How to Achieve Lifestyle Goals through Freelancing, with Miranda Marquit
Welcome to The MapleMoney Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their finances to create lasting financial freedom. I’m your host, Tom Drake, the founder of MapleMoney, where I’ve been writing about all things related to personal finance since 2009.
How many hours are you working every week? Do you sometimes feel as though your career is getting in the way of the things you love to spend time doing outside of work? What if there was a way to balance the two?
This week’s guest is making her 3rd appearance here on The MapleMoney Show. Miranda Marquit is a successful freelance writer. But success for Miranda doesn’t equate to making more money or landing the most prestigious jobs. Instead, she leverages the flexibility that freelancing offers to design her ideal lifestyle.
Miranda explains how being a freelancer allows her to schedule her work around her many pursuits. Not only does she love to travel and be outdoors, she spends a lot of time volunteering in her community, and recently ran for public office. According to Miranda, none of it would be possible if she was tied down to a corporate 9-5 job.
Miranda shares some tips for designing the kind of life you don’t want to retire from, and lists several benefits of freelancing as a career. Of course, we also touch on the downsides of working for yourself. After all, there’s still plenty of work to do.
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- The lifestyle benefits of freelancing
- You don’t need a journalism degree to be a freelance writer
- Design the kind of life you don’t want to retire from
- There are many ways to create an independent lifestyle
- The benefit of not tying income to the number of hours worked
- You need a certain level of discipline to work for yourself
- The challenges of balancing a 40-hour work week with passion projects
- The downsides of living the freelance lifestyle
How many hours are you working every week? Do you sometimes feel as though your career is getting in the way of your ideal lifestyle? What if there was a way to balance the two? This week’s guest is making her third appearance here on the Maple Money Show. Miranda Marquardt is a successful freelance writer but success for Miranda doesn’t equate to making more money or landing the most prestigious jobs. Instead, she leverages the flexibility that freelancing offers, to design her ideal lifestyle.
Welcome to the Maple Money Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their personal finances to create lasting financial freedom. Do you prefer to invest in socially responsible companies? If so, our sponsor, Wealthsimple, will help you build a portfolio that focuses on low carbon, cleantech, human rights and the environment. To get started with socially responsible investing, head over to maplemoney.com/wealthsimple today. Now, let’s chat with Miranda…
Tom: Hi, Miranda, welcome back to the Maple Money Show.
Miranda: Thank you so much for having me on. This is one of my very favorite places to be.
Tom: Well, I’m glad to have you back. We were joking just before the episode that this is your third, full, guest spot and that ties you with Martin Dasko, who just had his third as well. But you do have a slight tie breaker in that you were on a panel one time as part of FINCON so you kind of have three and a half. Maybe you could even call it four.
Miranda: Well, whatever it is, it means I’m ahead of Martin and that’s what matters at this juncture.
Tom: You guys have a competition starting here?
Miranda: Yeah. I’m going to go on Twitter and start some beef with Martin. It’s going to be fun.
Tom: We’ve talked on various episodes about freelancing and the benefits from an income side and breaking out of the career mold that a lot of people are in. What I found interesting (that I see a lot with you especially) is it’s not just the money side. There’s also a lifestyle side to this where you’re able to do more things. You’re not trapped in that Monday to Friday where you have to be at a desk. You can pick and choose your times mostly. I assume you have deadlines and such.
Miranda: Yeah… ah, what are deadlines? (laughs).
Tom: One of the things I think inspired a lot of people was Tim Ferriss had the book, The 4-Hour Work Week. Have you read that? And if so, how did that shape things for you at that point?
