This is a guest post from Erica Douglass. After selling her online business for a million dollars at age 26, Erica
“temporarily retired”. She now writes an online business blog at erica.biz. This is very much an article about advanced personal finance techniques, and doesn’t necessarily reflect my own philosophy.
You’ve pulled yourself out of debt, are saving a reasonable amount of income for your retirement, have built an emergency fund, and your daily needs are easily met with your income. Congratulations! Now what?
That’s exactly where I was in 2007. I sold my business and generated a huge windfall — over a million dollars. I paid off all my debt. And then I looked around and said, “Oh, crap.”
I had absolutely no idea what to do with my money. Previously, any extra money I’d earned was immediately stuffed back into my business, and I had been running deficits nearly everywhere. This was the first time in my adult life I’d ever had my head above water, financially speaking.
Over the next three months, I proceeded to blow over $50,000. Oh, don’t get me wrong — it was fun! I bought a new car (that I still drive), some really beautiful artwork from artists I loved (that looks great on my walls), and thousands of dollars in clothes, new furniture, and other indulgences, such as $4,000 custom hand-made stereo speakers (that I’m listening to right now.)
It was fun…for a couple months. Then it got boring.
My Spiral into Depression
Like many lottery winners, I spiraled into depression. The business I had spent six years of my life building was gone. I felt adrift — like I had no purpose. Despite having been “successful”, no one knew who I was. I had marginalized most of my personal relationships in favor of growing my business and working myself to death. And money wasn’t going to buy me out of the situation.
Slowly, I pulled myself out of my depression. I realized I had the opportunity to make myself into anyone I wanted to be. I could do anything I wanted. I had complete freedom. The thought was both exhilarating and terrifying.
I bought a shelf full of self-help books and read them all, relentlessly seeking to answer the many questions I had. Some of them were philosophical, like “What made me successful when so many others have failed?” Some were practical, like “How do I invest my money?” But all of them led back to one deeper question: “What should I do to be happy?” I soon realized the latter question was incorrect. The better question was, “Who should I be to be happy?”
In December 2007, I started blogging. I exposed a significant amount of my business life and thoughts. I wrote about my successes and my mistakes and failures. I enjoyed writing, doing videos, and interacting with my readers. Helping others figure out their purpose, their businesses, and their websites and blogs was a fantastic experience.
Spending with a Purpose
I made a point of trying to achieve greater states of happiness on a daily basis. Instead of being merely content — or even apathetic — with my current state of being, I realized I could be happier daily. And suddenly it hit me: I understood what I wanted to do with my money. I wanted to outsource pretty much everything I hated doing.
In order to live a simpler, calmer, but more effective life, I had to drop the shackles of wanting to do everything myself. To allow time to meditate, think, write, and create, I had to get rid of the drudgery of daily tasks. I realized my money could serve a fantastic dual purpose: To allow others, whose passion is cooking, cleaning, or assisting in various ways to help me — while I supported them by giving them income to do what they loved.
My life fundamentally changed that day. I started hiring people to do everything I didn’t want to do. The first step was to hire a cleaning service. Then I hired a personal assistant to work out of my house, filing papers, doing laundry, and organizing. I hired virtual assistants to do all the menial tasks I hated doing: bookkeeping; video editing; audio editing; even setting up my Facebook fan page. (Lisa, my VA who set up the Facebook page for me, said happily: “I can’t believe I get paid to do this!” And I realized…we’re both lucky.)
My Daily Routine
I wake up in the morning and my VAs have sent me their updates. I am building a business where I create how-to videos for small business owners and bloggers who want to drive more traffic to their sites and get more customers.
I learned meditation, and currently spend about 40 minutes a day relaxing. I also spend a few hours a day doing the parts of my business I love, from creating videos to writing to programming. When I walk down to the kitchen, it’s clean; Elia, my housekeeper, comes in every week to make sure it’s spotless. She spends 2 hours cleaning our kitchen; total cost to me: $30.
My VA in the Philippines edits my videos and does a fantastic job for $3.33/hour.
Whenever I do an interview with another entrepreneur, I send it to another VA in the Philippines, who, for $9/hour, edits it perfectly, getting rid of all the strange pauses and “um”s. I send the edited interview off to a transcriptionist. For less than $30, I get back an excellent transcription, often 12-16 pages long.
Lisa, my VA here in the U.S., has set up an entire website and integrated it with a shopping cart for my customers to order products and access them once they have ordered. She charges $30/hour (my most expensive staff member) and she’s worth every penny.
I treat my staff members well, and they love the fact that they can work from home and get paid great wages ($3/hour in in the Philippines is equal to about a $65,000/year wage here in the U.S.) They are happy — I can see it in their emails and text chat messages.
My partner Richard and I fight less. There’s no scrapping over who will do a certain task. If no one wants to do it, we work together to figure out how to hire someone.
A Disease Opens My Eyes
I was recently diagnosed with Celiac disease. The management of the disease may sound simple, but it’s not: eliminate wheat, oats, barley and rye from your diet. Most restaurants have very
few gluten-free items; I’m lucky if I can order one non-salad item from a typical menu. Some restaurants are impossible to eat at; soy sauce, for instance, has wheat in it. I’ve gotten sick from things as odd as bacon, cake frosting, and ranch dressing.
After a few weeks of eating mostly hot dogs and tuna fish, I grew tired of my limited options. I thought about learning to cook, but it wasn’t something that excited me. So we hired a personal chef to cook our meals — one who understands the challenge of cooking gluten-free. We pay her $10/hour, including travel time to deliver the food to us, and she gets a fun side job.
In a randomly-chosen week before I hired a personal chef, I ate out four times and went to the grocery store twice. I spent a total of $179.91 on restaurants and groceries. Last week, I spent $215.49, including groceries, for eating out and paying my personal chef. My “eating out” expenses dropped from $86.14 to just $32.28 — over 60% less! My total spent was $35.58 more, but to me, that’s a small price to pay for gourmet food of my choice delivered to my door. Another remarkable and unexpected side effect was that I no longer have an urge to go out and spend money at fancy restaurants — I simply ask my chef to make what I want and deliver it to me.
It has been more than two years since I sold my business, and I am happier than I have ever been. I made different choices than most: We rent a house instead of owning (a savings of nearly $4,000/month in our neighborhood — more than our monthly rent payment!); we only have basic cable; we don’t have a landline, credit card debt, car payments, or student loans.
I chose, instead of buying more Stuff, to live a more fulfilled life. For me, even more important than holding onto my money tightly was to learn to let it go — to give it to others in exchange for work well done, and to trust that they could do tasks well. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Previously at Get Rich Slowly, Erica shared Finding Time to Pursue Your Dreams: How to Free Up 750 Hours a Year with One Simple Change and The Ten-Minute Budget. Download her free Blog Success Manifesto, which offers 30 tactical tips to grow your blog faster than
you ever have before.