The following article is from Melanie, our staff writer. Melanie is in the beginning phase of her journey to Financial Freedom and she’ll offer a refreshing point of view for us.
I’m very excited to interview one of my best friends, Brittany Hassell! I met her, along with Joe, at our local bloggers meet-up over a year ago. We instantly bonded over our love of travel, languages, side hustling, frugality, and cats. She quickly became one of my main inspirations, as she lives her life completely in her own way, often doing things a bit differently.
In the past year, Brittany has moved from being a full-time employee to an urban nomad – and the best part? She is making more money now than she was at her job and has been able to travel to eight countries this year.
More about Brittany:
Hello! A big thank you to Melanie and Joe for having me here today. I am a professional house-sitter that takes care of people’s pets and housing while they’re away. I gave up my apartment in June and now live wherever in Portland that I need to be. I have several different part-time jobs that pay me well and provide me with the flexibility to have adventures and travel. In Portland I enjoy long walks, hiking in the beautiful Columbia River Gorge, camping at the Oregon coast, visiting Portland’s many breweries, cooking delicious food, reading, and much more! Follow the adventure on Twitter or Instagram.
How did you go from being a full-time employee to being an urban nomad?
I had plans to go to Antarctica in January of this year, so needed to be doing a lot of extra work to save money for such a long and expensive trip. For three years I worked a full-time job in addition to doing any other money-making tasks. I worked as a seasonal sales associate at Old Navy, did pet-sitting, worked as a booth sitter for friends at the Portland Saturday Market, helped crafty friends before large craft shows, cleaned houses, wrote copy for products, did taste testing and other market research, made soap, and more!
Monday through Friday I would go to my full-time desk job down in Clackamas and sit around and be bored. I would have set tasks that needed to be done, but after I had done them I had a LOT of free time. I would try and help co-workers with products, clean, and do anything I could to try and fill my time, but I was just so completely bored. (I should add, I really liked my co-workers and the job itself wasn’t horrible by any means. I just didn’t have enough to do.)
The day I got laid off from my job I had tweeted that morning that I was making as much or more in my side hustles that I was at my desk job. This was the eye-opening “ah ha!” moment that made me realize that I could probably work for myself and be okay. I went to lunch and when I returned my boss handed me my last paycheck, told me that I was a great employee but that she could see the job wasn’t a good fit for me, and we both cried a little. As I sat in my car I was both excited and nervous about my future. After the initial shock wore off I realized I was very excited about my newfound freedom to take on jobs that I wanted to do and to continue to do the jobs I loved that I was already doing.
In June of this year I gave up my apartment and went full-time nomadic as a professional house-sitter, carrying one large plastic tote with me from house to house that contains some clothes, my toiletries, a few pairs of shoes, my coffee making setup, and a little bit more. I still have a few things in some friends’ basement, namely camping and other outdoorsy gear and some house things that I want to keep for whenever I have a place to live again. I use a combination of a pet-sitting service and my own means to fill my schedule with house-sitting. So far it’s worked out well and I have only had a night or two here and there where I don’t have a place to stay, so I’m thankful to have friends who take care of me during those times!
What was the most difficult part about the transition?
The most difficult part was the “what ifs.” What if I don’t have a place to stay? Where will I go? What if my friends start to think I’m a mooch? What if I somehow am not able to work different jobs? I now see that things are totally working out and I’m thankful for that!
Aside from pet-sitting and house-sitting, what side hustles do you do to afford your nomadic lifestyle?
I am thankful to be working for friends doing part time jobs that end up both paying me well and give me the freedom and flexibility to lead a happy life. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays I nanny for my friends’ baby girl, on Tuesdays I work as a production assistant for two different local artists, and on the weekends I am usually working at the Portland Saturday Market. I also recently got hired by a friend for a data retrieval project that is online-only, which is nice because it means I can work on it from anywhere! My schedule will soon be changing a little bit because I will be taking German classes and tree planting season will soon be here and that means my Wednesday mornings will be taken up with playing outside and planting trees for a local organization.
