Occupation: content creator at AliciaTenise.com, author of the book, From Harvest to Home
Money shift: Money management while working as a independent entrepreneur
The life of a top lifestyle blogger like Alicia Tenise Chew of AliciaTenise.com can indeed be fabulous— sponsored trips, media attention, and book deals. However, it also has a side that people rarely discuss.
“One thing about blogging, you don’t get your paycheck every two weeks,” said Chew, 32. “Some people pay you in a net-30 timeframe, and some payments, unfortunately, drag on five to six months past due. It’s always a little unstable as a blogger.”
Now, Chew wants to put just as much energy into having a thoughtful financial life as she does curating the perfect style shoot. “My partner and I travel a lot,” said Chew, whose partner is a food and hospitality photographer. “There are always some out-of-pocket expenses on trips. When we get home, we are so tired, and we order in UberEats.”
Chew started blogging in 2011 while working in the fashion industry. She decided to create an independent outlet to express her personal style.
After working her 9-to-5 job, Chew worked 5-midnight blogging at AliciaTenise.com. She built her Alicia Tenise brand and earned $40,000 per year doing it, but she wasn’t ready to leave her full-time job.
“The thought of being a freelancer was really scary for me,” Chew said.
In Dec. 2016, Chew was downsized from her job and received a severance package that covered three months of her expenses. She decided to try blogging full-time.
“I was able to make more money off the blog because I had more time to dedicate to the projects and the quality of my content,” Chew said.
The blog became her career. “I love the community that I’ve created,” Chew said. “It’s so cool to have people with you every step of the way. I never expected to have all of this.”
Last year, Chew and her partner moved to Los Angeles after setting a goal to save $10,000 within eight months for the expensive cross-country trip from their base in Virginia. The move proved to be the right one. Chew says she would like to pursue television opportunities while in Los Angeles.
“I don’t think I’ll be (blogging) for my entire life,” Chew said.
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Chew earns just over $200,000 per year. Chew has $7,000 in credit card debt and a $12,000 student loan debt. As a literal fly girl, her travel lifestyle doesn’t afford her much time to cook. Chew sometimes only has three to four days between travel gigs for her blog and personally spends between $350 and $400 eating out monthly.
Her most significant expense is photography. She can spend anywhere from $100 to $15,000 to $20,000 on a photo shoot for her brand. On average, she pays $500 per shoot. She rents studio spaces and/or purchases props.
Chews spends around $2,900 per month on rent. Utilities are included.
Chew has a high-yield saving account.
“Sometimes I put $500, or sometimes I get paid late and don’t get to put anything in there,” Chew said.
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As a lucrative personal brand, Chew needs to set up her personal board of directors, said Alleson Tate, a certified financial planner and owner of Avere Wealth Management in Atlanta. Tate says people at Chew’s level need a good accountant, tax strategist, financial advisor, and attorney.
“These people will help her get organized, give her a solid strategic plan, help minimize her tax liability, maximize business profitability, and give her a solid foundation as she expands her empire into television,” Tate said.
Here are Tate’s other tip:
The great thing about being a content creator is that much of her lifestyle is a write-off. The key is to keep good records. For example, if she is planning a photoshoot. The cameraman, the videographer for the behind-the-scenes content, the location, the meals on set and more are tax deductible. To track expenses in her business consider apps like QuickBooks or Expensify.
Creating a spending and savings plan can be difficult, but there are a lot of great tools out there. Hands down, the most popular app is Mint. People can connect their bank accounts, credit cards, bills and other expenses to the platform. It is a data aggregation tool that will categorize each transaction such as clothing, dining out etc. Other apps to consider are YNAB, EveryDollar, HoneyDue, and PersonalCapital.
If she has to eat out, consider alternatives such as home meal delivery or home meal prep delivery services such as Home Chef, Sunbasket, Freshly, and others. The average price per meal is still cheaper than using Postmates or going to a restaurant. Chew should also consider doing a little food prep over the weekend or during her downtime, then drop the food in the freezer and take it out throughout the week when she’s on the go.
If she is the household’s primary breadwinner, she should consider having disability insurance. You have a greater chance of becoming disabled than dying, and having long-term disability insurance will protect her in these critical income earning years. While the coverage can be expensive, age is on her side.
As a corporation, she needs to pay herself first. She could consider setting up a SEP IRA. She can contribute 25% of her compensation up to a maximum of $61,000. She will receive a deduction for contributing to the SEP IRA, which reduces her taxable income.
If she consistently earns $200,000 a year, an LLC may not be the best for her from a tax perspective. In an LLC structure, you pay 15.3% in self-employment taxes. Under the S-corp structure, she pays herself a salary. She’s only responsible for payroll takes on her salary not the rest of her earnings. If she can consistently pay herself a salary of $50,000, she should consider an S corp.
Now there are other considerations, such as the cost to file an S-corp return which is separate from reporting the income from an LLC that flows through her 1040. There are some additional administrative costs to consider as well. She needs a good tax planner to determine the total potential cost savings by switching entity structures.
Natalie P. McNeal is the author of The Frugalista Files: How One Woman Got Out of Debt Without Giving Up the Fabulous Life