Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Do I need a paycheck?

Regular readers of this blog have no doubt noticed that I've been posting a lot more frequently for the past few months. That's a positive side effect of a negative event: my biggest client, ConsumerSearch, laid off all its freelancers in June. I've tried contacting other clients, searching the freelance want ads at MediaBistro and, and offering my services to interesting sites like Wise BreadThe Billfold, and Money Talks News, but nothing has turned up. So I've tried to put my time to somewhat productive use by posting more often here, writing a couple of articles for HubPages, and setting up a little mini recording booth in the hopes of eventually getting some audiobook recording gigs. (More about that in a future post.)

Unfortunately, none of these activities actually brings in any money in the short term. Sure, learning to do voice-overs might get me some gigs eventually, but according to my friend Steve, who's involved in this business, it really isn't any easier than getting writing jobs; both fields are now overcrowded with amateurs willing to work for peanuts. Posting here and on Hubpages will bring in a tiny trickle of Google Ads revenue, but we're talking literally pennies a month; I might be able to increase it if I build up my readership, but that's an iffy proposition. And while it's theoretically possible that this blog will one day attract enough attention to land me a book deal, I'm not holding my breath.

So basically, I've been feeling kind of down lately about the fact that I'm not making any money. And it was only today that it occurred to me to ask myself why.

After all, it's not like we really need the money to live on. Brian and I have always been able to pay all our bills with his salary alone, so mine was just gravy. Having that extra padding in our budget was very useful, of course; it's the main reason we were able to pay off our mortgage as fast as we did. But now that it's all paid off, our expenses have dropped to the point that we actually have plenty of cash to spare even without my income. We can live quite comfortably on what Brian brings home and still have extra cash to put toward our new goal of reaching financial independence.

Yet even though we're doing just fine without my income, I still feel guilty somehow that I'm not contributing my fair share. This doesn't make a whole lot of sense, really, since my income was never anywhere near as high as Brian's, and so my "share," as measured in dollars, was never close to his even when I was working steadily. And Brian has made it clear that he doesn't mind at all being the sole breadwinner for as long as necessary. As he put it, he knows I'm not just sitting around the house watching soap operas and eating bonbons; I'm actually doing and learning useful things, whether they bring in money or not. So what exactly is it that's bothering me? In what way is my current lack of income a problem for us?

Once I actually put the question into words, I realized that what was worrying me wasn't that Brian is currently supporting me; it's that, so long as I remain out of work, I'll never be able to support him.

See, on the Excel sheet where I keep track of all our household finances, I've added a few lines at the bottom to keep track of our progress toward financial independence. I worked out (very roughly) how much additional savings we'd need to provide us with enough income to live on, and then I calculated how long it would take us to save up that sum of money. But below that, I added a few extra lines to track our progress toward partial financial independence: the point at which we'd be able to live on my income alone, so Brian could quit his job if he wanted to. And up until a few months ago, my estimate was that we'd get there in a little over three years. But now, with my income holding steady at zero, this goal is exactly as far away as full financial independence. Until we have enough money in the bank to pay our bills, I won't be able to make up the difference—which means Brian can't quit his job.

Being able to put my finger on the problem this way helps me, at least somewhat, to put it into perspective. After all, it's not like Brian had any intention, or even any wish, to retire next week. Even if I were still working steadily, it would still be a long-term goal. So maybe what I need to do is to focus on the long term for myself as well. Instead of worrying about how I can bring in money right now, I should be thinking about how to improve my prospects in the long term. My efforts to branch out into recording work, for instance, even if they don't yield any results right away, will certainly add to my skill set and make me more desirable as an employee. I can also consider ideas like using my recording setup to add a podcast to this blog, which may help boost its popularity and eventually turn it into a money-maker. I could even take a stab at something completely new, like interior redecorating.

Of course, none of this means that I should stop my current efforts to find new clients or seek work from old ones. It just means that I can stop beating myself up if it doesn't get me anywhere.
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