Michelle Gardner on How to Build a $1 Million Blog & Find Your Own Paradise

This post is brought to you by Michelle’s favorite book that she recommends everyone read: Work Optional by Tanja Hester.

This is the latest interview in a series featuring digital nomads talking about their lives and lessons (click here if you want to be interviewed). The goal is to help demystify the process of making money online, wandering the world, and living an unconventional life!

Michelle has a hugely successful blog all about personal finance. What started as a passion project to track her own expenses is now her primary source of income. It’s earned her enough to retire whenever she desires. Be sure to check it out at Making Sense of Cents!

Thank you for sharing your story with Freedom Is Everything, Michelle!

Key takeaways from Michelle’s interview:

“Not everyone has to live the same life. So many people are preoccupied with the same “dream” – even when it’s not their dream! But, you can live your own life, and you are in charge of your own future. Seek out FIRE if you want to, reach for your passions, travel more – do whatever your heart desires. What I’m saying is that you should find your own happiness, not try to keep up with everyone else.”

“My best advice for someone interested in becoming a blogger is to simply start a blog. Luckily, blogs are extremely affordable to start, so there’s really no reason to not try. I ran my blog for the first year for around $100 for the WHOLE YEAR. It is a no-brainer if you are giving it a thought. My second piece of advice is to not give up too soon. I didn’t even make my first $100 blogging until I was doing it for six months.”

“I always make sure that the articles I write for Making Sense of Cents are engaging, helpful, informative, and more. Another way that I prefer is providing a freebie opt-in. I will then share this on social media such as Pinterest, within blog posts, and more, and this helps get new readers interested in signing up for my email list and becoming long-term readers.”

Table of Contents

Introduce yourself! 🙂 Who are you? What do you do for work? And what is your nomadic story?

My name is Michelle Schroeder-Gardner, and I currently travel full-time via sailboat, and I run my business online. I am originally from St. Louis, Missouri. My husband and I reached FIRE at the age of 30 and have enough saved to retire whenever we would like.

I run Making Sense of Cents, a personal finance website. Through my blog posts, I have helped thousands upon thousands of readers pay off their debt, make more money, save more money, and live their dream life.

I have been location independent since 2013 and traveling full-time since 2015. For a little over three years, I RVed full-time, and for the last three years, I have been traveling full-time via sailboat. 

We have been to countless national parks, climbed many mountains, sailed to numerous islands, and still have plenty left on our list of things that we would like to see. Currently, our favorite place to sail is the Bahamas due to its beautiful water, plentiful reef and fish, and 700 islands to explore.

What inspired you to start nomading? And how has nomading changed your perspective on life?

We actually first started RVing as a part-time thing, but just a few days after traveling in it, we decided to do it full-time. So, we got rid of our house and started RVing full-time. We absolutely fell in love with the lifestyle, and now we have both a van and a sailboat. We are primarily living on the sailboat, and during the off-season, we will take van trips.

Being a nomad has greatly changed my view on life. I have met so many amazing people over the years, seen an infinite amount of beautiful things, and more, and it has made me feel so grateful. It has also made me want to try everything and see as much as I can, haha.

Please tell us the detailed story of how you started your business.

I started Making Sense of Cents back in August of 2011. Back then, I had no idea what blogging was, and I did not know that you could even make money blogging. I started Making Sense of Cents as a way to track my financial situation and to simply journal what I was going through.

Then, I earned my first $100 blogging around six months later, and it quickly grew from there. Around two years after I started Making Sense of Cents, I left my full-time day job as a financial analyst and switched to blogging full-time.

Making Sense of Cents is a personal finance website where I write financial articles and help readers earn more, save more, and live more.

My blog reaches over 300,000 monthly readers and has earned me over $5,000,000 over the years.

If you are interested in starting a blog of your own, I recommend checking out the How To Start A Blog FREE Course.

What are the 2-3 favorite places where you’ve lived/traveled to and why?

My most favorite place that I have traveled to would be Moab, Utah. I know, that sounds crazy, considering I currently live on a sailboat, and Moab is in the desert. But, it’s an area that I have spent a lot of time in. We used to live in Fruita, Colorado, before we started RVing and sailing, which is close to Moab, and I don’t know if there’s anywhere in the world that has more beautiful views. From mountains to canyons and more, there is a lot to do in Moab.

My other most favorite place would be the Bahamas. The people are extremely friendly. The area has 700 islands (most of which are uninhabited, bountiful sea life, great sailing, and more. It is an amazing place to be, and it has taught me so much.

Tell us about your content creation journey and share some of your favorite content that people should check out!

I randomly started Making Sense of Cents after reading a magazine. In that month’s magazine, they actually featured a personal finance website. I had no idea that these were a thing, and I quickly fell in love. Through that website, I found personal finance bloggers and decided to start my own blog.