Miranda: The 4-Hour Work Week was one of the things that really got me thinking about the term, lifestyle design. Tim goes into great detail about how to design your lifestyle. Now, I do not have it down to a 4-hour work week. That’s not what I’ve got. But it really got me thinking about how I want my life to look and what I want to be able to do with my life and what things do I want to prioritize in my life? That book started me thinking about that—how do I create that lifestyle? How do I design that lifestyle? I use that as kind of an impetus to start saying, “Okay, this freelancing can help me move things around and do what I want to do during the week and weekend,” so I’m going to create a lifestyle I really enjoy that gives me fulfillment. I’m always busy. I’m always doing stuff as you well know. I’m probably doing more than I should and overcommitting but there is stuff I’m passionate about and stuff I want to do—stuff I couldn’t do if I were sitting behind a desk from 9:00 to 5:00.
Tom: If someone hasn’t caught your past episodes here on the podcast, what is it you do, and how did that come about?
Miranda: I write about money on the Internet. I’m a freelance writer. I provide content for various clients. I’ve done work for Forbes, TD Ameritrade and any number of websites that need financial content. People pay me to write. It’s nice. I do have a journalism degree. You don’t need a journalism degree to be a freelance writer. You can go back and listen to our episode about freelancing to learn a little bit more about that. I started writing in order to stay home with my son while my (then) husband was getting his PhD. I wanted a way to be there for my son while he was growing up and while my (then) husband was getting his PhD. Now, of course, my son is an adult. He’s 18 and I don’t have a husband anymore. We’re divorced. There’s a lot of life changes there but through all of those life changes, the freelancing has been there and has provided me with the flexibility and the income to be able to continue to design that lifestyle. Even while I was a single mom, I was able to support and raise my son and do so in a flexible manner so I could be there for him.
Tom: I like that you mentioned you don’t need a degree because if someone’s listening to this, it’s good to know that because some people think they need a certain education for anything, really. Even with a regular job you’re wondering what the qualifications are. And I’ve got to say, as someone that’s hired various writers and editors and assistants, I’ve never once asked or looked at what their education was. It’s more about experience, samples. It’s not really as important as it used to be. Even in some careers, just in technology in general, I hear more and more they care less and less about the education side of it. It’s basically, what can you do right now?
Miranda: Yeah, I think that’s a really good point. I’ve chosen freelance writing as my path, mostly because I’m good at writing and that’s what I did for school. I kind of chose that as my path but there are other ways to do this; design this lifestyle and start moving into that independent way of living—creating a lifestyle you enjoy. I like to say I have nothing against the FIRE movement. I love people in the FIRE movement. I think it’s great but my goal has always been to just create a life that I don’t want to retire from. You can do that even if you choose not to write. There are other ways you can do that. I’ve recently been talking to people who have been doing real estate investing. You don’t need a special degree to do that either. You don’t need a special degree if you want to do something like pet sitting or house sitting. There are a lot of people I know that do those things as well to create an independent lifestyle. There are a lot of different paths you can take. The key is finding something like you mentioned with some experience, knowledge or some of expertise so you can move forward and say, “Okay, I can take this, translate it into translated into money and then translate it into a way of working around my own schedule. And then building my life around what I want to build my life around and fueling it with the money. A lot of people say they have an income goal but they forget about a lifestyle goal. I prefer to have lifestyle goals. I don’t make as much money as other people do. I’ve talked to other freelancers and I’m at the low-end of that six figure range. And part of it’s because I don’t have income goals. I don’t care if I’m making more money each month. What I’m more concerned about are my lifestyle goals . I use my money to fuel those lifestyle goals. I figure out what I need to fuel my lifestyle goals and that’s the number I go for, rather than just try to make more money, for more money sake.
Tom: I know you don’t work 40 hours a week on your business. You’re freelancing, so you’ve made that choice. You could ramp it up to 40 hours. You could write like a machine and you could make a lot of money but that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about the idea of having room for the things you’re more passionate about. You mentioned the FIRE movement. People talk about financial independence but I kind of like the idea of location independence. It doesn’t have to be that you’ve retired and not doing anything. It’s the ability to be anywhere and do your job. Nowadays, thanks to Covid, that even applies to regular careers. Companies have been so much faster to adapt to this, where I think it probably would take them 10 more years doing it naturally. Instead, they’ve had to jump up and get used to all this technology and location independence.
