As a writer, I’ve been engaged in a never-ending fight with the Day Job. Ever since the age of five, I’ve dreamed of being a working author. I could create stories and books for others and that would be my job.
Despite the internal struggle, having a day job has given me a wonderful amount of stability. But because of changes to the economy due to the virus pandemic, many are clinging to that day job, myself included.
However, at the end of last year, my husband and I took some major steps forward in how we manage money. Thanks to these changes, the little bit of money I earn from writing has more of a household impact. It even brings writing full time more within my reach because those changes reduced how much I need to earn to make a livable income.
Although I’m under threat of losing the stability I have from my day job, I’m not scared. The spending changes we made have enabled us to live well enough, even on very little. We’re living at around 60% - 70% of our $30,000 income. We have enough money for Amazon Prime, Netflix, and the occasional meal out. This isn’t a life of being in the dark ages, but it is a life of simplicity, balance, and setting limits.
I realize that right now many artists and creatives are going through a difficult time, especially those who may be losing their more stable sources of income. If you’re working as an artist and are having trouble with making ends meet, this post could be helpful for you, especially if paired with government assistance.
Living an inexpensive and fulfilling life is easier than you think, especially if you live in western society. It’s amazing what you can do. Just keep an open mind and an experimental attitude.
[Note: This post contains affiliate links from bookshop.org in support of indie bookstores. I earn a commission from these links, but this does not affect the price you pay, and I only link to books that I’ve enjoyed.]
Step 1: See where the money is going
Make a list of all the places you can remember shopping over the past year. Then look them up in your bank account. Filter your search so you can see a year’s worth of spending for a single retailer. Calculate the total and write it down. Then look up the next retailer on your list. You may also want to note what category of spending that retailer usually falls under, such as food, clothing, house supplies, etc. It’s okay if your totals are rough and not exact.
When doing this, some imbalances will pop out at you. For example, last year I noticed that I had spent $500 on ebooks at Amazon. There’s nothing wrong with buying the occasional ebook here and there, but I quickly saw that $500 is way out of balance for our income. My husband had spent over $1000 on board games. We realized that we had some changes to make.
After coming up with your totals, take time to compare your spending with someone who has way better spending habits than you. If you don’t know anyone personally, I suggest starting with this eye-opening post from Mr. Money Moustache. Take a close look at his spreadsheet and compare categories. Yes, it’s from 2014, but I can tell you from personal experience, it still works. And unlike the two-person household I live in, this guy has kids!
Do you see any ways that you can be more balanced with your spending? Note any ideas of how to get your spending more closely aligned with his and keep an eye out for areas of overspending.
When you spot where you are overspending, make a note of how much you would prefer to spend. Then plan to monitor that from now on.
For me, book spending is the area to keep an eye on. I used to get emails from Bookbub. Although it was great knowing what was on sale, in the long run, those sales were not saving me money. It was the number one contributor to my $500 ebook bill. So I unsubscribed.
Here are more practical ways to reduce overspending:
- If you get ads from retailers that trigger you into spending too much, unsubscribe from them. Searching to see if something you need is on sale saves you money, but getting alerts for every discount that’s available causes you to spend more. Getting sales notifications does NOT help you save money. Unsubscribe from those immediately.
- If there is a website where you spend too much, set a time limit on it with a site blocker. I like using Leechblock to limit my time on Amazon. Also using an ad-blocker, like Ublock Origin, can help you save money and give yourself a much better internet browsing experience.
- If there is a physical store where you tend to spend too much, see if they have a ship-to-store option, so you can pick up what you need and avoid browsing. I do this with Target.
Ask yourself, “Do I need to shop at this store at all?” Stores that I’ve removed from my regular shopping trips: Hobby Lobby and Publix (this is the fancy grocery store in my area). I’ve reduced shopping at these places to a few times out of the year.
If clothes are your weakness, check out The 333 Project. I also recommend reading The Wonderful World of Fifi Lapin, by Fifi Lapin. Personal style has little to do with your income.
Step 2: Question Everything
It’s easy to have an “I want it. I’ll buy it” mindset. It can become almost a knee jerk response. “It’s on sale. I’ll buy it!” But I’ve come to see that buying an item only because it’s on sale is a low bar to set.
To slow down that automatic response, you may want to ask yourself some questions before you hand over your money, regardless of if the item is on sale or not.
Before you buy, ask yourself:
- Can I do without it?
- If I didn’t have it, what would I do instead?
- Is the alternative that bad?
- Can I live with less of that?
- Can I buy that less often?
- Can I borrow it?
- Is buying it used an option?
- Do I really need to spend x amount of money on that?
- Or can I find it at a discount?
- Can I do what I’ve always done less expensively?
You may want to write these questions down or print them out, so you can keep them as an easy reference. Keep the list next to your computer and in your wallet.
