Saturday, November 29, 2014

Budgeting for Freelancers, Part Four: Why We Combined Our Financial Lives

I’m back with another installment of Budgeting for Freelancers!  Want to read the rest of the series?  Here are Parts One, Two, and Three (click!).

I want to tell you about a deeply personal decision that Paul and I made earlier this year: the decision to combine our financial lives into one unit.

Paul and I have been dating for almost two years; we’ll hit the two-year mark in February.  We moved in together in May of 2014, and then we moved to Austin two months later.  We both work as freelance tutors, so we both face the highs and lows of self-employment.  Perhaps most importantly, we have been talking about money and our values since the earliest days of our relationship.

Long before we shared any bills or property, we talked about all manner of things related to money.  One of the first things I learned about Paul was his passion for quality and good design.  He buys the very best he can afford, and he’s very mindful of how his purchases reflect his values.  Paul is also very, very aware of the fact that his money literally represents his labor.  When you freelance and you get paid by the hour, you start to wear this fact on your heart.  Money is time (yesterday’s time), but time?  Time is not money.  Or at least time is not just money.  Time is a world of possibilities; money is one of them.

So in order to control his time, Paul had to control his money.  He did this by staying true to his values.  He and I share a love of reverent materialism.  We’re not anti-consumerism (though he is prone to shouting “capitalist overproduction!” much to my annoyance when I point out pretty skirts and dresses).  What we’re against is mindless consumerism and consumerism as a hobby.  How we spend our money is a powerful glimpse into our values, and Paul and I are committed to making our money work for us and our lifestyles.  We want to call the shots rather than letting consumerism or debt run our lives for us.

For a while, we shared expenses while meticulously tracking who spent what.  It was one approach to making things “fair.”  In hindsight, I have mixed feelings about this approach because I’m not sure I ever knew what “fair” is or was.  There were a lot of expenses that landed on the shared list, including a brand-new computer for Paul, groceries, and travel expenses like gas.  But the thing is, Paul and I didn’t enter into this relationship as equals.  Paul spent the last five years building his business.  He did what he had to do to be an entrepreneur and independent of a steady paycheck.  I spent the last five years working for other people, always fearful of what my bosses thought of me and my work.  I earned a comfortable paycheck and was able to save money quite aggressively, with the long-term goal of buying a home.

During the first year Paul and I were together, he worked at the job he had created for himself, and I bounced my way in and out of jobs.  I was jealous of his stability.  But I had saved a substantial amount of money, so I had resources and thus financial stability, even if my career was wobbling.

When we moved to Austin, we continued to split expenses.  Until one day when it dawned on me: we were sharing a life in Austin.  There were three names on the lease (our two names and our roommate’s).  We were tying our boats together, promising to support each other in life and love.  Splitting expenses seemed to go against the spirit of every other decision we were making.  So I couldn’t, in good faith, see why we should continue.

So we stopped.  For simplicity, we made the transition to one budget in October 2014.  I track our expenses and our income in one notebook.  Before we made the transition, we sat down with Courtney and dissected our budget.  By doing that, Paul and I were able to see how much money we needed to bring in each month to sustain our lifestyle.  So far, so good: October was a great month for us, work-wise.  We’ll see how November and December turn out!

We’ve chosen not to have any joint accounts, moreso out of laziness than anything else.  Instead, we share bills easily—I write the rent check, Paul usually buys the groceries and gas.  We don’t think about it much.  We’re mindful of our account balances, but there’s no more accounting within our relationship.  It was a pretty easy transition, though I’ll admit that Paul lacks my enthusiasm for budgeting and tracking expenses.  It’s possible that after so many lean years of being a one-man show, he’s enjoying the prosperity that our couplehood has brought him.  He still works very hard, but he seems more relaxed about expenses.  I think living together has asked all of us to compromise; one of Paul’s compromises is accepting a budget that is shaped by needs and wants that are not his own.

As for that nest egg of mine, I’m still hoping we’ll be able to buy a home in the next few years.  Austin has a notoriously crazy real estate market, but I live in hope that we’ll find a place.  For now, living in hope is good enough for me.  I was walking around my neighborhood the other day, and looking at houses, I felt my chest expand with hope.  There was no real forethought; it was more like my heart remembered a long-dormant dream and said, “Hey!”  My eyes starting searching for “For Sale” signs, though none were to be found that day.  Someday, the time will be right. 

