursue earning passive income in my business through fiction and nonfiction book sales, course sales, and affiliates.
Because I’m Slow FIRE, I always lead with my life first. The money is building up. I’ve also noticed that as my mental energy stabilized after leaving my 9-5. I was so much more able to focus on cleaning up and building my financial foundation without the stress of a full-time, traditional job.
8. Why and when do you think someone might consider a shift that will improve their life?
Pay attention to the areas in your life where you are dissatisfied.
It’s my view that FIRE is attractive to Americans, in particular, because we typically have very little time freedom in our personal and professional lives.
The past year (if you don’t have small kids) has problem given many people insight into the following:
- How much time freedom you like or dislike
- Whether you like working from home or from an office
- What it’s like to eliminate a commute from your life
- What you miss and truly enjoy in your life
I’d encourage you to use those insights to design your best life now.
Could you change jobs so that you can work remotely full-time or part-time? What benefits matter most to you? More PTO? Education Benefits? Do you want to start a business?
9. What advice do you have for someone considering a similar decision?
As I’ve said several times before – Lead with your life.
Be honest about what you’re willing to do to live your best life now.
Understand that not everyone will understand or approve of your decisions. I was very fortunate that most people were supportive of me. But, when I first purchased my awkward property many years ago, I was teased about it. That property has appreciated significantly and will provide me income as a rental. Or, if I decide to sell it, I will end up enjoying the appreciation in my wallet.
Even though I quit my job before starting my business, I’d definitely encourage you to start while you’re working in a stable career. You will experience a lot less pressure to succeed when you have “guaranteed” income coming in. Also, the majority of the skills that you will end up using in your business are likely being developed and cultivated at your current job.
I actually waited two years before taking the leap into living my purposely designed life. While that wait was excruciatingly painful, by the time I leaped I was VERY clear on what I wanted for myself. I also knew how to make money online. However, to be candid, it would take years for me to develop a business flow that brought in income consistently. It was very stressful, and I’d want you to be prepared for it.
Lower your living expenses thoughtfully and focus on earning more. Use technology to help you reach your goals and simplify the process.
Thank you so much, Michelle, for sharing your story with us!
There are so many things that I learned from this Slow FI interview. My favorite quote from Michelle is, “Lead with Your Life.”
My interpretation of that statement is that you, first, decide what you want your life to look like. Then, you figure out how the money pieces will work. You ask:
- How much does this lifestyle actually cost?
- What kinds of career structures can support the flexibility I want?
- How can I start making shifts now and adjust over time?
So many people think that they need to be fully financially independent to have the level of freedom that Michelle has to work on personal projects, travel, and spend time hiking and outdoors.
The reality is that she led with her life even as she was still paying off debt. AND, these choices have actually accelerated her path to FI.
Michelle is a life-long learner and she used all of the tools at her disposal, including:
- Frugality: She looked at her spending and asked, “How can I still get high quality goods and services but pay less?” She’s figured out how to optimize her spending on food, her primary residence, transportation, technology, and travel.
- Building a variety of income streams: In Michelle’s list above, you’ll see that she has 9 different income streams – everything from freelance writing to blogging/podcasting to writing ebooks to teaching others to write ebooks. I love how she describes the benefit of having many different income streams: “I love that I can lean into whatever inspires me and what excites me intellectually at the moment.”
- Efficiency: Michelle has focused on how she can make more money in less time. She has built up some income that is completely passive and runs on its own. Other times, she uses technology to support her ability to generate more income in less time.
All of these strategies are clearly paying off for her. She’ll pay off her remaining debt and reach full financial independence in 3-5 years!
Michelle shows us how it’s possible to start living your best life before reaching FI. Financial freedom is not all or nothing, and you can use the freedom you gain along the way to design your life.
If you’d like to continue following Michelle’s Journey, you can do so in the following ways:
- Blog and Podcast: https://michelleismoneyhungry.com
- Twitter: @MichLovesMoney