Miranda: I like that point, too. What I would like to see, even going beyond that location independence, is the way we think about what has to be accomplished in a workday and shift. The other nice thing I like about freelancing is the shift is not tied to hours worked. It doesn’t tie your financial situation to how many hours you work. Freelancing ties your money to the product or the outcome. It doesn’t matter how much time I spend on an article. What matters is that I turn in the article and it does what it needs to do. I did spend two years working for Student Loan Hero, which is a startup. It was bought by Lending Tree a couple of years ago. Everybody was shocked when I decided to do that. I still kept some of my freelance clients. Student Loan Hero’s is wonderful to work for. But the thing that I loved about Student Loan Hero is they weren’t super interested in us clocking our hours. They were interested in us getting our stuff done. It doesn’t matter if you’re spending eight hours a day if you can get it done in four hours. What I’d really like to see as our next step in the evolution of work—these jobs you can do sitting behind a desk in an office, the next step in that evolution is to stop tying it to your hourly and give you a living salary based on accomplishing what you set out to accomplish. They’ve done studies, right? You can find study after study that shows people working an eight hour day wasting four or five hours of it. Why are we forcing people to do that? I’m really hoping that Covid brings out that location independence but also takes us to that next step in our work evolution. That’s one of the reasons why I like freelancing. It’s not about the time I put in. It’s about the quality of the products that I put out. It’s about actually accomplishing what I’m supposed to be accomplishing. Tying that to an hourly rate just keeps you from being able to design your lifestyle.
Tom: What you said about people not using their full eight hours in a career reminds me of 10 years ago. I would get in trouble if I if I wandered in five minutes late and there was this other girl that was working in the same department who would come in an hour early, and it looked good. But all she did was wander around, talk to everybody, the usual corporate watercooler kind of talk. She was praised for being there early but she wasn’t actually working. I would come in like five minutes late and hear about that but result-wise, I know I was doing more. So I definitely like the newer direction towards that—where you’re not actually paying someone for the minutes used, it’s the results.
Miranda: I think that’s why a lot of people like to gravitate toward freelancing or real estate, house flipping, things like that. That’s one of the things I liked about working for Student Loan Hero, they took that approach. If you hire people, treat them right and have clear expectations of what you want done, it doesn’t matter when they do it or how long it takes. While I was working for Student Loan Hero, technically speaking, all of my stuff was supposed to be done by Friday evening. But I talked to my editors and they said, “Well, we’re not going to look at it until Monday morning, so we don’t care,” so I actually just talked to them. Everybody was cool with me if I needed to finish something up on a Saturday because I wanted to go hiking on a Wednesday. Nobody cared. As long as my editor woke up Monday morning and what was supposed to be done was sitting in their box, who cares whether it got there by 5:00 p.m., Friday? Nobody cared.
Tom: That makes sense too. It’s just reasonable. And people haven’t always been reasonable. You’d have those end-of-Friday deadlines yet everything is going to sit there for two days.
Miranda: Yes, so it was just really refreshing to kind of work in that environment because you can design it. I actually don’t mind working on the weekends. A couple of weeks ago I went and visited another freelancer, a friend of mine, Ben, in Salt Lake. He had just bought a new house and we just thought it would be nice to hang out and do some work. We did a little bit of work in the morning but then spent the rest of day hiking and went for a nice dinner. I may have to write an article Saturday morning, but I don’t care because when I went hiking on Wednesday, the trail wasn’t clogged with weekend warriors trying to get in there. We had a nice hike. There wasn’t anybody around. It’s the same thing with another friend of mine. We went to a very popular hot springs here in Idaho, in December. We went up Thursday evening, spent the night, then we got up Friday morning and hiked up to the hot springs to hang out. There weren’t very many people. We were talking to a couple of other people who had been to this hot springs before on the weekend who said by the time you get to Saturday, Saturday’s a mess. But Friday during the day, nobody’s left their office yet. They’re still on that last day of work. So we were able to just really relax, enjoy it and not have it be crowded. I really like the flexibility I have to do that. I can do that during the week. It’s a much more pleasant experience. I don’t care if I work on the weekend because I’ve already had a good week.
