5 Levels of Expense Projections


I write for freelancers, gig-workers, writers, and other creatives, but I believe that this would apply to many people and is what no one tells you about personal finances…

First, let’s get the common knowledge out of the way. If you follow the news, or job boards and forums for your financial advice - you will learn to make a lifelong attempt at reducing your life to zero. Most of us already know that we need to live within our means and increase our means. It is drilled into us.

The weak advice is to:

  • scrimp,
  • save,
  • and work hard by putting in the hours
  • until you get your “big break” -
  • ie buy into the stock market
  • or a downpayment for your first home (mortgage).
  • Until then... do without.
  • Do what it takes.
  • Assume debt to get certified.
  • Postpone fun.
  • Eat tap ramen.
  • Drive a cheap used car.
  • Gonna get mine.
  • Hustle baby!
  • Etc.

It seems to me that most of the common advice about the key to financial success... is that you simply work hard, reduce your lifestyle to nothing, save, speculate with your small amount of hard earned savings, and count your unhatched chickens for the next 30 years.

Thats all fine for short term goals.

This is not playing to WIN at life - it's playing afraid of losing.

In my opinion, if we follow common financial advice, it keeps our financial literacy at a simpleton's level and encourages us to ask for permission for everything.

The result?

We will just continue to color between the lines, and be useful as someone else's efficient producers.

For example, I used to tell myself that I just needed to be more disciplined and cut back on expenses. But finally realized that even living a life of legal slavery and cutting out most "nice to have expenses", at minimum I would still require:

  • a clean and dry place to live with running water,
  • a refrigerator, gas, electricity, and storage.
  • healthy food (fruits, vegetables, protein)
  • safety and protection from criminals
  • some form of reliable transportation ( I like traveling more than a few miles from home)
  • Health and dental insurance
  • Other modern amenities - such as a cell phone or internet access.

If you support a family, then some of those needs increase exponentially. Plus you need time to work on and enjoy your relationships with your spouse, children, family, and friends.

What about putting money away for retirement?

We will get into things like compound interest, inflation, and future value of money further into this course, but remember their disclaimer "past returns are not indicative of future performance" - ie in layman terms... "you better understand what you are doing or the market is going to eat your breakfast, lunch, dinner, and your retirement fund."

So for now just realize that trying to SAVE a million dollars by adding an additional $6000/year to your savings account would take you about 167 years. Even trying to save 20% ($24k) of an annual income of $120,000 would still take you 42 years. And again, don't forget about that pesky inflation.

I'm pretty sure that most of us can figure out that saving alone is a flawed strategy, but if you couple that with median income or lowball pricing, and rising cost of living - let alone living a lifestyle - it takes a bit of work to wrap your head around it.

We are basically told to shrink (not grow) to survive.

And are never really told (at least not consistently)...
  • The bigger numbers that are required to live a good lifestyle.
  • Opportunities that earn you $50k a year, vs. $250k-$500k year
  • SAVING 10% of your income is a joke.
  • Earning $40-$50k a year, you won't have time to accumulate $1million dollars.
  • To live worry free in retirement requires 20-30X your annual income, invested.
  • Don't count on consistently earning 10% on most investments.
  • Count on inflation eating up 2-4% a year on most gains over time.
  • Jobs are not designed to take care of you.
  • Jobs are designed for you to make the company a profit or for you to accomplish an objective.
  • Free lunches, healthcare, 401k’s, etc are simply the bait and carrot on a stick to keep you “performing”.
  • Your house is not an asset. By the time you pay interest on your loan, and property taxes, maintenance and repairs; plus a decade of slow gains and finally commissions and fees, the return will be dismal.
  • How to calculate and track the real amount of time that you spend traveling or commuting and then factor that as a cost that results in a massive reduction of your net pay. Example: hours on the road, or airport lines, layovers, etc.

This is not a doom and gloom message. These are real concerns and considerations if you choose to live a life that is anything beyond what society has designed for you.

