Holly Johnson is a professional writer, content creator, and blogger with expertise in finance and travel. She writes professional content for her own blog, other bloggers, businesses, universities, magazines, and publications across three platforms.
- Blogs: Holly and her husband, Greg, started their own blog, Club Thrifty, in 2012 and have built a following of 100,000 social media followers and 250,000 unique monthly blog visitors. The blog helps readers take control of their finances to pursue the life they want by offering advice and information on money, credit cards, and travel.
- Freelance writing: In addition to blogging, Holly writes guides, research articles, business opinion pieces, travel articles, and content for college websites. Additionally, she interviews and writes unbiased reviews of financial apps and products. Her wide range of publications for U.S. News, Lending Tree, and The Simple Dollar (just to name a few) reach audiences in the mini-millions.
- Author: In 2017, Holly and her husband released the book they co-authored called “Zero Down Your Debt.” The book focuses on zero-sum budgeting, which basically means pay earned minus bills minus savings equals zero!
Holly’s interest in personal finance played a critical role in her selecting it as the focus of her work. She was always interested in building wealth, saving money, and frugality, understanding that wise money management equates to having control over your life. With big dreams for her family’s future, Holly knew she could have more than she wanted: more experiences, more wealth, and more opportunities for her children. She and her husband are avid budgeters, tracking all the money they earn. Holly commented that a lot of people, particularly high-income earners, never track their spending and as a result end up with less wealth than they could have accumulated.
Holly’s background isn’t in writing, but she enjoys writing. She started blogging simply because, while working for a funeral home, she wanted to earn extra income. Holly laughed saying she didn’t even realize she had an aptitude to write professionally until she started! Once she began writing, she continued to receive writing jobs. After about a year, Holly quit her job to write full-time, because she was making just as much writing ten hours a week as she was working forty hours; so, to realize her full income potential as a writer, she wanted to dedicate more than ten hours to it per week.
Holly’s blog is transparent and real–she is upfront with her readers, and she was the same in our conversation saying that quitting her job allowed her to go from an income of $40,000 to a six-figure income. It also allowed her to have more flexibility, travel more, and live life to the fullest!
Writing for a living doesn’t come without challenges though. Holly writes between 3,000-7,000 words a day…every day, for years! With these demands, brain drain is a challenge, as is burnout. Holly said that not everyone can operate at that level and keep up momentum; nonetheless, she forges on!
According to Holly, the best part of what she does is being location-independent. She explained that because she writes about travel, her family travels three to four months out of each year (not all at once). She enjoys that kind of flexibility as well as being able to be home when her kids are home. Holly emphasized that with freedom comes responsibility–her work clearly requires a lot of discipline (no one is paying her to watch TV or do laundry). Holly drives her own success!
What Did You Want to Be Growing Up
Holly doesn’t remember ever thinking about careers as she grew up. She described herself as a troubled child and teenager who dropped out of college twice. Holly didn’t particularly like school and never felt like it was for her. The second time she attended college, a few years after the first time she attended, she pursued a nursing degree and finished everything except clinicals. She said, “I just didn’t want to do it anymore. During school, I had a cleaning company. I didn’t particularly enjoy working on teams; I enjoyed working on my own. I am a one-woman show! I remember sitting in the classroom, watching the clock ticking, and thinking about what else I could do. I knew I could come up with a cool idea and do something entrepreneurial.”
Holly and her husband got married and both worked at the funeral home. Holly was hired to do data entry, but in reality was a “Jill-of-all-Trades,” also writing obituaries, designing brochures, and developing a long-term strategic plan for the funeral home. Then, she started her blog in 2011 and began picking up writing jobs on the side.
Holly taught herself how to do longer research pieces since they paid the most. For example, she wrote a 5,000-word piece on how to get a personal loan with bad credit, which required research, interviews, reviewing government websites, and confirming details on the topic.
In April of 2013, Holly quit her full-time job to write. Originally, her husband stayed in his role; the stability of his career diminished Holly’s stress about securing writing jobs. Still, she knew she could earn $40,000 a year in just ten to fifteen weeks. By quitting her job, Holly went from having fifteen days of PTO (paid time off or vacation days) to having complete flexibility. She didn’t need to put on makeup to go to work or deal with office politics.
All in all, it was fairly easy for Holly to replace her income. She pitched to get writing jobs and networked within the writing and finance communities to make valuable connections. Importantly, Holly was able to secure recurring clients. Holly stated, “Doing a great job is the #1 way to get more writing jobs. The bar is low in freelance writing. Most writers are late or sloppy, so if you knock it out of the park every time, it is appreciated and noticed.” Holly said she oftentimes has to turn jobs down; at this point, she could work eighty hours a week if she wanted to. In addition to her writing, Holly developed a freelance writing course.
Holly never thought she would blog for a living. She said if you are interested in blogging, freelance writing is a good companion skill. Holly and her husband didn’t know any bloggers; her husband just had the idea to document their financial planning on a blog, and it took off from there.
Holly’s advice is to, “Think long and hard before you earn a bachelor’s degree in an obscure field. There are so many ways to earn money that don’t require a lot of student debt. While there is a place for it, don’t listen to all the hype that you need a four-year degree or a master’s degree.”
Holly said most people who consider blogging think about it for a long time before starting, but if she and her husband had not just started, they too would just be thinking about it and still in their jobs. She said, “Go for it! Don’t listen to people who discourage you from an alternative career path–they don’t know what they are talking about!”
When Holly quit her job, she said people thought she was going to be a stay-at-home mom, but then when her husband quit they actually understood that they made money by blogging. (*SIGH!*) Holly expressed, “The 9–5 job isn’t the only option! There is so much more!”
Holly also offered a bit of financial advice saying, “If you want to consider an entrepreneurial career path, keep your expenses really, really low. So many people, at some point, want to pursue an alternative career path, but they can’t afford it. My husband and I have lived on half of our income for years. We keep our spending low, paid off our house last month, and don’t have bills. This is a great strategy because if I wanted to take a year off to pursue another project, I could. So, don’t spend all your money, save it for yourself and your future.”
Last, Holly said, “Don’t wait for someone to give you permission, because they won’t; in fact, they may discourage you. Don’t ask people because who cares what anyone thinks.”