How Rene takes Winter off to Travel to South America as a Photographer

Yes, you heard right! Rene is a photographer, real estate investor, mother, wife, and just all around amazing!

I know what you’re thinking…

The what?! An artist artist, globetrotter, and *real estate* investor?!

How does she do it?

Aren’t artists supposed to be “starving”?!

Ha! Starving!? My friends, Rene is *thriving*!

First, let's get the bare bone facts out of the way:

- She bought her first home at the age of 23.
- She has a thriving art business.
- Her husband is also self-employed.
- She has a lovely 4-year-old daughter.
- Her family’s taking the month (yes, the entire month) of February to go on a cultural exchange in the Caribbean with her.

Alright, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to the long juicy version of how Rene built her snowbird artist lifestyle.

Rene, tell us about how you started your business, and how it’s lead to the lifestyle you have today?

I grew up in a family of 9 kids, so I learned to fend for my own needs from a young age. This gave me a burning desire to provide for myself. I got my first camera at a yard sale, and wanted to know how it worked, and needed money to buy film and process it. I started earning my own money at age 11 babysitting for neighbors.

I went on to travel through Latin America on some of the money I saved after high school. And then traveled for three months through Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala.

After traveling, I went to college and wanted to improve my Spanish for traveling more. I majored in Multimedia Arts with a focus in Photography.

Throughout that time I also worked and saved. I realized that what I paid for rent was comparable to what I would pay for a house, and also saw my friends who were older buying houses. So, I worked really hard to get money for a down payment. It required some planning, but I really wanted to put money in my own piggy bank instead of someone else's. When I went into the bank they were shocked that I was so young (23-years-old at the time), single, and buying a place.

During the winters, I would rent it out from the holidays until April, and go to a new country that I hadn’t been to before. I would spend as much of the winters as I could in Central and South America. And, that house is now still a rental property for us.

You have an amazing story and have accomplished so much! Congratulations on having built up the lifestyle you have. As an artist myself, I would love learn more about your art business.

Sure. I do a mix of fine art photography and a lot of kids’ portraits.

One of my favorites is the lost and found series, where kids bring me something they’ve found out in nature and I create timeless black and white portraits of them with their object.

Kids’ portraits are what I’m constantly most excited about. I love it. It makes me happy. For me, it’s right up there with my personal work and fine art.

For my fine art, I’m currently working on an ongoing series about dreams. It’s a series I started during my travels and will continue in February.

Do you typically work while you travel?

Yes, but it’s more fun. So in February for example, I’m participating in an artist exchange with local artists and models, which I’m really looking forward to. But it’s usually something like that -- work based with lots of fun planned around it.

I know you’ve grown a family since being a solo globe trotter. How has that impacted your lifestyle?

At first the travel was on hold a bit, but as my daughter’s gotten a little older we’ve gone to Mexico and Costa Rica. She’s 4-years-old now. Having a family changed the style of travel, but I love bringing the love of travel into my family life.

Also, my husband is a self-employed acupuncturist. When we got married we moved into his house, which he already owned.

How do you balance your art business with being a landlord?

Well, although it wasn’t ever really my dream to be a landlord, it’s not that bad. We’ve had the rental for the last 6 years and the only time I feel drained is when someone moves out and leaves it a mess.  I think, “Uh. Let’s just sell it.”

But otherwise, it doesn’t really require all that much once it’s up and running and you have a renter.

At the beginning though it was scary, like when something broke. I would think, “What if the furnace breaks, or the plumbing…” But then I learned to let go and realize that everything is fixable, and I could hire someone to just fix whatever’s broken.

The only thing I make decisions on now really is when we make upgrades. But the decision making is kind of fun -- it’s fun to make something nicer. The rental is paid off now, and we are doing a kitchen renovations on it. We do something to upgrade it every year, and we’re also working toward eventually having three to five rental properties.


What advice do you have for someone who’s just starting to build their financial future and also trying to pursue their passion?

Don’t think that things are beyond your reach. Often people don’t believe in themselves and don’t go for what they really want. There may be steps along the way -- there are always steps to take, but a lot of times people just stay small and stay in a small realm of dreams goals and desire, why not bump it up a few notches. Be consistent with what you want and make it happen.  

People can do many things, but so many people hold back. They don’t even just let themselves admit -- to themselves -- what they want, let alone others. Leave the mentality behind that others can have things and you can’t for some reason.

I’ve always had a disciplined work ethic too. For example, I had friends that had owned houses.  I made the decision that that’s what I wanted to do and I did it.

Also, more concretely, have clarity on your cost of living and cost of doing business.

Can you outline the general steps you take to do that?


  1. Write out how much you need to live each year, starting with everything you spend money on.

  2. Once you have the cost of living, then write out how much the cost of business is. That is, how much it costs to run your business.

  3. Add them up and that will give you how much money you need to make per year; include travel, retirement. All of that.

  4. Whittle that down to what needs to be done in order for you to hit that number. So for example, I know I have to make X this year, and if each of my kids’ portraits averages Y, then I divide X by Y and I get how many kids’ portraits I need to shoot in a year in order to get to that number.

Here is a good place to start: CODB Worksheet (Digital Photography School)

Here are some great questions to sit down and ask yourself.

CODB: {Cost of doing business} What is yours? use link above.  

What is your target genre?

Your session fee?

Current sales average?

Minimum sales goal?

Target sales goal?

Sessions per month?

How many sessions a month do you want/need to book?

That’s really it. I came up with an average sales goal per week for each portrait session and I work towards that. Right now my goal is to average $2,000 per session. I also take into account how many I can do over a given amount of time, so that I’m not burnt out and have a healthy amount of creativity and integrity going into each one.

I’ve been in business 12 years now, and I’ve tweaked strategies and tested things along the way. For example, at first I was afraid to talk about money because it feels awkward or like you’re bragging.  But now I just see it as being excited that I’ve learned something new, or something has worked.

Just in the past few weeks I started doing in-person sales. I’d always felt too sale-sy and uncomfortable to do them. But now I love it! My clients see their photos printed and matted (and they usually cry). My clients come to my house, drink tea, and put their hands on finished art work. I’ll help them pick out things that are their favorite.  It’s fun.  I feel like I’m finally just finishing my job.

It’s taken my business to a whole new level.

That’s amazing! Thank you for spelling out those steps and sharing that story. The steps may seem simple and generic, but it’s surprising how many people don’t take even 15 minutes to just write out what their cost of living is. With that, do you have any parting words?

Yes, don’t be afraid to talk about money. Make a goal and map out the steps to get to where you want to be. You won’t reach a goal if you don’t even know what it is.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story Rene! Where can we see your work?

  • You can find Rene’s work at http://www.luxehousephotographic.comI know Rene's story has inspired me and hopefully many of you. Rene got a handle on her finances and is doing what she loves. Only a starving thriving artist here!