This Successful Freelance Writer Shares The Daily Pros And Cons Of Being Self-Employed

This Successful Freelance Writer Shares The Daily Pros And Cons Of Being Self-Employed

About this series: Welcome to Scrimp City—an anonymous, week-in-the-life chronicle that provides a look at women who are trying to be smarter about money, whether that means saving more, spending strategically, or just being more comfortable managing their hard-earned cash.

In each installment, we follow one woman’s progress toward a money goal or challenge they’ve set for themselves. We learn about their typical spending/saving habits and see if, after their self-imposed money challenge, they come away feeling just a *little* more financially-savvy.

Meet Our Saver

Quick Bio:

Job title:Freelance Writer and Editor


Location:Cambridge, Massachusetts

Monthly salary:~$5,800 (It fluctuates slightly month-to-month, because that’s how freelance life goes!)

Monthly rent:$1,500

Housing arrangements:I’ve been living alone in a 1-bedroom for the last six months. The first time in my adult life not having a roommate (!!!). I know it’s a lot of money, but it’s actually kind of a steal in Cambridge.

Total monthly fixed expenses:$505

($96/student loans, $77/phone, $72/credit card minimums, $40/internet, $100/utilities, $20/renter’s insurance, $100/monthly public transportation)

Total debt:$13,100

($10,100 in student debt, $3,000 credit card debt)

How to sum up me + money:

I fluctuate between wanting to be super serious about saving for the future, and thinking, the planet is going up in flames anyway—fuck it!But in all honesty, I grew up in the hood surrounded by a lot of poverty and watched my grandmother waiting tables until she was in her late 60’s just to get by. Which I guess is partially why (in typical immigrant parent fashion), my mother was so livid when I decided to quit my secure job at a legacy magazine to do my own thing. But despite all of the financial hardships my family faced, I still really value living a joyous life. The corporate world hurt my soul deeply, so I was proactive as possible securing enough side gigs to almost equate to my full-time pay, saving as much as I could, and simplifying my expenses in preparation for going freelance. I knew I’d have to cut back on a lot, but I was willing to make that compromise if it meant I could live a lifestyle that didn’t make me miserable.

How I learned about money:

I remember getting my first bank account when I was in, like, junior high. It was a school program with a local credit union, and we got our own little spending booklet to go with it. We learned how to track our money, the basics of writing checks, etc. It was probably one of the few public school programs that was actually useful longterm! My mom never talked about money at home, I think more as a means of self-preservation and maintaining that strong parent facade, especially when we were really going through a hard time financially. But I’ve always been interested in the ebb and flow of money, I remember reading a lot on the internet about budgeting and investing when I was in high schoolespecially right before going to college, when I knew I’d really have to get my shit together and be fully financially independent for the first time.

How I got here and why I’m trying to save

How I’ve handled my finances in the past:

I was lucky enough to get a decent enough scholarship in college, so I graduated with about $20,000 in student loans and have paid off about $10,000 so far. Granted, I lived with about a million (read: four) roommates post-grad in NYC and was eating an all-grilled cheese diet, while making surprisingly good money as an assistant editor at a magazine. I did rack up a few thousand in credit card debt getting settled into a slightly nicer apartment a few years later (including full-price Pottery Barn bedding, because I clearly valued luxury bedding above all else) and living the faux-bougie lifestyle that comes with working in the fashion industry. About two years ago now I realized office life wasn’t cutting it, and that’s when I started taking on extra gigs and saving as much as I could handle so I could feel comfortable quitting my job and moving back to Cambridge, where I grew up (and where living expenses are relatively cheaper). I saved about four months worth of income and moving expenses before I made the jump.

My money goals:

I just opened up a high-yield savings account and I want to be more aggressive about adding to it. My goal is to save 20 percent of my monthly earnings (in addition to contributing $300/month to my Roth IRA), so I can build up an emergency fund of about six month’s rent. One good thing about being freelance is the diverse income streams: If I lose one client, that obviously sucks, but it’s just one of many ongoing jobs—however, unemployment benefits/paid time off aren’t really a thing, so it’s incredibly important to be prepared in case of an emergency.If I do surpass my expected $5,800 income for the month, everything I make beyond that will go directly towards paying off my debt. I really want to be debt-free in the next few years, so I can focus on saving up to buy an apartment.

