Betting on Love, Leveling Up and Leaving Atlanta (Part VI)

Adam and I hit the ground running in January, meeting the promise of the New Year with renewed grit and determination. We are back on track.

This month we managed to stow away $700 for a total savings of $2,600. Transferring that money into our savings account and finally making some progress felt euphoric. We’re still far away from our goal amount of $10,000, and it looks like we probably won’t get there by May when our lease ends. Whatever amount we do manage to save will affect where we can move and what amount of risk we can take, but many people move places with less than $10,000, so no matter what, we are definitely moving.

I can’t ignore the feeling coursing through my body that this is the year everything will change, that this is the year that we will leap into the void and see where life takes us, and I cannot accept complacency or give up at this point. I need to know that if I try hard enough, I can change my life. I need to know that even though I don’t come from wealth or advantage I can still choose my path through life and do things I love and am passionate about. I need to know that I can move to a new city, travel, and pursue higher education just because I want to, that I don’t have to accept the petty, drone-like, adventure-less, spirit-crushing existence common to the salary-earnings range I was born into.

One thing that I have changed and that I am proud of is that I have learned to meal plan and how to control my food spending while still eating good, healthy, high-quality meals. This month we spent $569.84 on groceries, well within our original budget of $600/month. We did not eat out all month. Instead, I am learning to prepare meals that I would be happy to pay for in a restaurant, and I use ingredients that are probably better quality than the ingredients most restaurants in our area use. Overspending on food was a major problem for me when I first started this series, so I dedicated a large portion of my last two updates to recipes and food budgeting, but now that I’m getting a handle on my spending, I feel like it’s time to tackle the next roadblock instead of remaining focused on how I eat. I am still writing about my weekly menus and food over here and if anyone is still interested in hearing about that aspect of my journey or if you want to learn to menu plan or talk about food, you are welcome to post there as well.

So what is the next obstacle in my path to saving up as much as possible? Adam and I do not spend lavishly on anything else in our lives. We rarely go to bars or restaurants, don’t have extraneous subscriptions or memberships, and our next biggest expense is spending around $100-200/month on clothing, which I feel is reasonable. Our wardrobes are small and our clothing is fairly old and worn-out, so slowly updating and upgrading our clothing over time is a necessity. Of course, we could cut this spending out for a few months and put that money saved away.

What I would love to work on are ways to make a little extra money, especially if it leads to the possibility of one day being able to work for ourselves or have a source of income we could bring with us to any location around the globe. I have mentioned a business idea that I had, and in January I did some work on it, creating a business name, small web page, and working up some samples, although it’s all still under development. In February I’d like to ramp this up, start marketing myself to my target customers, and hopefully bring in my first clients. I am also considering some small freelance writing gigs online and it should be interesting to see if I can make any money that way.

The other looming question is: What are we planning to do when our lease ends, which turns out to be on April 29? At this point, we think we will extend the lease for one month so I can get my yearly bonus at work in mid-May, then move at the end of that month. From there we have a few options:

Option A: Move to another city in the U.S. sight unseen with no jobs lined up. This is the most risky option, and we will need several months of rent, utilities, and food money saved up to tide us over until we eventually get jobs. This was our original plan but we may not be able to save up enough in time to follow through.

Option B: Receive a job offer in a U.S. city, then move there. We are working on this now, sending out resumes and hopefully getting some interviews lined up before the lease ends. This is the least risky option if we do line something up before the move date, but the likelihood of this happening is not definite.

Option C: Put our bachelor’s degrees and my TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate to use by traveling to another country and teaching English. We could potentially build on this by going to school in that country, building a freelance translating business, or using the reality of living in a country with a cheaper standard of living to our advantage by doing freelance work online and getting paid in U.S. dollars. Since both Adam and I speak Spanish fluently, we are considering countries in South America as first choices.

Which of these options we will pursue depends on how much money we can save before our lease ends, whether we receive any job offers, and what we feel we’d be happiest doing. I feel so much joy and ambition nipping at my heels and my heart these days and I cannot wait for the anticipated and sudden end of our time here in Atlanta.

