When Greg and Holly Johnson started their blog ClubThrifty.com in 2012, they thought it would be a fun way to document their financial journey.
“We had some student loans and car loans we wanted to pay off,” said Holly. “Once we realized other people were blogging about the same things we were experiencing in real life, we decided to give it a shot.”
Since those early days, their blog has taken on a life of its own. Greg quit his full-time job as a funeral director to work on the blog in 2015, and he currently earns over $40,000 per month through his efforts. Holly, on the other hand, quit her job in the same funeral home to write full-time. She consistently earns $20,000 per month, but sometimes more. Holly also has a popular freelance writing course — EarnMoreWriting.com — that brings in around $4,000 per month.
The crazy thing is, they’re not even at home working most of the time. Follow them on Instagram and you’ll see they are constantly in ridiculous destinations like the Swiss Alps, the Greek Islands, or the Caribbean with their kids. Since their business is entirely online, the pair can basically work from anywhere. And that’s exactly what they do.
Vivian Johnson overlooking the mountains of Switzerland
PHOTO CREDIT: HOLLY JOHNSON
How They Balance Work and Play
Earning a significant income while traveling 16 weeks or more each year may sound inspiring, but the Johnsons say it’s a lot of work. They say they are always “working ahead” when they are home so they can spend some downtime on their trips. That often means working weekends or evenings for weeks at a time.
Since Holly is a professional writer, she has a lot of deadlines she has to meet no matter what. So, she often ends up working while she travels, which isn’t always fun.
“It’s a trade-off,” she says. “I get to travel all the time, but I also have a lot of responsibility.”
During a two-week trip, she said she will usually just go ahead and set aside 3-4 days to work, even if it’s just in the morning for a few hours. This helps her stay on top of her email inbox, new content, and questions from her editors, she says.
Greg doesn’t have anyone to report to so he doesn’t have as many deadlines, but he also has to put out a lot of fires. He also monitors their website traffic and affiliate income while they travel, usually by getting up a few hours before the kids while they’re on a trip.
Because they’re often working when they travel, the couple says that, overall, they probably work 30 to 40 hours per week on average.
“It’s just more sporadic,” says Holly. “I might take a week or ten days off work then wind up working for the next 20 days straight.”
The Johnsons at the Palace of Versailles outside of Paris, France
PHOTO CREDIT: HOLLY JOHNSON
How They Made it Work
Anyone who has tried to find success at blogging or freelance writing knows that neither road is easy. Both fields are incredibly competitive, and it can be difficult to build long-term income that lasts.
Johnson says she and her husband have been successful because they had to be.
“We really wanted to get out of our 9-5 jobs and build a new life — one where we were in control,” she says.
When they started their online endeavors, they both used to get up early and work at 5:00 a.m. before they started their “real jobs,” and they gave up an endless number of weekends and evenings when the kids were in bed. It was hard, they both said, because they were balancing side jobs on top of parenthood and full-time work.
Greg’s success as a blogger also didn’t happen overnight. It took years for him to learn how to position their website to earn real income. And even now, their successes are mixed with plenty of failures.
“Everything doesn’t have to go right,” says Greg. “You just need to get some of the things you try to actually work.”
The bloggers spend a lot of time along Italy’s Amalfi Coast
PHOTO CREDIT: HOLLY JOHNSON
Their Tips for Online Business Success
Whether you want to blog for a living or become a freelance writer, the pair offers some tips can apply to everyone.
For example, the couple stresses the importance of having multiple income streams and “not having all your eggs in one basket.” That’s part of the reason Holly still writes for a living when they clearly don’t need the money.
“We both like knowing that, no matter what happens, we aren’t going to lose all our income streams at once,” she said. “I also don’t feel the need to work with my husband 24/7. I like earning my own money even though we share our finances.”
Another tip from the pair: Keep your personal liabilities low.
The Johnsons share a 2009 Toyota Prius that’s been paid off forever, and they don’t have any other debts. They even paid off their primary home in early 2018, so their housing expenses are limited to taxes, insurance (such as auto, life, and homeowners insurance), and maintenance.
Another tip for business success is “be yourself,” the couple agreed.
In the blogging and writing world, so many people try to find success by copying what other people are doing. In reality though, the same thing won’t work for everyone.
“We have tons of blogging friends who are wildly successful, and they all run their business a different way,” says Johnson.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, the Johnsons want people to know their life isn’t perfect. They work a ton of hours and they put a lot on the line to follow their dreams. It’s not easy to bet the farm on blogging when you have two children to take care of, nor is it easy to let go of stable, well-paying jobs.
But the couple seems to persevere no matter what life throws their way — which they say is due to the fact they never gave up. And they never will.
The couple likes having money and they love to travel, they say, but they love the freedom they’ve earned the most.
Greg Johnson says he’s basically unemployable now and that he “will never get a job again.” Holly doesn’t mind working, but she always plans to stay in a freelance role instead of employment with one company — even if the job was remote. She said she doesn’t miss the minutiae of regular 9-5 work, sitting in meetings, and all the time she wasted driving back and forth.
“Nobody would hire us anyway,” she said. “Who wants an employee who travels four months of the year and hates meetings?”