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 UniversityTutor.com.  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.  moo.com 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!

About Me, Seven Years Later

Us

Hi, my name is Rose-Anne.  I started this blog seven years ago, and here we are today.  That’s my partner Paul with me in that photo up there.

This huge blogging adventure started with one desire: to write in my own voice.  It was a gratifyingly selfish project, and it remains so: I write this blog for me.

But if I may contradict myself (very well then, I contradict myself…), I write this blog for you, too, and for any and every reader who finds her way to my site.  I write because I love to write, and having a place in which to do it is a beautiful thing.

I started this blog as a food blog, but since then, it has transformed into a personal blog that chronicles my life.  I still occasionally write about food, but I also write about freelancing, thoughtful consumerism, love, loss, travels, and my home life.  I write about topics that interest me, and that turns out to be a pretty eclectic list.  But I do still love food and feeding people; you can check out my recipe index for some delicious ideas.

Who am I?  Professionally, I’m a freelance chemistry and biology tutor.  My professional blog lives here.  I’m always looking for new students, so if you want to work with me, e-mail me at r-meissner@u.northwestern.edu.  (Shameless plug: my partner Paul tutors students in mechanical engineering, math, and physics, so if you need help in any of those subjects, contact him through this link.  We offer on-line tutoring, so location is not a problem for us!  Also, he’s a wonderful and patient tutor—I can’t recommend him enough.)

Who am I?  Personally, I’m a vegetarian, politically liberal, PhD-trained, 30-something lady living in Austin, TX.  I love good books, good design, and good food.  I’m always learning (hence the unofficial name of my tutoring business: #love_learning) and practice gratitude and love on a daily basis.  I live with my partner Paul and our dear friend Courtney.  Within the last year, Paul and I discovered the work of Charles Eisenstein, who has influenced us in profound ways.  In the spirit of his idea of “living in the gift,” we seek to be of service to our fellow humans.  I consider this blog one way in which I can give my gifts freely to anyone who might enjoy them.

Thank you for visiting me!  May you live well, love well, and eat well.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Moving Weekend is Upon Us!

Hello, howdy, hey!

Moving weekend is upon us here in Casa de Paul y Rose-Anne.  I write this from a living room that’s been taken over by stacks of boxes that Paul refers to as his Tetris game.

Ugh, moving is so hard and bittersweet!  I feel like we’ve been moving for weeks and weeks, between all the decisions we’ve made, the logistics we’ve wrangled, and the fact that Paul started packing weeks ago.  Our poor kitty is hiding in my bedroom, trying to ignore the chaos in her usually peaceful home.

Packing up books today, I unearthed a library book that I deeply enjoyed but never finished: The Creation of Patriarchy by Gerda Lerner, who was a historian.  It’s a brilliant book, one that attempts to answer a fascinating question: when, how, and why did women start accepting the role of second-class citizen in Western cultures?  It’s tough to deliver a definitive explanation, but I think it’s a noble effort.  Anyway, what that book reminded me is how much of my time in College Station was really spent exploring and trying to figure out who I am.  I know that may sound clich√©, and shouldn’t someone in their late 20s know who they are?  But truth is paradoxical: I was lost, and I knew what I wanted.  Sort of.  I’m a wanderer, a truth-seeker, a teacher.  I’m so grateful I was able to explore so deeply during my almost-five years here.  The journey was painful at times, but I know now that I am leaving College Station more myself than I ever have been.

There has been a lot of sadness here—a LOT of sadness.  But there’s been a lot of happiness too, even moments of joy.  In this particular moment, with Paul saut√©ing onions and tofu in the kitchen, the smell of curry powder hanging in the air, I feel very content.  Despite the boxes, even despite myself.  I hate moving, and I don’t really like change.  But I love what both can bring into my life—new places, new people, and a new chance at happiness.  We’ll get through this weekend, and next week, when I work my final days inside a lab.  For now, I’m just riding the wave that is carrying me toward Austin and into my future.

 Gah!Our former living room, now our moving room

Lu with LaundryLu loves a good pile of laundry

Notes from Creation of PatriarchyNotes on The Creation of Patriarchy

Sunday, July 13, 2014

We Begin to Say Good-bye

A few images of life lately…

Bread and Cheese Board

Steeping Strawberries

Packing Tape and Cookbooks

Perhaps it’s self-evident that I’m busy this month: it’s been two weeks since my last post.  We’re in the thick of our move to Austin.  I began packing boxes yesterday, we decided on a moving strategy (hire your friends!), and we’ve picked a date for the big move involving a big truck and a plan of attack.

