I’ve been following Lance’s story and his blog, Money Manifesto, since back in 2012. At the time, Corey (Mr. Fioneer) ran another personal finance blog. Lance was one of his closest “blogger friends.”
They’ve spent time together over the years at various conferences and events. While I wasn’t much of a blog reader at the time, I always heard about Lance’s story.
In 2014, I decided to tag along to FinCon, a financial media conference, when it was in New Orleans. While sightseeing was my focus. I did have the opportunity to meet some of Corey’s blogging friends, including Lance, for dinners and after-hours meet-ups.
While Corey and I had similar lives to Lance and his wife, Victoria, up until that point, our paths began to diverge.
Corey had previously worked a pretty easy full-time job in a university library, which afforded him free tuition, a paycheck, and ample time to work on his blog during work hours. Around this time, he left the university to shift into a more demanding career in nonprofit operations. This shift left Corey with less time and mental energy to focus on his previous blog.
In contrast, around this time, Lance decided to shift out of a career in finance and accounting and start his own business focused on his blog and freelance writing.
Over the last several years, it’s been great to hear about the many life changes that Lance and his family have experienced. Not only did Lance shift to full-time writing, but he and Victoria also now have a son. Victoria decided to work part-time and recently decided to leave her job completely.
It’s also been great to see Lance’s blog grow over time. It’s one thing to read about the journey of a blogger you’ve never met. It’s completely different when it’s someone you know in real life.
When I read online about people doing interesting things – starting blogs, writing for big sites, traveling the world, etc. – it often feels like these people are so much different than me. My next thought is usually something like, “So, therefore, I could never do that.” Sometimes, people online can seem superhuman.
Getting to know Lance as a person first and a blogger second over the years has helped me to understand that these awesome people online doing interesting things are just regular people. These same things are also within my grasp.
Lance’s story is a prime example of the Slow FI philosophy. When someone pursues Slow FI, early retirement is not necessarily their focus. They focus on using the financial freedom they gain along the journey to make small shifts and live a better life now.
Some people pursue Slow FI by working part-time. Others do this by finding a job they’ll enjoy more even if it pays less. Some even choose to take an extended time away from work to figure out what they want out of life.
There are so many options for how we can utilize financial freedom now.
Let’s check out Lance’s story!
1. Tell me a little bit about you.
I’m Lance Cothern and I run the personal finance blog Money Manifesto. I’m also a freelance writer for sites like Credit Karma and U.S. News & World Report among many others.
I graduated from college in 2009 with an accounting degree and then earned my CPA license in Virginia about a year later. I worked at public accounting firms for a couple of years doing audits, taxes and consulting before moving into corporate accounting.
Around the same time I started working in corporate accounting, I started my blog for fun and with hopes of making a bit of extra money. My blog and my freelance writing eventually turned into my full-time gig when I left my corporate accounting job in late 2015.
Along the way, I got married to my wife and we now have an almost-three-year-old son. We live in Panama City Beach, Florida which isn’t super expensive but isn’t dirt cheap, either.
2. What deliberate decisions have you made to slow down and improve your life? Why did you make these decisions?
There were four big decisions to slow down and improve our lives over the last few years. One of them was involuntary but ended up being a blessing in disguise.
The first was leaving my corporate accounting job to focus on my blog and freelance writing. Working at a job from 7 AM to 4 PM Monday through Friday paid decently, but I always felt bad asking for time off.
While I earned a decent salary, there weren’t any opportunities to move up unless I wanted to relocate and take a more demanding job. I didn’t want to do either of these things at the time.
Freelance writing and blogging allow me to work on my own terms. I can work at night, in the early morning or a few hours here and there throughout the day if I want. All that matters is that I meet my goals and my deadlines for my clients.
We made the leap when we did because we wanted to make sure being self-employed would work out before we had a kid. Thankfully, it worked and we had our son within a year after leaving my job.
The next big slow-down moment happened early last year. My wife is a Registered Nurse (RN) and was working full-time when I left my job. For her, this was three 12-hour night shifts each week. Working the night shift paid more but caused quite a bit of a hassle when it came to keeping a normal schedule.
Once we had our son, I quickly realized that I needed more time to focus on my business.
Because of this and my wife’s desire to spend more time at home with our son, she decided to downshift her work schedule. Instead of working three 12-hours shifts each week, she was now working three-to-four shifts every six weeks. She could also increase her shifts if she wished to.
We decided to stay with this schedule as it allowed me more time to grow my business.
Thankfully, my business grew pretty quickly, and my wife loved having more time at home with our son.
The third shift was out of our control. In October 2018, Hurricane Michael hit our county as a category 5 hurricane. While our house was relatively unscathed, friends, family, and my wife’s workplace weren’t so lucky.
My wife’s hospital shut down for three months, except for emergency services. It reopened roughly six months later at about 30% capacity. As part of this massive restructuring, my wife was laid off.
