ScoreCard Research Michelle Kuehner - The Penny Hoarder

In 2015, my husband and I sold our house and bought a recreational vehicle. We never expected to become full-time RVers, but now we absolutely love this lifestyle.

We’re able to travel full time because of our business.

In August 2011, I started my first personal finance website, Making Sense of Cents. I was dealing with student loan debt, living paycheck to paycheck and more. I wanted to improve my own financial situation, but I also thought I could help others along the way.

I had no idea I would love writing so much, because I definitely didn’t enjoy it when I was younger. (My English teachers are probably laughing right now!)

Eventually, I was earning enough from my blog to turn it into full-time income. In 2013, I left my day job as a financial analyst to become a full-time blogger working from home.

Now, I travel full time, as well.

[caption id="attachment_49956" align="aligncenter" width="538"]traveling full time making sense of cents/Facebook[/caption]

Yes, I live and work in that RV we bought, exploring the country with my husband and our two dogs.

While living in our RV, here are some of the places we’ve traveled:

  • Pacific Northwest: Mount Rainier National Park, Olympic National Park, Kalaloch and Ruby Beach, Hoh National Rainforest, La Push Beach and many other amazing places.
  • California: We hopped along beaches from the north all the way to Los Angeles.
  • Utah: Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Moab and many other places.
  • Colorado: Rocky Mountain National Park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado National Monument, Dinosaur National Monument, Mesa Verde National Park and more.
  • Arizona: Saguaro National Park, Tucson, Sedona and more.
  • Wyoming: Yellowstone National Park and Grand Tetons National Park.
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

And that isn’t even the full list!

We sold our house to live this adventurous lifestyle, and it's something that I really, really love.

Being a full-time blogger is absolutely amazing, and being able to travel full time just makes everything much more fun.

Here are the most common questions I receive about running a business while traveling.

What is Your Average Day Like?

Traveling full time means we don’t have an average day, and that’s what we love about it. We have a flexible schedule, which means we can see new things and explore new places, or stay in and work (especially if it's raining).

Sometimes we stay in one area for over a month; other times it's just a few days. I'm writing this from Arizona, a very popular state for RVers during the winter months. The weather is great here, so there are lots of things to do outdoors this time of year.

My husband does all the driving and managing of the RV, including dumping the tanks! Meanwhile, I primarily run the business. It's a good trade-off, because both sides require a decent amount of work!

How Do You Separate Work and Fun?

The great thing about having a blogging business is that I am my own boss and create my own schedule.

I like to spend as many daylight hours as I can enjoying new places and being outdoors. Then, I dedicate the evening and night hours to working.

By having this balance and great schedule, I can enjoy traveling while still having plenty of time to work each day.

How Do You Receive Mail If You Travel Full Time?

We subscribe to a mail-forwarding company called My Dakota Address. All of our mail gets sent there, then the company forwards our mail to wherever we are.

How Do You Have Internet While Traveling?

I have a Verizon MiFi for internet. It's the most common internet device for full-time travelers in the United States.

With this device, I can access the internet from almost anywhere in the United States. The internet in RV parks and campgrounds is usually quite bad, so if you plan on working online while traveling full time, I highly recommend having a device like this one.

The packages aren't cheap, so you have to budget for them. The basic plan is around $15 for 1GB a month, and each extra gigabyte costs $10.

If you know you’re going to use more data, you can save by getting 5GB for $50 per month or 10GB for $80 per month. There are grandfathered unlimited plans as well, but they have a high upfront cost, and there are rumors that Verizon plans to cut them soon.

[caption id="attachment_49957" align="aligncenter" width="866"]traveling full time making sense of cents/Facebook[/caption]

Do You Travel Slowly or Quickly?

A lot of people wonder if RVers pick a new place to live every single day. We don’t, unless we are trying to quickly get to a specific destination.

There are pros and cons to traveling slowly or quickly.

We prefer traveling slowly because it is usually more affordable, there is less fuel waste, and most importantly, we have more time to enjoy the area.

Traveling quickly means you may be able to visit more places. If you have a time crunch, you may decide to do this. However, since we plan on traveling full time for a quite a while, we are in no rush. We can travel slowly and enjoy each place a little more.

How Do You Balance Running a Business With Traveling and Exploring?

Running a business and being able to travel probably sounds great to the average person, and trust me, it is.

But you want to manage a good work-life balance. It can be easy to let your work take over — but if you do, you may not enjoy your destination, or you’ll feel stressed because you have too much going on.

Planning and working ahead keep me sane and help me maintain a work-life balance. This way if I come across an area with no internet, if I really love an area I’m visiting, or if I am unable to work for some other reason, I can still have fun and not feel stressed out.

I try to always be a few months ahead when it comes to content for my blog so I am not frantically trying to get writing work done. I publish new content on my blog two to three times a week.

Writing ahead of time eliminates strict deadlines — and helps me enjoy where I am even more.

Your Turn: Are you interested in running a business and traveling? Why or why not?

Correction: A previous version of this post included incorrect images.

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner is the founder and writer of Making Sense of Cents, where she helps readers learn to make extra money, save money and reach their dream lives. She currently earns $100,000 a month through blogging.


My community pulled together recently to help a young father battling cancer for the second time. A local cupcakery held a fundraiser in his honor and donated $1 to his family for each cupcake sold on a particular day. The store was packed, the lines were long, and the cupcakes sold out quickly -- well, at least the triple-chocolate cheesecake ones did.

When it comes to raising money for a cause, what used to be as simple as putting out a donation jar has been made even easier -- you can ask people to donate right from their smartphones through crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe, GiveForward and YouCaring.

But does that help actually hurt you when it comes to tax time? As the recipient, do you need to claim the funds you raise through a crowdfunding campaign as income, or is that money considered a gift?