Even if it takes us a long time to buy a house, Austin is now home.  We’ll be content with whatever our lives look like because that’s how we roll.  For now, I’m grateful that we’ve had enough money to take care of the three of us here in our Austin household.

But I’ll continue to live in hope.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Budgeting for Freelancers, Part Three: Free Fall and Family

This post is Part Three in a series about budgeting for freelancers.  Hop on over to Part One here and Part Two over here.

Paul and I have now had three solid months of freelancing together—no steady paycheck between us and the freedom to say yes to the opportunities that we like the most.  I love the commitments we’ve made to our work.  We have been incredibly blessed with an abundance of good students and parents with whom we work.  We’ve also started working as the coordinators for Science Club at Acton Academy here in Austin.  Acton is a small, progressive elementary school, so our students there are significantly younger than our usual group of high school and college students.  We are learning as we go along!

Our transition to Austin has been relatively easy, and I’m very happy with my work life.  In today’s post, my original intent was to write about our lifestyle choices.  But I realized that I can’t write about that without acknowledging our house finances, so I’m going to combine the two to talk about our priorities and what it means to live and spend with intention.

Three of us moved to Austin together this summer: Paul, me, and our roommate Courtney.  We all moved without real jobs; we knew that finding work would be a top priority for us in Austin.  Paul and I have had a relatively easy time finding work.  Courtney has had a more difficult time, for reasons that I’m not going to explain here.  What’s important to know is that we moved to Austin and promised each other that we would take care of one another.  Courtney and I both transitioned out of our old careers.  I was optimistic and nervous for both of us as we set out to establish ourselves in new careers in a new city.

Courtney has been under-employed for several months now.  It’s a situation that has tested all of us as we try to remain optimistic and hopeful that she’ll find decent employment.  Paul and I have navigated the uncertainty by sharing more our resources with Courtney, by seeing ourselves as a family that will float or sink together.  In more specific terms, here are some examples of how we share what we have:

* Paul and I have taken on the job of paying for the house groceries.  We three cook and eat a lot at home, and our dedication to the kitchen helps our food budget stretch.

* If we do go out to eat, everyone is invited.  Paul and I cover the bill.  We don’t do this very frequently, but it would make me sad to not include everyone. 

* If we get take-out (like burritos from Super Burrito!), we bring home food for everyone.  I just can’t imagine not treating everyone if two of us are getting burritos.

(In case you were wondering, Super Burrito is a house favorite—everybody loves a Super Burrito lunch!)

* Between the three of us, we have three cars.  One of them is much newer and nicer than the other two.  We share cars and rides as needed.  This was so, so helpful to me before I finally (finally!) got my driver’s license. 

And here’s a personal story from my past.  Growing up, my family often had just one working car, and my dad would usually drive that car to work.  That left my mom and all of us kids (I am one of five kids) with no car and thus no transportation beyond our bikes and our own two feet.  It was frustrating and embarrassing to constantly beg rides from other people to get to and from my extracurricular activities.  But the way other people took care of me during those years taught me gratitude for my community and the love they showed me.

It is hard when you have a roommate who isn’t able to pay for her share of things.  It’s a stressful situation for our house.  But all those years of being the kid without a ride, of being expected to fend for myself without parental care—those years taught me perseverance.  And they made me want to pay it forward, eventually.  I feel like that time has arrived.  Paul and I have the chance to help Courtney complete her transition to Austin, and to me, that completion means supporting her until she’s able to support herself.

There is one obvious question I haven’t answered yet, so here it is: what about rent?  Our compromise on rent (and our monthly bills) is that Paul and I are covering most of them, and Courtney will pay us back eventually.  I feel like this agreement is fair: Paul and I are covering some expenses as an expression of love and support.  For other expenses, we are simply tracking the bills and making sure they get paid on time.

