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.


Chrissy (The New Me) said...

Thanks to you (And C!) for being so open about your finances and the freelancing lifestyle. I love seeing real stories of how other people manage. It looks like y'all have a pretty good system for now, and I think it's great that you're able to help one another in this way. While it's a little different because we're in a relationship, N and I have usually been underemployed at points, either one or the other or (gulp!) both. Now we are each bringing in pretty equal money, but of course my contributions vary month to month. At any rate, I have been meaning to write a post about finances myself. This was the push I needed! Yay for transparency and honesty and community. :)

Rosiecat said...

You are most welcome! I also love seeing real money stories. Advice is all well and good, but let's face it: things never go perfectly according to plans.

One thing that I think I'd like to write about is the decision that Paul and I made to combine our finances and stop tracking who pays for what. I'm guessing you and Nathan have been doing that for a long time? Whatever your story is, I'd love love LOVE to hear more about it! So I hope you decide to tell it :-)

Yay indeed! Write write write!