One Year Without a Job

It hardly seems real that it has been almost a year since I left my job in the non-profit industry. At the time, it was all so exciting – making the big decision to jump out into the unknown. I had such grand ideas of how I was going to spend my free time and how I was going to make money doing only what I wanted to do, and most importantly – only when I wanted to do it.

Well, that didn’t happen now did it??

The reality, and I’m sure that you are all keenly aware of this, is that almost every single gig job that I might have thought about doing, disappeared almost overnight when the pandemic hit. The only thriving gigs were driving gigs and while there’s nothing wrong with delivering food, it just wasn’t what I wanted to do.

I can honestly say that this has been the wildest, most unpredictable year of my life. Some days have been a disaster, some have been really good, but most have been a blur. And while I might would definitely trade this experience for one that was a little less tumultuous, I have zero regrets on leaving my job last September. With that being said, I thought I’d share with you the hits and misses, highs and lows, of a year without job security.

First, the good stuff. I am super fortunate to have two grant writing clients that have sent me an abundance of work over the past year. Not a month has gone by that I haven’t had at least one project to work on. That has helped tremendously in keeping my skills sharp and our bank account above zero. And thanks to sites like Indeed and Flexjobs, I was also able to find a steady stream of retail gigs to fill in the gaps, or at least attempt to. Retail work has been the bread and butter of our income for the past year. Actually, more of the bread. There hasn’t been a lot of butter.

I worked for 5 different merchandising companies during this time – two as an independent contractor and three as an employee. I drove all over middle Tennessee and southern Kentucky doing everything from restocking prepaid debit cards to putting security tags on shampoo. The pay was usually decent (somewhere between $13-18/hour with additional incentives such as travel time, mileage, and/or a car allowance). I could set my own hours (for the most part), but the downside was actually having to be away from home all those hours. For many folks, that’s no big deal, but for someone tasked with caring for an aging parent, it is a different story; and on more than one occasion it proved to be a problem for me.

The upside of retail merchandising is that it can be fun. Every day is different and you have no one to supervise you. It can also be difficult too, especially when you’re left to finish a project that the person hired before you didn’t even attempt to do. This happens quite frequently and is one of the more frustrating aspects of merchandising and the reason that turnover is very high.

Along with grant writing and retail gigs, we’ve also been counting things (and not just our pennies!) Once a quarter, Angie and I count houses that are under construction for a company called MetroStudy and recently, we started a new gig counting people coming and going from various locations in the mall. (What can I say, I have a thing for numbers!) These jobs are easy (and pay very well) and we can do them together.

Now, the not-so-good stuff. Since leaving my job, I’ve worked way more than I thought I would…way more than I’ve wanted to…and I’ve earned way less than I even thought possible to live on. There have been weeks during this past year that I’ve barely had time to breathe. I’ve cried. I’ve gotten mad. I’ve been worried. I’ve felt guilty for things that weren’t my fault. I’ve neglected myself and others. I’ve eaten things I never would have eaten if I wasn’t on the go. I’ve failed at the goals I set for myself. I’ve hated the world. I’ve questioned my sanity. And yes, I even considered getting a real job again (so much so that I even put in a few applications).

Not having a steady job forced us to get very creative with what money we did have. It’s one thing to say that you’ve prepped for a year without a job and feel reasonably confident that you can do it. It’s an entirely different ball game to actually jump in an do it. We felt pretty good going in, knowing we had a cushion of savings and some mad skills in resourcefulness. But…we soon realized we were way, way out of our league!

When I had a ‘real’ job, we could face financial challenges by using our savings because we knew our income was higher than our bills and that money could be replaced at some point. When there is no job, unexpected bills take on a whole new meaning and I can honestly say, we were wholly unprepared for the onslaught of bills we experienced this year (ER bills, emergency dentist bills, vet bills, car repairs, moving expenses, you name it!) In the end, we exhausted all but $596 of our general savings and thankfully, never touched of our investments.

So what does the future hold now?

Yesterday, I started a permanent freelance job in editing. I applied back in February but due to COVID, the contract was put on hold. I’m very excited about the opportunity because 1) I still won’t be anyone’s employee, 2) It is so flexible that I can do it from anywhere and at any time of the day or night, and 3) It is the only job I will have to do to pay the bills. Of course, I still plan on doing a few side hustles, like grant writing, but it’s good to know I don’t have to. After a year of spending countless hours looking for gigs and running all over the state doing gigs, I’m just happy to have a new focus and some much needed free time. (Now, let’s just hope this job is worth the 6 months I waited for it!)