To be really honest, I kinda hate it when bloggers go on and on and on(!) about their move.  So boring.  I don’t want to do that to you, and I don’t have the energy to write about it either.

Suddenly I have nothing to talk about.  Good-bye.

Okay, maybe I’ll talk about the move a little bit.  It’s a bit more complicated than you might think.  Paul and I have been collaborating with his friend Tim to move two homes: the apartment Paul and I live in now and Tim’s house, where Paul and Tim used to live with their roommate Matt.  We had initially planned to hire professional movers because we’d prefer to trade our money for the convenience of having someone else do the heavy lifting.  But the estimates we got were shockingly high for such a short-distance move (College Station and Austin are about 100 miles apart), so we’re going to rent a truck, hire/bribe some friends, and do the move ourselves.  We’ve made our peace with this decision, so it’s on to scheduling a truck and packing boxes.

Meanwhile, I’m working 25+ hours most weeks, finishing the final weeks of my lab job.  In Austin, as I’ve mentioned, I’ll be a full-time freelancer.  After a meltdown last week, I realized that I have a lot of spiritual work to do to step into that role.  My breakthrough insight: I am never going to be “free” of my fear of not having enough—enough money, enough time, enough creative work, enough food.  I’ll never be free of my fear, so instead I must see my fear as part of my process.  Charles Eisenstein has this phrase where he talks about humanity entering into a co-creative partnership with the Earth.  Likewise, I am starting a co-creative partnership with my fear.  I’m inviting it to join me in this new adventure.  Intellectually, I’ve already made my decision, but the fear was nagging at me, pulling on me, demanding my attention.  So what do I do with the fear?  I invite it along for the ride!  The fear will be what pushes me to work when I don’t feel like it.  It will be what reminds me to be not just good at what I do but excellent.

You might say, “But Rose-Anne, isn’t that really negative to let your fear be what drives you?”  I say: fear isn’t in the driver’s seat.  I am.  But fear is my co-passenger on the days that it insists on tagging along.

I’ve spent too much time being afraid of the fear.  By embracing it, I hope to disarm the power it has over me.  Last night, I bought a copy of May Cause Miracles by Gabrielle Bernstein to work through my fear and find a healthier path.  (And again, the fear might walk beside me on that path, but that’s okay.)

In other news, Paul and I bought a new car last week!  He found us a used 2007 Volkswagen Passat, and we couldn’t be happier with it.  Our vehicle until now has been an ancient, much-loved Explorer.  We had been planning to buy a car for many months now.  Paul tells me that driving the Explorer into the garage at our new place in Austin was his lightbulb moment: the Explorer didn’t belong in that space, our new car did.  So when we came back to College Station, he buckled down, hit up Craigslist, and found us a lovely used car.  It’s a much smoother ride than the Explorer, comfortable and in great shape.  What’s funny is that I grew up riding in old, beat-up cars, so I don’t care about having a nice car.  But even I like our Passat and feel very happy we bought it.  It’s another item checked off our to-do list.

That’s all the news for now.  I’m still planning to share my thoughts about budgeting on a freelancer’s income, but now I think I’m going to split it into two parts.  So stay tuned for that!

Happy week, dear readers.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Freelancing: Why a Year?

After writing about my 2014 goals, I started thinking again about the commitment to try freelancing for a year.  Why a year?  Why a commitment?

First, let me tell you that freelancing is equal parts exciting and terrifying to me.  I love the idea of trying to be my own boss and not being tied to one particular stream of income.  (Losing two jobs in one year has made me incredibly skeptical of so-called “stable jobs.”)  I like the sense of opportunity that freelancing gives me.  I like being able to decide what my worth is and declining work that isn’t a good fit for me.  What I don’t like about freelancing is the same thing that everyone dislikes: the uncertainty of work and income.  Freelancing is not for the timid.

But I am kinda timid, at least about whether or not I can really make it as my own boss.  Some days I feel very empowered about working independently, and other days I want to run to the nearest job posting and send my resume to every single listing.  Now that I have some sense of the peaks and valleys in this style of work, I know that if I’m going to give it an honest try, I need to stick with it for a respectable length of time, long enough to let myself take risks, be creative, and get better at what I do.

