Can we talk about money for a mo?
I know I know, I hear ya, this is one of my LEAST favourite conversations too and I’m already wishing I’d chosen to put a swig of baileys in my coffee as I write this.
But while pursuing your dreams is great n’all, navigating adult life is hard enough and a girl has to HUSTLE. Bills have to be paid, student loans have to be subdued and the dreamy fantasy of the poor writers life, although fabulously romantic, is still experienced better with food in the fridge and, when needed, a baileys in your coffee.
I recently took the plunge and left my full-time job to go part-time/freelance but I did so knowing full well that there is a price to be paid for following your heart when it comes to your career.
We live in a time with many people work over full time hours and still not pulling in enough wages to make ends meet, so being able to work flexibly and pursue a passion is a privilege (yes, even if you work your tits off to get there). It’s a gift we should not take lightly.
But it is possible for some, I reckon for more people than realise it.
(ok ok I’m secretly trying to get everyone, where possible, to stick it to The Man and the societal pressures of the corporate consumerist life. You’ve been warned).
Here, I’ll take you through how I budgeted for this change and tried to weigh up the balance between economy, well being and more time for my projects of the heart.
Big glaringly obvious disclaimer: I am merely sharing my experience and am in no way a financial expert or advisor. If you do have serious concerns about your personal economy please seek the guidance of a professional.
Thinking outside the box
Many of us are living in a post 9-5 world although it’s easy to forget it. What was once the home-run of stability and career goals is now, whether by choice or not, often not the reality for many.
It took me some harsh reality checks (namely mass redundancies) to figure out that the “stable” 9.5 career job simply doesn’t exist how it use to. This doesn’t mean it has no value at all (for example, the daily set routine is crucial for many), but the value once assigned is out of date and I would argue too much pressure is put on young people to find this type of work as if it’s the most important aspect.
Paying your bills is important. Self improvement is important.
What framework we complete this in can be much more fluid than you think.
If you find yourself at a crossroads and wondering how you can possible balance a 9-5 job while pursuing other things, I pose to you that maybe you don’t have to.
Stable income can come from many different sources and setups. Whether it’s part time, flexitime, freelance, agency work, temp contracts…what was once reserved for those working in specific industries is now becoming the norm for many. Even those working “regular corporate” jobs.
These are no less valuable and, for some, can actually open MORE career doors in the future.
As you consider your next career move don’t be afraid to research ALL the options. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
It also doesn’t have to mean less money in the bank account.
Budgeting for a real life
For myself, I knew it would mean less money in my account but for my situation right now that was, maybe, ok. I had been earning a comfortable wage for a little while but was, quite frankly, fucking miserable.
I knew something had to change.
I also knew that I could never EVER let myself get back to the level of poor I had been before. The stress of not knowing how you would pay the bills next month, the looming clouds of debt permanently etching away at the peripheries of your mind day in and day out...nope. Nope nope nope.
I was willing to sacrifice a lot...but not to sacrifice my wellbeing, my house or my other plans of getting married and starting a family.
So before I took any major decisions with my work I needed to figure out how I can still budget for my life while freeing up enough time to pursue my writing. A real life. A life that doesn’t mean completely putting everything else on hold or going back to eating rice and frozen vegetables every day of the week.
Once I decided on this I would then try and make sure I get this amount in my account every month from a steady, reliable-as-it-can-be-in-this-climate source...whatever source that might be. It might be relevant work it might be serving coffee or washing dishes. It might be my current job but down to part time hours. Whatever.
First, I listed everything (and I mean everything y’all) that I spend money during the month. Not worrying about amounts just yet, simply get the list down.
The first few are pretty obvious:
On your hierarchy of needs this would set you up to survive for sure. But we’re trying to do more than “survive” here. If you get stuck just run through an average day/week in your life and write down anything that requires spending money, even the pennies. OK, let’s add some more:
Occasional meal and drinks out
Saving for wedding
Now we’re talking. Remember, the necessities of life include more than physical sustenance. Access to recreational and pleasurable activities are most certainly part of a healthy basic existence (although the current state of things for many people would have you believe otherwise).
At the bottom I included things on my list which I would be more than willing to go without for this project but, if I didn’t have to, that would be great:
More frequent meals/drinks out with friends
Pampering (EG. getting your nails done)
Saving for travelling
Paying off student debts a bit sooner
Pricier phone contract with better data plan
Fancier toiletries from my favourite brands
So now we have our list. Yours might be much bigger or maybe much more simple. But what this helps us to do is to remind ourselves what we value as important and start having us think where we can maybe make cuts or rearrange some things.
For me, I knew I was willing to look at taking a pay cut but ONLY if I feel comfortable that I’ll be able to cover most of my list above.
Look your finances square in the eye
This is a good time to crack the bailey’s out.
As someone who has danced with debt and faced serious anxiety issues with money I honestly know how hard this bit is. No matter how scary, how big a problem it is, how many payments you are behind, you HAVE to look your finances straight in the eye to be able to get a grip on them.
So I sat one afternoon and went through every single bank transaction for the last 6 months and I wrote down where every damned penny went.
The best way to do this is to categorise each and every transaction. Whether on paper with coloured pens or on an excel spreadsheet, whatever suits you.
These categories will totally depend on your personal spending habits but the more detailed you go the better (EG. don’t just have “food”, include a category for meals out, takeaway, supermarket shop etc etc).
Next to each bullet point I ended up with an average amount I knew I had spent over the last few months on...well...everything. I’ve never considered myself irresponsible spender and find being frugal easy. But caution is not the same as control and when it comes to money, knowledge really is power!
(Don’t forget any debt, credit card payments, loans or other expenses/events that may not appear monthly...yaaayyyy!).
Know where to draw the line
OK so we have our priority life list and a breakdown of where our money really goes every month.
Then I had to figure out where my financial line was. This is the very least that I would need to earn to cover the above and make sure I wasn’t racked with anxiety every night (well, no more than the usual stuff anyway *manic laughter*). I used the following:
Monthly basic expenses (based on above)
Taking into account taxes
A little extra for savings
A little bit extra after that just in case ('cus life happens)
= The amount I would draw the line at.
And that was it. That was my starting point. Now I just had to figure out the when’s and the how’s of gaining this money in as consistent a way possible.
For me, that meant reliable contracted part time work of 2-3 days per week.
Have a plan B and know your safety nets
It might not work out. And, lord, if I’ve learnt anything in the last few years it’s that you never know what life might throw at you. It doesn’t matter what plans you make, how well you budget or how determined and focused you are. Life just happens.
Having savings and/or the confidence that you can re-evaluate and change your plans again when needed is really important.
Confiding in people if or when things get hairy, especially when it comes to finances, is even more important. No one, and I mean NO ONE, has their shit together constantly, so don’t put pressure on yourself to have it figured out all the time.
My plan B is knowing I can go back to square one and apply for full time 9-5 work later next year if this doesn’t go as planned. It wouldn’t be easy but I’ve been through it enough times now and trust I can face that bridge when I come to it.
I’m also reminding myself that, even at my most “stable” office job, I still worried all the time about losing my job. I still worked evenings and weekends and pushed constantly for security (which, at least in the tech industry, felt futile).
At least now I can do all of that a bit more on my own terms :P
People will judge you either way
So fuck em. You do you. Keep your head on our shoulders, pay your way and put your own values first whatever shape that comes in.