To bring this post back around to its original message: taking care of the three of us is our top priority.  It means Paul and I have less money to put toward saving for the slower seasons, like Christmas break and summertime.  At some level, I’m crossing my fingers that we’ll be able to find some work this summer so we aren’t living on savings for 3-4 months.  As summer gets closer (and I realize it’s a long way off right now), I’ll do more than cross my fingers.  I’ll start asking around my network, looking for opportunities to teach, work with students, and improve my professional skills.

Having an under-employed roommate is probably not what most experts would recommend for a pair of freelancers.  But life is what happens while we are busy making other plans*.  In a year or two, when Courtney is working and our tutoring businesses are in full swing, I know I’ll be glad that we weathered this rough patch, caring for one another.  It’s hard now, but the future beckons.  Things will get better.

* John Lennon, RIP.

* * *

This post touches on sensitive issues, like work, value, and money.  Because of the personal content, I asked Courtney if she was comfortable with me writing about our situation, and she said yes.  I’m grateful to her for letting me share our story.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Hello, November: Celebrating Goals

Hello again, patient readers!  Life continues to be busy and wonderful and challenging, a kind of organized chaos of getting things done and sucking the marrow out of life.

It occurred to me recently, when I decided to check in on my 2014 goals set waaaaay back in June, that now is a good time to reflect on the massive accomplishments of this year.  Because dear readers, it’s been a big year, and I want to take a moment now, before the holidays-and-finals madness descends, that this year was the year of making it happen.  Booyah.

It feels like an entire year has passed since June, even though it’s only been five months.  But there are, I think, events that make time stretch into infinity, like big life changes and massive amounts of learning.  It’s why life felt like it moved slower when you were a kid.  I love that 2014 has been a year of so much growth, but I know I won’t mind if 2015 has fewer changes and more everyday moments.

I’m compiling my list of completed goals from this post I wrote in January and a second post I wrote in June about my 2014 goals.  So if you want to read the back story here, hop on over to those pages!

* Move to Austin.

Done!  Done done done done DONE!  This goal was nine months in the making, and looking back now, it feels like it unfolded exactly as it should have.  I’m so glad we’re here.

Oh, and isn’t Austin pretty at night?  I took this photo while biking along the riverfront trail one evening, on my way home from work.

Austin at Night

* Freelancing: stay in the game.

Austin has welcomed us with wide open arms!  I’ve been honored and humbled by the number of parents and students who have contacted me for tutoring.  I’ve arrived at a point where I have to start thinking more strategically about my long-term goals for tutoring—where I want to focus my attention, which subjects and age groups are the best fit for me, that sort of thing.  We’ve also launched the Austin Writing Shop, a one-stop shop for writing students in the humanities and sciences.  We’re hoping to do more promotion around the Austin Writing Shop because I really believe that we can help students become stronger, more confident, more persuasive writers.  That’s work that I want to do because I believe in the power of writing.

* Get a license, buy a car, become a full-fledged grown-up.

Holy crap, this one is finally done too!  I received my grown-up driver’s license on October 28th, and I’m so happy and relieved to have finally reached this milestone.  For the past week, I’ve been driving myself to my tutoring appointments and whatnot, instead of dragging Paul or Courtney with me everywhere I go.  It’s a huge relief for the house to have three solo drivers, but we still like to go places together to do things.  Just the other night, Courtney wanted to go to Book People for a good browse after a hard day, and I got my first taste of driving in the rain and driving downtown.  Yay?  Okay, so maybe the driving wasn’t super fun, but it is good to get new driving experiences to make me an all-around better driver.

I don’t  know if I mentioned it on this blog, but Paul and I bought a car together over the summer, a 2007 VW Passat.  We love it.  It was a big deal to buy a car together, but I think it was the right move for us.

* Wallet matters: break even financially.

Huh.  It turns out that buying a car, moving, and freelancing full time is more likely to leave one poorer instead of richer.  In the interest of full disclosure, my debt from 2014 is about $11,500, most of which is due to big purchases, like the car and our tutoring equipment.  Essentially, my savings have funded our dreams this year.  And you know what?  I’m okay with this.  I had the resources to get us where we wanted to go, to set up shop in a new city, and to help Courtney make her transition to Austin as well.  Transitions are expensive, and although I do get nervous about money sometimes, I am at peace with our decisions.

