How 36-year-old was able to quit her job to write novels

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Soon after they got married in 2022, Heather MacLean and Scott Kyrish decided they needed a financial advisor.

Each of them had spent years diligently living below their means, and moving in together had cut their costs even further, with MacLean giving up her $1,000-a-month apartment to split the roughly $1,300 mortgage payment on the house that she and Kyrish now share in Round Rock, Texas.

“We were both making good money, and we realized we were just putting it in savings,” says MacLean. “It occurred to us that maybe we’re supposed to invest? Or think about retirement? How’s that supposed to work?”

MacLean saw a post from Jay Zigmont, a certified financial planner specializing in childfree financial planning, and because the couple — both age 36 — didn’t plan on having kids, thought it would be a perfect fit.

Zigmont got them working on a retirement plan, but also proposed a more unorthodox move in the nearer term.

“It didn’t take long before Jay started trying to convince me to quit my job,” MacLean says.

MacLean had spent 10 years at a government job she liked well enough, though it didn’t offer much more upward mobility, and she was starting to get a little bored. Maybe, she thought, she could apply elsewhere instead.

“Jay said, ‘Wait a second. What do you want to do — if you could do anything, and money didn’t matter at all?'” MacLean recalls.

MacLean was stumped, but came around to the idea that couple’s financial situation gave her room to explore the idea of leaving her job altogether. She was making about $52,000 a year and her husband had recently received a salary bump from about $65,000 to about $80,000. They had plenty of savings in the bank and regularly spent far less than they took in.

So in August of 2022, with the support of her spouse and her financial advisor, she quit, and took a few months time to think about the answer to Zigmont’s question.

MacLean considered going back to school, but didn’t want to take on debt. When she remembered the fulfillment she enjoyed while participating in popular online novel-writing challenge NaNoWriMo, a lightbulb went off.

“I remembered how much I loved it and thought, ‘Maybe I’ll give this a shot and see if it can turn into something,'” MacLean says.

She’s currently sending query letters to literary agents for her first book, “Nightmares in Hale Harbor.” And there’s more where that came from.

Embracing ‘the gardener and the rose’

MacLean and Kyrish’s plan — specifically, the choice not to have children — changes the calculus behind their finances, says Zigmont. Because they don’t have to build legacy wealth to pass down to heirs, the couple can use more of their money and time in the present to enrich their lives.

One way to go about this as a couple is to divide and conquer. One person provides the income needed to live on while also saving for future goals. The other takes time to grow into the person they’re hoping to become, whether that means taking a sabbatical, pursuing further education or making a radical career change. After a set amount of time you switch. Zigmont calls this strategy “the gardener and the rose.”

Right now, Kyrish, who works at a diesel trucking company, doesn’t mind doing the gardening.

“I love my job. I really enjoy doing it on a day-to-day basis,” he says.

The couple has spent much of their life living frugally, they say, which allowed them to amass plenty of cash. When they moved in together, they felt comfortable spending more money by going on regular dates to nice restaurants, for instance.

Losing MacLean’s income has meant scaling back a little bit. The couple has gone from a place of “not having to track their dollar” to having to be more mindful and vigilant about their budget. These days, they’re more likely to cook at home than dine out.

It’s been well worth it for MacLean, for whom novel writing feels less like a job and more like an adventure.

“I feel happy when I get up in the morning because what I have ahead of me is something I really love,” she says. Since quitting her 9-to-5, she’s kept up with regular routines, such as daily exercise, and has taken on more of the household work.

The part of the day dedicated to “work” has become more amorphous. “I work on the weekend. If someone had told me I’d have a job I enjoy so much that I’d do it in the evenings and on the weekend of my own volition, I wouldn’t have believed them.”

Planning for the future

Just because the couple are putting an emphasis on the present doesn’t mean they’ve neglected planning for the future.  

Last year, they spent the first few months living on savings and directing Kyrish’s income toward maxing out long-term savings accounts, including a Roth individual retirement account and a health savings account. The couple also contributed to Kyrish’s 401(k).

“When April 1 rolled around, we started back living off our income like we normally would,” Kyrish says.

As far as nearer-term plans, MacLean hopes to find a traditional publisher for her first novel, but may self-publish if the right deal doesn’t present itself.

Over the next few years, she plans to write and publish several more books, in the hopes that the combined sales will be enough to create a steady stream of income.

Once she’s earning enough as a writer to cover the couple’s expenses, she’ll assume the role of gardener, and Kyrish the rose.

He isn’t sure exactly what that will look like, yet, though it may be in the same field as his favorite ever job: teaching martial arts. “It was the coolest job ever, but it paid maybe, like, $800 a month,” he says.

He has some time to decide, and will likely take some cues from his wife.

“I think it really is about finding something that you would happily do in your free time and figuring out a way to live on that,” she says.

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