How to Live Well on Less This Summer with Michelle Jackson

For some in the financial independence space, there is almost a badge of honor of living your life as cheaply as possible.

They talk about how they only spend $X a year. While I respect keeping expenses in check, I think it’s not really a healthy way to approach things.

With us still dealing with this pandemic, it's a reminder that money is simply a tool and not the goal.

Instead of trying to live cheaply, let's focus on living well.

Let's try to take a step back and see how we can simplify things including our finances so we can have more time with the people and projects that matter to you.

Michelle Jackson is someone who's already made significant changes to her life and finances and is in a much happier spot.

Michelle is one of my favorite people and I was thrilled we got to sit down and chat about the art of living well.

She's not only an author but runs two podcasts (Square State – which is focused on Colorado and Michelle is Money Hungry – all about lifestyle design for entrepreneurs, specifically women).

She’s here to discuss with me:

  • her journey from being in debt and overwhelmed to finding fulfillment while paying down her debt
  • how being a frugal foodie taught her to live well without breaking a budget
  • why self-care matters and how to do it affordably

You can watch our chat right here or go through an edited transcript below!

Meet Michelle Jackson

Michelle Jackson is mission-driven to help her readers and listeners empower themselves financially. Whether it is by improving their personal finances or learning how to sell what they already know, she loves having those conversations.

Michelle runs the website and podcast Michelle is Money Hungry, and is the founder of the Money on the Mountain retreat focused on financially empowering single women one conversation at a time.

When she's not geeking out about personal finance you can find her hiking in the mountains of Colorado.

The Art of Living Well

Elle Martinez: Thank you for joining me, especially during this little lunch chat. I'm glad we can catch up.

Michelle Jackson: Thank you for having me. I'm so excited. And for those of you listening, if you can hear some awesome tunes behind me, that's because I'm a really nice coffee shop and having a golden. Tumeric latte and enjoy my life during the road.

Elle Martinez: Well, I think this is important because that's what we want to talk about is living your best life with the circumstances that we have.

I know right now we're in the middle of the summer in the middle of a pandemic. Coronavirus has not gone away and we are trying to find a way to stay healthy, stay sane during this time.

So I wanted to talk to you because personal finance has some great principles, but I also think there's some misconceptions and certain attitudes that can be harmful to many people, especially as they're trying to tackle their goals. So I kind of want to talk to you about this. How do you live well on that?

Michelle Jackson: So one of the things that I would say. In 2020, we're all familiar with all of these ways to save money.

I think that the marriage of technology and financial goals is so interesting to experience and observe during this time, like, we're really at an advantage because there are so many things out there that are created to help us win with money, especially in those areas that we struggle with as far as just, living our best life and doing it for less.

Defining Who and What Matters to You

Michelle Jackson: One of the things I spent a lot of time thinking about several years ago was how, how do I want to live my life?

I was commuting 30 plus miles a day. They were actually working on the highway at a time. So a 30-mile commute. It should've been like 45 minutes or whatever was typically two hours each way.

And so I was commuting with the same people for years and we would just sleep on the bus because it was really nice plus whatever. And we'd fall asleep and then wake up and be in the town that I worked at. I was just like, what am I want my life to be. But the problem was that I had a lot of debt. I had a lot of things going on.

And then finally, one day I was just like, I need to start trying to figure this out because I don't want to look like this. And so I started, and I should say I had a huge financial mess, so I had thousands. $2 a day. It just had a lot going on.

Elle Martinez: What was the mix of it? If you don't mind me asking, like what kinds of debt?

Michelle Jackson: I had a bazillion credit cards, like lots of little credit cards. Like it wasn't that they had lots of large credit limit, so it was just a lot of them. I had random little amounts of personal loans, money, lots, and lots of little things that built up over time and became a huge financial mess. And for people who have never experienced, like having. Creditors call you or having more than one day.

Horrible. I was getting at the height of it all. I was getting calls, text messages, letters, and emails, typically from the same creditor multiplied by like, So it was a lot of stress that I was dealing with and for things that I could even remember.

yeah. So one of the things I thought of, I thought about was like, how can I just lower my overall overall overhead in general? Like I'm paying all this money. I have to like find some money to pay off the debt. And this is like crazy. See, like I got to figure this out. So I started methodically going through my budget.