My go-to budgeting tools:

I tried Mint, and honestly, I felt like I was being harassed by an auntie via WhatsApp about my spending habits, with the amount of passive aggressive notifications it was sending. It’s like, “Do you know how much you spent on takeout this week? What is wrong with you?! You know you have rice at home.” And I don’t need that kind of negativity in mind life, so I deleted it right quick. Now I just stick to a good old-fashioned, shame-free Google spreadsheet. Oh, and I use Digit, because tricking myself into saving for a vacation is the only way I’m going to do it.

How I’m challenging myself this week:

Anytime I’m about to spend money on something unnecessary, I’m going to transfer that to my savings account instead. I’m trying to save 20 percent of my pay instead of around 10 percent, which is what I usually end up adding to my savings account.

How much I *usually* save: ~$100/week


My *new* weekly savings: $205/week

Day 1, Monday:

The Monday after a reckless vacation is always a force to be reckoned with. I was in Toronto for a bachelorette and both my bank account and skin have turned against me—but, this week I’m determined to get my finances and my T-zone in order. I don’t have a meeting until 10 a.m., so I have a beautifully low-key morning. Went for a run along the Charles River with my dog at around 7:30 a.m., then came home to shower and make some avocado toast. Usually, I would stop somewhere for a latte (+$5), but my friend just sent me one of those handheld frothers as a belated birthday gift, so I made my own! It was nowhere near as good TBH, but I put that money right into my savings.

I leisurely walked over to the library to return a book I just finished reading (Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi) because I’m a good samaritan, before meeting up with a co-worker who is in town for a few days. She just landed a job as an editor at a fancy fashion magazine I love, so we strolled around and the Harvard campus chatting about potential ways to work together. The thing I appreciate most about my circle of friends is how adamant we are about getting each other hired. If something pops up I know that one of my friends would be amazing for, or even if I’m offered a gig I have to turn down, I’ll always recommend one of them, and vice-versa.

I spent the rest of the afternoon at home “working” (read: cleaning as a means of procrastination) and ended up bailing on a dinner with a friend (sorry Taina!) to save some money (+$25). Instead I made use of my groceries and made a little vegan chili situation, and brought some to my mom who lives a quick 10 minute walk away. I love being so close to her, even though I’m sure she gets annoyed with how often I stop by unannounced. Oh well!

Saved: $30

Day 2, Tuesday:

I’m working on a story right now about lesser-known fashion weeks, so first thing this morning I’m meeting up with one of the organizers of Copenhagen Fashion Week who is also in town. Luckily, people pass through Boston all the time so doing IRL interviews at my neighborhood coffee shop is the norm. I probably do one or two interviews every week. When she arrives, I offer to pay for her latte, just because it’s the polite thing to do. The interview goes well, she’s super insightful and has a lot to say about how as a black woman she makes it a top priority to bring in as many emerging designers of color as possible. I love that this is my job.

Another perk of freelance life: I went to a yoga class in the mid-afternoon. It was a free community class, so I transfer what I would’ve paid at a regular studio to my savings account (+$15). My aunt invited me over for lunch to talk to my cousin about college. She wants to study journalism like I did, but she’s waaay smarter and is applying to, like, Columbia and Yale. So, not totally sure why she wants to talk to me! But we end up having a nice conversation about finding internships, not signing up for early morning classes, and avoiding dating DJs at all costs.

After a few glasses of wine at home I’m on the verge of going on an Amazon prime spree, loading up my basket with completely useless but lavish items like cashmere socks and Korean face masks in bulk, but remember that I’m doing ~this challenge~ and reluctantly step away (+$72).

Saved: $87

Day 3, Wednesday:

Started the morning with some oatmeal, apples, and a homemade latte (+$5) which was actually pretty good this time. I’m improving on my craft. I stayed at home all morning doing some housekeeping tasks like sending out reminders to PAY ME!!! Sometimes it takes literally months to get paid out. When a company has been holding my money ransom for six months, those are the moments that I reconsider this whole freelancing thing. But then I have a morning of face-masking in my underwear with Solange playing in the background and I’m reminded why I do this.