Tom: Can that kind of flexibility sometimes be a problem? I could see a lot of different personality types where if you keep pushing that down the road because you want to go on those hikes and you want to go to the hot springs, that all of a sudden you do hit those deadlines. In the case of your job, where maybe you’ve pushed too much to the weekend, does that happen?
Miranda: It does, yeah. Sometimes there’s a little bit of that. One thing I do like to do is batch days. Monday is a day I keep fairly free of meetings. I don’t do client meetings. If there is a meeting to be had, it’s not going to be on a Monday. I like to keep Mondays open and I actually try to do most of my writing on a Monday. It’s the first of the week. I do as much writing as I can that day. That way if I have to move something around, I can move something around. If there’s a gap, I can make gaps if I need to. I try and find a day or two of the week where I can just batch stuff and try to get things done a little bit earlier. Now, it’s been a little bit weird. I know we’re all suffering with the Covid and our attention is everywhere, so I have missed more deadlines recently. But everybody seems to be very understanding of that. And as long as I get it done within a couple of days, most of the stuff that I work on is not like super time-sensitive.
Tom: I should say, too, that if someone’s thinking of a different opportunity to make money, whether it’s driving for Uber, walking dogs or whatever, you still have the same issues even if you’re not working to a deadline. I have this issue as someone running a business where it’s tough when you don’t have a boss. If you don’t have self-imposed deadlines, things do slip. Even in my case and others, I would suggest you give yourself these deadlines. You’re putting most of your work into a Monday which is a self-imposed deadline. You’re saying, “I want to get this work done this day so it doesn’t get chaotic later.”
Miranda: Yes, exactly. You do have to have a level of discipline if you work for yourself. You gave that example of driving for Uber, doing Insta-Cart or something like that. You can do that. And yes, you get to choose your hours but you also have to be aware that at some point you’re going to have to pay the bills and if you keep putting something off so you’re not making the money, you’re not going be able to pay the bills. There is still that element of, yes, even though I have a lot of freedom and flexibility in my lifestyle and I really like my lifestyle, there are days when I’m just sitting here thinking, “Do I really want to deal with this article on insurance? No, no, I do not. I hate doing this, but it has to be done.” There are still going to be things that you don’t want to do, that you have to do. That’s what being an adult is in this life. Isn’t that what that is? There’s still always something you’re going to have to do. Even people who are FIRE and they’re retired, at some point there’s still some task they have to do—some adult thing they have to do to continue paying the bills or making sure something gets done on time. There’s always going to be that aspect. And yes, that is one of the biggest things I’ve had. Actually, it’s funny you mentioned this because February has been the worst. It’s the shortest month, yet I’ve done the worst at putting things off. I just have had so many other things I’m interested in doing. There’s a lot of volunteer stuff that’s going on right now. We’re trying to save the soup kitchen. But really, most of what I’ve been putting off lately has been dealing with these volunteer things that I do. I say, “Oh, no, I’m just going to focus on this or focus on that.” I have put off a lot of work. I’m looking at a calendar over here. You can’t see me if you’re listening to this but looking at my calendar I can see I’m running out of time. This February, I did overburden myself in a way and I am going to have a very rough few days.
Tom: Well, thanks for taking the time to do this.
Miranda: Well, I’m happy to push off another insurance article to talk to you.
Tom: You touched on it a bit, but just so people understand the trade-off, can you give some examples of some of the things you’ve been involved in lately because your freelance career has given you the extra time for passions you can put some effort into?