So I started going, I had to do a couple of things. One is I had to acknowledge who I was as a person. Like I'm not a fast food person. I'm not going to eat bad food to save money. I'm not going to not look my life. Like there were certain things that I was unwilling to stop doing. I believe. With food in particular, that food is medicine and that it would make no sense for me to eat orally and then get sick.

When I was already stressed out, like it was already physically unwell. So to exacerbate, that made no sense. I knew that I wanted or getting groceries. I knew that I wanted to take trips within reason. So there were just certain things that I was like, okay, this is what I value. This whole conversation of look at your budget, know what you value.

And then I was like, how can I do this for less? So for example, with groceries, I started shopping multiple times during the week, which I just had a habit of shopping multiple times, starting the week just went shopping once a week. It was a small thing. It saved me a lot of time. Cause clearly I didn't have a lot of time with the four hours a day.

So I just literally was like, this is what I need to pick up once a week. And that was it. And maybe I would go also to the farmer's market if it was during the summer season. So maybe it would be two times, but like very quick, easy. And my, my grocery bill dropped significantly actually just by doing that one thing,

Elle Martinez: I think that's fascinating there and I don't want to.

Like interrupt you. But I thought that was great that you pointed that out because a lot of times in personal finance, there's a lot of advice thrown out. And one that, you know, is like almost a badge of honor, we spend so cheaply, you know, whether it's food or whatever. and that's how we save and pay down the debt.

But what you're saying is you pause to define your priorities and then honed in on that and then try to, , still what you valued was your health with finding cheaper ways. That's, that's fascinating. Cause I think we have a desire, not to just spend money to spend money, but we're in such a rush to get that quick fix of dropping the spending that we don't look at. Well, what are you working towards?

It's not just saving money, you know? Trying to align yourself and your spending to what matters to you. So I thought that was fascinating.

Staying Fit (without the Expensive Gym Membership)

Michelle Jackson: I like, I like the whole align yourself. So I was already out of alignment with all the debt. So where I aligned with my values. Yeah.

Another thing that I valued was fitness. And so I was like, okay. maybe right now I can't really do a lot of classes or maybe I want to take classes. How can I do that? So the city has free classes that they teach, like provided by the city of Denver, like hip hop like that.

I'm curious, literally I knew about it because I know my town, but a lot of times you'll find it online.

Like on Facebook events, actually, it's a really good place to start Instagram right now. It's a little tricky because we're still. Finding are studying during COVID, but even now, recently I found a yoga studio here in Denver, black woman, and they have made it a priority part of the mission to, to offer free yoga.

So now I'm going to be adding that into my fitness regimen. I also. Trade hours for [classes] how's that work even now. So this was weird, literally like two weeks before the shutdown orders happened, I had signed on to do like a work exchange and literally like, all I was supposed to do is like really easy occasionally.

And then like flame clean the studio every once in a while, like every other. Super easy then coronavirus, the scope of work changed. And so I ended up crafting newsletters, so I didn't have to write them. I just had to like do the final, super easy.

Elle Martinez: That's important because also fitness can be expensive.

A lot of, you know, categories that people spend can be pricey, especially fitness. Sometimes we go overboard and get all this equipment, but you found ways to kind of hack it so that you sell are getting the fitness, you know, and health benefits, but you're not spending a ton of money

Michelle Jackson: And also I wanted to have the actual experience that I wanted. So I didn't want to, like, I can do YouTube videos, but I don't enjoy them.

I value in-person classes. Those are a lot more interesting for me. So that's the other piece too? It's like, yes, I could have just totally forgone classes altogether and just done YouTube videos, but for me, that wasn't a good fit.

The other thing that I did was I signed up for meetups. and this is very specific to where you live, but we have a lot of fitness folks in Colorado. So we're recording this the day after we record this, I'm going on. It.

I'm going to get nature. And so I did a lot of that too, and those were free. And so I would, I would carpool with someone thought it was just incredible. If you're a person of color, you're like, I'm nervous about outdoors. There are shirts for that. There are literally meet up groups or people of color allies to go.