A year seems like a fair length of time to focus my energies on freelancing.  I’m not saying that I expect to be wildly successfully in a year’s time.  It would be nice to break even, financially speaking.  It would be even nicer to save some money, which is something I used to do.  More importantly, a year of full-time freelancing will tell me if I want to keep doing this, if I’m willing to take risks and make sacrifices for the joy of being independent and free to be me.

So far this year, I have wrestled a lot with the question about whether to apply for jobs for the latter half of the year.  The first thing I asked myself was, “What’s the worst that could happen if I don’t have a ‘regular’ job, even a regular part-time job?”  The answer?  I make no money at all for the rest of 2014.  Based on my tutoring success in College Station so far, I think that’s unlikely to happen.  I could be under-employed, which is stressful but it also leads to new ideas.  I decided to expand my tutoring into chemistry because I saw that there was a need for chemistry tutors in the marketplace.  I’ve had to work to bring my chemistry skills up to date, but that’s okay—I like studying chemistry.  I won’t expand my tutoring into a subject that I don’t enjoy studying.

The other realization I had about freelancing is that I am open to work other than tutoring, but it needs to be a good fit for me.  So I’ll stay open to opportunities, but I won’t be devoting huge swaths of time to job applications.  I’d rather work on my tutoring business than search for other jobs.

Finally, I know it sounds cheesy, but I want to spend the next year saying, “I believe in myself.”  I want to test myself, to see what I can do with this time.  Freelancing is very different than having regular hours at a steady job—that much I have already seen.  I think I have a lot to offer—as a tutor, as a writer, as a human being.  I see this year as a challenge, and I feel ready for it.

Next up in my unofficial series about freelancing: budgeting!  Yay?  (Actually, I love talking about budgets, but as you already know, I am a nerd.)

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Tagged: My Writing Life

I’ve been tagged!  Chrissy did a post on her writing process and tagged me to talk about mine.  I’m happy to oblige.  Let’s hop to it!

What are you working on right now?

I usually have several blog posts that I’m working on at one time.  I’m pretty excited about a series I’m writing for my professional blog about research and grad school.  I’m also working on a post for this blog about my one-year trial period for full-time freelancing.

How does your work differ from others in its genre?

I’m not sure that it does, other than that it’s my voice and my experiences that shape my writing.  I’m a blogger who hopes to some day write a book or five.  Blogging has given me a regular writing practice, and that has kept me excited about writing and life.  Through blogging, I’ve also gained a lot of knowledge about social media and marketing, which I’m using to establish my tutoring business.  (OMG, I’m on Twitter now as a professional.  Heaven help me!  My Twitter feed is science, learning, and fun.  I take that last part seriously.) 

Why do you write what you do?

Really, I write because I need to sort things out.  Writing provides me a kind of clarity that is otherwise missing from my life.  And writing surprises me, all the time—I find myself saying things that I didn’t know were true until I wrote them.  It’s magical to me, and it keeps me coming back for more.

I especially like blogging because it asks us to get to the point, to the heart of the matter.  I’m kind of a wanderer by nature; it’s amazing that I’m also a scientist because I wouldn’t think those two passions would fit together.  But I genuinely love exploration, whether it’s out there in the world as a traveler or as a curious person with intellectual leanings.  I’m a scholar because I just love learning. 

How does your writing process work?

I wish I had a real “process!”  I come up with blog post ideas all the time and try to write them down.  One idea that’s posted on my wall right now is “The Purity of Learning,” in which I’d like to figure out what I think about the claim that today’s college students are not interested in learning for the sake of learning.

After I come up with an idea that I like, I’ll think about it for a while.  Sometimes I do some research.  Finally, I write whenever I can find the time.  I hate writing when I’m tired and generally avoid that; it’s one reason why I’m not a more prolific blogger.  (Sleep > Blogging.)  I’ll work on a piece until I’m satisfied, and then I publish it and let it go.  I tend not to get too caught up in “writer’s ego” in which I worry that my writing isn’t good enough to be read—I don’t write to prove anything to anyone.  I write to figure it out for myself, and if my work resonates with another person, awesome!  I live in hope that it does, but it’s impossible for me to know the true impact of my actions on other people.  I just try to do the best I can on any given day.

