How Learning Her Freedom Number Gave Erin Clarity

Every experience in her life contributed to this point, says Erin Martell, owner of Lane Change Media. Each job and stage in her life gave her the wide variety of skills and knowledge she needed to be who she is today—a successful business owner.

After her graduation from St. John’s College in Maryland, she had a strong interest in criminal justice, specifically the juvenile justice system. She went on to get a Masters in criminal justice, but her graduation fell on September 11, 2001. The fallout from the worst attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor meant she and her fellow criminal justice graduates faced incredible uncertainty as they began their job searches.

The Safe Job Isn’t Always The Right Job

“I was offered several jobs, and I chose not the right job, but the safe job and the high profile job,” Erin said. “I was working at the American Bar Association in the juvenile justice section managing their grants which is not what I went to school [for]. I went to school to do substantive work to change the face of juvenile justice. And that is not where I ended up, so I was pretty unhappy. I loved the people I was working with, but they were focused on eliminating the juvenile death penalty in the US and going to the Supreme Court, and I was putting numbers into spreadsheets.”

A move with her new husband to Los Angeles promised a fresh start. Neither had employment lined up but they had a certain amount of money they planned to live on while they job searched. But as they reached the end of their resources, Erin again panicked and fell back into taking another safe job, this time managing grants in the healthcare industry, completely outside of the criminal justice field.

After a devastating event at work, she was put in a position where she had to take time away from outside employment to give her space to heal.

Finding A Career She Loved

For the next year she was on disability but recalls constantly worrying the payments would end with no warning. As her condition improved, she started looking for a way to earn money outside the traditional office environment. Her drive to work gave her something to concentrate on, and she soon stumbled on a freelancing platform where she built a business as a social media and web content provider. She used the worker’s compensation settlement from the workplace incident to fund the first year of her business.

Erin’s Financial Journey

When it comes to money, Erin says her younger self made choices without always considering the consequences. For instance, between a wedding they couldn’t afford and the move to Los Angeles, she and her husband racked up around $100,000 in credit card debt. Both had student loans to pay back, and while they never missed a payment, finances were a struggle. After landing her initial job in LA, they would live off the overdraft in their checking account, pay back the overdraft when their paychecks came in, and then repeat the cycle.

Finally, Erin decided enough was enough. “I already kept my credit cards in the freezer so I wouldn’t use them, but now I decided to actually cut them all up,” Erin said. “I sucked it up for [one paycheck cycle]; I paid off that overdraft, and I told the bank to turn it off. And then we lived on nothing for two weeks. The next time we got paid, we lived off just that paycheck. And we never repeated that process again. Although I do have a risk-taking mindset, my issue mostly had to do with getting too much credit too young, with no financial literacy whatsoever.”

With her new cash-based system, Erin started paying off her credit cards. She created a money tracker that let her send money to savings, bills and debt repayment. The spreadsheet calculated what was left giving her the amount she had to live on for the paycheck cycle. And that system worked perfectly, right up until she left traditional employment and began freelancing.

At first, being on disability threw off the system, because her payments were irregular. Once her freelancing business took off, she faced the same challenge most freelancers face: fluctuating monthly income and clients who don’t pay on time or, in worst-case scenarios, don’t pay at all.

Discovering Financial Freedom

Working through’s Financially Fit Bootcamp revealed the missing piece to Erin’s financial approach: the concept of Financial Freedom.

“I never understood,” Erin said, “never had an option to understand, never even had an inkling that I didn’t understand the concept of Financial Freedom. I didn’t even know that I didn’t know.”

Understanding Financial Freedom may not make her clients pay on time or make her monthly income more regular, but it was a revolutionary concept for Erin. Instead of thinking that the end goal was to put money in a savings account and hope it would be enough for future needs, she now understands that she can make her money work for her both now and in the future.

When Erin learned about Financial Freedom, she went to work creating a new in-depth spreadsheet tracking both her personal expenses and expenses associated with her business. Since she freelances and her income isn’t always regular, she needed an individualized approach to her finances. After working through her spreadsheet, she determined that her monthly Freedom Number is $7,049. That’s the amount she needs to earn each month without working for it!

Finding her Freedom Number brought clarity to her approach to money and gave her something to work toward.

“Understanding that putting your money into a savings account like it’s a locked up secret is not going to be enough, that you have to have outside investments that are actually paying you, that truly was mind blowing.” Erin said.


image credit: Kevin Norris

There are 2 comments

  • Makaylah on March 23, 2017 at 9:24 am

    Such an inspiring story! Erin, you are a rockstar!

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