Seven months ago, I quit my job, left Wisconsin, and moved to California with no work and no house waiting for me. Now, I am making my living as a writer, and I continue to hear from friends in Wisconsin: I wish I could do what you did.
For some reason, they don’t think they can. They’re afraid to take the leap because of what they’ll have to give up, not even aware of how insignificant it is. What they’re really wishing is that they could work as an artist and still keep their 9-to-5 standard of living. They probably can’t. At least not at first.
Most artists I know don’t live extravagantly, but there are a lot of little things that they could give up in order to save a ton of money – and, more importantly, to live on a smaller paycheck.
Here are some of the major things I live without in order to survive on my writer’s income:
Eating out. This is the hardest thing for me to give up. I love trying new foods and enjoy a good dining experience. Instead, I live mainly on rice, beans, pasta, and potatoes. But, if you learn a few basics about cooking, you can make any of these interesting. Play around with presentation and plating, even if you’re eating at your desk, and you’ll be even more satisfied with your creations.
Drinking in bars. I’m from Wisconsin, so this is not an easy sacrifice. Since I write about comedy, I spend a lot of time in clubs and bars, but I can’t afford to drink in California like I used to in Wisconsin. I usually just grab one drink from the night’s specials, and keep a bottle of wine at home instead of going out on my nights off.
Entertainment. Ticket prices for live entertainment can be prohibitively expensive. In most cities, though, you can find decent open mics and showcases that are either free or relatively cheap. Plus, follow venues on Facebook or Twitter, sign up for their mailing list, get to know people in the scene, and you can find free tickets to shows pretty easily.
Privacy. Living with roommates, especially when you work from home, can be a drag. But, if you take the time to set up your personal space so that you can work comfortably, you can enjoy a nice space for far cheaper than if you lived alone. And, you can always escape to a cafe when you need to.
A car. Most of the time in the San Francisco Bay Area, I can get around fine without a car. But, it would be nice to not have to haul my groceries on the city bus. However, I’ve come to love public transit for the time it gives me to read, listen to podcasts, or even just people-watch.
Fashion and vanity. I begrudgingly admit that I do love getting new clothes, and I am sick of cutting my own hair most of the time. But, those things cost a ton of money. Instead, I put in the time to find great stuff at thrift stores, and I welcome hand-me-downs from my sisters and friends.
TV and video games. These are not major sacrifices for me, but I know that they would be for a lot of people. Instead of a nice television, a gaming system, a DVD player, and a monthly cable bill, I enjoy a few TV shows when they’re available on Hulu or Netflix. Plus, those things that people watch live on TV – sports games, news programs, awards shows – can usually be followed for free online in some form.
It’s also worth noting that I do splurge on some things! You don’t have to pinch every penny. For those of you who want to work for yourself and do what you love, just figure out what things you can live without and make smart decisions about where you’ll spend a little extra. For me, those things are travel and my iPhone are non-negotiables. Both benefit my work greatly but aren’t necessary. Cutting these from my budget could save me a lot of money, but splurging on them keeps me comfortable enough to not give up and go running back to a day-job.
Can you name a few things you could give up to do what you love and live on less?
Dana Sitar is a freelance journalist and author of the ongoing memoir series This Artists’ Life. Her latest release, The Hart Compound, follows the writer to her journalistic roots as Senior Campaign Writer to a Mayoral campaign headed by two Madison, Wisconsin comedians. Dana shares writing tips and anecdotes at her blog by.dana.sitar. She is @danasitar on Twitter.