Tag Archives: Dave Ramsey

Megan Clark on successful self-employment

This guest post is written by Megan Clark, a successful entrepreneur in Vancouver, Washington. Megan and I clicked when we realized that we were both working on similarly aggressive financial goals for the year, and that we both have many opinions in the discussion of what is means to have the consistency of a 8-to-5 job  versus living in the autonomy of running your own freelance business. Megan is the Owner and Designer of Clark & Company, Founder of The Exceptional Creative and Co-Founder and Partner of hi, friend.

Photo: Jordan Philips


Being self-employed was something I always knew I would do; I assumed I would ease into it while working a full-time job elsewhere. Maybe over the course of five or ten years I would ramp up my own studio and finally take the leap, with a large stash of cash in the bank and tons of relevant design experience under my belt. As it turns out, the entire going-out-on-my-own process was majorly abbreviated and happened much sooner than anticipated. From the time there was any hint of something amiss at the ad agency I was working for as Junior Art Director to my last day and termination letter was a mere three weeks. I had only been out of school for two and a half years at that time.

Once I got over my immediate shock, the logistics of being laid off were the most overwhelming component by far. Where would I set up my office? How could I afford a new computer? What about a printer? Fax machine? Business cards? Health insurance? My investment accounts? Should I be collecting unemployment?

Drumming up business wasn’t easy either, but I considered it easier than answering all of the previously stated questions. While working at the ad agency, I worked nights and weekends with other clients; many small start-up companies who couldn’t afford a full-blown studio to do their work came to me. When I suddenly had a full-time schedule to fill I let them know I was available and word spread quickly. Many of them sent me more work and several passed my information along to others who needed my help.

Interestingly enough, it wasn’t until about six months later that I made the leap to commit 100% of my efforts to myself rather than sort of working for myself and sort of trying to find a “real job”, too. At that turning point I chose myself and I knew that the path ahead would be tumultuous, but equally rewarding.

Lesson Learned: Choose yourself.

About six months after that pivotal moment, a copy of The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey landed in my hands. I devoured it like a hungry, hungry hippo (or rhino, perhaps?). My husband and I have been working our way toward financial freedom since. We listed our debts smallest to largest and have paid off five of the six initially shown our our chart.

Our chart isn’t nearly as tidy as Spencer, but it does the trick. This thing’s already more than two years old. We might just frame it once we’re done. The smiley face stickers mean we’ve completed that particular debt. Five down, one to go!

Recently, I had the realization that for many the supposed security of a full-time gig working for someone else is actually a limitation in disguise. Yes, the check may auto-deposit into your account twice a month, but literally one-third of your time is consumed by your commitment. The other third is spent sleeping and that doesn’t leave much room for making money elsewhere.

Lesson Learned: Security = Limitation

By no means have I over-earned what I was making on salary at the agency every month, but over the course of a year I absolutely do. Generally speaking, when you work for yourself, the harder and longer you work the more you make. Not all hours are billable, obviously, but the rate at which one can bill when one is self-employed and an expert in one’s field is typically high enough that it compensates for the time spent on administrative duties, business planning, sales, and so forth. Free agent paychecks may be more sporadic and varying in amount than a regular payroll check, but they pay the bills just as well… and sometimes better.

Over the last three years I have started three different companies. (I’m planning to slow down in 2012, I think…) Each of these companies uses a different method for making money, but all fall into a overall model I’d like to develop. That model is illustrated by a quadrant. The “Revenue Quadrant” comes from The Free Agent Formula, a kit that’s a must-have for any free agent. Here’s what it looks like:

The Revenue Quadrant can be found in Chapter 3 of The Free Agent Formula, available here. Copyright Reach Group LLC.

Lesson Learned: Diversify your income streams.

A secondary tool my husband and I have worked with through our Total Money Makeover is called Whiteboard Accounting. This concept was introduced to me by Frank Chimero, a renowned illustrator and design thinker in Portland, Oregon.

The Whiteboard Accounting process is as follows (from Frank’s blog):
•    Buy a whiteboard. Any size you want. I’d say maybe something about 11×14”
•    Split it into 12 sections. These are months.
•    Figure out how much dough you need to make each month to meet costs. Don’t forget to set aside a bit of cash for retirement, savings, an emergency fund, money for buying the occasional cup of coffee out. If you’re super lazy and don’t feel like exerting effort, take your rent and multiply it by 5.
•    Have that number for each month? OK. Let’s say it’s $1,000. (Just for the sake of example.) In the box you’ve drawn for each month, you’d write $100 ten times. (One hundred bucks multiplied by ten is a thousand bucks. Get it? We’re visualizing our income!)
•    As you land jobs and as checks come in, you erase $100s from the board. I get an illustration gig. It pays $400. I erase 4 $100 off the board. Repeat ad nauseam.