Would I feel differently if that $11,500 were actual debt, in the sense that I owe the bank that much money?  Maybe.  If we’d needed to take out a loan to buy the car, I think we would have done so.  Our tutoring equipment was a business expense, so it too feels less like a luxury and more like a necessity.  My point is that we spent money in pursuit of our dreams, and those dreams are becoming our everyday reality here in Austin.  I’d spend that money all over again if I had the choice.

I want to talk more in a future post about our budget choices as freelancers—how we think about money now that both of us are freelancers whose work is seasonal.

* * *

Before Paul and I started dating, I’d never been part of a couple that shared a home, a car, groceries, income, all of that.  I’d never been part of a couple that shared a life, and I wasn’t sure I was interested in that path.  But there is a real sense of wonder and strength that comes from being inside a partnership.  I love being a part of us.  I sometimes miss the days when my life felt smaller and simpler, but I can’t deny how good and right it feels to be building a life with Paul (and Courtney, who is like family to us).  2014 was a year of getting things done together, and I am so grateful for how far we’ve come.

Happy November, dear readers.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Life Lately: Living and Working in Austin

Austin_Crossing over the River

Hello, long-lost readers!  I’m alive and coming up for air.

I had no idea that I would disappear so completely from this site for a month.  The last time I did that was, I believe, two years ago when I was recovering from a heart so broken that I had to be alone, inasmuch as that was possible.  But while my absence in 2012 was driven by loss, my absence this year was driven by fullness, the incredible overflowing fullness of my new life in Austin.  In a word, I am happy.  In more words, there is lots to tell you.

Today is a rare day off for me: I’m at home with no students on my schedule today or tomorrow.  I’ve been so busy for the past five weeks that this mini-break feels delicious.  I feel like I’m finding my groove in this business of being self-employed, so when a break naturally falls into my schedule, I’m happy to take it.  Just around the corner is likely to be another day full of students and teaching.

There is so much to tell.  Let’s start with work.

Work.  Austin has shocked me with its abundance of tutoring work that landed at my feet.  Paul and I accepted jobs as freelance contractors with a company (College Guidance Associates), where we work as learning coaches (or tutors, for the uninitiated) with various students.  My primary gig at CGA has been teaching geometry, which I haven’t studied seriously since I was fourteen and taking high school geometry.  But I love the subject, and I’m learning how to teach it, at least to my one student, which is good enough for now.  In addition to CGA, I’ve got a steady load of students who found me through WyzAnt and a few students who found me through other channels.

Tutoring full-time is incredibly rewarding.  I’m very honored to do the work that I do now.  It has absorbed my attention and energy since the fall semester started; I haven’t had much time for writing or reflecting on my experiences.  I’m getting pretty good at simplifying ideas so that my students can grab a foothold and climb the mountain in front of them.  I’m a learning sherpa.

That being said, tutoring has significant challenges too.  Wrangling my schedule is an on-going task.  I’m figuring it out.  I am learning how much commuting I can handle and being willing to say no when a job isn’t the right fit for me.  Finding time to study is hard too, because I often have chores and other work I need to do when I’m not with students.  Today and tomorrow I hope to take advantage of my unexpected free time to do some studying.

Home.  You might recall that when I moved to Austin, I moved into a townhome with Paul and our friend Courtney.  We’ve been together for more than two months in the house now, and we’re finding our groove.  We eat lots of delicious home-cooked meals together, we share rides and grocery lists, and we watch episodes of Community every night.  We try to stay on top of the house chores.  Courtney made us an adorable chore chart that lives on the fridge.

Courtney's Chore Chart

The longer we live together, the more I feel that we are not just roommates; we are becoming a family.  We live together, we work together, we play together.  We take care of each other.  We all moved to Austin without “real” jobs, and we have supported each other as we set up new lives in a new city.  We’ve had our bumps along the way (such as battling a pile of dishes that never goes away!) , but life here in our south Austin home is very, very sweet.