Miranda: I mentioned the soup kitchen briefly. I’m trying to figure out a feasible way to move forward with that. And I’ve also been involved in local politics. I did run for office. Having a nine to five job would make that very difficult. Running for office is actually detrimental to jobs. I live in the US. We have what’s called, “right to work” states and Idaho, of course, is one of them which means they can fire you for any reason. In other developed countries you have to have a reason before you can fire somebody. Anyway, a lot of people don’t run for office here because if they are running for office with a political party and their boss doesn’t like it, they can be fired. That’s another thing I don’t have to worry about. I’m not employed by anybody here in town so I don’t have to worry about getting fired because of what I do or say running for office. That’s been a very big thing for me as well. Being involved locally, civically engaged, is very important to me personally. Am I always busy? Am I always running around and doing stuff? Yes, but it’s stuff I’m not getting paid for. It’s stuff I’m going to do because I’m passionate about it. I wouldn’t have time to do it if were a job. And the other thing too, I just got added to the local Habitat for Humanity board.
Tom: This is great too because when someone has some free time, that’s when they realize what their passions are. If you’re working 40 hours or more, there’s a lot of career minded people I’ve seen that might work 60 hours just to climb that corporate ladder. When you’re doing that, you probably don’t even know what your interests are because you just sort of living the job and there’s no time for anything else.
Miranda: Yeah. The other thing you run into too is if you’re working all the time, you’re just too tired to do stuff. You might want to try and make a difference but you’re just too tired. And if you have kids, by the time you’ve gone to sports practice and done the band concert and worked a 40 hour work week, where do you have time for your passions? I love podcasting. I love that I can podcast. I can work on writing about things I want to write about rather than this boring, dry stuff I do for clients. That plays into it as well. I have the ability to choose that outlet. Also, I’m kind of interested in people around town that I can meet and have interesting conversations with. It really gives you that flexibility to explore your passions, get involved and do really what gives you a sense of fulfillment and purpose.
Tom: Any time on the podcast, on the blog, when we cover anything about making money online, I always want to throw a little water on it. It’s not selling the dream. It’s not your feet kicked up on the beach with your laptop. I think some people listening to this might have that image in their head, that this is maybe a little too cheesy—that this isn’t a real thing. But you mentioned earlier, this is still actual work. This you may not be working 40 hours, but you’re still working hard. You’re having to fit it into certain work blocks. This isn’t just easy money. You have to put some time in.
Miranda: Yes, I spent several years building up freelance clientele. I spent a lot of years writing. I think we talked about this on one of the freelance writing episodes, writing for peanuts. It takes time to build that up. Any time you do anything like this, you have to build it up. You have to put in a lot of hard work. Like this past summer… My family does a lot of camping and between running for office and finishing up my MBA, and, of course, keeping up with my work, normally I would take a couple of days and just go camping with my extended family and not take my computer. Well, this time around, making sure I got my work done, I did, in fact, have to take the computer. Instead of camping at the campsite, I got nearby airbnbs. My family camped at this place called Stanley, Idaho. It’s just beautiful with absolutely gorgeous places to camp. It didn’t have Internet access. No cell signal, nothing. But what I did was get an airbnb during the duration of this camping trip in Stanley, which was about a 25 minute drive from the campsite they were at. I did get to sit out on an Adirondack chair and look at the beautiful mountains and do my work but, I was still having to do my work. I would get up in the morning, get all the work done and send it off. The airbnb, of course, had Wi-Fi. I’d get it all sent off then drive 25 minutes to hang out with my family at their campsite. We’d do the fishing, the hiking—we’d do all those things. But sometimes, when you’re doing this you don’t always get what people think of as a “vacation” or a “weekend.” You have to be willing to check your email during the day. I may not want to, but I have to check it. I have to build up my business. I have to make sure I’m doing some advertising. I have to make sure I’m applying for gigs. There’s a lot of stuff you have to do to make sure it’s working, make sure you’re moving forward with it and make sure you’re supporting that. And then, of course, you have to make sure you have an IRA, an individual retirement account. You have to make sure you’re saving for your own benefits. There’s no 401k match here. There’s no health care. For my Canadian friends, there is no one helping you with your RRSP. Nobody’s helping you with that stuff. You have to be able to do it on your own. Someday I’m going to move to Canada just for the TFSA, honestly. Although we have the HSA now and that’s pretty damn close. The HSA is just fantastic. That’s actually pretty close to the TFSA. Let’s hope I never have to use it on health care expenses because I really want it to be tax free. You have to kind of create your own benefits package. You don’t get paid vacation. And that’s the thing, right? If you’re doing what I’m doing, I have a lot of freedom and flexibility. That’s what matters the most to me, but I don’t get paid vacation. If I am not getting my stuff done, I’m not getting paid.