The thing is, once you erase all the $100 in the month of January, you’re done. Stupid job comes into your inbox, but January is cleared out? Say no! Land a job on January 20th that you really want to take, but you’ve already cleared out the month? Start erasing 100s in February!

Frank described this on his blog (which you can read more of here), but I took it and made it my own. The original idea is to be implemented so you know when you can afford to say “NO” to work. In our case, Whiteboard Accounting is used so we can visualize our income goals and cross off our progress each month. If we over-earn our goals, first we say, “Hallelujah!” and draw a smiley face, then we take whatever is above and beyond and throw it toward the debt we’re on in our debt snowball.

Smiley faces are good. They mean that we over-earned our monthly income goal. Hallelujah!

My job has enabled us to get out of debt at an accelerated rate, but I love it for more reasons than that. I always say I’m ruined because I’ll never be able to work for anyone else… unless it’s an utterly perfect job. As it stands, I have the freedom, flexibility and control to make my job exactly what I’d like it to be. Decision-making is a breeze, relatively speaking. There are no meetings, committees or ballots necessary. Whatever I do, it’s something that I said “yes” to, not what I was volunteered for my someone above me.

It’s not all rainbows and butterflies, but it’s pretty darn good. The days I feel like a lone ranger, need to make a tough decision to delegate work, face budgeting challenges or realize I may never again enjoy a paid vacation or holiday, I remember why I chose myself all those years ago. That thought never fails to put a smile on my face and a spring in my step. I am doing what I love and it’s allowing my husband and I to achieve financial freedom.

Lesson Learned: If you love what you do, it will love you back.


Guest post written by Megan Clark.

Megan is the Owner and Designer of Clark & Company, Founder of The Exceptional Creative and Co-Founder and Partner of hi, friend. You can follow Megan on twitter: @clarkandcompany. Megan and her husband Bryce live in Vancouver, Washington.

Meg and Bryce Clark

Photo: Melissa Tomeoni

How do we do it?

There’s no question that we’re paying off a load of debt every month. It’s obvious that many of our peers, regardless of current job situation, are plugging away on minimum payments every month, headed for a ten- or twenty-year payoff date. Some do this while leasing new (“reliable!”) cars, gaining mortgages on big houses, and enjoying luxuries like vacations, eating/drinking out, and new electronics. (Caveat: I was a music major, so my friends from college who pursued the arts as a career are often literally hand to mouth, a situation I do not envy).

We’re big believers in the money management principles set forth in the Dave Ramsey / Total Money Makeover plan, known as the “Baby Steps.” After putting aside an emergency fund, you move toward paying off all of your debts smallest to largest in what’s known as a debt snowball, building psychological and financial momentum moving toward freeing up your money for investments, building wealth, and a lifestyle of extreme generosity.

Within a marriage, to work a generalization, one partner is often a spender (the “free spirit”) and the other is often a saver/numbers person (the “nerd”). Opposites attract, right? (This old clip gives a pretty succinct explanation.) It’s probably obvious to most people that I am the free spirit in this marriage, often buying things for all kinds of reasons… it will solve my problems, it will be fun, it will make a nice gift, it’s a good deal, it will come in handy, I will totally do that project when I have time. I discovered that I even buy things to prove to myself that I am “not poor.” As I started to think deeply into my motivations, the revelations started to make me blush. My relationship with money is rooted in feeling like there’s never enough DESPITE MY MIDDLE CLASS UPBRINGING, and is tied into a deep fear I cannot yet name. I suspect that having signed on for huge student loans I didn’t understand as one of my first independent adult choices fuels many lingering feelings of anger and frustration.

As we move through this year making intentional choices to live on less and eliminate extra expenses, I do not find myself less content than when I was ignorantly buying whatever I wanted in previous years. I’m focusing a lot of my energy on finding creative solutions when I want something, and learning to defer large purchases in order to Make Do with Less, or Old, or Borrowed. There is deep satisfaction in finding a good solution to a problem without having thrown money at the issue (an old habit I’d like to eradicate from my system).

When we talk with people about our project, I often find myself sharing a few bullet points:

  • We stopped buying things we don’t need.
  • We spend less on things we do need.
  • We spend more on certain things we value (locally sourced goods).
  • We carefully audit our entertainment options. Eating and drinking out is rare, as is spending money to do “fun” things. (Plenty to do in Portland for free!).
  • Ali makes me a sandwich every morning for lunch.
  • We use the library more. And public transportation [Ali]. Shared resources are wonderful.
  • We rent a fully furnished, small home. Without the need to fill space with furniture, and no place to store extra things, there is little motivation for aimless shopping trips. (This is a surprisingly helpful factor.) Also: no repair/maintenance costs and all utilities included is a huge point of savings.
  • I got a job. Our income is up, with a second steady paycheck to help supplement our debt snowball.

I’d like to talk more about Day Job versus Self Employment later. And Bringing Lunch. And Public Transportation. They all deserve their own little posts.