In February I want to keep cutting down grocery spending, find ways to bring in a little extra money on the side, and cut back in other ways where we can. I want to work hard every day to expand the range of options and opportunities we have available to us. I want to be strong, push forward, and spend every day productively. May is coming so soon I can taste it. For some strange reason I feel like I am finally about to start my real life, instead of passively existing in the one I have now. I can’t wait to take the leap.


Previously: See Amanda’s “Betting on Love” series here.

Amanda Tomas might also take a trip to Europe soon to see her sister and will put it on credit, no regrets.


48 Comments / Post A Comment

Quinn A@twitter (#1,008)

Since you mentioned the possibility of cutting out your spending on clothing, can I suggest that you curb it at least until you know where you’re going from here? No sense in purchasing items that will turn out not to be appropriate for the weather/culture/work you’ll be doing.

cmcm (#267)

@Quinn A@twitter Also fewer clothes means fewer things to move.

highjump (#39)

@Quinn A@twitter This was my thought exactly.

cmcm (#267)

I vote South America!! …. so that I can live vicariously through you, because I’ve always secretly wanted to do that.

cryptolect (#1,135)

@cmcm I vote South America as well! I moved to Argentina for a while and it was a really great decision. Didn’t exactly make money, but I didn’t need that much.

highjump (#39)

These options seem wildly divergent to me, especially so close to your moving date. And maybe I’m reading it wrong but they don’t seem to be listed in order of preference? Having a backup plan is good, but I think you should decide on a path and put most of your efforts towards making that happen. With all you’ve written here about ‘waiting for your life to start’ don’t just pick some half measure.

@highjump Grandma (me) agrees. I think you need to PICK ONE and focus the energies on it. Like, the abroad one! YOLO, dudes. But yeah May is not afar away at all and trying to pursue 3 things at once might be a challenge. I get not wanting to put all eggs in one basket but you can still send out a few stateside resumes while getting Latin America sorted. But yeah go!

Also– um, the bioline. Look, I know what makes Billfold awesome is not judgeying other people’s spending–and but why why charge it on the card? That’s your ticket to Argentina/Colombia/Venezuela right there …I want you to live your dream and you guys ARE working super hard for it, charging a couple thouso to Uncle Visa is maybe not the best thing right now? Sorry I just don’t think you would’ve put it in your bioline if you didn’t want us to weigh in a bit.

Amanda T (#1,842)

@halfheartedyoga When I have debates with myself about these very things, I have a rash adventure-hungry me on one shoulder and a responsible steady-as-she-goes me on the other, so these are comments that I HALFWAY agree with. :)

Parallel plans are confusing and stressful but that’s ok with me. I really want to try to get a job that will interest/challenge me here in the States and I am putting full energy behind this pursuit at the moment. Things might work out, they might fall through, we will see. In case they DO fall through, I need that feasible and seat-of-the-pants backup plan ready in the wings. What I cannot/will not do is extend my lease for yet another year while waiting for Magical Job to come through.

Trip on a credit card – yes, slightly irresponsible, but I believe it’s worth it. I’m willing to pay it back in increments for the next few years to be able to go on this trip.

I’m also planning for a move in September – either out of my house (the little move) or across the country to live in BC (the big move). So I’m going to play along a bit!

Because I live at home, I have a good amount of savings built up. My savings is broken down like this:
-Untouchable long term savings (my ING tax free savings account)
-Untouchable emergency savings (my BMO account that charges me $10 if I don’t have at least $2000 in the account, so I opened a new PC chequing account and my BMO one just sits there with $2000 in it – I haven’t closed it because it’s linked with my parents’ RESP account)
-Short term savings (my regular ING account earmarked for school and a trip I am taking in June)
-Regular savings – my PC savings account

So. Usually in each paycheque I put a larger amount into “untouchable long term” and then a smaller amount into the account that is now (supposed to be) earmarked for moving out. My goal is to have $5000 saved up to move to BC (I would need less if I’m moving to Toronto)

Unfortunately I received a $3000 tax reassessment that I now have to account for. Until I get that sorted out I’m putting all savings money into the moving out account, which is now earmarked for paying those taxes instead. Sigh.

