The Money Diaries: The 20-something freelance writer who spends his summers relaxing at a resort
Today is another post in the Money Diaries series, which is based off New York Magazine’s Sex Diaries. We’ve collected stories from real people about their spending habits over seven days, anonymized them, and posted them here.
This week’s post is by a 20-something freelance writer who spends his summers living at the resort where his wife works and enjoying all of his free time. Is he living the dream…or mooching off others’ hard work and generosity?
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10:30 a.m.: I’m doing volunteer work at the county fair today, so I’m staying with friends. They feed me well (doughnuts!) so not only am I not spending anything, I’m not using my own food either. Meanwhile, back at the resort where my wife works, she’s getting $90 in tips from guests along with $700 cash (her weekly salary). She’s also collecting any good food guests left in their cabins after the week. We score cheese, a veggie tray, and some pie, but no six-pack of imported beer like she found a month ago.
5:00 p.m.: One of the other guys volunteering brings dinner. Still, an hour or so later, my friend and I split more fair food and lemonade. When in Rome…$6.
8:45 a.m.: My wife and I leave for church. It’s an hour and a half away, and there are dozens of closer churches, but we think the time and gas money for the weekly round trip is worth it for the quality of the Bible teaching. We spend extravagantly on what matters to us, and this is one of those things.
11:45 a.m.: We have extra money in our grocery budget, so I decide to purchase nine bottles of unusual craft bemer from an online store for $60. Totally worth it.
12:00 p.m.: Date time. We go to a suspiciously low-priced Chinese buffet (crab legs and sushi for $10???), then hit the bookstore for some cheap books. After spending $15 for three books we find an even cheaper deal right outside-a used book sale. $5 gets us a paper bag full of 10 or 15 books, some of which I would have paid $5 each for.
8:00 a.m.: I worry about the alleged “double dip” recession. I’ve got this idea I call “two-way dollar cost averaging”. They say you should buy stocks at a steady rate and not try to time the market. Well, if that’s really true, I can put nearly all savings into stocks as money comes in and when I need some I can withdraw it at a steady rate also. On balance, I should be making 8% a year instead of 0.0% or whatever savings accounts currently pay. I don’t care if I lose money some years, since on average, over a lifetime, I should gain more than I lose. Here’s how it would work to go both ways. We have $10,000 or so saved after the summer that we plan on spending throughout the year. So we’ll buy 10 stocks (I always buy stocks in $1,000 increments), which brings our total to about 40. When we need a few thousand here and there, we’ll just sell a hundred or so dollars worth of each stock. (I can get 20 trades a month at $1 each so I’m not worried about commissions). So every year we will end up with 10 more stocks (diversification!) and the value will gradually grow, even though we will be siphoning off money throughout the year. What if we lose money? You’re not supposed to time the market, right? I really hope my strategy isn’t stupid.
12:26 p.m.: Got a bill so my wife grabbed our checkbook. I’m not sure how much the bill is for, but it doesn’t matter because she will write it down and subtract it from our housing budget. We have at least 10 budget sub-accounts, but since we bank locally we just do the math on paper instead of via ING. Neither of us would ever spend it just because it’s there, so the numbers on our budget books are barriers enough to prevent us from overspending in a category.
5:00 p.m.: I work from home, and in summer I live at the resort where my wife works. (I’ve got several freelance projects in addition to my salaried job as an editor for 20k a year, with benefits). Today I’m actually way ahead on both counts so I spend the day reading Jane Austen. Dinner is pot pies my wife’s grandpa picked up for us. We cook for him sometimes, and besides, she’s his granddaughter, so we eat his food a lot. After dinner a resort guest gives us a couple of extra enchiladas-free dinner tomorrow.
8:40 p.m.: Reflecting on tomorrow’s plans. I will touch base about a couple of writing projects I’m doing for a client on the side. The gig is writing technical but rather puffy trade journal articles to loosely steer readers to this guy’s products without being too obvious about it. He’s paying me $400 for each of five articles (four are on the same topic, so not too much research!) and $600 to submit them to the magazines. Even adding in a couple of meetings, time it took me to write the proposal, etc, it’s looking like about $50 an hour. That’s pretty good for me, since most of my freelance writing averages out closer to $25 an hour.
