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Writers’ teeth (or what you should know before you sign your life over to freelancing)

[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.

Really 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.

* 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.


21 responses »

  1. I’m laughing since I just went to the dentist yesterday in Buenos Aires to patch up a chipped crown. I’m waiting until I get to a cheaper country to get it replaced 🙂

    • Oh Audrey, that’s wonderful! You just added another resource to the list– dental work abroad! 🙂

      Seriously, I’ve been checking out the dental clinic in Cuba, as I’m planning a visit this summer.

      And by the way, Francisco and I were reading your article on tips for taking better food photos last night and it was SO useful!

      Good luck with your teeth! 🙂

  2. Thanks for these links (and thoughts), Julie. Very handy.

  3. I am both terrified and excited at the prospect of having to deal with this in the future!

    For now, in between complaining about my desk job, I will be saving my pennies…

  4. Oh man. During that period between university and being jobless, finding a job with full benefits was an overwhelming relief. It’s gonna be hard to let that go at some point. Never really considered investing in stock though…someone really needs to school me on finances.

  5. Loved this article Julie. It speaks a lot to what I’ve been pondering lately. (Hint: Impending loss of benefits and consistent $$). Your mix realism, optimism, and encouragement was exactly what I needed today.

    • Carina-

      Happy to give you what you needed! The good news is that once you make that leap, the net really does appear. I don’t know how and I’m constantly amazed that it does, but it does.

  6. I am also in serious need for some financial schooling. Since last year was my first year freelancing, I am currently trying to figure out all this tax stuff and ughhh – so overwhelmed. I am considering getting help with it but I have always done my own taxes… any advice?

  7. Amiee-

    I’m so glad to see you here!

    First, I’m about to give you advice I haven’t taken myself because taxes give me the heebie jeebies and just doing anything differently from the way I’ve ever done it seems daunting, but… the accountant who does my taxes has told me for the past three years that I need to look at paying taxes quarterly rather than every April. It makes the hit feel less painful. 🙂

    It won’t help you in time for this tax season, but I’m going to ask a financial advisor to offer an article and/or a seminar here about money issues and planning for next year and beyond, so stay tuned.

  8. We’re lucky to have quality, free or cheap medical care here. Unfortunately, dental is not included after the age of 18. That’s what Bangkok is for! But now that we are settled back down here for a couple of years to try and save some money the ol’ chops are suffering a bit. In fact, I’m a bit worried that I’m tempting fate that something bad could happen just talking about it. I totally agree that a nice comfy bed should win out over a trip to the dentist if at all possible though!

  9. My husband got his wisdom teeth out in Pakistan – SO much cheaper than getting it done in the US! Since we’ve moved back to Massachusetts, we’ve been completely overwhelmed trying to figure out the health insurance system. It’s much easier to live in a place with affordable health care.

    Thanks for letting us know about UPromise! I use MyPoints to get points for regular purchases, which usually translate into restaurant gift cards. It’s probably a wiser move to start saving for our future kids than to enjoy Panera Bread when those points add up.

    • Right?! If you even have insurance in the States, you’re supposedly “lucky.” But then the real pain begins- trying to figure out your policy.

      And Panera? Yum.

  10. Hi there. I enjoyed this post. Do you have a subscription facility? I couldn’t find one.

    • Do you use a reader, such as Google Reader? If so, you can cut and paste the URL for the blog into your reader. Thanks for pointing out that I need to add an RSS option. I’ll work on that now.

  11. Yes, it was so obvious, yet I overlooked the subscription button; thanks for asking!

  12. Pingback: A day in the life of a freelance writer: 02/12/10 « Cuaderno Inedito

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