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The following blog post is part of The Road to Financial Wellness blog tour. The Road to Financial Wellness is a three-month, grassroots campaign promoting financial empowerment on a national level and encourages people to pursue their dream lifestyle. Find out more about local events near you.

I’ve always been a personal finance geek. I created my first college budget in crayon while at a playground at age 7. It included groceries like hotdogs, canned tuna, and macaroni and cheese. It also had rent for an apartment listed at $100. Obviously, I had not done much research on rental rates…

That said, financial empowerment for me wasn’t learning to manage money. Financial empowerment for me was realizing that I didn’t have to settle on a crappy job. I had to teach myself that I had the power to choose a happier path.

Financial empowerment meant not settling for a dead-end job for 30 years and tackling self-employment!

My First “Real” Job

My first “real” job started about 3 weeks after I graduated from college. I accepted an offer of $26,500 to be a small-time cubicle monkey for a car dealership software company. My husband and I lived well off of what he made as a teacher ($42,000 a year before taxes in 2006) and used my income for retirement savings and investments.

But after 3 years, I was still making around $30,000 a year. I started wondering if working at the same company for 30 years just to retire with an okay 401k was actually the best use of my life.

That’s when that first economy crash hit in 2008-2009, which slowed down car sales big time, which then slowed down the demand for the forms we were programming in my department. We were told to “look busy”. That’s when I discovered personal finance blogs. I was hooked.

Self-Employment Opportunities

There was a whole world online filled with people who loved talking numbers and budgets just like me. I dove in. In February 2010, I started my own blog – Budgeting in the Fun Stuff. By the end of 2010, I had made nearly $10,000 online. I had discovered online ad sales plus staff writing for other sites. By July 2011, I was making $5000-$10,000 a month online. I gave my two weeks’ notice and said hello to full-time self-employment. In January 2012, my husband joined me at home and became fully self-employed too.

I’d love to say that the story from there has been simple – we just kept doing online work and making tons of money. But, no. I had a couple of amazing years of $100,000+ made solely online. Then a huge shift away from direct ad sales in 2012-2013 changed cause my online income to drop from $10,000+ to $4000+. By early 2014, it was obvious we needed another significant income stream.

My Life Now

Did I find an amazing way to make even more online right then? No. I tackled my other love in life – pets. I created Crystal’s Cozy Care Pet Sitting in February 2014 and grew that into a $2000+ per month business within a few months.

I’ve been balancing the online world and pet sitting for more than 2 years now. I love blogging and I love the pets I drive to every day. The pros of self-employment, like the flexibility to be able to visit my grandparents frequently now that they are reaching those end stages of life, have been amazing. The cons of self-employment, like no paid vacations, haven’t chased me back to cubicle life. I’m not sure anything could get me back into a dead-end job again.

In short, financial empowerment for me was realizing that life is too short to waste 40+ hours a week doing anything just for money…especially crappy money.

I’m not an avid pusher of self-employment no matter what. It simply isn’t for everybody. BUT, I do go on and on about finding a way to make money doing something you at least like or appreciate. Money is great, but a ton of money when you are still sad as hell isn’t helpful. I make more now than I ever did in a “real” job, but even if I was making less, I’d be happier here than before. If you can say that truthfully, you are winning at life.

What does financial empowerment mean to you?