Yeah. I belonged to all kinds of groups. Cause I love going outdoors, but I just looked for a lot of ways to do the same thing for less. And then the other pieces, if you're like, well, what about the equipment? I had friends who they gave me their snowboard. So I got to be so worried. and so I got a lot of free equipment, but you can also go to Goodwill and get very inexpensive equipment or companies that all they do is so outdoors equipment.

The other thing I looked at was transportation, because I'm not really a car person. I actually learned to drive as an adult. And it wasn't, it was, it was learning your job as an adult. I will forever be grateful to my Russian friend media and my Colorado friend who got in the car with me and taught me how to drive my Colorado and got safety, a lot of money because if I paid for lessons, it would have been very, very expensive.

But what I did was I actually bought a used car. $1,500. Yeah. I had to learn to drive because I owned a car. Like it was, it was, I had to learn. And so my friends would get in the car that I owned. And I would learn to drive in my car and they would just meet me at my house. We'd just pop into the car. And that's how I learned now.

I actually don't have that car. I use a car share, so I've found that as a single woman, without babies, I don't need to have a car.

I'll buy the light rail and I bike. So for me, I was like, maybe I don't need to own a car cause I'm not a car person clearly. And so I now harsher I'm obsessed with it. Last week I went on a road trip.

I actually kind of made a mistake because right now they're running a. Five day special for $245. And then the first a hundred miles are free or some, something like that. So I made a mistake and I rented it for two or three days and paid $160. So I will only do the week long rental moving forward because that was, I clearly overpaid or the 20, 20 so far.

I think that I pay. $450 for transportation. Great. Not even, not even. And that's including a trip that I'm taking a couple of weeks from now. So if you have two cars and you live in a city that has a car share, I would strongly recommend you don't have small. I would say really using a card, share a second.

Look, I paid $12 a month. To be a member. I upgraded my person membership for the highest level of insurance. I have a million dollar policy that I paid. so if something happens and I'm in the car, I'm covered like, like the significant amount of coverage. And I think that that's great. So this year, January through April, I think I spent 50 bucks on transportation and it's so cool because the program that I use is actually a nonprofit here in Colorado.

So it's not a for profit and they have hybrid cars that they specifically focus on. I care about earth. So it's really in alignment with how I like to live my life. So I, I really care about my footprint. And so I'm really happy with the program. I am so obsessed with the Rav four that I drove last week.

That's my favorite car in the fleet, but it's not close to my house. So normally I have to, I have to go downtown to get the rabbits. So I went on my road trip. I got the Rav four with, and that was a lot of fun. And it's cool because you get to test out these cars before my, so yeah, this, this for the rest of the summer, I'm going to spend about $245 for the next time that I drive a couple of weeks from now.

And then in August, I'll take another road trip. It'll be another 20, $45. And then for the rest of the year, it's probably going to be like 30 bucks a month. That's significantly.

Elle Martinez: the average car payment right now for a new car is like 500 and change. I want to say five 30 and I believe for used car, it's like 385 a month and that's not counting car insurance on top of that and, you know, fuel and all that maintenance. So that's a really clever hack.

I do want to kind of switch gears.

Michelle Jackson: Literally, that was fun.

Elle Martinez: Okay. My husband would be proud of that, but I do want to talk about you since I've known you, you have like built different income streams as, as a successful business woman. You're an author, you know, you speak, you are running this course to help other people pursue their dream of writing.

you have two podcasts square state. About all about Colorado and Michelle is money hungry. So you are managing a lot. I want to talk to you one, how do you step back and kind of recharge yourself? So you're not burning out and then like, how do you view self care? Because that's kind of like thrown around and I hate now that I see it more in advertisements than actual conversations.

Michelle Jackson: So for me, I think with entrepreneurship, Entrepreneurs will try a lot of things. And it's a really exhausting part of the journey I find because you're trying to figure out what's the right fit for you. Especially as a digital entrepreneur. Where, it's very intangible, right? Like there's a lot of what you do is very intangible.