Amanda T (#1,842)

@redheaded&crazy Sorry to hear that – it is frustrating seeing your hard-won savings get eaten up by something you can’t change. I will probably have to pay taxes this year too, which I am happy to do as a loyal citizen, etc, but it’s still a little frustrating. Wishing you luck~

I vote for B or C. I am living through the consequences of A right now. Between the 2 of us, my boyfriend and I managed to save up $20,000 before we left Manhattan. We had prospects lined up in Chicago (plus friends and family and muuuuuuch cheaper rent prices!!) so we moved there. So of course, the prospects fell through, no one is hiring, and now we’re watching our savings just fly away.

Weasley (#1,419)


I have done A abd it worked out. But I had six months of living expenses saved. Two or three does not seem like a large enough cushion.

From what Amanda has written it seems like they really should just go for C. It sounds like she wants a big adventure and moving to another city in the US is not a big adventure.

@Weasley Oh I totally agree! Option C is the way to go. I did option A when moving to New York and it worked it. But this move, it’s not panning out. And I agree that 6 months is a much better cushion. We saved up a year’s worth of expenses for this move but it’s scary to not have any money coming in.

Jeni Vidi Vici (#1,121)

“I need to know that I can move to a new city, travel, and pursue higher education just because I want to, that I don’t have to accept the petty, drone-like, adventure-less, spirit-crushing existence common to the salary-earnings range I was born into.”

Um, are you serious? You’re American, college-educated and middle-class.

Weasley (#1,419)

@Jeni Vidi Vici

I think she’s referring to her own sense of complacency and bad habits as the things holding her back.

@Jeni Vidi Vici Yes, the American middle class is widely noted for its high-mindedness, independence, love of adventure, and spiritual fulfillment.

Amanda T (#1,842)

@Jeni Vidi Vici I’m trying to think of a way to express this without sounding like a jerk – I am thankful I have the relative advantage of not being born into poverty, abuse, or war, as many human beings on this planet are. That being said, I’m not content with certain aspects of the lifestyle I do have, and I don’t think I should be expected to accept it just because it’s relatively better than a lot of peoples’.

I was born into a household on the lower end of the middle class earning scale. I am now an adult, still on the lower end of that scale. (aside – I have serious issues with the ‘middle class’ being anything from $30,000-$80,000/year – the difference in day-to-day living between one end of that spectrum and the other is VAST, much more so than the difference between say $200,000-$300,000/year. ugh)

I went to a no-name state university and I work a job that is not on a career track of any kind. If I continue living as I am now, without changing anything, I *might* have the honor and priviledge of someday rising to the laudable position of middle manager, buying a smallish house in some nondescript suburb in nowhereville, USA, having a few kids to give my life meaning, and distracting myself from the years passing by with a strike force combo of reality TV, sports, church, the internet, and buying new things. I might even be able to take a yearly vacation to somewhere nice, like Florida. You know, the American dream.

Is it wrong to call out that turgid, lifeless existence that many people float through for what it is? Maybe it makes some people happy, and I am exaggurating a little bit – it is certainly possible to live a contented, peaceful, cozy life doing the things I outlined above. There’s nothing wrong with it at all.

But I am hungry for something interesting, for meaning, for a challenge, maybe to be able to be in a position to help the impoverished, abused, war-torn people that I have so much advantage over. I want to take risks and give it my all, and if I fail at least I will have tried.

@Amanda T Oh please — as I alluded in my above comment, when you describe middle-class American life as “soulless” you are in the good company of most of the contemporary literary canon (see: every novel written by a white man since WWI, and Mad Men.) A life that is dreary, soulless, uninspiring, or lacking in adventure is a very different thing from a life characterized by oppression or the absence of opportunity, which is clearly not what you were referring to.

cmcm (#267)

@Amanda T Right on. I think sometimes people getting accused of white middle class privilege gets to the point where it’s no better than saying, “Ear your dinner! Don’t you realise kids are starving in Africa?”

