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 UniversityTutors.com.  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 moo.com!  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 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 cliché, 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 sautéing 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.)