with Mir Kamin
I'm a freelance writer and mother of two working from home, which theoretically means I can set my own schedule so as to best accommodate my family. In reality, "flexible hours" often equals "working too much." Yes, I'm my own boss; no, that doesn't mean life is easy. It's hard to leave the office when you live there. But I love what I do and feel very lucky. And not just because I get paid to work in my pajamas.
To learn more about Mir, check out her profile on Work It, Mom! or visit her blog at http://www.wouldashoulda.com/
I am practically the neurotic poster child for being ready for anything when it comes to freelancing. I’ve been writing here for years about all of the things you need to take into consideration before going into business for yourself—everything from handling your taxes to having redundant computer backups to making sure your work is diversified enough that one client or one particular area of expertise can’t take your business down if there’s an economic downturn.
I dropped out of Girl Scouts, but that doesn’t mean I ever stopped loving Being Prepared. The truth is that I am given to anxiety, and knowing what to expect—or that you’re in a position to weather even the unexpected—is the best offense against that anxiety.
And it’s true that I have come through several disaster-level (smallish, but still) setbacks as I’ve plodded down this path, learning as I go. I’ve had the catastrophic hard drive failure without appropriate backups in place. I’ve had the IRS slap my knuckles before I turned over my finances to an accountant. I kept going even when layoffs were happening all around me (and sometimes even to me).
Today I want to tell you about two things emergency-prep things; one, I did just right. The other, I got all wrong.
Let’s start with what I did right: Even during periods of relative financial prosperity, I continued to live and behave as though we were one paycheck away from being destitute. That’s my own particular bogeyman, I know, but I see advice all the time exhorting freelancers to not get too excited by the big checks, and I still know lots of people who don’t seem to understand that today’s windfall often precedes tomorrow’s missing payments.
I am naturally frugal, so this wasn’t particularly hard for me. (And I mean that in the sense that of course I would love to spend more money, but I am more comfortable with money in the bank than with large expenditures.) I understand that it’s probably harder for folks who aren’t given to internally catastrophizing the way that I am. (Heh.) And when I was saving up that money, I was thinking “just in case all the work dries up” or “what if the air conditioning dies.” I was most certainly not thinking “What if my child has a unforeseen medical condition for which our insurance eventually decides they will no longer provide coverage?”
So I’m here to tell you that if nothing else has convinced you to sock away more money in savings than you’re currently managing, feel free to think about that one for a little bit. Because right now my child is in the hospital her doctors told us she needs to be at, and our health insurance said, “Yeah, no. We don’t think we need to pay for that.” And wouldn’t you know it, I think the hospital we’re at hears that a lot, so they asked us for a deposit on her care. They asked us for a substantial deposit on her care.
And we paid it. Of course. What other choice did we have?
I’ve been neurotic about saving money for years and years. I’ve been relentlessly teased by my family, my husband, and sometimes even friends about it. No one is teasing me now!
[Sidebar: Writing about the horror and suckage of this situation---having a gravely ill child, that is---could fill tomes. My point here is only about the money, and while this unexpected financial burden is horrifying, it should go without saying that this is the least horrifying thing about our current situation. Thank God.]
So: I did the saving money thing right. Assuming we have chosen wisely in changing my daughter’s care, the hope is that she will get well before we go bankrupt. Um. Yay?
Here’s what I did wrong: In all of my planning and what-if-ing and Being Prepared for any situation, I never figured out what I would do if I couldn’t keep working, or if I had to work a lot less. Right now, I’m working way less. Yes, my laptop can go with me anywhere, but right now it’s spending most of its time closed. I’ve lost clients. Even the understanding ones aren’t paying me for not working (they’re just allowing me off the hook for some things, and then I don’t get paid), and I’m sure as heck not accumulating new clients, or maintaining my previous reputation for reliability.
(That was really hard to type. I used to take a lot of pride in trumping the “unreliable freelancer” stereotype. Right now I’m not very reliable. Not a lot of pride happening over here lately.)
Anyway, the point is that I never figured out how to handle a circumstance like this. I never took the time to work out which gigs I would need to let slide and which I had to keep up with. I never really worked through what my alternatives would be—who would I trust to guest-write for me? who might be able to take over on specific jobs, if needed?—and now that I’m in the thick of crisis, I honestly can’t think straight enough to make good decisions.
I should’ve thought about this before, before I needed it. Maybe I never would’ve needed it, but now that I do, you can bet I wish I had.
Right now, when you finish reading this, put two things on your to-do list:
1) Rethink how much money can go directly into your emergency fund savings,
2) Start working on a work coverage plan that gives you some options if you run into a situation where your work hours are limited.
Subscribe to blog via RSS