Being a freelance writer means my income is constantly in flux — some weeks are busy and others leave me scrambling for more work. Because bills never seem to be in flux, a few consecutive weeks among the latter can make simple things like paying bills, paying off loans, and contributing to retirement even more stressful.
As I work toward a steady income from freelance writing, my best defense against fluctuating finances is living frugally. But despite the number of things I’m willing to go without to save money, there are a few things I refuse to do.
#1 Cancel my gym membership
Now that I’m freelancing, most days are spent working from home. A few months ago, I got a great deal on a FitBit, and have since become all too aware of how few steps I take on days spent cooped up in my living room typing away. Despite how much I told myself that working from home would give me more space to stay active, the reality is that without all the walking and subway steps, it’s easy to be sedentary.
My gym membership does more than gets me out of the apartment; working up a sweat helps me feel more focused, keep a positive mind, and maintain more energy throughout the day.
Overall, it may be an expense up front, but the long-term benefits of staying healthy means less money spent on doctor visits later in life.
How I make it work
When I switched to full-time freelancing, I canceled my $85-per-month all-access membership at a gym with classes and signed up for a $10 per month membership at Planet Fitness. The quality of the machines and weights is the same, if not better and it’s just as clean. The main shortcoming is that Planet Fitness doesn’t offer any classes, but with how much I’m saving, I can afford to pay for one or two classes a month with friends and not feel guilty.
#2 Buy cheap, low-nutrient foods
Just because money is tight doesn’t mean I plan to start living on instant noodles. I refuse to compromise my long-term health to save money in the short-term. As I mentioned earlier, that adds up to additional costs later in life.
Yes, it can be more expensive to eat healthy, but living in the center of a major city, I have plenty of access to fresh vegetables, fruit, and anything else I could want year round. And as long as I’m willing to plan ahead and cook my own meals, it’s easy to keep cost down.
How I make it work
The first, most important point is that I try to keep eating out to a minimum. Going to restaurants is something I usually reserve for when I am meeting friends, so it’s a real treat when I do go rather than just something I do out of laziness. Second, I load up on fresh vegetables, and I do not buy or cook meat. I’m not completely against eating meat, but from a cost-saving perspective, it is much cheaper to buy non-perishable proteins like beans and nuts in bulk than to buy meat, which costs more and spoils sooner.
This has also helped me get creative about cooking. You’ll notice that most, if not all, of the recipes on this site are vegetarian. My fiance and I are constantly finding new ways to work with healthy vegetables and complete proteins to make original meals, and to put our own spin on a dish we love.
That’s all great, but do we get enough protein?
We could get a substantial amount of protein from the eggs, tofu, nuts, beans, seeds, and lentils we eat, but because we work out regularly, we supplement our diet with protein shakes, which can still be very inexpensive when you pick a high quality discount brand like Vitacost and wait for sales.
#3 Stop having fun with friends
When you spend long hours working hard in solitude, going out with friends is more than just a social indulgence.
Spending time with people who support me and who I can be myself around makes me feel more confident in my abilities and more confident to take risks. When an assignment doesn’t turn out as good as I’d hoped or I’m feeling the sting of a rejection letter, their positivity and example inspire me to work harder and be a better person. Plus, some of my best ideas for articles have come over conversations with friends.
The rush of energy I get from long face-to-face conversations is essential to my mental health and my professional health. No amount of G-chat and text messaging can replicate that.
How I make it work
When I first moved to New York, the easiest way to make plans was going out for late-night drinks or a happy hour after work. But go to enough happy hours, and despite the half-price drinks you’ll spend plenty on hangovers and drunk impulse eats.
One cool thing about getting older is that more people are taking their health seriously, so friends and I keep an eye out for Groupons to go climbing or take yoga classes. On a summer Friday, we’ll take long walks through different NYC neighborhoods and people watch. In winter, when long walks are less feasible and happy hours just to stay indoors are inevitable, I try to keep myself to a one- or two-drink maximum depending on the night (I can’t really hold liquor like I used to, anyway). If a dinner out is unavoidable, I’ll pick a place with reasonable prices and check out the menu ahead of time.
But more importantly, I’ve saved in every other area of my life so I’m prepared and able to splurge on a few decadent nights out. I’m a firm believer that those nights are healthy every once in awhile to remind myself that I’m in control of my finances. And the extra 20 minutes it takes to get home by subway instead of by cab is worth it to me to be able to say yes to an extra dinner with friends.
#4 Buy cheap, poorly made shoes
This doesn’t exactly have anything to do with my career, but living in New York City means I spend a lot of time on my feet. Basic needs — going food shopping, going to a meeting, and doing laundry — all require a lot of walking and stair climbing. Wearing fashionable but unsupportive shoes caused me foot and back problems that were easy to ignore at 17. Now that I’m in my late 20s, those pains demand that I take them more seriously if I want to be able to walk at all when I’m older.
How I make it work
Buying cheap running shoes that I plan to wear a lot is a bad idea. Good running shoes cost more, but last me up to a year. Over the course of a year, having to buy the cheaper ones four to six times ends up costing more than buying the good ones once — all the while living miserably with all that back pain.
To spend even less, I always keep an eye out for online deals. Last month, Amazon ran an amazing deal on sneakers that let me buy two pairs of Asics for less than the normal cost of one pair. Now I don’t have to worry about buying new running sneakers until 2017 😉