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How We’re Supporting Our Family with a Handmade Business on Etsy

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Guest post by Melissa Kaiserman

In the spring of 2013, my husband was in his seventh year of a position that had gone from dream job to highly toxic work environment. The stress was getting worse by the week and affecting both him and our family. Despite his best attempts to just focus on doing his job well and not let it get to him, it reached a point where he really believed he was supposed to quit.

While my husband is (thankfully!) not a big spender, he is definitely the Free Spirit while I am the Nerd. I’m the one who knows the budget inside and out, divvies up the cash into spending categories, and pays the bills. So I was trying my best to be supportive and not panic as I analyzed how the finances for our family would be impacted since I was a SAHM with just a little side business that I was doing mostly for fun.

At this point in our marriage, we had been completely out of debt (except for our mortgage) for about five years, which was a major factor that allowed us to even entertain such a drastic change. So for the next few months, we saved the profit from my handmade business as well as our tax return and anything extra from paychecks. After we had accumulated about 3-4 months worth of living expenses, Dave resigned from his job.

He immediately started looking for another position in his field. While he was going through the process of applying and interviewing, he mentioned that I may as well teach him some ways he could help with my business since he was home and had time. So I did, though neither of us had any idea how vital this would turn out to be!

A few weeks after my husband left his job, I received an Etsy convo from a credit union many states away that resulted in an $1800 order! There is no way I could have fulfilled that request without my husband home.

From that point forward, we clearly saw God blessing my business and my shop continuing to grow. But while Dave had made it to the final interview round for three different jobs for which he was highly qualified, he wasn’t offered any of them.

After some initial discouragement, it hit us: Maybe God is closing doors because He wants us to do this together! We had assumed my husband would continue in his field and I would continue to be a SAHM who operated a side business that simply provided extra for Christmas gifts and vacations. Having a family business and working from home seemed like too big and lofty a dream.

For the past 2 1/2 years, we have supported our family of six with a handmade business which, despite the warnings of the pundits, has sold products exclusively on the Etsy platform. My husband gets to work in his field from time to time and keep his skills sharp, and while that only accounts for a small percentage of our yearly income, the opportunities always come at just the right time.

People often express amazement at our story and wonder how we are able to make it work. While there’s no magic formula–and while as Christians we believe the main reason for our success is that we’re doing what God has called us to do–I believe there are three very practical areas that contribute:

MSM collage May151. We are out of debt.

My husband quitting his job was a step of faith, and we couldn’t have taken it with confidence if we had been under the burden of debt. If you have a dream of one day quitting your day job to work from home doing something you love, I strongly encourage you to get “gazelle intense” about eliminating debt!

We have also stayed completely out of debt with our business. In the very beginning, I used cash to pay for a limited amount of supplies until I created some profit and could purchase more, increasing inventory as I went. We’ve never used and don’t even own a business credit card–only debit.

2. We work as a team.

While I am the one who manages pretty much every aspect of the business, my husband does not view any job I need him to do as beneath him. He doesn’t perform any of the sewing, but he completes so many of the intermediary and finishing tasks that I find tedious, freeing me to focus on the areas where I thrive.

The same teamwork principle applies to our home. In addition to being an excellent handyman, Dave washes all of the laundry (and passes it along to our four who fold!), does virtually all of the transporting of children as well as many errands, and is quick to jump on anything he sees that needs to be done around the house.

3. We live frugally and on a budget.

If we didn’t tell our money where to go, our money could easily tell us this won’t work and that my husband needs to return to a traditional job. The truth is, we love our life and want to do this for as long as possible. So for us, it is worth it to make sacrifices and forgo doing and having some things in order for that to happen. It wouldn’t be possible without choosing to be content and having a spending plan.

When I made my first cash envelope system wallet for myself over four years ago, I discovered that ditching the paper envelopes and having a pretty and durable way to organize our cash made living on a budget seem a lot more enjoyable.

Melissa Kaiserman is a wife, mom, and handmade business owner who designs cash envelope system wallets & accessories that put the beauty in budgeting. She also blogs at A Time for Everything and uses her experience and passion to support and mentor fellow makers at Makery Space.

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  • Victoria says:

    I heard Melissa’s story on the Brilliant Business podcast, it is very inspiring!

  • What a great story! Thanks for sharing.

  • Kelly Cox says:

    Melissa, your story is my dream! I feel inspired. Thank you! I have started my blog as a platform to hopefully make money from it and get into speaking and training (which I do in my day job) but on the areas of debt-free living, marriage and all things about home! We live debt free now, Praise God, and I’m trying so hard to create a business via my blog. Our prayer is for both of us to work from home. I needed this post today. Thank you!!!!

  • I LOVE THIS!!! I love reading stories about momprenuers who are opening doors and creating opportunities for themselves and their families. Please, Crystal, publish more stories like this. SAHMs who feel hopeless need to read these.