And if you are a freelancer, or hopeful gig seeker who needs to make ends meet (in what is peddled as a hyper competitive market) it is an effortless decision to under-bid on as many projects as you can to guarantee that cash keeps coming in for those baseline life expenses, and (*hopefully) retirement contributions.

To make matters worse, the gig platforms further perpetuate this race to the bottom with a marketing narrative to your prospective clients, employers, and amateur startups that they have access to an ocean of (your) talented, affordable, low-priced labor.

Competing with an ocean of "affordable global talent" doesn't help the perceived value of your hard work much, does it???

How to deal with these messes:

If you’ve been paying attention to my message so far, then you will know that I’m here to help you break your mindset free from this scarcity nonsense - so that you are not forced by circumstance or being coerced (even by yourself) to continue reducing your life to nothing, just for a glimmer of hope that someday you will have enough saved to retire on a $1mil nest egg (not wise) or finally save enough downpayment to make that new home purchase (maybe also not a wise decision).

Our goal here is to develop a mindset of abundance.

I previously shared a video titled “Lifestyle Income vs. Business Revenue” and why a baseline income of $60k-$100k a year is thinking really small, and that we probably need to be focused on learning how we can earn a minimum of $500k-$2mil in personal annual income by setting business revenue goals more like $10mil+ a year.

In this sample video lesson from the course (top of page), I introduce a members worksheet that will prove to you why even $250k - $500k personal annual income year will barely get you in the game if you want to have a lifestyle.

And why $2mil a year is starting to look like a better starting goal.

I could go into great detail about why every line item on this expense report is important, and how they impact your life in both positive and negative ways, but for the sake of time, this lesson will cover:

  • 5 levels of income.
  • Basic examples of what a moderate lifestyle for each may cost.
  • What reducing expenses gives you in surplus to save each year, at each level.
  • How long it would take you reach goals such as $1mil, $5mil, and $10mil by saving alone.
  • All evidence points to higher financial requirements. And this is just being moderately conservative.


  1. Use this spreadsheet (available to members), and determine where you are at currently with expenses, and how much surplus it leaves you with each year based on your current gross income.
  2. Pick a financial goal whether it is to save a lump sum of $100k, $1mil, or even $10mil.
  3. How many years would it take you to reach this goal with your current surplus each year? What lifestyle would you need to give up, to reach those goals? Will you ever reach them?
  4. So, where are you? And where do you want to go?
  5. Is your career choice earning potential, severely limiting your lifestyle?

These are important questions to ask.

Work needs to be done to remove self-limiting mindsets.

A focus on simply cutting expenses, or working more hours, is like just trying to treat the symptoms of a chronic condition. The problem won't go away.

Increasing our income is fundamental for us to enjoy a lifestyle and healthy finances.

And if you have it figured out, then I hope you’ve been sharing the message with others.


My results from completing this type of exercise tells me that:

  1. $60k and $120k year income will maybe get you by if you are very disciplined about cutting out most lifestyle and health benefits. You’ll basically be focused on paying for food, housing, vehicle bills, and servicing debt. If you are a real penny pincher, maybe being able to keep between 0%, 5%, 10%, or 20% of income depending on family size. Think $3000 - $24,000. That savings will take a very long time to amount to anything unless you are active about multiplying it, and you will be very fearful of losing it. Very challenging to support a family of 4 at these levels or provide any extracurricular type activities and experiences without increasing debt.
  2. At the $250k and $500k year level it would be very easy to go either way. The prestigious golden handcuffs and 60-100 hour work weeks. You could still blow it simply by leveling up lifestyle. Cutting costs is still key to saving, primarily in the expensive housing, vehicle, and vacation categories. However the savings alone is still going to take a long time to accumulate enough to make an impact and reach levels such as $10mil+ in net assets working for you. Seems at this point that any surplus should go towards creating more income streams.
  3. $2mil a year in personal income gets you a decent lifestyle and a chance on the board if you don’t screw it up.

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Making progress with a website or digital marketing project can be both difficult and time consuming. I would like to share with you many of the key insights I’ve discovered from my own experience that can provide a significant boost of positive results.

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Nathan Bray

Founder / UX / Design