Here’s are some more specific questions I came across as I was questioning my spending habits:
- Do I really need to buy books?
- Do I really need to buy coffee at the coffee shop?
- Do I really need to drink coffee as often as I do?
- Do I really need coffee at all?
- Do I really need to go out to see this movie? Or is watching it at home fine?
- Can I do without this kitchen gadget?
- Do I really need to spend x amount of money on makeup? Can I skip eating out today?
Some things I’ve discovered as a result of my questioning:
- I can make a fantastic pour-over coffee at home. Doing my version of the Misto from Starbucks is my favorite. And I’m fine not having coffee every day.
- I can buy less books. My local library is more than adequate, and as I hone my note-taking skills, I’ll always have the information I need. Plus if I want to read the book again, I can always recheck it out. By the way, Amazon Prime also has a nice selection of free ebooks. However, if a writer makes something that I deeply appreciate, I will buy their work.
- With some research, it’s possible to find inexpensive makeup that looks great. And I’m okay with wearing less make-up in general.
- I don’t need to spend much on home decor. Putting photographs, handmade artwork, found items, and items I own on display is enough to make an impact. Need some inspiration? Check out this neither minimalist or maximalist home on Apartment Therapy.
- My husband and I don’t need to eat out every week. Once a month is fine.
Step 3: Build Appreciation
Try making an unwish-list. This is a wish-list of items that you DON’T need or can do with less of. It’s also helpful to note what you can do instead.
For example: I don’t need to buy so many books because I enjoy supporting my local library. Plus, there is something beautiful about taking time to reread books that I already own and reading my writing.
Focus on the beauty of the alternative options you have, instead of on what you’re doing without.
Also, try building appreciation for items that are worn and used. I’m not talking about holding on to things that need to go in the trash. I’m talking about appreciating items that are still usable that display history or character. The keyboard with the worn-out keys. The t-shirt with the gently fading print. The desk with the slightly banged corners. Think about what you’ve experienced with those items. Do you really need to buy something shiny and new right now? Are things fine the way they are?
This may sound counter-intuitive but decluttering can also lead to wiser spending decisions in the future. Letting go of unnecessary items can help us get a better picture of what we need in our lives and what we don’t. This saves us from wasting money on items that don’t fit our goals, personality, or lifestyle. I know people have different opinions about being minimalist on a low income. But my minimalist mindset has helped me to make better decisions on how I use my money, and when you don’t have much to work with, decision making is everything.
Step 4: Spend Less on Food
Grocery and food tend to be one of the highest household expenses. Last year, my husband and I spent $150 on pizza. In an earlier attempt to reduce spending, I read The No Spend Challenge Guide by Jen Smith. She suggested grocery shopping at low-cost grocery stores, such as Aldi or Walmart.
I pass Aldi on my commute to work, so it was a good option. At first, I was a little wary. I had visited Aldi a few years back, and I found it kind of weird. However, I decided to give it another try. I did an internet search on “How to shop at Aldi,” and I found good advice on how to navigate the store.
So now I shop at Aldi regularly, and I enjoy it. They have a variety of healthy food options (I’m currently gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free). We have saved hundreds of dollars monthly.
One thing I’ve learned is not to rely on sales papers to tell me what to buy. Instead, I focus on making meals with simple, inexpensive ingredients. When the ingredients are inexpensive across the board, it’s easy to save on groceries regardless of where you shop.
If you’re looking for recipes that are fast, inexpensive, and healthy, I highly recommend checking out the blog of Jack Monroe. Combining her recipes with shopping at a low-cost grocery store is a sure way to significantly reduce your grocery bill. I can find most of the ingredients for her recipes at Aldi.
Since her site is British, American readers may find this conversion chart helpful. Canned items in her recipes can be replaced with fresh if you wish. If you need to add meat to a vegetarian dish, I’ve found it works well when I add chicken to recipes with chickpeas and black beans, and beef to recipes with kidney beans and baked beans. Play around and see what you come up with. Her recipes are flexible, and soon you’ll find yourself eating at home more, getting creative in the kitchen, and wasting less food overall.
Splurge Once in a while
Currently, I’m a bit obsessed with buying a $16.00 bag of locally roasted coffee. I probably will indulge in that. But even so, that doesn’t mean that I will buy that kind of coffee every month. Most of the time, the $6.00 bag of coffee is fine for me. So when thinking about getting something that’s an upgrade, make it a special event. Don’t be afraid to enjoy some luxury, but you don’t have to do it every month or week. A few times a year is just as good.
Step 5: Reduce the Bills
After comparing your spending with that of someone who is smart with their money or to the chart of Mr. Money Moustache, you may see that you need to reduce some of your bills.
After comparing our spending I was able to successfully reduce our monthly cellphone bill for two phones from $70 a month to around $50, and our Internet bill from $120 to $60. I’ve listed resources for reasonably priced cellphone services at the end of this post.