Spider House

Out and about in Austin.  Because of work, we spend a lot more time in the car than I used to in my old life in College Station.  The upside to all this commuting is that we’re getting to know Austin as locals (which, of course, we are now).  We’ve got our favorite burrito place (Super Burrito) and coffee shop (Café Crème, where I meet with students in south Austin).  Across town, we’ve got our favorite ramen shop (Michi Ramen).  And if we had more money, I’m sure we’d be regulars at Kerbey Lane, where we dine when we have guests in town or when we need a treat.

We are so lucky to live in south Austin.  We’re a five-minute walk from a wildflower preserve where I like to go for walks and runs.  We’re an incredibly fast bike ride downhill to the riverfront, where Paul and I like to ride our bikes on Sunday mornings.  And south Austin has a kind of urban grit that I like—we’re living in the city here, not in the suburbs.  We can take the bus to downtown Austin or UT’s campus easily.  We can ride our bikes to the grocery store if we’re up for handling the punishing hills between us and HEB.

On the Bike Trail

In short, we love Austin.  Settling into our new city has been one of the best parts of moving.

Love.  The kind of move that Paul and I made comes with a significant amount of stress.  We’ve stressed about money, moving logistics, work prospects, housework, driving, all of it.  All the stress could have left us frazzled and angry with each other.  We’ve definitely had our moments.  But now that we’re a good two months out from the big move, I think it’s safe to say that we’re stronger and more confident in our partnership.  We’ve given up tracking our expenses separately and now treat our money as one big (or not-so-big) pot.  That was a huge shift for us and one that I think was the right decision.  We’ve tied our boats together; we’re sharing everything else, so why not share our money?

Sharing my life with Paul has been one of the best things to come out of the mess that the last few years have been for me.  Loving him came so easily to me that I sometimes forget how incredibly lucky we are that we found each other.  Austin was a destination for us for nearly a year before we moved.  I remember asking him, hours after I found out I was losing my job for the second time in 2013, “Can we just move to Austin now?”  Never mind his work, my lease, any of it—in that sad moment, I was ready for a fresh start and I wanted it NOW.  

You Are Here

 It took us much longer to get here.  Having worked toward our Austin move together, it feels like our city now.  It’s a place we get to discover and love together, a place we chose together.  It’s a place that feels like us.

Brief chronology note: I started writing this yesterday (Friday, October 17).  I’m finishing it today, October 18.  I decided to leave the timeline inside this post as though I had published it yesterday.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Budgeting for Freelancers, Part Two: Our Business Expenses

Hola, dear readers!  I’m finally returning to my “Budgeting for Freelancers” series.  Today will be Part Two, in which I discuss some of our business expenses.  You can find Part One here.

Paul and I share a financial goal: to sustain our lifestyle through freelance/contract work.  As you might recall, we both work as STEM tutors.  Paul’s been tutoring for a long time; I started in November 2013 and decided to go full time when we moved to Austin.

Being in business for yourself, as yourself, is many things.  It is empowering, challenging, satisfying.  In some ways it is simpler because there’s no hierarchy—it’s just us, doing our thing.  In some ways it is harder because it seems like there is less security, no “guaranteed” steady paycheck.  I put that in quotes because my experience in 2013 has made me roll my eyes at the assumption of a steady paycheck.  It’s steady until you are called into your boss’s office on a Friday afternoon and she tells you that you are being laid off, so sorry, accounting mistake.

2013’s rollercoaster has made me a lot more resilient in the face of freelancing.  No one can “fire” me from freelancing.  I’m always on the market, always open for business.  So it’s up to me to figure out how much I want to work and how to handle the logistics.  It’s a challenge I’ve accepted, sometimes bravely, sometimes fearfully.

There’s no honest way for me to write about budgeting for freelancers without talking about our business expenses.  You gotta spend money to make money.  And spend money we have, in the form of equipment, marketing, and learning.  Let’s talk about that now, shall we?

* Equipment.

Paul and I decided back in the spring that we were both really interested in being able to do on-line tutoring.  To do so, we needed to up our game.  As of this writing, we’ve spent over a thousand dollars on the following:

- a new desktop computer for Paul

- two kick-ass microphones

- two digitizer tablets, which function as virtual whiteboards on which we can work problems, explain concepts visually, etc.

