The Brutally Honest Financial Diary of a Yoga Teacher

It’s all about the DIY granola, buying old coffee beans, and trying really hard not to buy a million pairs of pants.

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I did not enter the field of teaching yoga to become a millionaire. Which is a very good thing because (as is the experience of most yoga instructors in this country), I cobble together my career with $25-a-pop gigs scattered across my city.  I can only speak for myself, though, when I say that I’ve never been savvy with money. Creating a budget has always been challenging. Sticking to it is even harder.

In my 20s, I had a “devil-may-care” attitude toward finances, and figured that chasing my dreams was way more important than building a 401k.  And I had some amazing experiences as a result of my adventurous spirit. I wrote a book, lived in various parts of the country, and even worked on a small farm for a year. I transitioned through jobs and lifestyles with the belief that everything would “just work out,” and for the most part, it always did.

I also want to acknowledge my privilege; I was lucky enough to graduate my four-year college with no debt, and that experience alone has afforded me a freedom and mobility so few have.  I’ve lost count of the number of houses, rented rooms, and apartments I lived in throughout my twenties. I definitely couldn’t tell you how many jobs I’ve held, or how many direct deposit forms I’ve filled out. I don’t remember how many times I entered a new opportunity with the thought, “Surely, this is my forever job!” I can’t tell you how many times that’s happened, though it’s been enough to have informed an entire decade of my life. But throughout that entire period of heart-forward living, the one thing I never did was save money or foster a healthy relationship with it. So now, in my 30s and finally settling into my “forever career” of teaching yoga and working part-time for a nonprofit, I’m facing some hard truths and having some interesting negotiations with myself over finances.

Right now I work as the marketing director for a nonprofit that provides eating disorder recovery support and resources, as well as the studio manager for a yoga studio in a neighboring town to where I live. I also teach (on average 6 yoga classes a week), and work as a freelance writer for various food, wellness, and yoga publications. Technically, all of these responsibilities are part-time gigs. But because I’m so passionate about them all, I find it hard to “check out” after my allotted time is up. I’m also not the type to nickel and dime my employer for hours, and therefore tend to assume it’ll all come out in the wash, while actually spending a lot more time and brainpower on my work than I’m compensated for. Like I said—facing some hard truths.

Another truth yoga teachers will understand: The time spent teaching is only a portion of the total time committed. There’s the planning and sequencing, the drive or commute to and from class, and of course, time spent before and after class fostering community with students. I don’t say this to drape a bleak veil over the job. But it is important to acknowledge the realities of it all as you learn how to balance work, life, and finances.

Wednesday

I’m up early to hit the park for a free community workout. The sweat sesh starts at 6:15am so I make some chai at home and pour it into a jar. I shove a few berries in my face and drink the tea on the way. I spend the workout feeling very pleased with my thrift and restraint, but that quickly fades when I realize I have an hour to shower and get to the yoga studio before a morning meeting. I drive home and grab a carton of yogurt with homemade granola, then sprint back out the door. I don’t feel I have enough time to make coffee, so I drive by a café for my second caffeine fix of the day. Just a small black drip keeps my costs in check—$2.

I work through the morning, then drive back home for lunch. Every time I cook, I make double, triple, or even quadruple portions. That way, meal times are as easy as reheating some leftover rice and beans. At least, that’s the idea in theory. I actually make it work today so lunch costs me zero extra dollars.

The afternoon is spent working on a freelance article, then driving to my marketing job to take a few pictures for social media. Another deterrent of a lifestyle that includes a lot of different jobs: A lot of driving. This translates to frequent fill-ups at the pump, but I’m grateful for my hybrid car. It was a big investment, but I save hundreds of dollars in gas every year. My fill-up today costs $23.

In the evening I meet my boyfriend for date night. We order a few appetizers to split, and wine at a local Italian restaurant. Total cost to me: Zero dollars.

TOTAL SPENT: $25

Thursday

Yesterday’s virtuous spending behaviors goes totally off the rails today. I’m running low on shower products, and decide to swing by the mall for some replacements at Lush. Although their shampoos and soaps are definitely costlier than basic bar soap, I admire their commitment to natural ingredients and their fight against animal testing. This would all be well and good if I was able to maintain a shred of restraint in that store, but let’s just say I walk out with far more than I intended to buy. I rationalize my bill with the fact that the products will all last for months—and that quality really does matter when you’re applying it directly to your skin.

Oh—yeah, I should probably mention that my fave yoga brand has a storefront a few doors down from Lush. I stroll in, black out, and don’t come to until half an hour later, when I’m pocketing a receipt to the tune of $200. Did I need a new pair of leggings, a new bra top, a tank, a pair of yoga undies, and a headband? Probably not. Does it help that I receive a 25 percent industry discount?!

The spending regret begins to sink in when I remember I have to do a grocery store run today, too. I bite the bullet and pile a cool hundred’s worth of bulk grains, organic veggies, and pantry staples into my cart. My shopping-induced shame is enough to keep me away from the $4 bottles of kombucha and chocolate-covered almonds.

