Extreme Budget Makeover: Freelancer Edition

This series of posts by the Born Freelancer will share personal experiences and thoughts on issues relevant to freelancers. Have something to add to the conversation? Your input is welcome in the comments.

Some 9-to-5ers I know were complaining that the recession was so brutal that they felt they had to sacrifice their usual early morning caffeine fixes from a popular but overpriced chain and make their own every morning instead.

I chuckled to myself if this was the extent of the economy’s brutality on their lifestyle. “How much are you saving?” I asked.

They had no idea.

I was stunned by that revelation. As a freelancer I need to know what I’m making, what I’m spending and how much I’ve got saved on a daily basis. It’s how I’ve always lived.

Don Genova, president of the CMG freelancers branch, summed it up best for me when he recently wrote, “The lot of freelancers in general is a paycheque to paycheque situation.” I’d go further than that. We’re the early-warning canaries down the economy’s mine shaft. We’re the first to know when things are shaky and the last to truly recover. I knew things were getting bad by early 2008. I went about mentally preparing for the rough ride ahead by going into financial “lock down” or, as I call it, a return to my college “KD” years.

Here’s a partial list of my own “brutal” savings/cost cutting measures:

  • Cell phone? Gone. Revolutionary but true. Do you know we in Canada pay more for cell phone use than any other comparable country in the world? (OK, so I’m doing research into getting a pay-as-you go again — mostly for emergencies — and so far it looks to me like the 7/Eleven “SpeakOut” brand is the most cost effective service in Canada for minimal users like I plan to be. I haven’t actually subscribed to it so I don’t have any first hand experience with it yet. Comments, anyone?)
  • Landline phone? Renegotiated. With all the options out there today I was able to save a few more bucks every month. I also cut all the extra features (call waiting, call forwarding, call answer, etc.) which IMHO are way too over priced as well. A physical answering machine costs less than the monthly total of all those (useful but hardly necessary) features.
  • Cable TV? Gone. Again, we in Canada pay more for cable TV than any other civilized country in the world. And most of it is just rehashed, repurposed “reality” dreck I would never watch anyway. Come the fall and OTA digital TV in Canada, there’s going to be a surge in folk getting digital TV aerials for their rooftop or balcony. For less than the price of a year’s cable you’ll have permanent access to all the OTA digital TV you could ever want.
  • High-speed internet? Gone. I know this sounds like sacrilege, but it’s a real money saver. I manage with dial up at home for e mails and essential web browsing. I know, I know, it’s painfully slow but at 10 to 20 per cent of the cost of high speed (again, more expensive in Canada than any other comparable country in the world) it results in huge savings. And client offices, internet cafes, free public wifi and library computers are all available if required so it’s not like virtual life has suddenly ended.

As a freelancer it is save-save-save during the good years. (Boring but sensible.) During the not so good years it is cut-cut-cut as many unnecessary costs as possible. (Painful but often liberating.) Of course what I consider necessary will be completely different from what you consider necessary but if you take a long, hard look at all your recurring routine expenses there are always savings to be had. And so this freelancer will survive until things recover sufficiently to return to “normal”. Always have, always will. It’s called living within your budget. It’s part of the cost of freelancing.

It’s not something that came naturally to me either. I’m lousy — almost pathologically lousy — with numbers. I hate ’em! But by necessity I’ve had to learn to cope. Having made the choice to freelance at an early age it just came with the territory. It was a long, hard struggle at first, but now I honestly can’t remember a time I didn’t do a constantly updating “cost analysis” of everything in my life. I recommend it to anyone to find out what’s really important to them. (See my earlier post about health care as an example). There’s so much that’s possible to live without from time to time. It also means that when you can afford them again, the luxuries in life have even greater value.

I do my budgeting the old-fashioned way — on paper. Highly underrated. I have some documentation on computer but I don’t use any fancy software. A totally unscientific phone poll of a handful of fellow freelancers shows that I’m not alone. Surprisingly, well over half said they use only paper or a combination of paper and basic computer apps to budget.

One freelance friend, whose opinion I respect, tells me she uses something called Moneydance to “set up a budget, and also record your banking information — it then tells you whether you’re over or under budget. It’s $49.99 but you can download it to try first — IMO it’s worth the money.” I haven’t tried it but you can find it here.

So what have you done to survive the economic downturn? Any special cost cutting measures that other freelancers should think about? Also, do you use any special software for juggling your budget? I’ve read that most of the so-called free budgeting software isn’t worth the cost, but I’d be glad to hear success stories.

Posted on June 3, 2011 at 12:18 pm by editor · · Tagged with: , ,

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  1. Written by spanky
    on June 6, 2011 at 12:19 am
    Reply · Permalink

    What a sad state of affairs our business is in. The model is beyond laughable.

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