Also under the equipment category is my new-to-me iPhone!  Paul repaired a broken one from his sister, and we activated it at the AT&T store for free.  My phone bill each month is about $52, which is less than I was paying on my old plan with all the pay-per-text communication I was doing with students.

* Marketing.

Entering a new market here in Austin, it’s essential that students know we exist and how to contact us.  Here’s what we’ve been doing to make that happen.

- I bought us some on-line marketing by upgrading my profile placement on  Cost: $179.

- My roommate Courtney and I have been putting up flyers all over town.  I’ve probably spent about $20 on flyers.

- I made business cards earlier this year with!  That was fun.  My cards were about $22.

* Learning.

On a beautiful day earlier this year, Paul and I rode our bikes to lunch and Barnes & Noble, where we both bought new books.  I bought The Freelancer’s Bible by Sara Horowitz and Toni Sciarra Poynter (cost: $20).  We took our books to a park, where we lounged in the sunshine and read on a Friday afternoon.  That last part, my friends, is the best part of being a freelancer.

The Freelancer’s Bible is an excellent read.  It was helpful to me as a newbie to start thinking about how to spend my time so that I can bring in the income that I need to live.  I haven’t looked at it in a few months, but I have a feeling I’ll be dusting it off in December so that I can think about how things went this semester and what I want 2015 to look like.

* * *

In writing this series, I’ve resisted doing a lot of on-line reading.  In the next few installments of this series, I’d like to offer the best-of links that I find after I let myself loose on the internet.  I’ll also come back around to the topic of lifestyle and the on-going conversations we’re having about that in my house.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Just Another Wednesday

Hello, friends!  After diligently working on my to-do list, I’m taking a break to dust off this space and tell you a bit about my August.

This time of year is the dry spell of the academic calendar, so things have been very slow on the work front.  Which is great for our peace of mind, less great for our wallets.  I’ve been working on several projects, some of them work-related and others just for me.

* I’ve started creating on-line content for my students.  The idea here is threefold: 1) it lets me practice my teaching in a way that’s not dependent on having students, 2) it gives students access to my knowledge, gift economy-style, and 3) it lets me market myself to students in a “free sample” way.  So far, I’ve done lessons on mitotic recombination and population genetics.  My goal is to have four of these lessons completed before the fall semester starts for Texas A&M University (where I tutored several students in genetics).

* I’ve been studying thermodynamics at the general chemistry level.  I finally saw, for the first time and with Paul’s help, how calculus applies to chemistry, and it was kinda awesome.  I’m not sure if or when I’ll move beyond general chemistry as a tutor, but I am becoming more and more intrigued with math and physics.  I’m surprised but delighted!

* (This is a secret, but I’ll tell you anyway…Paul and I had a job interview last week with a company here in Austin.  It went really well, and we might get hired.  I’m excited!)

* I’ve been cooking a lot and settling into our new kitchen here.  I’d like to give you a little photo tour of our kitchen because I like it.  The best thing about the new kitchen, though, is sharing it with our roommate Courtney, who has been cooking all sorts of delicious things for us.  Her secret?  How to Cook Everything The Basics by Mark Bittman.  If I didn’t have access to Courtney’s copy by virtue of living with her, I’d be running out right now to buy a copy!   

* I’ve resumed my preparations to get a driver’s license.  Paul is really looking forward to not being the only driver in our twosome.  (But I did just buy us a new car, so he can’t complain too much…right?)

* Let’s see, what else…?  I want to get back into running and have signed up for a half-marathon here in Austin in February.

* Finally, I’m working on Part Two of my “Budgeting for Freelancers” series.  What a challenging subject!  I feel a bit like a fraud offering anyone advice on this topic because we’ve spent SO MUCH MONEY this year.  What I really want to do is tell our story, not give anyone prescriptive advice about budgeting.  Maybe I’ll follow Chrissy’s lead and give you nitty-gritty numbers on our expenses to illustrate how we’re using money as a tool to build our life in Austin as freelancers.

Bonus: my cat is adorable.  Sometimes she thinks my socks are kittens and carries them around in her mouth.

