This 31-year-old makes $15,000 a month as a voiceover artist and lives in a school bus: ‘I was able to quit my full-time job’
This story is part of CNBC Make It's Millennial Money series, which details how people around the world earn, spend and save their money.
When Alice Everdeen started recording voiceovers for airlines, video games and corporate companies in 2020, she had to work under a laundry basket lined with a mattress topper to get a clear sound.
Since then, the nature of Everdeen's freelance job hasn't changed, but its backdrop has. In September, she and her boyfriend, Jay, moved into their teal 30-foot school bus and started living and working from the road.
Everdeen's income is also significantly different: Before she started as a voiceover artist, she made $42,000 per year as a content manager for a supplement company. She now makes up to $15,000 every month as a freelance voiceover artist through her personal business and listing her services on platforms like Fiverr.
After expenses, Everdeen made $92,000 in 2021 and has already earned $150,000 this year, according to documents reviewed by CNBC Make It.
"The goal was to make a couple of hundred dollars every month for gas money," Everdeen, 31, tells CNBC Make It. "Within, I believe, four or five months, I was able to quit my full-time job."
Everdeen says her income affords her agency in both her professional and personal lives. She works three to five hours per day on approximately 150 projects per month, and living on a bus means she's able to travel the country.
But that freedom has a lofty price tag: Everdeen and Jay bought their school bus from a government auction for $7,324 in January 2020. They spent roughly $85,000 and nearly three years transforming it into their new home, and those renovations stand in the way of Everdeen building up her savings account.
Here's how Everdeen built a six-figure career and how she affords her life on the road.
A natural behind the mic
Everdeen grew up mimicking car commercials on the radio, but after graduating from Rutgers University with a bachelor's degree in journalism and visual arts in 2013, she didn't necessarily think her voice would lead to a lucrative career.
But things came full circle in 2018 when Everdeen got her first, and unplanned, voiceover job. She was working for an ad agency, and read clients a script she'd written for a local car dealership in Austin, Texas. They liked her voice so much that they decided not to hire an actor, and just use Everdeen's voice in the commercial.
Over the ensuing months, Everdeen recorded about 10 spots for the dealership. She left the ad agency for a content manager job at a supplement company, where she made $42,000 per year.
In March 2020, two months after she and Jay bought their school bus, she decided to look for voiceover jobs on Fiverr to earn extra cash. She brought in over $1,000 in her first month, and quickly realized it could become a viable side hustle.
In less than three months, she was matching her monthly income from her full-time job. In July 2020, she decided to quit and pursue voiceover acting full-time.
"I mostly do commercial TV and radio spots," Everdeen says. She also records a lot of voicemails for companies. "It's been two-and-a-half years and I've completed just under 3,000 jobs. So, it got really busy really quickly."
Life on a 30-foot school bus
Over drinks one night in 2019, Everdeen and Jay were discussing their goals, and both realized they wanted to travel. They decided to buy the school bus, and started deconstructing its seats and windows to convert it into their 30-foot home.
"We wanted to do a bus because they're a lot more customizable. RVs typically have a set layout," Everdeen says. "They're also not as safe. Busses are made to keep dozens of kids safe, and especially in rollovers or accidents. They're made of steel."
It took nearly three years to customize the bus — which has 21 feet of interior living space — into their home. Jay's resume is full of trade experience, specifically in water irrigation, so he and a friend were primarily responsible for constructing its new interior and exterior.
On the outside, the bus has a signal-boosting antenna, solar panels and a custom windshield. On the inside, their front seat converts into their bed. It also has a wood-burning stove, four-burner stove and oven, chest-style fridge and freezer, working shower and compost toilet. But the bus's shining star is the filter Jay rigged to convert fresh water into drinking water.
The bus also stores Everdeen's ISO box, which is an isolated, insulated cover that contains a microphone, where she does her voiceover recordings. Everdeen's rolls out on a drawer. It blocks out most of the bus's sounds when she is standing or sitting on a stool within the box, so it doesn't sound like she's recording in a "tin can."
Not a typical budget
Everdeen previously had a tumultuous relationship with money. She'd immediately spend earned money on travel and then cut back for months while she paid off her credit cards.
But when she started making more money through voiceovers and putting savings toward bus renovations, she knew she had to form new habits. She hired an accountant, who helped her organize her finances.
For the most part, Everdeen's new method has worked, although it'll take time to reflect that progress in her bank account. She is working to pay off a $34,440 credit card balance, mostly thanks to the bus.
On her first month on the road in September 2022, she spent $15,520. However, a lot of those expenses were from transitioning to bus life and dealing with an unexpected bus breakdown. Everdeen and Jay were also in Florida when Hurricane Ian hit, so they spent more money to reinforce the outside of the bus and stock up on food and gas.
Here's where her money went in September 2022:
- Discretionary spending: $6,607 on bus renovations, moving, Airbnb, HipCamp parking lots and pet expenses for her dog, Bentley
- Credit card payments: $2,914 toward paying off debt
- Unexpected expenses: $2,596 toward repairs when the bus broke down and preparing for Hurricane Ian
- Food: $1,880
- Insurance: $762 for medical, pet, bus and car
- Gas: $581
- Phone: $105 to Verizon and T-Mobile. She has two service providers to guarantee she'll be able to work wherever she goes.
- Subscriptions: $75 for Amazon Prime, Netflix, HBO, Spotify and Xbox
In September, Everdeen's food expenses were much higher than anticipated, she says. Their oven wasn't functioning, so they had to dine out for nearly every meal.
Everdeen is currently funneling her disposable income into her credit card debt, but once she has it paid off, she plans to start building up her savings account.
She also owes $6,412 in student loans, which are currently paused.
A long road ahead
Despite its transitional challenges, Everdeen and Jay have no plans to abandon their life on the road. Everdeen already owns land in New Orleans — she bought it in 2019 for $19,500 and pays $143 per year in property taxes — but she wants to buy more land and have home bases across the U.S.
For now, the point of bus life is that Everdeen and Jay have no plans, except to travel. While the couple is only two months into their journey, living on the road has already changed Everdeen's outlook on money and her life, she says.
"Prior to this, I was very caught up in wanting more and needing more. I was bored, I never felt fulfilled," she says. "Now that I have everything I need in such a small space, I'm not as stressed as I was.
"I don't have to make as many decisions every day … It's a different sense of freedom that I didn't think I would ever feel, and this is the first time in my life where I haven't just constantly wanted more."
Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify Everdeen's food expenses.
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