    • Lydia, I absolutely love hearing stories about other moms who are entrepreneurs as well! That’s one reason Brilliant Business Moms is one of my favorite podcasts. No matter the type of business, it’s so fun and inspiring to hear the different situations and perspectives. Thank you for reading!

  • Momofthree says:

    Melissa I purchased your buy/save/spend wallets for my kids last year and they love them! They have held up well in the hands of young children and are super cute. Thanks!

    • I always love hearing how well our products hold up to regular use. I’m so glad your kids are enjoying their give-save-spend sets. Thank you for taking the time to comment!

  • kariane says:

    Thank you for sharing! That’s a wonderfully inspiring story.

  • Christine says:

    Great story and great Etsy shop!

  • Molly says:

    what’s the name of your Etsy shop? I want to look around

  • Congratulations to you and your husband. It truly is a leap of faith to go from a regular income to running your own business. I’m glad it’s worked out so well for you. One of these days I’m hoping I can convince my husband to take that leap of faith 🙂 Thanks for sharing your story.

  • That is an amazing story!! Awesome!

  • Gina says:

    I bought the kids’ sets for my children this past Christmas and they love them. I love knowing the story behind the product. All the best to you… hope your business continues to grow!

  • Liz M says:

    This is such a timely and encouraging post for me. You describe our situation almost to a tee. My husband’s dream job has gone toxic, and we sense the time is coming soon for him to leave. I run a small side business. Lately we have tackled some projects together, and have found it so much fun and fulfilling to work together as a team. I had been toying with the idea of having him join me, but it felt so unattainable. Your post has given me a glimpse of what it could be like. I want to pray more about this and see what my husband thinks too. Thank you for sharing your story!

    • Liz, I’m praying for you and your husband right now. It’s so hard to work in a toxic environment day after day and not be affected. Sometimes God calls people to stay for a purpose, but in other situations it’s like being slowly poisoned and expecting to feel well. I know He’ll give you wisdom.

  • What a great small business story. I loved these products when I saw them on MSM several years ago. They are so unique and make great presents for birthday parties, Christmas, neices and nephews. I like to stock my present closet so I’m not rushing out at the last minute!

    • That’s a great plan, Lisa! Thank you for your encouragement and for taking the time to comment.

    • By the way, I just realized who you are. I discovered your blog a couple of weeks ago via a post Amy Lynn Andrews shared. I am so encouraged by your example of trusting and clinging to the Lord through heartbreaking loss and faithfully living out the life He has given you. I hope everyone reading here will click on your name and visit.

  • Mackenzie says:

    Great story and very inspiring! 🙂

  • Lori Goebel says:

    Your story is so inspiring. I also have an etsy shop that has gone from making pocket change when I was doing it all myself, to providing 28% of our income last year when my husband began helping me. We both work at a Christian School where God has definitely called us – so we won’t be quitting our jobs anytime soon, but it has definitely brought us closer together to run this shop together.

    • I love your story, Lori! Even though not every couple will be able to (or even wants to) run a business together full time, I think it’s wonderful that you and your husband have been able to do this on the side and see what a great team you make and how it’s deepened your relationship. It’s definitely brought us closer together as well. I would have found it hard to believe a few years ago because I think I assumed this kind of setup would drive me nuts. While there are challenges, they are far overshadowed by the blessings!

    • Lori, I responded to you but it didn’t show, and when I tried again it said I had already submitted that comment. So we’ll see if Crystal finds it in spam and pushes it through. If not, I’ll come back. 🙂

  • As so many others have already said, what an encouraging story of creativity and faith. I am so thrilled that you have made this business of yours grow to support your family! Thank you for sharing your story with all of us!

  • T says:

    Melissa, I have loved your envelope wallets for a long time, but haven’t ordered one yet. The reason is because none of the fabric choices are really my style. I don’t mean this rudely at all, but I feel most of the fabrics offered are kind of country looking, I haven’t seen any more modern prints. Does that make sense? If you gave customers the option to tell you the name of a fabric that we liked, then if you could order it and make one, I would definitely do that. I would absolutely love a wallet, but until I see a fabric choice I like….

    • T, have you had a chance to peek at the full fabric gallery? There are currently 70+ fabrics there available for any of the “choice of fabrics” listings, including several that are more graphic-style prints (stripes, dots, geometric patterns) rather than florals. Since I use laminated cotton exclusively, I am limited to what the manufacturers offer, but I do try to keep a fairly large and varied selection on hand.

  • I love hearing about other small businesses from mothers!

    Can I ask why you’ve decided to stay exclusively on the Etsy platform? I’ve had an Etsy store for a few years but have recently started looking at moving some of it off of Etsy and onto a stand alone shop. I’m interested to hear your perspective!

    • I’m so glad you asked that question, Lauren!

      For the past year, I have felt such pressure–both internal and external–to set up shop on my website. It hasn’t been a matter of not wanting to or not knowing it’s a good idea. It really is my intent to do so at some point.

