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‘I've grown up knowing money is fleeting’
Why Cianna Garrison saved a year’s worth of bills before quitting her job
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As I make my way through my project of saving for a sabbatical to drop the work that drains me and focus full-time on Healthy Rich, I was lucky enough to connect with Cianna Garrison, who recently made a similar leap in her work and life.
Cianna is a freelance content and creative writer based in southern California. She left her full-time job as a content writer in February 2022 to pursue more fulfilling creative work. But first, she saved.
Cianna spent about eight months saving enough money to cover all of her bills for a year so she could be free to get her creative endeavors off the ground without pressuring them to make a living for her.
In this Q&A, Cianna let me pick her brain to see how she saved the money and how it feels to be doing work she loves (and living off of dwindling savings).
DM: What job were you doing before, and why did you want to leave it?
CG: I was working as a social news journalist for about two and a half years.
After I graduated with my bachelor's degree, I was working in freelance content for a while. About a year and a half post-graduation, I'd begun writing content while still in school. When my main bread-and-butter content company went defunct, I desperately needed a job. I, naively, assumed the job I was applying for was blogging, a sphere I'd already worked in in other veins. I didn't even realize social news journalism was a thing! I'd never even thought about food news writing being legitimate journalism — but now I realize there are niche journalism roles, such as theme park news! The job definitely took me by surprise, and I wasn't aware of all that it entailed. For instance, I periodically did interviews with social media content creators. I'd never done this before, so it was a valuable experience and one that I cherish.
After the coronavirus pandemic hit, the once lighthearted job became heavier. And I was already feeling a little bit burnt out. The journalism industry expects a certain content output from staffers each shift — the expectations began to weigh on me a little and I began to feel like such a fast-paced, high-stress job wasn't for me. I started envisioning myself getting stuck in a career I didn't care about. It didn't fulfill me.
The constant desk work was also degrading my body — before accepting the job, I had already been diagnosed with a straight neck (cervical lordosis) which causes me a lot of upper back and neck pain, and headaches when I'm too stagnant in one position. I tried the whole standing-sitting desk thing and physical therapy, but it still bothered me a ton. (I still haven't gotten a handle on my pain, something I hope to remedy with strengthening exercises.)
So all of those factors made me realize I had to leave. I've always valued happiness over monetary gain, and staff writing wasn't paying that well in my last position. In the end, the cons of staying outweighed the pros. I was absolutely miserable, in pain and discontent.
What career path are you pursuing now, and why was it worth the risk of leaving your job?
I am working on several things at once, but my ultimate goals are to begin a successful voice-acting career and have the freedom to work on my fiction. I'm also trying to start an Etsy business, but that process has been slower than I'd hoped.
I have always loved acting, and voice acting has so many avenues to make money, especially in the last few years. Most actors have their own home studios and produce their own audio files. My background of more than 15 years of theater (and some professional studio training) is a good start, and I've been planning to take some training courses to help launch myself in that direction.
As for fiction writing, I understand that's a passion of mine that may not pay the bills for years (if ever!), but I have to write. It's at the deepest core of me, a sort of compulsion that overtakes me. If someone told me I would never publish anything, I'd probably still do it just for me. I've delved into the craft a lot more since leaving my job, and that makes me happy. When you work in writing as a day job and you're doing nonfiction content, you're so tired from writing all day that it's hard to push yourself to write for yourself outside of work.
Why did you decide to save up a year’s worth of bills before leaving?
I felt the need for some semblance of stability. The last thing I wanted to do was stress about money while I got everything up and running. Saving up for a year's worth of my bills made me feel way more secure, more ready to take that leap. Some people feel the need to quit without even giving two weeks' notice or paying much thought to their bills, but I couldn't do that.
I've grown up knowing money is fleeting — it isn't always there and can vanish fast. I'm also a bit of a serial budgeter. I love math and figuring out how best to make my money work for me — even if that's simply saying I need a hefty "rainy day fund."