Another major con of being self-employed: having to take taxes out checks on your own. Not having it automatically taken out is painful. I deposited a few checks today and waved goodbye to that 30 percent. I have a savings account just for taxes that’s at a totally separate bank than my primary bank, so I’m not tempted to dip in.

I was THIS CLOSE to ordering a pizza out of pure laziness, but instead did the mature thing and…made bagel pizzas at home (+$20).

Saved: $20

Day 4, Thursday:

As you can probably tell, I love a morning meeting. I try to organize my schedule so that I can get all meetings knocked out in the morning, write in the afternoon when I’ve hit peak creativity levels, and evenings I do whatever else is left over. This morning I met up with my accountant to talk about my budget. I mean business about paying off the rest of my debt! He gives me some really helpful advice about how I can better spend and invest. Here’s hoping I actually listen to him! Then I go to the library for a few hours to anxiously mess around with my budgeting spreadsheets and read Girlboss articles about budgeting.

Saved: $0

Day 5, Friday:

IT’S FRIDAY!!! Which, TBH, doesn’t mean all that much when you’re a freelancer. I usually end up doing some kind of work at least one day over the weekend anyway. Today I sort of took as a day-off because there’s an exhibit I wanted to see at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, about how landscape architects used city planning to create social reform for immigrants in Boston, New York, and Chicago in the late 1800’s, in response to poor living conditions. Tickets were $15, which I happily spent, although I did forgo buying anything at the cafe (+$5).

I went over my friend Ariel’s house for lunch, who lives in the neighborhood. Her and her partner, Alisha, made a beautiful little arrangement of salads for us and we ate outside in their garden. We may or may not have killed a bottle of wine by accident. They’re such generous hostesses (+$30)!

Saved: $35

Day 6, Saturday:

Like I said, weekends aren’t a thing for freelancers. I did let myself sleep in until 10 a.m. before hunkering down at my desk for a day of writing galore. Thankfully, I was feeling really inspired and in the groove, which doesn’t always come easily. I finally finished the second draft of a story that’ll be in print next month and finished a proposal for zine a few friends and I are trying to get published. I barely looked up from my computer for four hours!

I took myself to a late lunch at around 2:30 p.m. at a cute little sushi spot in the neighborhood. They do a really good “off-hours” special—AKA the time between breakfast and lunch, and lunch and dinner. I took my food to go and ate sitting on a bench in the park and listening to an episode of The Daily.

It was my friend’s 30th birthday, so naturally she wanted to have it at a disco roller rink. She booked out the whole place and although there was no alcohol (which, in retrospect, is probably for the best), it was the most fun I’ve had in…maybe ever?

Saved: $0

Day 7, Sunday:

Usually on Sundays I’ll go over my mom’s for a big family brunch. Growing up, our house was always the place to hangout, between all the cousins and neighborhood kids running around. Not much has changed, and every Sunday without fail all the aunties show up with dishes of deliciousness and my mom will roast a few chickens or a ham. It certainly saves me on a bottomless mimosa brunch (+$50), although, no alcohol allowed at mom’s!

I stay and play with the kids in the yard all afternoon, then help clean up the kitchen after everyone leaves. It’s already dark by the time I walk home, so I decide to stop in a cute little wine bar on the way home and text a few friends to see if anyone is around. A few of them come through and we have a glass, talking shit about the work week ahead. Although freelancing definitely has its downsides, I must say, I never get the Sunday scaries like I used to.

Saved: $50

How much I saved by end of week:

Total savings: $222

Final thoughts:

I went above and beyond with my savings this week! I did feel like I had to compromise a few moments of fun (like going to dinner with friends and resisting my urge to Amazon Prime everything), but I also feel like I set a manageable goal that I can definitely maintain. Plus, it doesn’t even include how much I contribute to my retirement or how much Digit steals from me on a daily basis. Being more mindful and resisting those impulsive urges to spend are the key!

—As told to Sara Tardiff