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@Amanda T I’m with you! Live YOUR life the way you want. No one else is going to live it for you. And failure is really subjective. Unless you are literally in a hole somewhere, you can always try again or try something different. Good luck!

j-i-a (#746)


This concludes a Jenny Holzer moment

EM (#1,012)

@Amanda T @Jeni Vidi Vici I think also it’s important to distinguish between Amanda’s complaint about the lifestyle she has (shitty job, in a place she isn’t happy with, not currently able to pursue her passions and interests professionally) and a middle-class income, which can provide abundantly for a desirable, adventurous, creative life. There’s a big difference between “This income can’t afford me the life I want” and “This lifestyle can’t afford me the life I want.”

sunflowernut (#1,638)

@Michelle Yes, Michelle, exactly! And I feel like Amanda is not able to explain that in a thoughtful way, which is why her above comment rubbed me in TOTALLY the wrong way. I mean, it’s great to want something better for yourself. And we all should. But she doesn’t have to be so disdainful of others and the lifestyles they have chosen.

@j-i-a You should really start a zine.

@sunflowernut You should start a zine too — ABOUT BEING A DRONE.

LOL suburbs.

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@sunflowernut Did you really read that like that? I figured this was Amanda talking about Amanda and her boyfriend, not the whole world.

I am always surprised at how touchy people from the suburbs get when someone mentions how boring they are. Why? When people tell me the city is dangerous/gross/scary/whatever, I just say Thanks! I like where I live.


Blondsak (#2,299)

@sunflowernut I completely agree. You said it better than I ever could have.

honey cowl (#1,510)

@Michelle I agree that Amanda might want to phrase this another way! There is really nothing wrong with being a middle manager, owning a house in the suburbs, having kids! That makes a lot of people very happy!

Comments like “turgid, lifeless existence that many people float through” are a little harsh.

olivia (#1,618)

@josefinastrummer EXACTLY. All of my family members live in the suburbs and say things like “Cities are scary! So much crime!” and I just say “Mmhm, I like it here!” I mean of course people think their choices are better-otherwise, why would they make the choices they do? Like my suburban-dwelling sister tells her kids: Everybody’s different! If we were all the same it would be pretty boring!

ciphressinchief (#1,880)

My boyfriend and I did A, with not very much savings, and it worked out fine. The key was to pick a cheap city with lots of hiring opportunities in our fields (AKA not NYC). Came down to New Orleans, networked my butt off, and it all worked out.

New Orleans is the absolute best.

Runawaytwin (#2,693)

I did A. Alone- and to NYC. after 2 years of not being able to find a job where I was I finally made the jump to the big apple. I had a few friends here that thankfully got me about 1 month of reduced living expenses. 1 month was all it took to find a job in my industry. (albeit i took the first solid offer that came my way. I am still in that job) It was hands down the best decision I’ve ever made (even though it was incredibly scary, stressful and more than a few tears where shed in the process)

I had asked my then BF to come with me and he was too scared so he stayed. He regrets that now. Good luck in your adventure.

For the record- I had about your savings goal and no debt when I made the jump. I also wasnt leaving a good job. I left my boyfriend and though we arent together- we are still great friends which is sure how it was meant to be :)

my next jump will be europe in a decade or so. (i hope)

I think looking at the “supply side” of this equation — what do you offer to your potential new place of residence? — could be helpful for making this decision. I moved to Washington, DC, with very little savings because the vast majority of jobs I’m qualified for and interested in are here, and I managed to find one such job after only a couple months. If I had moved to a different city just because it interested me I probably would have had a much harder time (and don’t get me wrong, I’ve lived in places all over the world more or less just because it interested me, but that time of my life is over now…)

I’m not sure what field you guys are in and if it’s in high demand in other US cities, but by moving to a Latin American country, especially with fluent Spanish and a TEFL degree, you would be in the position of providing a relatively scarce skill. In addition to it being more of an adventure!

siege91 (#1,738)

I sort of did C – my girlfriend and I saved up about $10,000 and traveled around South America for 4 months. But – important but – travelling in most of South America is pretty expensive! Argentina, Brazil, and Chile anyways. But if you do decide to do the teaching english thing: Medellín is great.

