One Writing Gig Pays My Rent in Just Five Hours a Week
Most freelance writers have at least one thing in common — we want writing to pay our bills and provide ample discretionary income each month.
For the most part, I write about personal finance and investing so I assume I think about this more than most. Indeed, I tie the two together. It’s not enough to say you want your freelance income to cover your regular obligations with money left over. Devise a plan. I have one you can pull from. I link work to bills, with one five-hour-a-week freelance gig paying my rent.
Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to make it happen.
Maintain A Low Cost Of Living
The guide might be step-by-step, but none of this easy.
Most people have difficulty wrapping their head around the notion of a low cost of living. It’s what I preach. I’m doing everything I can to practice it. Because it’s the key to living the freelance life with as little stress as possible.
Life is a series of compromises. Generally, if you need or want something, you must be willing to give a little — or completely — in other areas of life. To those unable to maintain a low cost of living, I say:
“It’s not the cost of living’s fault.”
You can live in most places in the world for far below the published average or median cost of living. I do it in Los Angeles. I’ll do it when I move to Portland next year. I rent a studio apartment in LA for $1,350 a month. I’ll rent either a studio or one-bedroom for roughly the same amount in PDX. While my Los Angeles neighborhood isn’t bad, I want a better neighborhood with amenities I value. I can get that for the same cost in Portland, thus the pending move.
The last paragraph contained two compromises.
One, I want lower than average rent so I live in a studio apartment. It’s nice. It’s all I need. Anything else would require a higher spend than necessary. Whether you’re single, partnered, or have a family, you can do this. Simply extrapolate the numbers and living space out to your unique situation.
Two, I want a prime, walkable neighborhood. While it’s not necessarily a huge compromise to move to Portland — because I love it there — I am leaving my home of 11-plus years to do it. It’s a huge change. While I welcome and look forward to it, it makes me nervous.
There’s a kicker here — I want to have as much money left over as possible to invest in stocks. You might choose to pay more in rent or spend extra income elsewhere. I want to build an investment portfolio. It’s a choice — a compromise — I make. One day, this investment portfolio will represent a consistent income stream. It’s all part of the larger, long-term plan.
Realistically chart your current income, income potential, and prospects of keeping your cost of living low. The latter can feel harsh. However, unless you’re making exorbitant amounts of money, you have no choice if you want a fighting chance at making a comfortable living as a freelance writer.
Ramp Up Your Freelance Life
I quit my job when the pandemic started and now I make $10,000 a month as a freelance writer.
Sounds fantastic. I bet it happens. I mean, if it’s in a Medium story it has to be true. Leave it to the chosen few. I don’t recommend diving right into anything, let alone freelance writing as your sole source of income.
In other words, don’t quit your job or jettison your present income thinking you’ll replace what you left behind instantly. I have been freelancing for the better part of 12 years and I only recently arrived at the juncture where I’m all-in and relatively comfortable being all-in.
Consider the reverse. About five years ago, I became restless. I wanted a break from full-time writing and editing. I developed a passion for craft cocktails and wanted to pursue it. But I wasn’t sure bar life could pay the bills. So I took a part-time bar job, did some on-the-ground research, and determined it made sense to leave writing to dedicate myself to bartending.
I told the boss off, made my move/Got nowhere to go
— Elliott Smith, Son of Sam
If you suddenly lose your job or source of income, it’s a different story. Irrespective of anything I write here, hustle and figure it out tends to be your only option. That is, unless you have money saved, thus the aforementioned low cost of living.
Link Freelance Income To Recurring Bills
Resist the urge to go all-in. Again, it’s unlikely to happen overnight.
That said, here’s the move.
Pull a recurring expense out of your hopefully small pile. Strive to find, foster, and maintain freelance work to cover this expense each month.
Start small. You might pay $75 for wireless smartphone service. Define your objective as securing a consistent gig to cover that bill each month, with the goal being enough consistent freelancing to satisfy your entire budget — living expenses, savings/investing, and discretionary spend.
I write for financial media platform, Seeking Alpha. Like Medium, I can write there as much as I like. I pretty much have it down to a science. I know — within a reasonable margin — how much I have to write to make a certain amount of money. I can throttle it up and back. At the moment, I cover my rent with Seeking Alpha money. It takes me roughly five hours a week to do this. I have plenty of runway to make more at this gig so it will cover a greater share of my expenses.
I’m doing the same with Medium. Linking work to spend.
Once you succeed in paying a $75 wireless bill with freelance income, be ready to adjust. For example, that gig might end up generating $500 a month. You can pay multiple expenses with it or two whole expenses and some fraction of another.
I have several gigs and income streams that either satisfy or are about to satisfy my monthly outlays. I match income to expense, in isolation or combination. I’m in the process of lowering my cost of living even more, which will require an income allocation shift. It’s a fluid process.
I have found this approach provides the clearest insight into my expenses and what I need to do to comfortably pay them and have money left over to save and invest each month. I pay my bills first and spend moderately on things I don’t need, saving and investing every penny of the rest. If I’m able to do the latter, obviously I’m making a comfortable living as a freelance writer. I’m to the point, where I’m actually thinking freelance income to stocks I want to buy rather than expenses I need to pay. I hope I can keep it up because it’s the dream.
This structure deserves much of the credit for my success. Taking in money throughout the month, sitting down, and paying bills doesn’t work. There’s too much uncertainty in this all-too-common way of running a budget. I’d rather check expenses (and stock purchases!) off the list as clients process payments.
Having a methodical and thoughtful plan and working as efficiently as possible to execute it — that’s the hustle, in the best sense of the word.