[Before we begin, let me get one thing out of the way: I don’t subscribe to the idea that writers (or other creatives) are destined to be poor. I’ve personally declared 2010 my year of prosperity. But let’s accept that most writers are like most other people who perform vital functions for society (you know, like teachers): underpaid. That’s not every writer’s experience (ex: Elizabeth Gilbert) and it’s by no means inevitable. Myself? I fully intend to be flush.
So now that we’ve got that out of the way…]
Let me tell you about my teeth.
I was writing–what else?–a few weeks ago when I took a swig of some cold seltzer and noticed that one of my teeth hurt.
And then, a couple days later, another one.
Rather than do something useful (like ponder when I last visited the dentist and make an appointment), I indulged in this thought instead:
“I wonder how many famous writers had bad teeth.”
This, of course, led to the welcome distraction of a couple of Google searches:
Neither search was particularly satisfying and one was downright frightening, producing a terrifyingly named blog: From the Cave of Rotten Teeth, or something to that effect.
Which is probably where I’ll be living if I don’t dial the dentist soon.
I should have shuddered, picked up the phone, and called the dentist to make an appointment, but I didn’t because That’s A Lot of Money.
I kept procrastinating and thinking about writing and pauperism, writing and prosperity.
Then, a few days later, I was at home… writing. The window was open slightly. Mariel was asleep. Francisco was out doing errands. It was one of those rare moments when it looked like I’d have a full hour to myself without any distraction, without any sound, to bang out a solid little block of prose.
And then Francisco called.
“I think you should come meet me at the mattress store near Union Square. I talked the guy down a couple hundred; we should get this mattress.”
Instead of saying, “Thank you kindly for undoing the single glimmering moment of concentration I’ve had in days,” I said “Alright, I’ll meet you in an hour” and hung up, hoping I didn’t sound as bitchy as I felt.
Yes, we need a mattress. And how. My side of the bed is sagging and it’s a matter of time before a spring insinuates its way into my back while I’m sleeping. But a mattress is a Big Purchase. Buying it would really set us back.
Still, we plunked down the money and shook on it: one of us will spend the next few weeks double-stepping in the freelance hustle.
I refuse to believe that being a writer conscripts one to a life of poverty, but for a considerable chunk of your career, you’re likely to be dancing with her more often than not.
I don’t view our present economic circumstances as permanent or dire. I’m aware that we’re exceptionally privileged compared to most of the world, financially speaking, and we’re even exceptionally privileged compared to the many friends and acquaintances who are desperately unhappy with their office jobs, who wonder how their kids’ infancy and childhood passed them by, who wish they had more time to spend with their partners, or who would give their eyeteeth to have the flexibility Francisco and I have.
We spend our money on the experiences and items that are important to us. We save $100 a week and put aside money for Mariel in an interest-bearing account every week. We invest an extremely modest amount in the stock market. But if we ever had a real emergency–oh, say, rotting teeth–well, then, we’d probably have to move to Cuba.
A few financial resources we’ve found useful: [these may be US-centric. If you have similar resources from another country, please share!]
*Freelancers Union: Though a frightening amount of our earnings just gets reinvested into the Freelancers Union insurance plan, having an infant makes health insurance a non-negotiable for us. The Freelancers Union offers insurance in several different US states.
*INGDirect: INGDirect offers online checking, savings, and investment plans. With respect to the latter, you can buy stock for as little as $4.00 and there’ s no account minimum. (Why do you think we invest through them)? Even investing a tiny sum in a crappy economy, I’ve been surprised by the return on investment.There’s no penalty for raiding your savings account, either. Not that we’ve ever done that….
*UPromise: Anytime I buy anything online, I now check to see what kind of earnings I can get through UPromise first. UPromise is a college savings program you can set up for your (existing OR future) children. You earn money when you make purchases online–Expedia, Barnes & Noble, and on and on. You also earn money by buying certain products at real bricks-n-mortar stores (these are listed on their site and also indicated by a little U with a graduation cap that’s emblazoned on participating products). Here’s cool feature 2 (because cool feature 1 was that you can start saving for kids you don’t even have yet): You can have friends and family earning for your kid, too. So my mom shops at Publix in South Carolina and uses her frequent shopper card to earn savings for Mariel’s college fund. And here’s cool feature 3: You can link your UPromise account to your child’s 529 savings program. I set up UPromise when I was pregnant and if I remembered to use it every time we buy something online, I’d have a lot more than $11 in the account, buy hey: Over 16 years, a little chunk of change will accrue in there and it’ll make a difference.
*Mint.com: I don’t use this as often as I should, but Mint is a handy tool worth checking out if you’re not one of those types who’s totally paranoid about storing your sensitive information online.