Back in February, I wrote an article for TFD about our quest for “less money, more life.” At the end of a calculated and careful financial overhauling process, we decided that we were in a position for me to leave my salaried job and explore a freelance career starting in January 2019. We are now nine months into our new life, and it seems like a good time to return to the final stage of our earlier process (reassessing our choices) and consider where we were, where we’ve gone, and what we’ve learned along the way!
Whilst what we’ve learned is very specific to us and the choices we have made, I hope that our process is useful to other readers as an encouragement to make brave (and well-planned) financial decisions.
Lesson 1: The details change
If you read my previous article, you’ll know that our reasons for me leaving my teaching job centered around supporting a family member through an illness and an improved quality of life. Those elements have not changed (and will not). However, some of the details of our budget have changed over the past nine months. Case in point: we originally decided not to book any foreign holidays while we got our feet under us. But we’ve learned that a) domestic holidays are not necessarily cheaper, b) traveling and exploring brings us joy, and c) we need and deserve proper breaks during the working year.
We factored in affordable breaks and adjusted our budget elsewhere to accommodate this change (for example, by cutting back on lazy and unnecessary meals out, making the most of free/cheap activities in our area, always booking train tickets in advance to ensure savings). We could have stuck to our guns and insisted on no foreign holidays because that’s what we originally said we’d do, but we chose to be flexible and make changes to our budget as we learned to navigate our new lifestyle.
Lesson 2: Factor in a variable monthly income
We knew we could survive without me earning anything, but that was never the actual plan (just a worst-case-scenario). As it happens, I’ve picked up a lot of work over the past nine months, and that work is set to grow. However, I hadn’t factored in what a variable monthly income can do to stress levels! All my income streams are still in the education sector, meaning that my pay is tied to the academic year in a way that it wasn’t when I was being paid a standard teaching salary each month. This has meant months of high income (e.g. May, June, and July) and then a more fallow month of August. If I’d thought about this ahead of time and planned accordingly, it would have saved me a lot of stress trying to move money between accounts between my husband’s paychecks and my lump payments.
Lesson 3: Read contracts carefully!
My husband is a lawyer and will blanche when he reads that subheading, but hear me out! This lesson is very closely tied to lesson 2 and relates to the nature of my work in a sector that’s dependent on the academic year. Of course, I read my contracts! I read them for what I needed to do and by when and how much I would be paid. However, I didn’t pay close attention to when I would be paid. Result: One company I was contracted to for the summer paid me week by week as assignments were completed, while the other paid me at the end of the month for work completed up until a certain date the week before. This isn’t a problem of not being paid — I’ve been fully paid for all the work I did for both companies. However, if I had properly timetabled when I could expect to be paid by each one, I could have used that knowledge to judge when we should make bigger purchases, or which months we could have afforded to save more.
Lesson 4: Track your hours
When I was teaching, I never had cause to track my actually-worked hours (and I suspect such an exercise would not have made me happy!). But now that I am working for myself and managing my own pay, invoices, taxes, etc., hourly rates are suddenly very important. Since I needed to track my hours for the main company I work for anyway, I got into the habit of tracking the hours spent on other projects that are either currently unpaid or else pay per assignment rather than per hour.
I can see how seasoned freelancers may now be banging their heads on the desk as they read this, but it had not occurred to me to judge the financial worth of a project based on how many hours I spent on it. I just did the work (however long it took) and took the pay at the end. The two companies I mentioned working for simultaneously over the summer months had me doing variations on the same tasks — so by tracking my hours I have been able to figure out roughly what my hourly rate was for each one, and whether in the future I wish to continue working for them each summer. Additionally, tracking my hours on unpaid projects/research has helped me to weed out scenarios where I am putting in a huge amount of time for very little or no return.
Lesson 5: It’s never too late to make that first change
This final lesson comes courtesy of my husband, who worries that he “can’t say it in a pithy manner.” I’m feeling the pithy pressure myself now, but here goes: take one little step and see where it takes you — you may be surprised! We had originally canceled our gym memberships as part of our cull of unnecessary expenses. But while one of us (guess which one!) relishes a 22-mile run in the mud and the rain, one of us definitely needs a Pilates class in order to stay healthy and motivated to exercise. So we got our gym memberships back — but as a result of being healthier, fitter and happier, we saw that we needed our TV subscription less and less, because we were going to classes, going for walks, reading more, etc. In some kind of neat, cosmic squaring of the circle, our joint gym membership is almost to the penny the same price as the TV subscription we canceled. That one little change has not only re-motivated me to exercise, but also shown us that sometimes you need to go ahead and make the right change for you — it could be the start of a much better plan that you’d imagined!
Melanie is an English teacher on hiatus, tutor, and freelancer.
Image via Unsplash