Reality Bites the Budget

I want to just take a moment to say thank you to everyone for your kind words and encouragement after last week’s post: The Last Rant You’ll Ever Read Here. It is so uplifting and inspiring to be part of such a great community! We love you all!! 

Well, we made it 162 days without having to dip into our savings to pay the bills. We made it through the holidays, 3 birthdays, a 3-week visit from my aunt, and a weekend getaway. We prepped for garden season, kept our pantry and our gas tank full, and continued to help others along the way. In a way, it feels a bit like a defeat, but I know it’s really not. Our savings was saved for that very purpose – to use for bills when freelancing wasn’t enough; so to go 5 months without touching it, I know that’s not such a bad thing.

When I left my job on September 20th, we had $4423.91 in checking and cash (excluding our savings). Over the past 5 months, we’ve earned $5,139.37 from a number of freelance gigs and side hustles, including our quarterly real estate survey gig.

Sources of Income

Out of that, we’ve paid 6 months of rent, utilities, insurance, and entertainment (which is basically just Netflix these days). The biggest portion of our expenses – rent. I know this is something we need to re-evaluate but I don’t know that that’s going to happen this year.

9/20/19 – 3/1/2020

The remaining $774.28, along with $755 in cash and gift cards we received at the end of 2019, has been what we’ve used for gas, groceries, and miscellaneous spending. That roughly equates to about $300/month.

On paper, everything looks good. I mean, it balances, at least. But in reality, it’s rough to live like this. And that’s something I never thought I’d hear myself say!

When we were experimenting with living on half of our income, I always knew that if push came to shove, we had the other half to fall back on. Now that we have to use all of our income and then some just to cover the bills and basic living expenses, it can be scary at times. Using part of our savings for bills – regardless of whether or not it was saved for that purpose – feels stressful, because I know that once that money is gone, it’s gone.

My mom’s advice – get a real job. I admit, the pressure does get to me and I do consider how much easier life would be if I took her advice. But I don’t want to be someone’s full-time employee again, just because life gets a little hard. So I’m exploring my options.

Last week, I talked about trying to secure one steady freelance gig to boost our income. In 2014, I used a website called Flexjobs to find a similar job. For 8 months, I worked as a freelance editor for a company in California that operates several coupon code sites (like It was a fun 20-hour a week gig that I could do from home (or anywhere). Here’s a picture of me working from my “mobile office” at a campground in Savannah, GA. I loved that gig and was sad to see it end, but thinking about it this week reminded me that where’s there’s one such job, there are sure to be others like it.


So I went back to Flexjobs. While I do recommend this site, I wasn’t able to find anything that I was looking for there this time. Instead, it was while scrolling through Facebook on our mini-vacation that I found my inspiration.

One of the side hustles that we’ve enjoyed over the past few years is mystery shopping. It doesn’t pay the bills (by any stretch of the imagination!) but it does give us a chance to try new restaurants, attractions, and services for free – and get paid to do it. If you’ve ever mystery shopped, you know that the reporting process can be quite extensive at times. The client paying for the shop may expect a lengthy and detailed narrative. While almost anyone can be a shopper, not everyone is a good writer, so mystery shopping companies employ what they call Quality Control Editors. These work-from-home jobs involve checking reports for errors and inconsistencies, correcting grammar, and generally tightening up the narrative to present to the client. This was the job I saw on Facebook. This is the type of job I’ve been applying for all week.

While not all of the positions are freelance, most are very flexible part-time jobs. You aren’t likely to find these jobs on Indeed or other job search engines, but a quick Google search of “mystery shop editor jobs” will show you all you need to know to apply for one. Today, I have an interview with the company that I first saw on Facebook. I have my fingers crossed that it will be a good fit.

I’ve lived the American Dream, with it’s ladder-climbing career path and over-the-top spending for things you never even thought about wanting, much less needing. I’ve also been broke, adding a hot dog to my nightly ramen to mix things up a bit while sorting through a stack of bills to see which one could and would get paid that week. I wouldn’t want to go back to either. Nor do I want to go back to where we were even last year – even though, looking back now, we had it kind of easy. But easy isn’t always good and challenges are what help us to grow as a person, and as a couple.

Our life is in a bit of a transition phase right now as we try to define the role that working for wages will play in it. As with any good experiment, we’re going to try a lot of things that don’t work before we do find the one thing (or combination of things) that does.  There’s a sweet spot out there where work and life really can balance, in the way that we want them to, and I’m hopeful that we can find that sweet spot here in the very near future.