8.27.2013

Lessons Learned: Going From Full-Time Executive to Full-TIme Freelancer Part 1

Hi everyone! Happy Monday! I have a really cool guest post today from Laura at ConsumerFu.com. Laura made the switch from being a full-time executive to a full-time freelancer! I know a lot of people made the switch, are thinking of making the switch, or are planning to make the switch soon so I thought it would be helpful to hear some of the lessons Laura learned in budgeting and saving money when the time came to finally make that switch. Enjoy!

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Ever stare out the window and dream about giving up the daily commute and office politics to be a freelance writer? The most successful bloggers make it sound so easy! All you need is dedication, hard-work and a commitment to succeed - right? 

I can tell you first hand, It’s not that easy.

I walked away from my career as an Executive Television News Producer after my father suffered a medical emergency. He owned his own business, employed dozens of people and worked nearly every day. Yet, a bad fall and a series of unexplained events left him confined to a hospital bed. It served as a wake-up call.

I turned to freelancing so I could spend more time with family. It offered the flexibility and control I needed, and the creative outlet I wanted. It didn’t come with the salary or the security of a corporate job, but I was prepared to live off my savings until I could make it work. The first step was figuring out how to stretch my savings.

People who keep monthly budgets are way ahead of me on this one. But since my budgets have always existed somewhere in the far reaches of my mind, cutting expenses came one lesson at a time.

Lesson 1 - Home vs Work Expenses

If you’re not going into the office, you save on things like dry cleaning bills, coffee breaks, lunches out, vending machines (for my steady fuel of Diet Coke), parking fees and gas. I honestly thought this would save much more than it did. My work was only 15 miles from home and I brought my lunch half the time, so there wasn’t a huge savings.

I was most surprised about all the extra costs of being home all day! Since I was working on the computer (and running laundry and the A/C) during peak times, my electric bill shot up. I found myself snacking all day too, so my grocery bill increased. And get this, my water bill also rose since I was now using my bathroom all day - they never warn you about that in the blogs!

Lesson 2 - Cut Out Luxuries

Luxuries are all about perspective. I can tell you, my perspective changed over several months. At first, I cancelled my monthly massage club, avoided nicer restaurants, got rid of movie channels and stopped buying good wine. It wasn’t enough.

I had to trade out locally sourced produce, meat and dairy for whatever was on sale at the grocery store. I bought cheaper coffee, stopped drinking Diet Coke and quit buying bottled water. I cooked only what was on sale and discovered that sometimes generic works just fine. I still find things I can eliminate. But looking back, I would have started the process while I was still getting a regular paycheck.

Lesson 3 - Lower Your Standards

So many movies depict writers as slobs who sit around in sweats all day - I vowed not to fall into the stereotype. I maintained my daily routine, except I replaced slacks and sweater sets for casual wear that didn’t need dry cleaning. After a few months, I realized I could save a lot of money if I lowered my standards a little more.

  Hair care - My stylist brought my color closer to my natural dishwater blonde so I could go longer in between appointments to hide the gray. I also switched to cheaper products, and only use the good ones on important days.

  Makeup - I replaced my department store makeup with cheaper lines found at Ulta. I had to experiment a lot to find good replacements, but it’s definitely worth the savings!

  Nails - Eliminating twice a month mani-pedis saved me money and time. It’s easy to maintain shorter nails with clear gloss, and I used lighter colors on my toes until I got a hang of it. Now I use salon pedicures as a treat for achieving small goals.

  Clothes. My favorite stores are now out of my price range, so I avoid them altogether. I don’t even window shop because I know I will be tempted. Instead, I stick to the classic styles, which last forever and can be replaced at any price point.

Lesson 4  - Look for Hidden Expenses

In retrospect, I should have researched all my expenses long before I left my job. Once I had more time to review bills and actually read all my emails, I discovered I was paying hundreds of dollars each year in automatic subscription payments. I found newspapers, magazines and online subscriptions that I didn’t even use anymore.

That started intense reviews of all my bills. I cut apps offs my cell phone bill and premium channels off my cable bill. I also scrutinize my credit card bill each month to make sure I’m not missing anything.

Lesson 5 - Keep the Important Things

I have read about people who cut their budgets to the extreme; selling their cars, canceling cable, consigning their clothes. That wasn’t my goal. I simply wanted to save where I could without completely altering my life. That’s why it was so important to keep the things that I loved.

I maintained a membership to a tennis club that I use almost daily. I also kept my computer and internet so I could work from home, as well as my iPhone so I could respond to clients when I was out. I don’t regret any of these things.

Like my budget, my freelancing career has been a series of lessons. There are things I could have done better, things I could have done earlier and things I could still do to maximize my return. But the ones that stuck - are the ones I experienced all on my own.

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Laura Slawny is a freelancer writer for ConsumerFu.com where she researches and experiences life’s hidden shortcuts to help others save time and money.

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