We no longer had the limited income from her working a few shifts a month. More importantly, we no longer had the option for her to pick up more shifts if we needed some extra money.
Thankfully, we had a full emergency fund. This hurricane really drove home the reason why we needed an emergency fund and the fact that they can actually save your life.
Rather than have her find another job, we decided to have me focus on growing my business even more. Things fell in place, and I was quickly making more than enough money to cover our expenses and much more.
The fourth decision to slow down is happening right now. When I was first growing my business, it was hard for me to say no to additional freelance work without the fallback of my wife’s income. I didn’t want to have a slow month where we didn’t earn enough to cover our expenses.
Unfortunately, that meant I had very little time to work on growing my own site, Money Manifesto. Instead, my freelance writing was taking up most of my time.
Now that things have calmed down and we’re in good financial shape, I’ve decided to cut back on my freelance writing a bit. This allows me to focus on growing my own blog.
I still plan to freelance write, and it’s an important part of my income, but I eventually would love to grow a big blog like Making Sense of Cents, The Penny Hoarder or Well Kept Wallet.
3. How have these decisions impacted your quality of life?
Every time we’ve made a big decision to slow down a bit (or the decision was made for us), our life improved in one way or another.
We have more time to spend with our family when we need or want to. I can take off any day of the week as long as my work is done. I don’t have to sit at the office clocking hours if I’m not being productive. If we want to take a vacation, I can work in the evenings or ask my clients for assignments in advance.
I’d say slowing down has provided us with more opportunities to do what we value most when we want to without feeling pressure from a job.
Of course, it isn’t all perfect. We make decisions to sacrifice things others wouldn’t dream of doing, but that’s because we don’t value them as much.
Many people purchase a new car every few years. We don’t. We hold on to our cars much longer than the average American.
While we still take vacations, we mainly do so when our credit card rewards can pay for them. When we cruise, we typically opt for cheaper cabins rather than a suite or balcony which would be more fun but much more costly. Instead, we enjoy the cruise ship and try to stay out of our cabin as much as possible.
We don’t have phones with unlimited data plans on Verizon. Instead, we have phones that are cheaper or a couple of generations out of date using Republic Wireless to save money.
4. How did these choices to become self-employed impact your financial goals or timelines?
One of the unanticipated impacts of slowing down is we still manage to make the money we need in one way or another. For the longest time, I had a scarcity mindset. I was worried that I wouldn’t make enough money to provide for our family. Thankfully, that hasn’t ever happened in our many years of big changes.
Will we achieve financial independence as fast as we would have if my wife was still working and my blogging and freelance writing business was pushed to the max?
No. But we wouldn’t get as much time to spend with each other, and I’m certain we would have burned out.
While I’d love to be financially independent now, I’m not in a position where I hate what I do and I need to escape as soon as possible.
Instead, I’m content with how I make money and I’m okay working a little bit less or refocusing my efforts to potentially earn more later.
If that delays financial independence by a few years, that’s ok. We’re making these decisions on our own terms, not someone else’s.
5. What enabled you to make these decisions to become self-employed (i.e. what financial or social context helped)?
Making these decisions didn’t come without some major sacrifices earlier in our lives. We had to build a very secure financial foundation so we could make these decisions without worrying about how to pay the bills.
The biggest thing that helped us be able to make all of these decisions was the fact that I found personal finance blogs when I was in college.
I started reading Get Rich Slowly and The Simple Dollar. Both of these sites helped me get started on the right financial foot right after college.
My parents paid half of my college costs, and I was able to win scholarships and work to cover the rest. I graduated without student loan debt. This had a huge impact on my finances directly after college, and I was very fortunate to have these resources.
Unfortunately, my wife wasn’t so lucky. She graduated with $80,000 of student loan debt which we worked to pay off within just three years of her graduating.
After that, we worked to build a fully stocked emergency fund and invest a lot of our leftover money.
We didn’t spend a ton of money decorating our homes, dining out, purchasing new cars or splurging in other areas until we were on solid financial ground. This allowed us to get a huge head start. It gave us the necessary foundation to take risks without worrying about how we’d pay for our expenses in the short-term.
6. I’d love to hear more about your decision to become self-employed. What steps did you take while you were still working in accounting to be able to make this a smooth transition?
While I had a great job with amazing co-workers and a decent company, my accounting job was just a way for me to make money. I was great at completing the tasks that needed to be completed, but the work didn’t inspire me.
If I continued moving up the ladder and growing my income, it would continue to be more difficult to leave my job to build my company.
Deciding to leave my day job in accounting was nerve-wracking, to say the least. I value stability in my life and accounting is a fairly stable career path. That said, there were plenty of ways we prepared to make sure we could financially survive after I left my full-time job.
First, we made sure we had a fully stocked six-month emergency fund in cash. To us, our emergency fund consisted of our usual monthly expenses, not a stripped-down, bare-bones budget.