I slink home and eat leftovers before reading in bed. I canceled my Netflix account a few weeks ago to save money, a fact that seems pretty hilarious in the face of a $300 mall spending spree.

TOTAL SPENT: Let’s not talk about it.

Friday

New day, fresh start. More granola and yogurt and I brew my coffee using old beans. Fun fact: Many coffee shops will sell you older beans for a discount. I’ll admit that my palate isn’t refined enough to taste the difference between ultra-fresh and “a few weeks past their prime,” so I stock up.

Friday morning is hectic. I pick up my dog from his sitter’s, then swing by my nonprofit job to put in an hour of work. After that it’s straight to the yoga studio for class. I don’t realize how famished I am until after noon. Knowing that things are about to get real ugly (I get hangry), I stop by a local fast casual restaurant and order a giant $15 salad to go, rather than waiting until I get home to cook. I am immediately wracked with guilt—I have fresh veggies in my fridge!—but I justify it by eating half, and supplementing the second portion with rice and beans for dinner. After lunch I put in on some management work from home, then drive back to the studio to teach an evening class.

TOTAL SPENT: $15

The Hard Truths–And What I’m Learning

My rent costs more than what most of my friends pay in mortgages. I live in a beautiful, loft-style apartment that feels like a sanctuary to me. And while that cost was initially worth it, I’ve since let go of a lot of higher-paying jobs to make room for the things that light me up (yoga, my not-for-profit work). So now, every month feels like a stressful scramble, and I can’t believe that at 31, I’m still living paycheck to paycheck.

Rent is a huge money suck. Ask yourself how much you’re paying for rent, and then if there’s any way you might be able to lower that number. (If you want to.) I’m not saying move out of your house/apartment tomorrow, but keep it in mind when looking for that next spot.

Having multiple low-paying jobs stresses me out. A lot. This isn’t a quantifiable cost, but because my finances are such a stress-filled burden right now, I’m expending a lot of energy worrying about them. I’m often up late, running through “what ifs” in my brain as to when I should be sleeping. This perpetual insomnia-induced fatigue often causes me to make impulsive “feels good in the moment” decisions (hello, Lululemon swag and absurdly expensive salads). And lately, I’ve been asking myself what’s sustainable… and what’s “worth it.”

When you’re a yoga teacher, that often means creatively supplementing your income. If this causes you stress (but not enough stress to swap in the freelance lifestyle for a 9–5), apply as many self-care techniques as you can. Dedicate some time on a night or day of to meal prep so that you don’t have to stress about. Buy an insulated lunchbox so you don’t stress about food going bad. Set a budget for “fun purchases” and stick to it.

I’m not contributing to my retirement fund right now. I have a 401k started, thanks to a stint in corporate America, but I’ve put that on pause as I figure out how to exist in this new phase of my life. If I could have a “do-over,” of this year, I would nab a cheaper apartment and put a few hundred in my retirement account every month. But as it stands, I’m just trying to earn enough not to get evicted. Definitely a distribution issue I plan on addressing when it’s time to renew my lease.Contribute to your 401k. Just do it, ya know?

Health insurance—ugh. When I quit my corporate job earlier this year I didn’t just lose my employer-matching retirement—I kissed health insurance goodbye. Right now I’m not paying for it at all. I justified that with the fact that my doctors (Ayurveda and acupuncture) weren’t covered under most plans, anyway. But I can’t deny it any longer: I need to stay on top of my gynecological check-ups, and I really should account for the unplanned stuff. Just in case.

Being a freelancer means having to make some tough decisions regarding your healthcare. Look into low-income options, or look at work-for-trades—some naturopaths offer industry discounts! Stay active in policy change and fight for affordable healthcare.

Goals to Set Yourself Up for Financial Success

To make a freelance lifestyle work, you’ve got to be creative, smart, and disciplined. Here are goals I plan to implement:

Create a budget—with the help of a professional. I do not have a math or logic brain. But luckily, I don’t have to go this alone. I’m going to work with someone to help me create a plan that’s realistic, sustainable, and most important, simple to understand. If finances send you into a mental tizzy, consider alternative options to help you make sound monetary choices. Consider it an investment. 

Reassess and rearrange the distribution of my regular income. As much as I love my fantasy dream apartment, I do not have to be spending 80 percent of my income on it. I’m going to downgrade my living situation so I don’t feel compelled to take on more work than I can sustain.

Find what you can omit in your life. Do you really need an Equinox membership? Can you cook at home instead of going out? If you didn’t drink, wouldn’t you be able to cross off that Lyft ride and the cost of alcohol? Write out everything you spend and see how can shift these numbers to create more savings.

Foster an attitude of gratitude, not a scarcity mentality. At the end of the day, I have a roof over my head, food on my plate, and yoga in my soul. All is well. There is always room for improvement, but life is still so, so good.


Rochelle Bilow is a yoga teacher and wellness writer based in Upstate New York. She’s an advocate for body positivity and healthy attitudes toward food and spends the majority of her free time concocting feel-good recipes. She’s also a nature nut and proud corgi mom. Connect with her at her website and on Instagram.