The thing with C is that it’s more of an adventure than a life-stage-change thing. Maybe those are the same? I don’t know. It’s fun but it’s also exhausting and expensive. If you want to motivate yourself to apply to grad school though, being in a foreign country treading water with the english-teaching expat crowd will help.

City_Dater (#565)

You sound so happy and focused, yay!

If we’re voting, I vote option C — not only will it provide the most interesting life change, it’s probably the one that will most quickly get you both working and involved in a community, since you are fluent Spanish-speakers and you have a TEFL degree.

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

Go to Argentina! It’s really not expensive at all and you will have a good time while you guys decide what to do next.

amardine (#2,951)

I have done A – twice! – both times with my boyfriend, and both to expensive-ish places (NYC making Boulder look cheap, but both being lots of $$). The key is going somewhere you KNOW PEOPLE. Let me tell you, when you move somewhere where do you not know a single person, shit is hard (I’m looking at you, Boulder!). When you move somewhere you do know people, your job chances (although maybe not dream jobs at first) increase tenfold, and you also have friends to prevent you from going crazy/ruining your relationship/spending all day dreaming about having a pet to keep you company (but you don’t have the money!).

I did A! By myself, knowing nobody, with very little money, I moved from New Zealand to London. BUT that was before the GFC, and I was quite young and would have happily asked my parents for help had it not worked out. I wouldn’t do it now.

I vote C. It may or may not advance your career – but it’ll give you a different experience and a chance to determine exactly what you want out of life. Good on you for realising you’re not happy with your lifestyle and you want something different.

hellonheels (#1,407)

I’ve done option B. It is obviously much more difficult to pull off than options A or C but it offers the possible benefit of one or both of you being offered relocation reimbursement. If your landlord will allow your lease to convert to a month-to-month it might be worth allowing yourself a few extra months to job-search from afar.

greatthatsgreat (#3,215)

I don’t mean to be a Total Drag, but when I was in my 20s, I pursued option C with much gusto. I moved to Mexico, set up shop in a town with which I was already very familiar, and took to the internet! in hopes of securing my piece of the freelance translator pie. Turns out, freelance translation is an extremely competitive, slightly cut-throat business, and even the relatively new kids on the block come loaded down with special software, experience in exclusively translating (beyond a B.A.), and a loose network of clients. They also have experience marketing themselves, and even a cursory glance at and the ilk will show you that the professional translators aren’t fooling around.

This is not to discourage you from pursuing option C, because it sure is exciting and something you should do in your 20s if you have the means, but I do want to warn you of the practicalities. Some weeks, I’d make maybe $30, some weeks nothing. One month I helped translate an article and got $120, and that was after severely undercutting other translators’ rates, which was totally unprofessional and shitty of me. Eventually, I could no longer afford internet, then rent, then food, then I hopped a plane back to the U.S. with $0 to my name.

If you go that route, I truly do hope you are successful! But do your research ahead of time (unlike me), and make sure you understand that this will probably not be a profitable avenue, money wise, but certain rich in experience and life lessons (for better or for worse)! Best of luck.

cobalt (#2,114)

I would chime in for option C. I have a friend from high school (in her late twenties) who’s teaching English in South Korea. It pays decently plus she has housing covered by her job. She’s made a lot of headway into paying off student loans and has also had enough left over to travel extensively with (i.e multiple other continents). Pretty good option adventure-wise and financially.