The Rise of Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding has come a long way from its roots in community-focused fundraisers. In just a few short minutes, anyone with a computer, smartphone or tablet can create a crowdfunding campaign, then post a link on social media asking “the crowd” (us) to make donations to their cause.

Crowdfunding campaigns can be a great way to reach a lot of people at once, as donors will often share the link with their own networks. While most people are familiar with crowdfunded business projects through sites like Kickstarter, crowdfunding is increasingly popular as a way to help cover medical or emergency expenses.

And these campaigns are indeed raising a lot of funds. In 2012 alone, these sites helped people raise more than $2.7 billion, and in 2013 that number jumped to a whopping $5.1 billion, according to a Crowdfunding Industry Report created by Massolution.

As a certified credit counselor, I was delighted to hear about crowdfunding platforms, as this is just the kind of assistance that a family needs to help them avert a bankruptcy in a time of desperation. However, my more cautious registered investment advisor side suggested a crucial question to consider before you start your own crowdfunding campaign:

Is Crowdfunded Money Considered a Gift or Income?

The rules on how to handle the taxes on crowdsourced donations are still a bit vague. Do you have to claim the funds as income, or do they fall under the IRS annual gift tax exclusion ($14,000 for 2014 and 2015)?

“While this is no means a guarantee, most donations on GoFundMe are simply considered to be 'personal gifts' which are not taxed as income in the U.S.,” says the company. However, they also suggest you consult with a tax specialist for advice on your situation. YouCaring takes a far more conservative approach by stating they provide “no advice” on how you should classify the funds.

Here’s the tricky part: If you ask two tax professionals, you’ll likely get two different answers. Because crowdfunding donations is still a new concept (at least, it’s become popular more quickly than tax law could be clarified), there’s no clear written directive on how to handle this money. The current rules can be interpreted in different ways, depending who you ask. Is it black and blue or gold and white?

An Example of the Potential Problems

Let’s say your dear friend’s house catches fire. Being the kind person you are, you decide to set up a crowdfunding campaign for her and her family. You enter your bank account information to complete the registration, thinking that you’ll collect the donations, then transfer the money to your friend.

Why did you do it this way instead of getting her bank information? Maybe she was busy. Maybe you wanted to surprise her. Maybe you knew she would discourage you. Whatever the reason, it happens.

After a couple of weeks, quite a few donations have trickled in and you have raised a little over $15,000. You transfer the funds to your bank, and get a cashier’s check made payable to your friend. As you hand it to her, she’s all smiles. You are, too -- until you realize you could be stuck with the tax bill.

Why? All of the individual donations flew under the $14,000 annual gift tax exclusion limit. Even the total of $15,000 would have been fine, since no one individually gave over $14,000. Well, except you… when you presented the $15,000 check.

Unless your tax preparer can find a loophole, you may be stuck paying taxes on the whole tab. (Here’s one example of a potential loophole: If you are married, part of the $15,000 could be considered a gift from your spouse.)

The Impact of Counting Crowdfunded Money as Income

Does it matter if you have to claim the money as income and pay a little tax on it? After all, it was “free money,” right?

Well, if you receive disability, social security, a health insurance tax credit or any other type of income-based assistance, it can matter a whole lot. The extra income from one of these innocent-enough fundraisers could push you over the income limit for your assistance -- making you ineligible for the program and adding additional financial stress to your life. Even if you’re not eligible for one of these programs, this additional income could bump you into a higher tax bracket, which could cancel out some of the funds raised.

Before you decide to launch a campaign for yourself or a friend, make sure it won’t ultimately diminish your livelihood or theirs.

Another potential impact is a more complicated tax return. Crowdfunding sites generally use a payment processor like PayPal to handle the donations, and PayPal is responsible for reporting information to the IRS on payments of $20,000 or more made up of 200 or more transactions, which creates a 1099-K form. If you earn other income through PayPal, perhaps from an online business, that income could be combined with your crowdfunded money to create a bit of a financial mess.

This is a lesson Jay Lake, a science-fiction author, learned the hard way. Friends and family raised a hefty $48,000 for an experimental process to aid in Jay’s colorectal cancer treatment via a YouCaring.com campaign. When Lake received his 1099-K form from PayPal for his book royalty income, he was surprised to see the donated funds included as income as well.

While Lake has an accountant to work through his taxes, she has warned that the commingled funds mean his tax return will likely be audited -- not exactly something he wants to face while undergoing treatment for cancer.

Why the IRS Cares About Crowdfunding Income

First, look back at those numbers I mentioned earlier. The IRS isn’t likely to skip collecting taxes on the billions of dollars crowdfunding campaigns raise each year.

One reason is that crowdfunding sites and payment processors can’t verify where the money goes. Since PayPal sends the money to the person behind the campaign, the IRS can’t verify that those donations are really going to support a kidney transplant. For all the IRS knows, that money could be used to buy $20,000 worth of gummy bears.

Consider the Tax Impact Before Planning a Crowdfunding Campaign

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not against crowdfunding. I think it’s an amazing way to show generosity to those in a time of need. It’s more convenient than sending a gift card, and simpler than setting up an account at a local bank.

But before setting up a crowdfunding campaign, make sure you aren't costing yourself more than you’re raising. A follow-up GoFundMe campaign to “pay my taxes from my previous fundraiser” might not go over well with your donors.

Your Turn: Have you run a crowdfunding campaign? Did you consider this question before launching it?

This post does not constitute tax advice. For specific advice, please see a tax professional.

Michelle Kuehner is a Registered Investment Advisor Representative and Director of Operations for Personal Money Planning. She is also a Certified Credit Counselor and Certified Financial Health Counselor, writes The Money Diet blog, and has over 22 years of experience in the financial industry.