How a Systems Analyst/Blogger/Landlord Does Money

Julie and Julia

Carey (not her real name) is a 29-year-old systems analyst in NYC. She works for an app you’ve definitely heard of.

So, Carey, how much are you making?

$120K is my base, plus $49K in stock options (not all the stock options have vested yet though).

How do your earnings compare to your expenses?

I live in NYC, so even in a “sketchy” neighborhood that’s cheap, I pay $2,750 a month for rent. But some caveats — it’s a 2br, and larger than the basement studio I lived in the year before in San Francisco (that I paid $2,600 for).

My partner is in grad school, but since he makes no income, he only pays $1K of the rent per month. I cover the rest, and we split utilities equally.

I also get a decent amount of income from my baking blog.

You’re making money from your blog?! Tell me more! Is it ad revenue? Information products? Donations? Sponcon?

Let me pull up my tax documents… so last year, 2016, my blog brought in an additional $38,949.97 in income.


So that figure plus $120K is what I made in straight up cash last year.

I would look into blogging full-time if I didn’t live in New York. Right now I probably devote around 20 hours a week to the blog; I wonder if I could double my earnings if I went full-time.

“Can this scale” is always the question.

The majority of the blog money comes from sponsored posts, not ads. I actually got rid of ads on my blog earlier this year. They still brought in some money ($200–500 a month) but I figured I was making a decent amount from my day job, so I could afford to take the ads down and have a site design I liked instead. Which is very privileged, I know.

Hey, if you’ve earned it.

So specifically, a sponsored post on my blog usually goes for $3,500, but can be as high as $6,000. I don’t have a set rate, its something my agent actually negotiates on my behalf. A sponsored Instagram on my feed goes for $2,200, but usually most sponsors only pay up $1,500.

You have an agent for your blog! Can you give us the tl;dr of how you got to that point? When did you start blogging, etc.?

Yes! I started blogging in 2011 because I was working in finance at the time and really hated it. I’d also just moved to a city where I had no friends, so blogging became my way of keeping in touch with everybody. I’d been the baker of my group of friends, so I started baking and taking pictures of what I made as a way to make up for the fact I was no longer baking for my friends, LOL.

Blogging has always been a side hobby; I’ve always had a job while doing it. But in 2013, my blog started to gain momentum when a big food magazine named it one of the best food blogs of the year.

Thats around the time when brands started reaching out to me, but brands REALLY started reaching out in 2015/2016. I had to stop saying yes to a lot of the offers. At first the offers were for trade, but then the money started to get serious.

My agent reached out to me in early 2016. She works for an agency in LA/NY that ONLY represents bloggers. They usually only sign on people who have at least 100K Instagram followers. My audience, compared to the people they have on their portfolio, is on the small side.

Because its just my side hustle, I don’t do any prospecting or pitching o brands myself. Usually brands will reach out to me directly, or my agent will receive a bid through her agency to do a project for me. She pitches to companies/has connections I don’t have, and takes 15 percent.

Got it. That is so cool!

Yeah! Honestly, I’m really lucky. I started this weird hobby of mine at the right time. Now, a lot of folks getting into blogging are doing it not because they love whatever they’re blogging about, but because they heard you can make money blogging—and whatever content they’re writing about is just the afterthought.

I was lucky to start the blog because I loved baking, and everything else came after. Since the blog has become more serious/started earning more, it’s become less fun.

So it often goes.

Let me ask you this, since we’re talking about how you do money as well as how you earn it: do you view your job money and your blog money as separate? Like, one pays for the bills and one pays for fun stuff, or one is for spending and one is for saving?

Yes! I even have two separate accounts for each. My job money pays for the essentials: rent, utilities, all my savings.

The blog money pays for stuff I can write off as a business expense: groceries (ingredients), camera equipment, fancy cookware, cookbooks. They’re all technically business expenses, but they’re definitely fun.

Most interesting is the grocery split: if i’m buying savory dinner items (salads, grains, meats), I use my job money; for baking staples like flour, sugar (stuff I wouldn’t use while making myself dinner), I use the blog money.

That is fascinating. I love it.