The goal of quitting my job was to recreate myself and find a career that will, hopefully, be one I can stick to, so quitting without that safety net would have been detrimental to my goals. I would have had to furiously search for another job, without being able to prioritize what I wanted to do.
How long did it take you to save, and how did you do it? Was there anything unexpectedly difficult or surprisingly easy about reaching your goal?
It took me about eight months to save up enough money to quit. I basically spent nothing on myself for a long time, except for buying essentials. Every extra hundred bucks were put into my fund.
I used an app called Qapital to organize different funds for different purposes. For example, I made a cell phone bill fund and a car loan fund. So I calculated how much I'd need for a full year of each of my bills and started throwing money at those funds whenever I could. It was really satisfying to see a “goal met” notification! Watching those numbers go up made me more motivated to stay on track. I also made sure to have a "miscellaneous" fund, which I use for any unexpected spending.
I had a few difficult moments working extra side gigs as a freelancer to make money faster. I think there were a couple of weeks in October when I was working 10- to 12-hour days in my regular job and side gigs combined. I'm a creative person who can barely stand the idea of a 9 to 5, so putting in that much time was rough on me.
I've always preferred to have more control of my schedule, rather than being held captive in a work schedule. I love working and working hard — but I don't and won't settle for jobs that rob me of my joy. I'm a workaholic, even in jobs I hate, but there comes a time when prioritizing your happiness is the most important, invaluable thing you can do for yourself.
It wasn't always easy, but what I found to be a breeze was the process of delegating funds and sticking to a budget. I don't spend a lot of money on myself anyway, so I think being under this self-inflicted pressure to meet my savings goals fueled that habit even more. I looked at spending money as a “crime,” because I knew if I squandered any portion of a paycheck, it would set me back.
How does it feel to live on savings, without your old paycheck, now? How’s your career transition going so far?
At the beginning of this process, living off my savings funds felt OK. It wasn't a big deal. As the months go by, though, it is a little scary. I'm feeling more pressure than ever to start making more money. I'm freelancing when I can, which helps offset any everyday expenses. But eventually, I need to make much more to make this sustainable.
So far, I've done a lot of invisible work. I've been working hard to get things going but the work isn't something people from the outside could see. It's a lot of setup process and a lot of planning. I feel confident I'm on the right track! But because I'm not pulling down a traditional income yet, it does make me nervous.
The main goal at this point is to start making my endeavors lucrative to avoid going back into content as a full-time job. But I know I'll do anything to avoid that when push comes to shove. No doubt in my mind I will make something happen in order to stay out of the career I was so eager to leave. If at some point, I need to reevaluate, I’m also considering enrolling in an MFA program for creative writing/fiction. A lot of people think MFA degrees are a total waste of time, but with said degree, I could teach creative writing.
What kind of impact has this experience had on your relationship with work and/or money?
This experience so far has actually been so refreshing and just the change I needed. I'm working harder than I was before, but I'm happy about it. I'm not waking up every day dreading a work day. It just proves to me that I made the right decision for my mental and physical well being.
As for money, I've realized I don't need a lot of it to be happy — for now. I’m hopeful for the future, and money is a small part of it. The idea of money doesn't motivate me as much as the idea of working in a career that fulfills me.
This is an incredible goal to achieve — congrats! What do you expect is next for you?
Gosh, I hope what's next is making this a fulfilling, long-term, and rewarding career.
I expect to offer services on many freelancer platforms in the meantime. As for voice over, I plan to get representation at some point. There's a lot of work in voice over that's nonunion, so I don't need to rush out and get representation right away — but eventually, that would elevate my earnings and opportunities.
As for fiction, I'm continually becoming a better writer and taking courses that help me be more informed about the craft and what it means to be a writer in our modern age. When it comes to Etsy, I'm building an inventory of products, so I can list them and start promoting my shop.
And, as a freelancer, I hope to continue to deliver quality content to clients — and eventually step away from the need to do so ever again.