Tom: And that’s a good thing to mention too. Sometimes feet kicked up on the beach with a laptop is true. But remember, the laptops there. They’re working. It’s not that they’re enjoying themselves while the money rolls in. There’s still work involved. Do you want your vacation to include that laptop where you have to still put in the work? That is the case a lot of times. Like you said, you don’t get a paid vacation. So, if you want to make money the week you’re on vacation, you have to work that week.
Miranda: Yeah, it just comes down to figuring out where the priority is. The downside—and this is to sound really whiny and stupid, but it is another downside. I basically live in this alternate reality from the people around me. If I want to go on a trip, I can just go on a trip. Like my bestie, works a real job and has 14 days of paid vacation. If my bestie and I are trying to arrange going on a cruise together like we did a couple of years ago for Christmas, we spent more time trying to figure out how to maximize her vacation days over the course of the holiday… “If we go on this departure date, then we get the weekend plus Christmas added in.” That way she doesn’t have to take as many days off for her vacation. The other downside is trying to find people who have the same level of flexibility. I don’t mind solo travel. I solo travel quite a lot. I do have a friend who lives a few hours away from me, but he also has a location independent work situation which means he can work from anywhere. He works from home. We were able to go on a two week road trip because that is somebody I actually connected with who has the same lifestyle. That’s kind of a challenge too—finding others who have that same lifestyle.
Tom: Yeah, for sure. This has been great. I think we’ve given fair balance to—
Miranda: You have to work, guys. It’s not easy.
Tom: Yeah. You can free up some time and focus on what you’re interested in but there’s still work involved in this. Can you let people know where they can find you online? And also tell them about your course. I think it would be a great option for someone who might be interested in this freelance writing possibility.
Miranda: If you’re interested in learning about freelance writing, go to freelancewriteracademy.com. You can sign up for courses. We have bundles. It’s not just courses. Every time you sign up, you get a one-on-one coaching session. We have monthly Q&A’s that are group Q&A’s, so come join us. We actually just had one not too long ago with some really good questions. We also do expert webinars where we have experts come in to talk about things like how to find jobs using social media. If you buy a course, you also get access to that stuff. Once the course is over, you can choose whether or not you want to remain a member of the academy for a small monthly fee. We have a private Facebook group where we post job opportunities. Actually, somebody approached me and said, “I’m looking for a grant writer,” and I said, “I don’t have time to do the grant writing but I know there is somebody from the academy who has experience grant writing,” and I connected them. Being a member of the academy also gets you those connections. It’s been fun. We’ve really enjoyed doing it. Just go to freelancewriteracademy.com. Then, of course, you can find me mirandamarquardt.com. I occasionally post there. Not as much as I’d like to. And you can find me on Twitter @mmarquardt. I don’t use my full name because there is a dude squatting on it. That’s also my Instagram handle. So you can find me on Twitter and Instagram @mmarquardt.
Tom: Great, thanks for being on the show.
Miranda: Thanks so much for having me again.
Thank you, Miranda, for showing us how you achieve a balanced lifestyle through freelancing and for giving us an idea of what a typical week looks like. You can find the show notes for this episode at maplemoney.com/141. Are you a member of the Maple Money Facebook community? If not, I’d love to connect with you there. It’s a great place to ask a question or share a recent money win to encourage others. To join, head over to maplemoney.com/community to share with the group. Thanks, as always, for listening. I’m working on some great episodes and, of course, I’ll see you back here next week.