Photos by Joe+Kathrina
If you’ve ever looked for career advice (and who among us hasn’t?), you’ve likely found your answer on Career Contessa.
Lauren McGoodwin founded Career Contessa in 2013 after realizing that there was a gap in career development resources for women. What started as a site featuring career profiles and interviews grew to include expert advice and information to help you with any career question you may have.
Career Contessa has grown to become the go-to site for career advice for women and it’s done it without taking funding from investors (which is so impressive). This has meant the already money savvy Lauren has had to up her game and continue to be mindful with how she manages money in both her personal life and her business.
In this Money Talks interview, Lauren breaks down her best money habits and how she manages to make the most of every dollar that she spends while still living a very full life.
You were working at Hulu as a recruiter (a job you loved) when you decided to leave to work on Career Contessa full time. Did you have any financial goals that you wanted to meet before leaving a full-time job? Maybe a savings goal or a revenue goal before you felt comfortable making the jump?
No, but in hindsight, I definitely should have! I was working on Career Contessa on the side and I wasn’t 100% sure what I was going to do with it. One thing I did know was that if I wanted to go into entrepreneurship I needed to save up a bunch of money so that I could leave a full-time job and give myself the time to get this started. I saved as much of my paycheck as I could for about a year before deciding to quit.
By the time I left, I had around $30k saved to live off of, which gave me the cushion to focus on getting it off and running. But I didn’t have any revenue coming in from Career Contessa and it was taking a little bit longer than I expected for the site to begin making money.
Six months after leaving Hulu I realized that my savings was going pretty quickly and I panicked. I was looking for ways to bring in a little extra cash and I decided to start dog walking. I started doing dog walking in the middle of the day for all of my neighbors and it was adding up to around $200 a month or so. This helped make ends meet while I built the business.
Since you were able to save $30k, you’re clearly a big saver. What are some ways that you make every dollar go as far as you can in your personal life?
I’m pretty frugal. When I think about things that people spend a lot of money on, it’s usually on their car, on clothes, on hair maintenance, on the gym, or on food. I don’t pay for luxuries like that anymore.
- I don’t have a luxury car – I drive a 2007 Prius.
- I don’t pay for workout classes or a gym. I have a couple of workout magazines with workout cards in them and I’ll do those workouts in my backyard or go for a run.
- For clothes I’ll use Rent The Runway or I’ll borrow things from friends.
- My hair is darker than it used to be because I don’t get highlights every six weeks.
- My husband and I cook at home a lot and I bring lunch to work every single day.
These little things really do add up. Even without all of the luxuries, my life is still really full. I think before it was full of too much stuff. Simplifying it and taking some of this stuff out, has been really helpful.
One habit that I’ve maintained is that I always put something into savings. I don’t have a set salary, but whenever I am able to pay myself I try to put something into savings. Even if it’s only $1, I still put it into savings.
Career Contessa is self-funded, which puts a lot of pressure on you to keep costs low. What are some ways you save money on the business?
I’m a big DIY-er. I’m always watching free videos or courses to try and learn how to do something. Even if I’m going to hire a consultant to do something, I like to learn it myself as well so I have a real understanding of what we’re doing. I’ve hired consultants in the past and I haven’t seen results from what they’re doing. Part of the problem was that I didn’t know the right questions to ask. Now, I make sure I know the right questions to ask before I hire someone. There are so many free resources out there for you to learn pretty much anything.
Though you try to stretch every dollar, you did hire someone before you actually started paying yourself. Was that difficult?
Yes, it was! But I’m a big believer that it takes money to make money. If I really want Career Contessa to grow, which I do, part of that is going to mean making sacrifices. Hiring someone means I can delegate tasks to someone, who might be better at that anyways, and it frees up my time to focus on other things. So while it was difficult to spend the money on hiring an employee, it certainly pays for itself fairly quickly if you’ve mapped things out the right way.
Aside from the cost, I was really most nervous about the responsibility. I was asking someone to take a chance on me and Career Contessa. The first person I hired was leaving a very solid job to join a risky new startup. This is a person with expenses and a life – I had to be 100% committed to making Career Contessa into a profitable business because someone else had decided to take this risk with me.
Has running a business changed how you handle or think about money? Do you spend or save differently?
I’ve always been a huge saver. If anything, running a business has made me more conscious about how I spend money. When I worked as a recruiter, I’d do my best to save money. But if there was a flight that was a little more expensive but much more convenient, I’d book it.
Now I’m really frugal about things and try to be as savvy as possible. I know that every dollar that I spend is one less dollar that I have for the company. When I travel I use Airbnb and I’ll rent a room inside of someone’s house because that’s usually the cheapest option. When I tell people that I stay in a house with a stranger, they think it’s weird. But it makes a huge difference. Staying in a room might only be $40 a night but renting the entire house might be $140 a night. When you have to watch every dollar to keep your business running, you make these kinds of sacrifices.
I know where every dollar in my business goes and that’s been a complete shift in my mentality.
What’s one of your best financial habits?
I have a system that works really well for me when it comes to managing my personal money. I have two checking accounts and linked to each checking account is a savings account. This helps me put everything into its right place. One checking account is for my fixed expenses, like rent. The attached saving account is for things that I’m saving for, like putting money into my retirement account at the end of the year. The other checking account is for my variable expenses – essentially any spending money. The linked savings account is savings for fun money. If there’s something that I want to do or buy, I’ll see if I have money in this account. If I do, great! I can use it.
What is a moment – related to money – that you’re most proud of?
Running a self funded business is a moment I’m always proud of. I’m constantly torn between going out and raising money or doing it on my own. But every day I’m so proud of myself for creating a multiple six figure business that I own and have a lot of control over. This is certainly a slower way of building a business but I hope it pays off.
What do you wish someone had told you about money when you were younger?
My mom was really against talking about money – you weren’t allowed to ask how much money people made. My Dad would talk about money as it related to his business. He was in Venture Capital and would talk about company valuations, but wouldn’t talk about how money related to our lives. I wish I had a more comprehensive view of money. I wish someone had talked to me about 401k’s and IRA’s. I wish we’d had discussions about how to manage money. Even though we didn’t have conversations about how to manage money, I still grew up with a strong respect for money. When I was a kid and I’d babysit, I’d immediately save that money. To be honest, I’m not really sure where that habit came from!
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Erica Gellerman, CPA
Erica Gellerman is a CPA, MBA, personal finance writer, and founder of The Worth Project: a weekly money newsletter you actually want to read. Her work has been featured on Forbes, Money, Business Insider, The Everygirl, The Everymom, and Lifehacker. When she's not writing about personal finance you can find Erica exploring Europe from her temporary home base in London.