Final point for today: if you followed the link above, you may have noticed that the last baby step is to give generously. If the end point of the lifestyle was piles of wealth, I would not be on board with the program. Instead, the end point is the word “GIVE.” I love hearing Dave speak about this topic, because he gets almost giddy encouraging people to get rich and give it all away. I am excited and look forward to months in the near future when we have freed up funds to give more away in support of people doing Good in the world.

busting open the bread bag on the way home from the grocery store

This afternoon I was driving home from the Saturday errands and realized I was ravenously hungry. I’m one of those people who stops functioning when my blood sugar is low, so I NEED TO EAT when I feel hungry. As I drove out of the WinCo parking lot I noticed a Sonic next door. Before going on our “budget diet”, I would have pulled right up to the little order station and gotten hooked up with some tots and lime-cherry soda to tide me over until I got home. The hugeness of our financial goal means eating out is not really an option. [Ed. note: I just realized how gross fast food tater tots and soda are for a messed up metabolism! What was I thinking?!] And then… THEN I saw a Burgerville — a highly-regarded local chain that features locally sourced “slow” fast food and a seasonal menu in some ways similar to the relationship Californians have to In-N-Out. I was so tempted to pull over and try their food after hearing friends rave about it – and I was SOOO HUNGRY I could have easily justified it. Then I thought about Dave Ramsey and how he always counsels people trying to get out of debt “shouldn’t see the inside of a restaurant… unless [you’re] working there”

This story has an up-side. I had a little victory when I realized I could take some bread and hummus that I had just purchased fair and square with our grocery budget and make a nice and MUCH HEALTHIER snack for the 25 minute drive back home. Food budget victory! I would have never even thought about that before we put this budget into place and started heavily concentrating on ways to quickly eliminate our debt. Constantly treating yourself to small indulgences can become the equivalent of “death by paper cuts” in the financial world.

While we’re talking about food vignettes and in the spirit of transparency I should also admit that I had a food-related failure this week as well. There was one day this past week when I didn’t take my lunch break until 3:30pm and had to go back for the last 30 minutes of the day anyway. I was innocently going by the local library to pick up a book when I noticed that there was a McMenamins next door. I found myself heading inside to take advantage of happy hour at the bar — I ordered a beer and an appetizer. It was ‘only’ $7 with tip but it felt like a total rebellion because I was spending money for food I didn’t need to buy, and also because I was drinking a beer and then going back to work. A little like a decadent Mad Men-esque triple-martini lunch. Obviously I didn’t drink enough to even get tipsy or I would NOT be admitting this to the internet. I am sad that we are now $7 further away from meeting our $70k goal.

So there are my food stories of the week. Is this the equivalent of tweeting what I ate for breakfast? Or is it relevant enough to be interesting?

the last day of a very old year…

Ali and I are ready for the new year. We have lots of ideas, plans, and mischievous adventures ahead.

Here are a few notable moments from the second part of 2009:

1) In August and September, we tried a raw food diet for awhile, then switched to vegetarian eating habits for a month or so. Our bodies felt better taking a break from the preservatives, additives, and heavy oils common to an American diet. By the time Thanksgiving rolled around, we were back to a more “normal” western carnivore habits, but much more conscious of the food choices we make.

2) For the past couple of months we have been part of a financial management class and working some Dave Ramsey material. It’s good stuff! We now have a much more balanced and communicated plan for our long-term savings and goals, and I feel like I understand how money works better now. We both have a lot of school-related debt and hope to conquer this as soon as possible before buying a house.

3) We have been trying to simplify our lives as much as possible. There’s a GREAT new book out called “Unclutter your life in one week” that helped us sort through our STUFF as we pack up the house. We highly recommend it if you sometimes feel overwhelmed by all the stuff sitting around your home.

4) We have vacated Massachusetts! For the past year we have LOVED our home in Lowell, north of Boston – but when our lease came up for renewal and Ali’s job was no longer leaving him satisfied, we knew it was time to move on. We’ve been formulating a plan and started applying for jobs abroad, and most of December was spent tying up all of our projects in Massachusetts.

Ali and I have been on a giant holiday roadtrip from December 15-28. We started in Pennsylvania and Ohio, then headed south to Tennessee and Louisiana. We spent Christmas in Dallas, spent a few days in Phoenix with Ali’s sister, and last night we landed in San Jose for new years celebrations with the Irani crew.

While we job search abroad, we are temporarily housed in the San Francisco area. Ali is looking for analog circuit design jobs in western europe, and I’ll be taking a sabbatical from my photography business and learning how to be a trophy wife. :)

If you’re checking this blog, there’s a good chance that you received our traditional new years greeting in the mail. That photo was the last taken in our old apartment right before we found a place for ALL of that luggage in our little VW Golf. We had spent the previous week packing, pruning, cleaning, and definitely did not get any sleep as we planned for our uncertain path.