I had no idea what I was doing, and I had no goals for it. It was simply just for fun. After I made some money from it, I realized that I could potentially turn it into a full-time job. So, that’s what I did! I have now been blogging full-time since 2013.

I absolutely love blogging too. I enjoy being my own boss, creating my own schedule, having a flexible business, writing content that helps readers improve their financial situation, and more. Blogging has also allowed me to travel full-time, which is something that I am very grateful for.

Some of my favorite articles on Making Sense of Cents include:

What advice would you give to someone who’s thinking about nomading?

I think many people are afraid of being lonely when it comes to traveling full-time, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Traveling full-time by RV and boat means that it can be easy to make friends with other RVers and boaters because they understand you. But, friendships usually won’t last more than a few days, so it is a different type of friendship. 

You will fall hard and fast for these friends, but then they will leave quickly, and you will all say your farewells, haha. 

Once you realize that you will make friends all over the world, and you can keep in touch on Instagram, phone, etc., things will get easier.

What is unique about the way you travel, and what advice do you have for someone who wants to travel with a similar style?

The unique way that I travel is that I live on a sailboat, and I do it with dogs as well.

If you are thinking about living on a boat, I highly recommend taking boating classes that are relative to where you want to sail. For example, if you want to be on the ocean, you should take boating classes on the ocean in a similar-sized boat that you are interested in purchasing. This will give you more insight as to how it will be.

Since launching, what has been most effective to acquire/retain clients?

High-quality content is key when it comes to a personal finance blog. I always make sure that the articles I write for Making Sense of Cents are engaging, helpful, informative, and more.

Another way that I prefer is providing a freebie opt-in. I will then share this on social media such as Pinterest, within blog posts, and more, and this helps get new readers interested in signing up for my email list and becoming long-term readers of Making Sense of Cents.

What scale is your business at today, and what are your future goals?

Making Sense of Cents receives around 300,000 readers each month. I have earned over $5,000,000 from my blog over the years, with most of that being profit. I have very low expenses. I am hoping to continue to help more readers improve their financial situation and grow the blog further.

I also have an affiliate marketing course, Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing. I have over 6,000 bloggers learning about affiliate marketing in my course. I hope to continue to grow it and help more bloggers monetize their websites.

What digital tools do you use for your work/business?

I don’t use much for my business other than WordPress. I like to keep things as easy as possible.

For someone interested in becoming a content creator in your field, what’s the best advice that you would give? And what books, podcasts, thought leaders, or other learning resources do you recommend?

My best advice for someone interested in becoming a blogger is to simply start a blog.

Luckily, blogs are extremely affordable to start, so there’s really no reason to not try. I ran my blog for the first year for around $100 for the WHOLE YEAR. It is a no-brainer if you are giving it a thought.

And, my second piece of advice is to not give up too soon. The majority of bloggers quit before six months. I didn’t even make my first $100 blogging until I was doing it for six months. 

I highly recommend reading 10+ Of The Best Free Blogging Resources if you are interested in starting a blog. There, I have listed many free blogging resources, from starting your blog to monetizing and growing it.

If you’re passionate about FIRE (Financial Independence Early Retirement), please share how this has impacted your life, what your journey has been like, and what other people should know about FIRE! 

I am very passionate about FIRE! 

Thanks to running Making Sense of Cents, I have saved enough to retire whenever I would like. I love blogging, though, so I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon.

But, saving enough has allowed me to pursue my passion without the stress. This is something that I am very grateful for.

If you only had a few minutes to live, what are the most important life lessons you would share with the world?

Not everyone has to live the same life. 

So many people are preoccupied with the same “dream” – even when it’s not their dream! For example, a big house with a white fence, 2.5 children, going to work from 9 am to 5 pm, taking on car debt, large house mortgage, and so on. But, you can live your own life, and you are in charge of your own future. Seek out FIRE if you want to, reach for your passions, travel more – do whatever your heart desires.

What I’m saying is that you should find your own happiness, not try to keep up with everyone else.

What’s your favorite book and why?

My favorite financial book is Work Optional by Tanja Hester. I highly, highly recommend that everyone read it.

What do you travel with that you couldn’t imagine traveling without?

I travel with my whole home, so luckily I don’t have to leave anything behind 🙂

This is definitely one of the best parts of traveling via RV and/or boat – you don’t have to worry about forgetting anything.

How can people learn more about you and your work?

You can find me on Making Sense of CentsInstagramTwitter, and more.

Lauren Allain
Lauren is a freelance journalist from Seattle. She travels the globe in search of the best grocery stores, bouldering gyms, and snorkeling locations. Her mission at Freedom Is Everything is to help others make the transition into location-independent lifestyles.