So what percentage of your income are you saving, and how much of that is short term (vacations, big purchases) vs. emergency fund vs. retirement?

Ooof. I don’t know the exact percentages, but I’ve automated it so that 20 percent of each paycheck goes to my 401(k) (I have two — a 401(k) trad, and a 401(k) Roth; each gets 10 percent). Then I have another $1,000 each month go to my IRA, which I have never withdrawn money from ever. I guess those are the long-term savings.

For short-term savings, I’ve automated another 15 percent to go into my job’s employee stock purchase program, which allows you to put 15 percent of each paycheck into a pot of money for six months. After six months, the job uses what you’ve saved up to buy as much job stock as you can, and adds an additional 15 percent on top of that. It’s a pretty good deal. If I sell the stock the day I’m able to buy it, it’s an automatic 15 percent return. I use that for vacations, big-ticket items, etc.

So if I do the math, a large chunk of my paycheck actually goes to savings each month. My immediate take-home is actually pretty paltry, I think I only take home like $1,800 every two weeks or so. The only reason I’m able to live off of that in NYC is because I can use blog money for so much of my groceries, and then every six months I can get my 15 percent return on the employee stock purchase program, which sort of lets me float by for another six months.

What do you think you do really well financially, and what do you wish you could do better?

I think I’ve taken advantage of everything that my company has offered me — the 401(k) (although they only match up to $1,000 a year, which is cheap), the ESPP. Because everything is so automated, I hardly see that money. It feels like I’m making less than I actually am, which is good for my future savings, but it also makes me think that I need to side hustle more, which is why I find myself saying yes to sponsored posts on my blog that I’m not too thrilled about. I’m trying to stop myself from doing that this year. It’s one of my resolutions.

Did you make any other financial resolutions this year?

Not explicitly. I do feel as if I’m at the crossroads where I have to choose between my job and my blog side hustle because I’m burning myself out. As much as I’d love to blog full time, I just don’t think it’s realistic with where I live/my partner in grad school. So saying no to the blog opportunities that I’m not thrilled about is sort of it. I also want to be more comfortable with the pretty solid base pay I have at my full-time job (which I know is pretty good), and not beat myself up too much if I say no to well-paid blog opportunities.

Where do you see yourself financially in the next few years? Do you have longer-term goals?

Yes! I’d like to move somewhere cheaper, since so much of my income is eaten up by rent. I’d also like to find a job that incorporates more of the skills I use/developed for my blog, but those sorts of jobs will come at a paycut, especially when compared to tech salaries. I think I’d be more okay with a lower salary (but more satisfaction in my job) if we lived somewhere cheaper.

Do you have a place in mind?

I own a house in the PNW, which is where I’m from. I bought it in 2013, right before I feel like the PNW became this hip and happening haven, and it was still affordable. I think I was only making $60K or so when I was able to buy the house. I don’t think I’d be able to afford the neighborhood it’s in now, even with the job + blog salary.

Wait, are you also a landlord?

Yes! LOL, sorry. I should have mentioned this earlier. We left the PNW in 2015 to move to NYC for my partner’s grad school program. I’ve rented out the house since.

My monthly mortgage is about $1,800, and the rent is $2,550. I pay a property management company to manage it, and they take 8 percent of the $2,550. So I do make some profit from the house, but the profit goes to my third and final account (I promise) that is solely for house expenses. The house is about 100 years old, so there are MANY expenses.

In the past few months, my tenants broke the heater and the city government issued me a fine because the sidewalk outside the house is uneven, so I had to hire somebody to even it out. Stuff like that.

When we move back, its likely there will be more expenses because I think my tenants aren’t taking the best care of it.

Yeah, I guess to summarize I have three sources of income: job, blog, home. I also have three pots of money.

All good.

Last question, then: what advice do you have for Billfold readers?

Automate a lot of your accounts. A lot of my savings comes from money I have never even seen in my checking/savings account. Side hobbies can make you a decent amount of cash, but after a while it’s easy to get burnt out and lose what made you start doing it in the first place, so maybe don’t start a side hustle for something you really, truly love, LOL.

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