Like you're waiting for feedback. You're looking at HB news, things like that. So maybe he could get a hundred thousand page, but then no one emails you. Right. So what I found with online entrepreneurship was that. It just was so confusing, like what was the right fit? And it just took a while for me to figure out what works well for me, energetically, and it wasn't really tiring because it was a lot of like throwing spaghetti at the wall, to be honest.

This year, I am really in refinement mode. So, you know, when people are like, Oh, that person's the overnight success. And they're like, dude, I've been at this for like seven years. That's kind of the experience that I've had where I've been at this for three years now. And so I'm at that point where I'm really finding, this is what I know.

Right. So I'm at the point where. I've just had enough lessons that I know what doesn't work for me. So example, what doesn't work is I don't do coffee. I don't do like pick your brain. I don't, I don't do that. That's that's time I could be making money. I don't, so that's a boundary that I said. Because I already create free content and podcasts and websites.

And you know, I do stuff on rice instead of Brown and all that. So I don't need to do these one on ones. So I started meeting people and saying, Hey, when, when it came up, if you want to meet with me, you can just pay me what your mind. And then that's actually proven to be a little bit. So I got a payment this week that I spoke to nothing crazy, but I could've made them.

Yeah, it's great other money because I value my time. So I'm just being really clear about the boundaries you set as an entrepreneur is so key. One of the easiest things I did that the biggest impact once changing my email responder, I cannot explain. What a big difference it made, because what I did was I was like, look, I'm available Monday through Thursday, like 10 to four.

And then on Friday, I'm available to half the day and then I'm out. And, what happened was. It was very clear to people what to expect from me. So it wasn't just that I was like, I'm not available. I'm not available now. This is what I'm doing. Usually in the mountains, when I get back, this is where the next 24 to 48 hours.

That one change has saved me so much.

Elle Martinez: I love that.

Michelle Jackson: And so that was an unexpected bonus for self care. Like let's just. Fabulous. I think the other thing is just, and being very, like, don't explain your note. Like a lot of people are like, well, no, and this is why no one shares why they just say no and move on.

so I don't explain my nose. I just say no. And that's it. So that's it. The other thing was soft care is. I, because I work online, I can choose where I work. And so I will make a point of going into the mountains and staying for shootings and not just decompressing. I did that last week, I went to a town called Salita really, really beautiful town in Colorado, which has the oldest, historic district in the state.

Or the large largest historic district in the state. and I just like chilled out and it was so great. I got work done there. Actually. It was funny. I was referred to the night before, like they were like, Hey, can you down? I was like, yeah, cause I got paid 300 bucks to write about. And I felt like, and it was great.

Actually, I was kind of shocked.

So I was like, we're an hour and a half I've hustled. I got it done in the car. I thought about it as I drove down for a couple of hours I did out and then I still enjoyed my time. So I think you need making sure to get away and recharge energize yourself is so important. People just keep going and going and going and it doesn't serve them or their business, to be honest.

Elle Martinez: Yeah. That's that's key. I know as parents. For us, we have to have like our alone time and my husband and I are complete opposite. So I'm the morning person, you know, like straight up the morning routine that you read about like five

o'clock in the morning. But for me, that is when I can have that quietness.

That I need to think whether it's for work for relaxing, like for me to be my best self that's my time. And my husband's more than night owl and that's his time. So, I mean, finding the, even if you can't physically get away, you got a regularly scheduled some kind of time.

To recharge, have that solitude, it can also be outdoors.

I've been doing a lot more walking in the neighborhoods, still, of course, social distancing, but you know, self care, doesn't always have to be like buying this product, you know, taking this expensive, you know, retreat, it's finding pockets of time. You can use, however you see fit.

Michelle Jackson: I should also mention about the retreats because this, this is actually an important thing.

When I go to the mountains for my retreat, I stayed at a hostel and it is like my favorite hostel ever. And I'm obsessed with it. You've seen so many pictures, so I paid $35 a night, including breakfast. They have a hot tub. It's awesome. They're actually opening another property and Telluride, Colorado.

That'd be enough. I cannot wait. And so I will be reserving my space because of a virus. I don't feel comfortable really in the same room with people before I would be fine limit. Now, now I'm going to pay a little more to reserve my own space, which is fine. So instead of paying $35, it's a hundred dollars.

