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CJC Alum Turns Dream into Financial Reality

By Lauren (Joos) Keys, B.S. Journalism 2012

CJC alumna Lauren (Joos) Keys

As a borderline perfectionist, I was thrilled to set a lofty goal and accomplish it this year when I visited all 61 US National Parks in seven months. As an experienced story-teller, I felt my soul spark to life as we uncovered nuance in the visitor centers by day and took in a different sunset every night. As a budding entrepreneur, I decided to finally launch a blog to share not only our experiences in the parks but also how we got to the point in our lives where such a trip was even possible.

The trip was remarkable, make no mistake, but I understand that sleeping in a van and generally being outside isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. For them and everyone else, the real story I want to share is how to make any dream a reality.

When I graduated from CJC in 2012, I didn’t have much of a plan for myself. I had some solid experience in the field, thanks to my work with the Gainesville Sun and at The New York Times Editing Center, but I saw even then that the field was…dwindling. For my next full-time position, I pivoted to apply some of my journalism skills (namely photography and copy editing) to a design firm. I picked up some marketing skills there, and moved into an entry-level marketing position for a financial firm about a year later. Over the next two years, I learned a lot, grew a lot, and felt very “adult” for having “Manager” in my title. The next step? I pulled my foot off the gas and honeymooned in Hawaii for six months.

From Isle Royale National Park in Michigan

Before you stop reading, please hear me out. My parents never paid my way, I didn’t inherit a bunch of money, and I’ve never won a lottery jackpot. Instead, I took control and transitioned my full-time job into an amount of freelance work that paid the bills. When my husband and I left Hawaii, we saw it hadn’t actually cost us any of our savings — and we were so much richer for it.

The next chapter had me working long hours, gaining a new set of skills while polishing up others, and, to be honest, a bit stressed. I took a job doing web marketing, and revenue was always on my mind. After a few years of the grind, I quit my job, rented out our condo, and moved into a van with my husband to spend seven months exploring our nation’s parkland.

As spontaneous as our decision was to embark on this journey, we’d been on another journey for some time that made packing up and leaving town actually doable: the path to financial independence.

For journalists, and anyone who has a passion that might not always pay the bills, I think financial independence is, as the name suggests, the most freeing thing you can do for yourself. I’m not an expert; I simply understood the math, applied it, and found that it works.

Lauren and her husband Steven, also a UF alumnus, at Glacier National Park

I didn’t know what I wanted to do in 2012, and, to be completely honest, I still don’t know what I want to do in 2020. I want my blog to take off, sure, but what else? I guess, I want to enjoy my life and help others do the same. And I’m hoping to fit all those pieces together.

First, I want to encourage others to examine their lives and their finances. If something isn’t working, find a way to fix it. The difficulty of making a course correction will soften and smooth out over time; you will weather the storm. Second, I hope to lead by example, showing that spending consciously doesn’t mean giving up on fun and that fun doesn’t have to cost a fortune. And third, I want to do what I can to be a part of everyone’s journey to financial freedom with them because we all need a good “mom friend” (which is what every Buzzfeed quiz says I am).

So, what’s this mathematical formula? Spend less, save more, and invest — and not just your dollars but invest in yourself, too. It sounds foolishly simple, but everyone’s background is different so everyone’s journey is also. The point is that you’re in control of the path you walk, and that’s the most important thing I’ve learned since graduating, especially when school and family and politics can seem so overwhelming. You’re. In. Control.

Take a deep breath and a step forward. Today is the day to do something that will set yourself up for success tomorrow. Add a financial publication to your reading list, learn what all the stuffy words mean, move to a lower cost of living area, bike to work, pay off debt, start saving, open an IRA, grow a skill online with free videos on YouTube, find a way to make money from a hobby, travel without dipping into your savings, find joy in the everyday. There is so much opportunity out there — you just need to knock. And if you need a little encouragement or inspiration along the way, I’ve got you.

Posted: September 5, 2019
Category: Alumni Profiles, Profiles
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