If you want to reduce your Internet bill, simply do an online search for, “Negotiate bill (insert name of your internet service).” Then you will get a list of articles that will guide you on how to negotiate with your current internet provider.
I haven’t tried this yet, but Mr. Money Moustache suggests reducing your commute a much as possible to save on gasoline and car maintenance. This could involve taking public transportation more often, using a bicycle, or even moving closer to your job. This makes sense because not only is paying for the keep up of a car a large regular expense, but you’re also putting money into something that loses value over time. If it comes down to deciding between spending more money to commute or spending more money to live closer to your job, the money is better spent living closer.
Not only is putting money into where you live a better investment, but commuting too much can harm your health. So it is worth doing whatever you can to reduce the cost of your trips to work or where ever else you need to go.
Bonus: Handmade is the New Luxury
People appreciate items that are made by hand because they show love, care, and skill.
When trying to save money, creating things by hand can come out cheaper at times. But some handmade projects are time-consuming. Also if you’re knitting or sewing, it can be more expensive than buying the item already made. But I think even if making something by hand takes more time or costs more money, it’s still worth the effort in some cases.
Going handmade helps you to:
- Learn a new skill. That is priceless.
- Be more mindful of the craftsmanship that goes into items you own.
- Let go of a throw-away mindset. If you spent hours making something yourself, will you be tempted to quickly swap it out for something newer and better? Probably not.
- Have the ability to repair your items. If you made it, it’s easier to fix it.
- Grow in self-confidence.
So here are a few areas where you can try making it by hand.
Cook for yourself. Now that I’ve shared with you Jack Monroe’s site, cooking for yourself will be a breeze. Her recipes are so easy to throw together, that it’s helped my husband and I to eat out less. I can put together a whole meal from start to finish in 30 minutes. Fast food can wait. Also once you learn how to cook for yourself, you can cook for your friends, saving money from eating out and ordering pizza.
DIY Household Supplies. Household supplies, especially organic ones can be expensive. However, it’s easy to make your own at the fraction of the cost. I recommend checking out the book Essential Glow by Stephanie Gerber. You can also find great recipes for handmade cleaners and beauty products on the Hello Glow blog.
Sewing. Sewing can help you take control of your wardrobe. If you need to save money on sewing projects, I recommend upcycling from thrift stores or shopping for clothes from the discount rack that are easily altered. My favorite easy sewing books: Sewing in a Straight Line by Brett Bara and The Chick Girls Guide to a One-of-a-Kind Wardrobe by Kristina Clemens.
Weaving and gardening are some other great DIY outlets to look into. If you learn how to garden well, you could reduce your grocery costs. If you’re bad at knitting, learning how to weave is a great way to learn how to create textiles for home decor and household items.
It’s easy to find simple DIY projects online that take little time but enables you to create something that you need and can be proud of. Take full advantage of that.
Going handmade is more than only arts and crafts. Do you have any services that you tend to hire out for such as lawn care or cleaning? See if it’s possible to do them yourself instead. I know not hiring a house cleaner may seem like it’s taking more time away from creative work, but think about it this way.
To pay for that lawn care service or house cleaner, you will need to work longer hours at your job or will have to make more money from your art. If you’re already an earning creative, doing those services yourself will lower the bar of what you need to earn to have a livable income. If you lower the bar of your income, it will relieve the pressure of creating and selling enough work.
When it comes to the creative process, if you find yourself struggling with focus, take a break to do some crafting, cooking, or gardening. I’ve found that taking a break to create with my hands or doing physical activity helps me to settle my mind and regain my focus.
Some things we can’t do ourselves, and that’s okay. The goal is to expand our basic skill set so that we can save money by removing unnecessary services.
Questions to think about:
- Can I make this myself?
- Can I do this myself?
- What can I do to make items last longer?
Reaping the Rewards
At first it will take a little bit of work, but after following these tips you will find that you have more money in the bank in a relatively short time. My husband and I made most of these changes in December of 2019 and because of them, we’ve been able to have an interest-earning savings account for the first time in our 7 years of marriage and are finally able to start building our credit.
Don’t rush to spend that money you save at the store. Use it to get better healthcare and bank it. Learn about HSAs and interest earning savings accounts.
When you’re starting out as a writer or an artist, you’re not going to make much money. Living a simple and fulfilling lifestyle will make those early profits go further. Also your earning goals will fall into a reachable range. How exciting is that?
Other Recommended Resources
Cookbooks to reduce eating out: The Mason Jar Cookbook by Amy Fazio, Real Simple Meals Made Easy by Renee Schettler.
Services that will save money on your phone bill: Ting (This is an affiliate link that will give you a $25 credit and me a small commission. This is my current cellphone provider!), GoogleFi, and Mint.
For when you can’t do it all yourself: Simbi