I was in the middle of a tough decision when a friend asked me a question over dinner that made me think differently about my money and my career

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  • When I was deliberating over taking a high-paying full-time job instead of building my freelance business, I asked my friends for their advice.
  • One asked me a question I couldn’t get out of my head: How much money do you have in savings?
  • Realising that I had enough in savings to take a break from the 9-to-5 opened me up to greater career options and made my decision easier.
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In 2015, I was tasked with making a big career decision: take a contract gig, or pursue freelancing full-time? About a month prior, I was unexpectedly let go about four weeks into what was supposed to be a one-year contract writing position.

After frantically reaching out to my network to land more freelance writing clients and meeting with creative recruiters around Los Angeles, I interviewed for a digital editor position with a financial company located in Downtown Los Angeles.

Within an hour of the interview, the recruiter gave me a call to let me know they had extended an offer. It would be making $US46 an hour, which added up to about $US96,000 a year. It was one of the hardest decisions in my life. In the string of day jobs I had working in the world of non-profit organisations and publishing, I never imagined making that much money.

Read more: After years of living paycheck to paycheck, I learned to ask myself 4 money questions every week, month, and year

While it would certainly be a good opportunity to squirrel away money into my savings, I wouldn’t be doing much writing at the job. And in the past year, I was actively working on gaining more clients as a freelance writer.

I had the weekend to decide. I’m someone who tends to “ask the committee” when deliberating over anything major, but after having my closest friends weigh in, I felt more confused. I didn’t sleep for two days.

On Saturday night, I went to dinner in Echo Park with my friends Tricia and Andy. We talked about the decision that lay heavily over me. To help me wade through the mental muck, Andy asked me a series of questions, but a simple question stood out: How much do you have sitting in your savings account?

That one question made me think differently about my money and time

Because I didn’t have any debt and kept my living expenses fairly low, I realised I had enough stashed away in my savings to comfortably get by for one year without having to work. If I was extra careful with my money, I could squeak by for a good year and a half from my savings.

Read more: I hustled to build a $US20,000 emergency fund in 6 months, and it’s one of the best financial decisions I’ve ever made

Since I landed my first full-time job a decade ago, I worked 40 hours a week, and took about two weeks of vacation. I hadn’t had a gap in working – or wages – until then. Not having a regular job was a blessing in disguise. I soon realised that, because I had been diligently squirrelling money away into my savings, I could afford the opportunity to work on building my business.

Andy also asked me a few other questions that made me feel slightly more sure-footed about declining the contract gig. He asked me how much money I was earning from my existing clients. The answer? I made around $US6,000 a month, which was about $US2,000 shy of how much I would be earning at the contract role. Not too shabby. Plus, I had just returned from a work conference and had leads for a few more clients, and I didn’t have any dependents.

By this point, I’d been saving for years

I did not have that money sitting in my savings from a windfall or inheritance. I had been diligently saving since I landed my first “real job,” editing horoscopes for an astrological publishing company. I kept most of my savings in a separate Capital One savings account. That way I wouldn’t be tempted to touch my savings without good reason.

I had been frugal for as long as I could remember, I saved anywhere from $US400 to $US500 a month on $US1,800 a month of take-home pay. I was terrified of having to move back home, and saved every penny I could.

My feats in frugality continued throughout my 20s, and I put as much as I could from my day job from any side hustles toward savings. It paid off. And when I had an opportunity to either get another job with a steady paycheck or work on my own business, I didn’t feel the squeeze of needing to work for money right away.

Having a robust cushion sitting in the bank meant I didn’t have to trade money for time. And like most people, I was programmed to think that working fewer than 50-hour weeks equated to laziness and lack of ambition. But that savings helped me realise that money could help gain a very limited resource: my time. I was in a solid place financially to focus on creating my own professional blueprint and build a freelancing business.