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She Ditched the American Dream and Is Happier Than Ever

She didn’t find financial freedom until she divorced, sold her home and left her 9 to 5.

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For Jannese Torres, a personal finance expert, life couldn’t be better. She’s a podcast host and entrepreneur living in her dream home in Tampa Bay. And she just embarked on her first national tour to promote Financially Lit!, her personal finance book. But that wasn’t always the case.

Five years ago, she was burnt out and miserable. It wasn’t until she turned her back on the milestones she felt she needed to achieve that she found true happiness.

“It’s never too late to make a change,” said Torres. “The first step is usually the hardest. Your only regret will be not doing it sooner.”

It can be terrifying to make big pivots in life -- not to mention expensive. But staying in an unhappy situation can cost you even more. Here’s what Torres learned about ditching societal expectations of the “perfect life,” and doing what’s best for you.

Buying a home doesn’t always buy you happiness

Torres was living in a house she hated, stuck in a toxic marriage, working a job she didn’t love, and having thousands of dollars of student loan debt. Although she felt like she did everything right, she found herself disillusioned with the American Dream she’d been sold. 

When many of us approach our 30s, we begin measuring our achievements and successes against our peers’. This need for comparison combined with the pressure from our communities and society can lead us to make financial decisions that aren’t aligned with what we actually want in life, Torres said. 

When Torres turned 30, she found herself buying a home in a state of autopilot. She didn’t stop to ask herself if she even wanted to buy a home. She just knew she felt behind her peers and assumed that’s what she was supposed to do.

She wasn’t even sure if she was financially ready to be a homeowner. But fear of missing out and the idea that buying a house was the next logical step convinced her to take the plunge. 

“The pinnacle of success in my Puerto Rican family is to buy a home,” said Torres. “That’s how you know you’ve made it.”

After three years, she realized she was living somewhere she didn’t love, and sold the home for $10,000 less than what she bought it for. 

“It was not a great financial decision in the short term, but in the long term, it definitely set me up for success,” Torres said.

Having the courage to make a choice that contradicted what society had led her to believe she should do changed her life. “Getting rid of my home was the single largest factor in me being able to pursue financial independence,” said Torres. 

“The most rewarding thing is being able to pour into my relationships and prioritize my happiness and health because money is no longer a factor that controls my life.”

Torres traded in her $3,500 monthly mortgage in New Jersey for her dream rental in the Tampa Bay area for $1,600 a month. Six years later, Torres still rents and isn’t in a hurry to buy a home. She pays more than she did in 2018, but for her, it’s worth it. She enjoys the year-round nice weather and no state income tax -- which is a benefit to being a self-employed high-income earner, she added. 

Don’t get married without protecting your money

As much as we want some life decisions to work out, they don’t always. No one enters into a marriage expecting a divorce, but that’s how many marriages end. Maintaining separate bank accounts and creating a postnuptial agreement allowed Torres to get out of her marriage financially unscathed. But it could have been much harder if she hadn’t planned ahead. 

Combining finances can make sense for shared bills, but Torres recommends always having your own money set aside. It’s sage advice for anyone moving in with a partner or contemplating marriage. 

“One of the advantages that I had, especially in the process of getting divorced was I always kept my finances separate.”

Pro tip

If you’re not sure where to start, Torres suggests growing an emergency fund in an individual savings account. This money can help you get out of a situation that’s no longer working for you. Stashing the money in a high-yield savings account can help you earn a competitive interest rate, while making it easy to access your funds when you need them.

If you don’t love your career, it’s not too late to change paths

Torres spent $55,000 in student loans to get a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology and a master’s In biotechnology only to end up in a 9-to-5 corporate job that was draining her. She was making a decent salary. But the student loan debt and unfulfilling career had her questioning her choices.

At 36, she decided to go into business for herself -- a big shift, but one she felt she had to try. 

She didn’t jump ship from her full-time job until she had her new business set up correctly. She took her time to build up a bigger emergency fund -- just in case -- and looked into retirement and healthcare plans to make sure she was protected when she left her job. She also made sure to set up her business as an S-corporation so she could pay herself regular paychecks, while setting aside enough money for business costs and taxes

And she has no regrets. “Taking the extra time to make sure that those things were in place made me feel like I built something that’s sustainable versus something for the short term,” said Torres. 

Now she’s her own boss, creates her own schedule and is doing work that’s rewarding. Some days, she’s coaching clients or building a new course. Other days it’s recording podcast episodes or creating social media content. And when she needs a break, she loves that she has the freedom to book an impromptu trip. 

“The most rewarding thing is being able to pour into my relationships and prioritize my happiness and health because money is no longer a factor that controls my life,” said Torres.

Life’s too short to settle

Although Torres encourages her followers to get out of unhappy situations as soon as they can, she also stresses taking the time you need to prepare. Planning to leave a marriage or start a small business may require saving money for several months

Make moves in the meantime to better yourself, she said. For example, if you want to change roles at your job, think about how you can pivot without having to pay a significant amount in school costs. Are there opportunities at your current workplace to mentor in a different department or shadow someone in a career you’re interested in? Maybe you can lean on free resources online, like a free or low-cost boot camp to earn a certification.

“That could put you on a path to making a pivot without you having to go and get a whole other degree,” she added.

It’s OK if you can’t make a change immediately, but don’t be complacent. Before you know it, five to 10 years will have passed and you may be in the same situation. 

You may never be 100% ready to take the plunge. But preparing as much as you can in advance can help you feel more secure, so you’re not tempted to idle in a situation that’s holding you back.

“The worst thing you can do is use money as the reason why you’re going to stay stuck in the situation,” said Torres.

Dashia is a staff editor for CNET Money who covers all angles of personal finance, including credit cards and banking. From reviews to news coverage, she aims to help readers make more informed decisions about their money. Dashia was previously a staff writer at NextAdvisor, where she covered credit cards, taxes, banking B2B payments. She has also written about safety, home automation, technology and fintech.
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