Good Stretch

* * *

How are y’all doing?  What’s new?  Got any good links to share?  Happy week to you!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Budgeting for Freelancers, Part One: Investing in Your Life(style)

Just typing the title of this post, I can tell you that it’s tempting to read what other people have written first, then write my post.  But you know what?  I don’t want to do that.  I want to write this post from my heart, and my heart wants to build a life to love.  I don’t know what the specifics of that are for you.  I’m still figuring out what it means for me.  But I do know that it means putting your money where your heart is.

Because I’ve been so busy with our move to Austin (which is finally done—hurray! more on that later), I haven’t had much time to write.  This post incubated, and during that time, I realized I had to address a much, much larger issue in budgeting than what I thought I might write about, and it boils down to one word: lifestyle.

Our move to Austin marks my transition from regular wage-earner to full-time freelancer.  That means that Paul and I are both freelancers, so together we have no regular paychecks.  Instead we have bursts of income (like the entire month of April—heaven help us!) and dry periods, like the summer, when tutoring gigs are fewer.  Our lifestyle needs to accommodate the unpredictable nature of freelance income.  Our spending needs to include the investments we want to make in our businesses.  Here are a few thoughts on what these abstract ideas look like in the form of purchases.

* Be realistic about what you really need.  We needed a new(er) car, one that has better gas mileage and will last us a good long time.  Paul found us a gorgeous used car, and we cashed in some of my investments to pay for it.  The car is by far the biggest expense of the year for us, and it was totally and completely worth it.  I think we are both relieved and happy with the purchase.

Buying the new car also gave Paul a chance to take his old car into the shop, where he dropped a good chunk of change on repairs.  The plan is to sell the old car and set aside that money for car repairs/maintenance/etc. for the new vehicle.

* Pursue what you really want.  I mentioned that we just finished our move from College Station to Austin.  As luck would have it, I just crunched the numbers on the cost of that move!  We spent close to a thousand dollars on the move, and again, I’d say it was a thousand bucks well spent.  We’ll be sharing that cost with our friend Tim, with whom we shared a moving truck.  The point is that we wanted to live in Austin; it seems like a city in which we can be close to friends and do work that we love to do.

Moving is anything but easy.  It’s not glamorous.  It’s not fun.  In fact, it’s kind of awful and heartbreaking.  It feels like weeks of your life are simply consumed by the task of moving belongings from Point A to Point B.  But we really wanted to live in Austin, and we were willing to do what it takes to get there.

* Invest in your dream.  I have wanted to teach at the college level since I was a college student.  This was before I knew what I know now about myself, which is twofold:

1) I’m not that interested in doing research as a lab scientist any more.

2) I’m not interested in working 50+ hours a week for the rest of my life.  The idea of doing that depresses me.

But I am interested in freedom and how to create a life that lets me utilize my gifts.  I want to be able to choose where I live and how much time I spend working.  When I consider all of these factors, private tutoring is the choice that works.  It’s a choice that makes me happy because I love making students happy.

The biggest tutoring challenge for me is to attract enough clients so that my income supports my lifestyle.  To do that, Paul and I have invested in some great technology so that we can do on-line tutoring with students who are, potentially, anywhere in the world.  We plan to invest more money into our business so that our equipment doesn’t limit our ability to book students on a daily scale.  (Right now, we have the equipment for one of us to be tutoring on-line, but what happens when we both need the microphone and digitizer tablet?  We don’t want to say no to students!)

You gotta spend money to make money.  Fortunately, the start-up costs for tutoring are low.  But to work at the level we want, we needed more than our laptops and a pad of paper.  We needed some serious equipment.

* Experiment with your business.  Today I spent $179 to be listed as a “featured tutor” on  It’s the most money I’ve ever spent on marketing.  It’s an experiment!  I don’t know whether the results will be worth the money, but there is only one way to find out.  I’ll report back in a year.

(I also bought business cards, which was a super fun experience.  I love having my own cards now. for the win!)

* * *

Taken together, I’ve spent about a third of my 2014 tutoring income on my tutoring business.  I believe it is money well spent, and somehow, spending money on the business makes it easier for me to let go of money, to send it out into the world to do its job.

Next up: my thoughts on daily choices while living the freelance lifestyle.  Until then, have a great week, friends!