The Worth Project started with encouragement from friends who wanted to talk about money but hadn’t found a place where they could have the right conversation. You know, that conversation where you can share your experiences and ask questions without judgment.
Over the past few months, I’ve been getting emails from women who are kind enough to share their money story with me: the ups, the downs, and the in-betweens. I was so inspired hearing their stories that I knew I needed to not just keep them in my inbox. These were the money conversations that my friends were looking for.
Welcome to “Money Talks” – conversations with real women who are doing really great things with their money, their mindset, and their life.
Our conversation today comes from a woman who truly figured out her worth and her priorities with her life and her money. From burnt out and laid off when her son was 1 to now owning a business that she manages on her terms, she has changed how she thinks about money and worth.
Name: Laura Hull
Company: Premio Services, Inc.
Location: Boise, Idaho
Tell me a little bit about your background: what were you doing before you were laid off? How did you choose that career path?
My career path was not so much chosen as discovered. Every direction declared to be “it” career-wise veered off unexpectedly. In retrospect, the zigzags I once labeled as failures were really essential experiences that helped me evolve and look towards where I needed to be. After nearly completing a BFA in graphic design and a brief stint working freelance I pursued mainly marketing and communications jobs. I ended up completing a BS in psychology, got into grad school and had my sights set on becoming a counselor when my first mentally ill clients revealed a total ineptitude for clinical detachment.
Disoriented, I took a job at a nonprofit in need of a communications person, but (as tends to be my pattern) the position quickly grew to encompass much more. It was where leadership development and community outreach intersected that I found a focal point for my skill set. The latter included grant writing and coordinating partnerships between community organizations, both of which I loved. Like others, before them I’d built those roles from the ground up and was sad to let them go.
You were laid off when your son was 1. After that happened, what were some realizations about your money and your career up to that point?
The fear I immediately felt not having a job honestly paled in comparison to the longer term effects of working full time with a new baby. I have always thrown myself into my work and been pretty responsible with money. As an independent woman, I didn’t give much thought to the difference between working to live and living to work. Regardless of whether I’d have admitted it then, that line was blurred with much of my identity tied up in my job. I had many personal interests (including self-care) but the luxury of fitting them in was something I took for granted.
After our son was born I was confronted with many unforeseen struggles, all related to the concept of expense. The first was the combined stress of leaving our precious new baby in the care of strangers – however kind and qualified – and the ultimate financial impact of daycare. The emotional expense was too much to bear, as was the monetary. The physical expense was also exorbitant. Even though I was granted some remote flexibility, going back full time 6 weeks postpartum, the sleep deprivation, the choice to exclusively breastfeed and other life demands led to an alarming sequence of stress responses from my body.
Chronic overwhelm and fatigue resulted in an adrenal crash and visit to the ER. It was then that I knew something had to change. I felt like a shadow of my former self and acknowledged that not living in alignment with my worth was making me ill. I was now a mother who wanted to put her family at the center of everything. In order to do that well, I had to be healthy. As I dove into the search for my next job I told myself it would need to be one that fits into my life, not the other way around.
How did you prioritize what was financially important after being laid off?
Thankfully I’d been squirreling money away in multiple savings accounts so we had some supplementary funds for such a situation. Between that and unemployment benefits we scaled back on everything as much as possible to cover the essentials. I scouted out new strategies like savvy meal planning, which saved a great deal of what was previously wasted money on food. The immediate relief of no longer having to pay for daycare and all its related expenses was palpable. I slowed down, listened and let a simple concept sink in:
I needed to start thinking of expenses in terms of energy and quality time, not just money.
It’s not easy to start a business with a baby! How did you decide that was the right next step for you?
Each twist in my career path brought terrific professional relationships. With encouragement from my mentor, I reached out to key contacts while job searching. Through one I landed an interview at an excellent organization. The salary was slightly lower than what I’d been earning before, so (with daycare costs fresh in my mind) when offered the position I worked to negotiate the difference. They were willing to come up but not as high as I needed. Even though I genuinely wanted to work there and knew that what they were offering was fair, something did not feel right. Instead of ruminating over how foolish it seemed from the outside I dug deeply into what made it erroneous on the inside and turned the job down.
As part of my prep for job hunting/interviewing, I had completed a series of self-assessments including strengths, weaknesses and values analyses. I asked my mentor and others what they thought my top three skills were and kept hearing: writing, relationships, and problem-solving.
With my husband’s unwavering encouragement, a notion of how to transfer these skills started to materialize in my mind. It was just a fuzzy idea at first, but one worth exploring. Every step I took towards determining its feasibility felt right. Being surrounded by people who believed in me helped me believe in myself and listen to my instincts. I had survived the hamster wheel I was on during the first year of our son’s life.
The risk of striking out on my own was about the same as spinning out again on someone else’s.
I’d already missed too much of his first year either having him in someone else’s care or being too exhausted to be present when he was in mine. I wanted to truly be with him; that was how I knew for sure that owning my own business was the next step.
How did you actually begin to get your first clients and juggle that with caring for your son?
All of my clients have come from referrals. Before I approached any potential client, however, I had to be sure I could exceed their expectations. From job searching and interviewing as the primary caretaker of our son it wasn’t a huge leap adding business and consulting classes. I focused on writing a sound business plan which included a work schedule broken down into periodic tasks. I started out slowly with a workload that fit neatly into his sleep schedule and my mother-in-law watching him one day a week. When I took on a little more work I chose a faith-based program for him an additional morning a week so he could still nap at home.
Between that and playdates, library events, hunting for bugs in the backyard and other fun activities he has a variety of experiences all year that keep him engaged and socialized without breaking the bank (not to mention the priceless quality time I get to spend with him in these early years).
Having already trimmed our budget while I was unemployed it has been manageable paying myself what we need and knowing that it can increase in time.
It was difficult at first to turn work down but the business will have the chance to grow as our son does. Overall life has been a lot more harmonious having Mom as job #1. Our boy reminds me every day of my Why.
Has owning your own business changed how you think or feel about money? Do you look at things differently? Have you had to learn any money lessons over this last year of entrepreneurship?
I was starting to think about money differently (thank you, Erica) long before I started my business but there was a lot of dissonances not having aligned my life accordingly. I did certain things already like trickling money into savings accounts and budgeting sensibly each month, but I still felt like my money had control over me. Most of my reactions to money-related issues were fear based. Purposefully shifting my mindset about money made room for my business idea to take root. Since then I’ve fully subscribed to working smarter, not harder.
Putting my health first is central to that concept. My yoga teacher often says to be present (usually in a pose we’re all struggling through) with “effort and ease.” It has been liberating applying this to money and motherhood. Fear, I have found, locks in the bad and shuts out the good.
Centric to anything good is an awareness of your own worth. Not knowing your worth means forfeiting your possibilities. All the resources and opportunity one needs are out there to realize an idea, whatever it is. The mind and heart just have to be open enough to identify and create space for them.
Favorite money tool or app: For business, Quickbooks Desktop; for personal, Mint.com.
The one thing I love to spend money on: Fresh food
The (money) moment you’re most proud of: Switching from a scarcity to abundance mindset when money was most uncertain. Most things that cause me stress in life are somehow related to money. Everything that generates happiness is not. Money is a necessary means to stability and growth – professionally and personally, for my son, husband and our family as a whole – but with a focus on the right things (and great advice from experts) I learned it can serve its purpose proficiently without siphoning the joy out of life. How much joy I choose to obtain is up to me and, unlike money, it is immeasurable.