If you’re looking to do something “meaningful” in a new location, I would also recommend options like Peace Corps or AmeriCorps. You can test out the waters in a non-profit area, if that’s something you’re interested in. It’s exactly the opposite of a money-making endeavor, but you wouldn’t go into debt as you’d get a stipend for basic expenses & can be eligible for an educational stipend later.

dumplingking (#3,216)

re: option c. some places you can make bank teaching english (ie south korea). but based on people i know who were living in south america – what is it they say, YMMV? be careful where you choose to move abroad – some places may be worth it for the experience but are oversaturated with expats, while others can be real opportunities to make money AND explore a new culture.

bridgett (#1,989)

I am currently living option C minus the translation gig. My husband and I teach English in China. It has allowed us to pay off $8, 000 in credit card debt and save around $8, 0000 (depending on our end of contract bonus). Financially it’s been great for us, but adventure-wise it’s been meh. I thought living abroad would be non-stop adventure but it turns out it’s still the humdrum of going to a so-so job every day, meal planning, grocery shopping, struggling to decide when to be frugal and when to let loose. We’ve had the chance to do some traveling, but the overwhelming feeling is that my life here is just life, mot adventure. In my experience. Maybe in hindsight it will seem like an adventure. If you go for option C I suggest budgeting in “adventure money” and make sure you move somewhere where there is adventure to be had (ie not small town China.)

dudeascending (#1,921)

I think you’ve made amazing strides in your grocery budget. Wasn’t it close to $1,000 when this series began? That is major, major awesome.

That said, it seems like you’re spending a chunk of your savings on groceries on clothing. Your clothing budget isn’t reasonable to me, and I wouldn’t kid yourself that it is. It’s a luxury–as is spending as much as you do now on groceries. But you’ve made it clear that eating organic, sustainable food is a priority in your life. So just own it and say that having a big, brand-new wardrobe is a priority in your life. But don’t be surprised or saddened because you don’t have the resources to support other priorities, like saving up enough to money elsewhere without a job.

I hope option B pans out for you. Good luck!

honey cowl (#1,510)

I’ve never been an Option C kinda gal, but it seems really dangerous to me. Sure, the time you two spend traveling & cavorting will be amazing, but you’re going to come back someday. And you will have zero dollars then, so what are you going to do? Move in with your parents? Go back to the same job & city you hate? It seems like leaving the country is just prolonging the inevitable. I’ve done Option A — it worked out all right, but my savings account still bears stress from it 1 year later. That said, it seems like a better option than leaving the country, spending all your savings, then coming back with nothing.

Eloise (#3,220)

Amanda! There don’t seem to be many (any?) comments about starting up a side business/gig, so I wanted to chime in. I have a day job (about 20 hours a week) and I freelance, mostly as a surface designer and sometimes as an illustrator. I also have an Etsy shop. Admittedly, some of this is my own baggage about risk taking, but it’s taken me about four years to build the freelance up to a reasonable level, where the income is actually matching my day job and I’m getting clients that I’m really excited about.

Trying to rustle up some side income is a good idea, but I’ve found that it takes time to build up a foundation. If you’re trying to make and save money as quickly as possible before May, I’d focus on writing more, and maybe finding translation gigs now, if they’re available. Starting that business will probably take a big investment (of time and money) before you start seeing a return. Which isn’t to say that you shouldn’t go for it, especially if it makes you feel fulfilled, just that I wouldn’t count on it as an instant source of income. (Disclaimer: I have no idea what this business might be–and I’m curious!–but I’ve gone through this myself and had a few different friends who initially thought that freelancing or starting a business would be a quick and easy extra income.)

Also, apropos of an earlier feature here on people finding jobs through their networks, this is how I got all of my current clients. Let your friends know that you’re looking for side stuff, and people will/might start sending things your way.

BlackBearBaker (#3,375)

After reading this series I really have to wonder: what is so terrible about Atlanta? Okay, living here does mean I’m a little biased, but this is the fifth city I’ve lived in and it’s my second favorite. Why, as a liberal, would you choose to simply leave instead of helping your city become a better place? Atlanta will never change if everyone who wants it to abandons it. Anyone who lives in any city should consider themselves part of it, and not complain about flaws they have no interest in fixing. My boyfriend and I make only $1,500 a month combined, and I’m goddamn glad we can get by in Atlanta.

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