This would allow us to continue living our lives as normal if my business completely failed and Victoria lost her job at the same time.
While we had a sizeable buffer, we wanted even more safety. To us, leaving a stable job was a huge risk even though I was already making a few thousand dollars per month blogging and freelance writing. So, we decided to save even more.
We didn’t want to keep the money in cash and risk losing money to inflation, so we decided to invest the additional money. We ended up accumulating an additional eight months’ worth of expenses in a taxable investment account.
This way, if the stock market declined, my blog imploded, and my wife lost her job all at the same time, we’d still be able to cover at least a full year’s worth of expenses. Looking back, this combination of events was extremely unlikely.
I also worked on diversifying the sources of income within my business. While I would have loved to make a full-time living from my blog alone, I knew it would take time to build.
For that reason, I decided to freelance write for other sites. This added a more stable source of income to my self-employment plans. In fact, I made sure I had multiple freelance writing clients. That way, if one let me go, I’d only lose a portion of my freelance writing income.
Even though I had made plans to leave my job for over a year before I finally did, it was extremely difficult to actually do it. I respected the people I worked with and didn’t want to disappoint them.
I attended FinCon, a conference for financial bloggers and media, in the fall of 2015. One of the keynote speakers, Tess Vigeland, spoke about her book Leap: Leaving a Job with No Plan B to Find the Career and Life You Really Want. This came at the perfect time for me.
I was considering leaving my job but was terrified. Audience members received a free copy of her book, which I devoured on a cruise a couple of weeks later.
It inspired me and helped me realize I was more than prepared to make the leap. A couple of weeks after we returned from our cruise I put in my two weeks’ notice.
The rest is history.
7. Why and when do you think someone might consider “downshifting?”
I believe downshifting is a great option if you can still meet your financial goals and live a better life overall.
So many people get so focused on reaching a certain goal by a certain date. With financial independence, that goal can seem totally consuming because it takes so much of your resources to make it happen.
If you’re trying to reach financial independence to escape something you really don’t like, consider downshifting and delaying your goal if you can do so while living a much happier life. You aren’t guaranteed tomorrow.
8. How did your pursuit of FI help or hinder these decisions?
While we’ve always pursued financial independence, we’ve never had a set date we were trying to achieve it by.
Every time we make a major decision, we take a look at how that could impact our future and when we’ll reach financial independence.
Normally, we’re making these decisions to live a better life now. Because of that, we’re okay if a decision delays financial independence by a reasonable amount of time.
The nice thing is, we normally forecast very conservatively. When things turn out better than expected, which they generally do, sometimes it doesn’t impact our financial independence date at all.
9. What advice do you have for someone considering making a similar decision to slow down their journey to FI?
My biggest piece of advice would be to look at the big picture. Chances are, you’re sacrificing something now to achieve FI faster.
But wouldn’t it be awesome if you got to take back some of those things you’re sacrificing? If they truly matter to you, will it matter if it delays FI a little bit?
I’m not talking about buying things as much as I’m talking about missing out on parts of people’s lives due to the time you can’t spend with others.
Don’t make reckless decisions, but do take into account what you can gain today against what you might lose later. And remember, things rarely ever turn out how you think they will.
Be aware of the potential opportunities that may come from your decision, but don’t necessarily count on them.
What a great interview with Lance!
He and his family have definitely experienced their fair share of transitions over the past few years.
- He transitioned from full-time work to self-employment.
- Their son was born, and Victoria decided to work part-time.
- Hurricane Michael hit, Victoria was laid off, and she decided not to find another job.
- Lance has been steadily building his business to the point where he can slow down the hustle for freelance work to focus more time and energy on his own blog.
Every one of these decisions improved their lives in different ways.
They were able to make these changes and take these risks because their finances were in order already. After paying off $80,000 of student loans in three years, they built up an emergency fund and began to invest.
They also paid close attention to what they value, so they could be intentional and spend money only on things that add value to their lives.
Everyone’s Slow FI journey is different, and each person needs to determine what next shifts will bring them happiness and fulfillment in their lives. For Lance, this was making the leap to freelance work and self-employment while continuing to build up his blog.
I love doing these Slow FI interviews because they open my eyes to the different options available. By understanding the different choices that people are making, I can make the right choices for my own journey.
For me, working part-time, so that I can put all of my creative energy into my own blog and passion projects, is currently the right decision for me.
Like Lance, we could reach financial independence more quickly, but why push ourselves to the point of burnout if we could enjoy our lives more along the way?
I absolutely love Lance’s advice: If you are sacrificing something that matters to you along your path to FI, figure out how to take it back. It’s not worth sacrificing it until you reach FI.
If you’d like to follow Lance’s journey, you can find him online in the following places:
- Blog: www.moneymanifesto.com
- Twitter: @money_manifesto
- Pinterest: www.pinterest/com/moneymanifesto
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/moneymanifesto
What are you sacrificing now that you could take back along your journey?