So it's significantly more. But the value to me and my wellbeing is so key that I'm okay with it. It's not like I'm always like, I'm not always doing that. And then after the front switched back to what I was doing anyway, but right now I have to. Yeah,

Elle Martinez: I think that actually kind of circles back and a good place to wrap up because we see money, you know, as we've been writing about personal finance as a tool.

Right. But I think a lot of times when you're starting it, some people see it as the goal. Right. You're, you're paying down a certain amount of debt.

Or if you're in the, you know, FIS space, you know, you're talking about how much you're saving, but at the end of the day, that's not really what you should be using.

For me, I think you should look at time, you know, how am I able to spend my time?

Am I spending the time with the people in the projects that matter most to me, even if you're not, you know, at your retirement a number.

Can you little by little, make decisions with your money. You bring you one step closer, either, you know, more flexibility or more options when it comes to, things that you need for self care and taking care of others.

And then like finally, even if you decide to give more like a lot of people I've seen once they reached a certain amount of, financial freedom. Oh, that's natural out courses. How can I help others? And it can take manifest in so many different ways.

So I love how you've done such an incredible job of not just saving money, which is great, but making sure that your money is moving in the direction that matters to you.

Michelle Jackson: And I want to say two things. One is I have no savings number, so I want to be very candid about that. I accidentally so fired five years ago. And so, I want people to design your life. that you're working towards. So how do you live your life now? Especially if you're in the fires space, right? Like people are so focused on the numbers, but I'm like being focused on the light.

So in March when everything got shut down and I was like, I am so thankful that I so fired and I'm living my life and I've learned how to make money outside of nine to five. Like I was really. Because there are moments when I doubt I have like, maybe this was the dumbest thing. Yeah. Actually the spring has confirmed that I did the right thing.

I am so happy that I took a stand for my life and decided to do what was best. I don't know that I would have been happy.

Elle Martinez: I, Oh, I hear you on that.

Michelle Jackson: You know what I mean? So like, I can go see my mom when I feel like it. I can, if I needed to go to the doctor, I could go whenever. If I want to go to a road trip, I can do that last week. Want to go? You know what? I finished my work today. Now it wasn't easy, especially because I work on myself.

It was very hard and I had debt, which made it hard, but I was not, I don't regret it at all. Hmm. I'm, I'm so thankful that I made those hard choices because I've had five years of living a really wonderful, challenging life, but life is challenging, right? So I just picked my challenge. And now ironically things are because I've put in all these years, things are so much easier for him now.

Right. So making money online, helping other people. You hear that? Yeah. There's that? Well,

Elle Martinez: that's awesome. So Michelle mentioned you have a lot of projects going on and I know people listening want to like. Connect more with you. So do you mind mentioning just a few ways that they can reach out and connect and join your community?

Michelle Jackson: I run a website shows. I love to talk about all things, lifestyle, design, entrepreneurship, and personal finance. I'm really interested in. the conversation about earning more versus trying to out verbal they're like, I want you to earn more wisely. So an example of that is I just got contracted to do a fun, freelance, I now freelance again, I'd stopped doing it for nine months.

I only work with clients. I like, I literally am just testing out. So I'm going to test out Fanny packs. When I hike. Normally I'm just going to use that as the piece of equipment that I use during my height. And then I will go on several Heights that I normally do because I hike every weekend. And then I'm going to get paid to share my experience with this product.

And that's an ongoing, actually an ongoing project. So I'll test out other outdoors. Sometimes I can keep the equipment. Sometimes I give it away, whatever, maybe a couple hundred bucks do that. No problem. So I love that kind of thing. I want people to really maximize and their earnings.

you can follow me on Twitter at Mitch Mitch loves money more on Instagram at Michelle's money. And I also run a course eight money with eBooks, but right now it is being worked on. So that's on hiatus and I launched an Academy. Called make money with eBooks Academy or wa as I liked it, you know, like that's what, that's what I call it now, because I think it's hilarious where we need support would be first time nonfiction fiction authors, get their books out in the world.

So definitely check that Awesome.

Elle Martinez: Well, thank you, Michelle. I've always enjoyed chatting with you.

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