This is what I learned from a recent conversation with 29-year-old Lauren Bowling, a personal finance blogger and creator of "L Bee and the Money Tree." I first met Lauren at an event last fall in D.C., and was taken with her energy and passion. I had to know more! So, I recently caught up with Lauren to get her backstory.
After getting a free ride to college courtesy of her parents, Lauren was fortunate enough to graduate without student-loan debt. But while her parents were working hard to put her through college, Lauren had become a shopaholic, and racked up $10,000 in credit card debt during her college tenure. When her parents, who didn't even know she had a credit card, saw her credit-card statement, they were shocked and told her there was going to be no parental bailout. She had to rein in her spending, live on a budget, and pay down her debt on her own.
That proved difficult as Lauren, a Georgia native and a theater major, had moved to New York City after graduating to pursue an acting career. She realized pretty quickly that chasing her dream of stage and screen would be difficult given the debt she needed to pay off along with the cost of living in the Big Apple. Having three roommates helped, but it wasn't going to be enough.
To make ends meet, Lauren put her acting plans on hold and took an entry-level job at a hedge fund. She didn't particularly like the work, but it paid better than her acting gigs and the steady income was necessary to make a dent in her debt. She stuck it out for about a year and a half, just long enough to pay off the debt (it took her 14 months) and save some money. She sometimes clocked 12-hour work days and lived on a strict budget, not easy to do in the city that never sleeps! "All my friends were out auditioning, taking classes and pursuing their dreams, and I was stuck, chained to a desk," Lauren told me.
Debt paid and money saved, Lauren decided to quit the hedge fund job to pursue her dream of Broadway. But she quickly realized that her career ambitions had changed. Acting, with its constant auditions and low-paying gigs, no longer seemed like her dream job or the way she wanted to make a living. "Money stress isn't good for me," she said.
Lauren soon packed her bags and left New York for Atlanta, getting back to her roots—and to a less expensive city. While exploring her options she came across an article on "ways to stay sharp" between jobs. One tip was to start a blog to hone writing skills. Lauren, who had become interested in writing as a creative outlet, thought, why not? But what to blog about? Having just gotten herself out of mounds of debt, sharing her experience around saving and budgeting seemed like a great place for her to start. Lauren created "L Bee and The Money Tree" in May 2012.
Lauren first planned to blog as a "side hustle," but it quickly found a following among women and couples in their 20s and 30s who struggled with debt and savings. A mix of candor and practical tips from Lauren seems to be what makes her blog so popular.
Blogging is now Lauren's full-time job—and she couldn't be happier. But it didn't happen overnight. It took her years of hard work to not only establish her online presence, but also to earn a living doing it. As a result, Lauren can now pay the bills and socks away $500 most months for retirement. She's making a living on her own terms, working less than 30 hours a week from home with her dog by her side. And the most interesting part? In her spare time Lauren participates in community and semiprofessional theater. Sometimes your passion is better as a hobby than a career choice!
After hearing Lauren's story, I realized there are many paths to finding a dream job, and for many there is more to it than just following your passion. These are the three tips I took away from my conversation with Lauren:
- Reality Check. When Lauren was left to pay off her debt on her own, she had to take stock of her situation. Getting occasional acting gigs here and there wasn't going to help her get out of debt. Facing reality, she set aside her dreams of making it big on Broadway, but this shift not only led her to take control of her life, it also helped her to figure out what she really wanted out of a career as opposed to a hobby.
- Commitment. Lauren stuck it out in a job she didn't like for more than a year to pay off her credit card debt. It wasn't easy, but sticking with it helped her to reach her goal of being debt-free – and ultimately led her to realize what she wanted for her career.
- Time. Once Lauren started her blog, she worked diligently to hone her voice and find an audience. At one point Lauren said to me, "People think I just opened my laptop yesterday and this all happened overnight, but I've been working for four years on this blog and building it to the point where it is today. It has been a lot of work." While it may seem like overnight success to many, it takes time to figure out what you want—and then a bit longer to make it work.
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