* * *

Let’s see, who else can I tag…how about Courtney, Kate, and YOU (but only if you want to!).

Happy writing, friends!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

It’s Not Too Late! (My 2014 Goals)

 Out west…

Shallow Stream in Lost Maples

…and closer to home.

Towering Over Me

Summertime Pattern Mixing

Shamelessly, I’m finally sharing my 2014 goals.  You might think that six months into the year is too late, and I’m inclined to agree, but here’s the thing: I’ve been busy enough pursuing these goals that I don’t feel bad about my negligence.  I’ve had tons of ideas for my writing on all three of my blogs, so this post kept getting bumped back in the queue.  But all of that is water under the blog—let’s get to the goals!

* Move to Austin.  Paul and I decided some time last fall, I believe, that we wanted to move to Austin in 2014.  We have a lot of friends there, and it’s a bigger city with more professional opportunities for us.  It also happens to be more liberal than College Station, which is part of why Paul wants to move.  (I tend to live inside my little science-writing-and-cooking bubble, so I don’t feel the pain of local conservative politics as much.)

The move is definitely happening this summer.  We have a lease on new place that starts July 1st, and my boss is getting ready to replace me.  Paul and I are preparing to migrate our freelance work to Austin.  But this month, I’m enjoying the relative calm before the storm of moving.

* Freelancing: stay in the game.  Once I arrive in Austin, I am not planning to work in a lab.  I’ve been doing it, on and off, for the last eleven years, and it’s time for me to move on.  You probably remember (since I mention it frequently!) that I have been tutoring students in biology and chemistry.  I plan to continue that in Austin; hopefully I’ll be able to net a bigger number of students to sustain my business.  I’ve also been talking to a dear friend about helping him with his business.  I’ve been hesitant to get too excited getting about working with him because I don’t want him to feel pressured to work with me because of our friendship.  But we talked over the weekend, and he’s still interested, so I’m hopeful.

Once I arrive in Austin, it will be the start of full-time freelancing for me.  I’m excited and nervous about it, having clients instead of a boss.  I’ve learned a lot in my tutoring so far—doing it part-time was the right decision for me, even as I struggled at times to balance two jobs.  My top career goal for this year is to stay in the game as a freelancer.  Working without a net is scary at times, and it’s tempting to run back to more familiar work, as Chrissy described recently.  I’m trying to resist that urge, telling myself that I’ll never know if I can really be my own boss unless I give it my best shot.  I think a year is enough time to decide if it makes sense for me to continue down this path.  Perhaps more importantly, it’s enough time for some life to unfold, for opportunities to pop up, for me to settle into a rhythm.

However…

Several of my favorite career coaches (one of whom I happen to be dating) have reminded me that I can and perhaps should apply for teaching jobs.  Like, real college-level teaching jobs.  The adjunct marketplace is notoriously awful, but I’m not in the humanities, where it seems to be the worst.  So I’m reconsidering this possibility, if for no other reason than perhaps I should give it a shot and see how it goes.  I wouldn’t stop tutoring or seeking other freelance work, but I could be very happy teaching a few classes and freelancing—a patchwork quilt of a career, you might say.  And of course I’d keep writing, because that is my hobby and my passion and I miss it very much when I can’t find the time for it.  

* Wallet matters: break even financially.  Finally, the buck stops here.  (Rimshot!)  This goal may be more of a dream, but I do think it would be nice to make more money than I spend this year.  So far, my debt isn’t too bad—it’s mostly due to travel-related expenses.  I flew to Michigan twice this year: once in March for my sister’s bridal shower and then in May for the wedding.  Paul and I have some big expenses coming up, namely double rent in July (yay for overlapping leases?) and our move to Austin this summer.  We also bought tutoring equipment for our business.  We live fairly modestly, I think, but our income this summer has also been modest.

I have surprised myself that I am, more or less, at peace with our financial situation this summer.  Paul has been working more than I anticipated (he normally takes the summer off as a reward for busting his ass for nine months of the school year), and we’ve been splitting the grocery bill, so my weekly expenses have been a bit lower.

I’m planning to write a little bit more about my approach to the question of budgeting and the freelance lifestyle.  Also, I splurged a little and bought a few new things for my summer wardrobe, and honestly, I just want to show you for fun!

* * *

So that’s it: three huge goals for 2014.  How are you doing on your goals?  Did you aim for a few big goals or many small goals for this year?