In the winter of 2008, my husband and I were like many other families, struggling to pay our bills.
We both worked part-time for a local newspaper, he also was a part-time college instructor and I was freelance writing.
It all added up to a lot of hours, and not enough money. We averaged about $1,500 a month working as much as 60 hours a week.
To our surprise, our answer lay in a job that first looked far less than awesome.
We found the ad in our local newspaper. A storage facility located about five miles from where we were in Carbondale, Illinois, was seeking facility managers.
Our interview lasted less than 30 minutes over coffee at the local Denny’s. After answering a few questions about our basic computer and customer-service skills, we were hired as live-on-site managers for a self-storage facility.
Our first job working as self-storage managers had a starting salary of $800 a month in return for keeping the office open 52 hours a week.
Even living in the one of the cheapest parts of the country -- rural southern Illinois -- how could we not only live, but save money, on such a low salary?
The benefits made this job worth taking -- and they turned out to be perfect for letting us live our lifestyle.
Accepting the job meant the owner gave us a 1,200-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment and paid all our utilities -- in addition to the small salary.
The apartment was furnished with only major appliances, so we ended up buying some extra furniture for the second bedroom.
The salary was commission-based with a guaranteed minimum of $800. We got the minimum exactly once, our first month there. Our monthly commission rose steadily, but topped out in five years at less than the $1,500 a month we made previously.
Even with the boss paying your rent, electric, phone and Internet bill, how exactly do you pay off your bills and become nearly debt-free in five years?
Other than our student loans, we paid off all our old bills, took our first vacation in years, bought a washer and dryer and paid cash for a new car.
First, we got serious about saving money.
And we put every dime we possibly could into our car fund. We were driving a 1995 Kia Sephia with 150,000 miles when we took the job, and we vowed to keep driving it until we could pay cash for a new car.
Working from home meant we saved on gas and car insurance, and we didn’t have to buy lunches or snacks at the office.
Next, we looked for other opportunities.
One of the first things our boss said to sell us on the job was he didn’t mind if we played video games, cleaned the house or watched TV during office hours -- as long as we answered the phone and helped customers who came in.
So if someone came in needing a storage unit, we’d show them their options and try to convince them to rent with us. When they did, we’d have to sign a contract and take their payments.
We also went above and beyond those requirements.
We’d answer the phone and help customers based on their schedules, including after normal business hours and on traditional holidays like Memorial Day and Labor Day. As a result, our commissions grew.
But more than that, if the office was open, we were working -- on our side hustles.
My husband’s degrees are in photography and graphic design and mine in journalism. He designed ads for the newspaper and I wrote fiction and nonfiction during office hours.
The first few years as storage managers, our income topped out at $25,000 a year, but by 2012 we had saved enough to buy a car. Using Ford’s employee discount (my grandfather was a retired Ford employee), we paid just under $18,000 for a new car and left $7,000 in the bank.
We joke that we took the job because both of us wanted to be writers, but didn’t want to be starving artists. Working as self-storage managers helped us live our dream!
In 2015, our side jobs netted us an additional $28,000.
After five years on the job, we had more experience, a two-year-old car still under warranty, and enough money in the bank to fund a cross-country move.
When we were ready to leave southern Illinois, we looked for websites dedicated to the type of job we wanted and stumbled across WorkingCouples.com, which specializes in jobs for married teams. Through the site, we found another self-storage management position.
This one came with a company vehicle, cell phone and a three-bedroom home on the storage property. They even pay for our gym membership!
During our second year here, we made three times as much as we had at the old facility. Food, car insurance, health insurance and those dreaded student loans were our only normal monthly expenses.
With the new job, we have quickly rebuilt our just-in-case nest egg and started making extra payments to get rid of the student loans.
The work is easy and we’re only busy a few days a month.
You’ll probably live close to an industrial area, which means no neighbors, but we don’t mind.
And, the first time new friends come to visit, you have to carefully explain that you live at the storage facility. Once most people see how little we work and how nice the house is, their first question is, “Where do we sign up?”
At least one of you needs to be good at customer service. That means answering the phone and talking with potential renters when they visit the office.
You’ll need basic computer skills -- and it’s nice if you can do very basic handyman work to replace broken latches.
That’s it. We suggest working in jeans.
Of course, no job is perfect -- there are a few pitfalls.
For some people, living where you work can be difficult.
We make it clear we don’t keep cash in the office. It’s attached to our house and we have a good relationship with the local police.
But because of the facility’s security, we probably have better security than most people’s homes. We have security cameras, an alarm system and an electronic gate between us and the world.
We also plan to spend time away from the house several times a week. Even if it’s just taking a walk at the local mall, it helps fight the monotony of working where you live.
We’re only open a half-day on Saturdays, but we’re still open.
But we get two weeks paid vacation every year, a part-time helper who comes in when we need a mental health break, and major holidays off -- Thanksgiving, Christmas and Fourth of July.
You also have to teach customers not to bother you after office hours.
Usually, it means gently reminding them the office is closed even if you’re home. Because you live on the property, it’s not a great environment for children or outdoor animals.
But for those of us who want to create without being starving artists, it’s a great way to make and save money!
Your Turn: Would you work as a storage facility manager to pursue your dream?
Lucinda Gunnin and her husband Thor manage 422 Spacemall Self Storage in Oaks, Pennsylvania. Both are published authors with Twin Trinity Media and love knowing that they can create while not worrying about paying the bills.