10:00 a.m.: I walked down the hill to the main lodge to eat and work. This commute is relatively inexpensive. Checked stocks…we’ve lost 20% on paper in the last year. I won’t lock it in by selling, though.
8:00 p.m.: Spent nothing all day. Not proud of that because I’m not against spending by any means, but that’s how it ended up happening. Going to work out. During the summer I work out alone with my kettlebell or go running. Free!
9:56 p.m.: My wife balanced our budget. We are in the black in every category: $433 medical, $76 clothes, $500 food, $122 miscellaneous, $214 charity, $747 housing, $304 auto, $286 fun. Some of that is intended for future problems (car breaks, etc). We also have a separate “long term” account for things that are guaranteed like property tax, car insurance, etc.
9:14 a.m.: Tomorrow I have to drive back home for a meeting. I plan to add money to our long-term “account” (really just a balance sheet, all our money is really in stocks or our checking account) for taxes and insurance. We have $6,140.85 in there now, but only because we got a heavy tax refund for our house. We will use it for home stuff (repairs, etc).
11:11 a.m.: Just got a call from the only person I supervise – an unpaid intern at our magazine. She finished another round of difficult tasks and wanted to know if I had more work for her. I am consistently floored by her diligence. I am very close to hiring her as an assistant for my freelance work. I don’t know exactly what I would have her do, but she’s so reliable that I don’t want to lose her. Lead generation? Following up on my freelance queries for me? I don’t know yet, but once I figure it out, this has the potential to be a very good thing.
5:00 p.m.: Was going to buy pizza for a group event, but everyone cancels except my brother and my wife (via Skype) so we eat with my parents.
11:15 a.m.: After my work meeting, I drop off a couple of checks at the bank – $256 for a freelance article I wrote and a $29 rebate when I cancelled our Internet for the summer. I’ll call and re-negotiate the price when we get back in the fall. Promos are usually $30 or $35 a month but regular rate is $50. I don’t want to pay regular rate. Buy gas for $35, ask for student discount (wife is a college student) and use loyalty program discount. Wow — 80 cents saved. Maybe I’ll splurge on a quarter of a gallon of gas. That gas discount feels completely worthless, but I just did the math and it gets me 9 miles (one extra short round trip per tank) so I guess it’s worth asking for.
5:00 p.m.: I wake up from a nap. I like working from home. Most of today I spend hanging around and reading for fun. One reason I’ve stuck with my low-paying job as long as I have is the unbelievable flexibility. I’ve tried negotiating a better salary two or three times in the last three years but I doubt I’ll be successful as our company really isn’t very profitable yet. There are only five of us and the owner is pretty open about sharing our monthly revenue and costs with us. I also don’t know how I could find a job that’s this flexible anywhere else.
1:00 a.m.: Entertaining and free evening. Worked out with a friend at my dad’s home gym (we were going to use free guest passes at a fitness center, but my friend couldn’t find them. So it would have been free either way.) Then played guitar. Ate stuff from the fridge.
10:00 a.m.: Sore from doing weighted pull-ups at 122% bodyweight. Thought I’d throw that in there to see if someone leaves a comment below about how awesomely strong I am.
7:00 p.m.: Drive back to the resort. I get paid sometime next week, but I don’t keep track because we spend based on our budget, not our checks. It’s been a fairly average week. My only regret is not spending time on lead generation or pitch letters. Oh well, you don’t always have a great week. But, I’m on my sixth year of freelancing, and I’m not going to give up now.
Spent: $150 (I didn’t buy the beer yet)
But that’s not really how I view money. Dollars in and out per week isn’t a good index. We save what my wife makes in the summer and spend it all year, and our expenses are usually higher-heating oil, food, utilities, etc. We really rely on our multiple category budget to tell us what we have, what we can spend, etc. It’s helpful to see the numbers going from red to black and it allows us to be conscious of what we’re spending. My only concern is that I focus too much on money. Automation might help, but I think it’s a mindset issue more than anything else.
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