What are the benefits of being a nomad?
I love making money while loving on people’s pets and living in their houses. Why pay rent when someone will pay me to live in their house? My monthly bills are only around $500, which is very easy to cover, so any income after that is used for the fun stuff (which, yes, includes saving for retirement)! I love knowing that I actually wear all the clothes and use most of the things I own. I know I need to do another sweep of what’s in my friends’ basement to get rid of more stuff!
Being a nomad can be a logistical challenge – for example, where do you store your stuff? Do you have a permanent address for mail? How does having a dog affect your living situation?
As mentioned before, I am thankful to have friends with a large basement let me keep my things there. For mail, I have a mailbox at the post office near my friend’s studio that I work at on Tuesdays, so every week I check my mail after I’m done. I have other friends that let me use their physical address for the things that require it, such as DMV registration, driver’s license, and the like.
So far having a dog has not seemed to affect my living situation. I state quite clearly on my pet-sitting profile that I have a mellow senior pug who is coming with me. If the people still want me to house-sit and they have a dog who is aggressive there are means of still making it work for both of us.
This year alone you’ve traveled to eight countries! How do you afford it all?
Yes, I’m so thankful for that! This year I have gone to Argentina, Antarctica, Chile, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Germany, and Canada! I afford all of this travel by not having many bills, being mindful of my money (I have epic budgeting and income spreadsheets), not eating out all the time, not buying things I don’t need, and making travel a priority. Also, through travel hacking (churning credit cards for miles).
Recently, we talked about you raising your rates significantly – and successfully! How did you do it?
I was originally charging a house-sitting rate that was higher than average for my area because I do a great job of taking care of people’s houses and pets while they are gone. It is a priority for me to do a good job because this is how I have housing and am able to lead the life I do, so I want that to keep happening. I had a client contact me and say she would pay me more per night than my stated rate because she wanted to ensure she had the best care available for her dog. After I completed the stay I decided to raise my rates across the board and see if people would still hire me and, guess what, they did! I now have some of the most reviews on the pet-sitting site I use for people in my area and that’s all with charging the higher price. (Link to reviews at the end of the article.) So people can see that they are paying for a higher standard of care and will get what they’re paying for.
What personal finance principles do you abide by to make this lifestyle work?
I’m not always perfect at this, but I do self-correct because I don’t want to be in debt, I don’t like owing people money, and I like to have both long-term and short-term savings. I use my aforementioned spreadsheets to track my income and my monthly budget. As I don’t always have the same income every month I have to make sure I have money in savings to account for the lean months. I usually put 20% of my income into my retirement accounts, although right now I’m paying down a small loan, so I’m throwing all of my extra money at that until it’s gone.
I want to be like you! What tips would you give me (or any reader) to get started on living a frugal, nomadic, side hustler lifestyle?
I think the #1 tip would be mindfulness. Make your money work for you. Think about the purchases you’re making. Are you owning your things or do your things own you? I may spend more money on a nice jacket, but I know it will be better quality and last longer. I buy things that are fixable and I pay to get them fixed. (I have my tailor on speed dial. I’m not joking.) I sometimes say no to myself because I don’t always need to have delicious iced coffees when I’m out running errands and sometimes I think I would rather buy lunch than wait an hour and eat a lunch at home. But you know what? You’ll go crazy if you never let yourself do any of these things, so every so often I enjoy a coffee or a burrito because I know that I’m not choosing to do these things all the time.
Perhaps you have skills that you could use to bring in a little extra income, such as computer work, cleaning, organizing, or dog walking. Choose to take public transit or ride your bike. Choose to eat more real food instead of expensive pre-packaged foods that really aren’t food-like anyway. Have friends over for drinks instead of going out and spending $10 on a cocktail. Meet friends for walks or at a park instead of going out and spending money on food. Borrow books from your local library instead of buying them. All the little things can add up to something big!
Thank you so much Brittany for giving us a glimpse into your life! If you have any questions for Brittany, she is willing to respond to comments. You can read her reviews and hire the best pet-sitter in town through rover.com.