      The bottom line is that I had to finally realize that as a wife, a mom of four with two who are homeschooled, and a full-time business owner, there is only so much I can accomplish. Trying to move forward with setting up a separate shop was causing me a lot of stress. The beauty of the Etsy platform is that the back end is all set up for me, and all I have to do is plug in my photos, details, descriptions, tags, etc. I don’t have to code, set up a payment gateway, use a separate shipping app, manage orders from two different places, etc.

      Since it takes so much time to write effective product descriptions, optimize for search engines, design and sew products, ship orders, provide customer service, and keep current with social media, utilizing the Etsy platform has been a huge blessing to me at this very full time in my life. It frees me up to focus on all those other areas and not worry about the infrastructure of my shop.

      I will have a standalone shop eventually. It may be next month, it may be next year or in three years. But when I finally started tuning out the-sky-is-falling warnings, I was able to breathe. Having a shop on Etsy is a perfect fit for this time in our lives.

  • chelsea says:

    I just ordered three sets of these pouches for my kids from you last week, so it was so neat to read your story! Love supporting small businesses.

  • Diane says:

    Very cool! Your products look very nice, too. We’re also debt free and while it hasn’t really changed our employment (I still only work a few hours a week and stay home with kids the rest), I do love that it allows us to feel like I could quit my job at any time without a stress and also allows us to be more generous.

  • Hannah Beth Reid says:

    We have been using the basic wallet since January of this year and love it! Enjoyed hearing the story behind the shop!

  • My husband is self employed. I hope to one day be able to contribute to our income through writing. Loved your story!! So encouraging!!!

  • Carissa says:

    I just had to leave a comment to say that I LOVE my wallet I got from you in January. I gave it to myself for my birthday. I can’t remember the name exactly, but it is the one you do limited quantities of each month. I still don’t use it for it’s fullest potential, but I am baby stepping that way. It is beautiful and I get more compliments on it! We also ordered the kid envelopes and they love theirs as well. Thanks for making such fun, quality products.

    • You must have the Carry-It-All. 🙂 I’m so glad you and your children love your wallets. I appreciate you taking the time to comment and am cheering you along those baby steps!

  • Stacy says:

    What a wonderful story! Thank you for sharing. ?

  • Michelle says:

    I’ve tried using the cash system, but found that I was either carrying around a bunch of envelopes that would get lost in my purse or I would not have the envelopes I needed when I was out. I’ve always thought there has to be a better way and Melissa’s handmade wallets look like they would work great!

  • Kristin says:

    I love this story, especially that the real credit is given to God but practical ideas are given too. And these wallets look super cute! I’m heading over to check them out now. I hope your business continues to be blessed!

  • Natalie says:

    What a great post and true inspiration that the dream could happen! Blessings on your journey and thankful this is a story about trusting and seeing the provisions as well as clear doors being shut knowing what to pursue.

  • I have one of the envelope systems with the personalized dividers, and my kids have the spend-save-give envelope systems and we LOVE them! They have held up really well, and the cheery fabrics are so much fun. It makes using a cash envelope system so easy 🙂

  • I absolutely love this, while my soap business on Etsy is only part time for us, it has always been a dream of mine for it to be full time. Your story is so inspiring. Thank you for sharing.

  • Kim says:

    Thanks you for the inspiring story. I always love to hear about steps of faith and the positive outcomes because of them.

  • Melissa says:

    Just had to say not only how much I love the story, but I have purchased one of your wallets and they are by far the best envelope system ever! I’ve had mine for over a year and the quality is superb and it is still in perfect condition despite much abuse!

  • Jacqui Smith says:

    Thank you Melissa for sharing your story. It is inspiring to see how God has blessed your family by following His lead. Being debt free (mortgage included) has allowed us to make different decisions. It sure takes the stress off from stepping out in what He shows you. I’m also looking forward to the day soon when our side things completely support our family too. Thanks for the encouragement.

    • Jacqui, I’m just now reading your comment. That’s so incredible that you even have your mortgage paid off! I can only imagine how that changes everything and will speed up reaching your goals. Thank you for your encouragement and for sharing your own story.

  • Catherine says:

    I have been trying to sell my homemade as well but it’s been hard when you’re homemade is being compared to brand or department store. I put a lot of thought, time and work into it because it’s something I love doing. I haven’t used etsy yet but I’m using fb. I may be closing it down though after this year. Loved reading this article.

  • Lindsey says:

    Love your story! We have thought about this but are worried about insurance. What do you do?

  • Kathleen says:

    Love your story, Melissa! What a great idea to offer give/save/spend pouches. I recently guest posted for Crystal, too, on the topic of teaching your kids to give/save/spend. Your cute pouches would be a perfect storage solution!

  • Cheryl says:

    Do you do a lot of marketing. I also have an Etsy shop and I’m trying Facebook and Instagram and Pinterest. Just wondering what worked for you the best.

  • Lisa says:

    I’ve had one of your envelope-system wallets for years and LOVE IT! I’m working hard to get out of debt and I’m planning to reward myself when I reach my goal by picking out a new wallet!

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