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7 Things I’ve Given Up to Make a Living As a Writer

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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.

 

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • Jessica Bergin

    Nice article! A lot of people could have the careers they want if they were willing to live frugally like you are. Been working on that myself, and sharing with others: http://frugaltownie.blogspot.com/

  • http://twitter.com/farego Farego

    Nice articles I am doing the same and it’s been like 2 years, I’m a bit tired of not having money to do what I want but at least I can work with who I want and when I want.
    Keep going on I am sure something will come out for both of us!

  • http://twitter.com/Iris_Eben_Says Iris Eben

    Go girl! That’s my dream to become a freelance writer.

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  • http://kontrary.com Rebecca Thorman

    As someone who spent 10 years in Wisconsin (went to school there, stayed when I graduated), I particularly enjoyed this article :) Great to see your success and I love your enthusiasm and determination. I also think it’s important to learn not only to give up items, but also learning how to make more money so you can live the lifestyle that makes sense for you. As long as it includes doing what you love :)

    • http://danasitar.com/ Dana Sitar

      Good point. The goal is to not have to make all of these sacrifices. But it’s important not to be scared of doing what you love, even if it means cutting back for a while.

  • Jrandom42

    For awhile, I gave up health insurance, until the appendicitis attack, emergency room trip and surgery set me back about $65,000.

    It convinced me that health insurance was one of those things I couldn’t live with out.

    • http://danasitar.com/ Dana Sitar

      I have lived without health insurance for so long, I didn’t even think to mention it! That’s a major sacrifice for a lot of people — as your case shows, it can catch up to us any time.

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  • http://speeduppc4free.com/backup-cydia-apps Becca

    There are many things to sacrifice in order to get or achieve your passion and dream. Every
    success story passed through the situation of giving up the life they used to have.

  • Anonymous

    hm.. these tips i suppose will really help me to try myself in writing! but… i wouldn’t like to refuse from some points, like entertainment))) http://r-kelly-albums.net/

  • Cynthia

    Hey this is a great article! I reside in the Bay Area and am living out the Artist dream working for myself. There are indeed sacrifices such as those you mentioned but they say, “Do what you love and the money will follow” Check out my blog about writers…ARE ARTISTS FROM MARS?
    http://www.CynthiaBeckman.com

  • Anonymous

    Nice article, but only applicable to young singles. If you have a child, the balance becomes trickier– for instance, going without health insurance, even for a short time, is simply not an option. Doesn’t mean you can’t make a go as a freelancer, but the planning has to be done with much more care and caution.

    • http://twitter.com/danasitar Dana Sitar

      That’s a good point. Having a family is one I considered putting on the list, but it’s not a sacrifice for me. I did choose not to have kids, and that certainly makes decisions like these much simpler.

  • http://twitter.com/PRatZenith Carla

    Are you really doing what you love? I didn’t read that in your article. The message I got is how you gave up on seven things that you love to do one that you love. I think if you balance your life right, you can have it all, even if you need to invent a freelance job on weekends to do the one thing you really love while the fulltime job provides for the lifestyle that you’d like to have. That has worked for me!

    • http://twitter.com/danasitar Dana Sitar

      Yes, I really AM doing what I love. I’ve given up these little things, because the amount of satisfaction they offer me is minuscule compared with the joy I get from working 100% as a writer and for myself. To lose that (for me) isn’t worth having any of this stuff.

  • http://www.endlessrise.com/ Resell SEO

    Giving up video games is going to be a bit hard for someone like me who makes content about ‘em. Actually, all of those are pretty hard to do because you can also get some ideas from those activities. It’s indeed hard, but you do make a point. When you’ve given the miscellaneous stuff up, your focus on your goals as a writer will be even better.

    = Gerald Martin =

    • http://twitter.com/danasitar Dana Sitar

      And, you don’t have to be restricted to what I gave up. There are always little things in your own life that you can probably scale back.

  • Anonymous

    This is an interesting list and would probably work for a lot of people. I’d love to write only fiction or poetry or write for a car magazine, but I’m responsible for the welfare of my family. They come before me. It sucks in some ways because even though I am writing professionally, it’s not the kind of writing I want to be doing. It’s the kind of writing that pays the bills and keeps my kids fed, clothed, healthy, and able to leave college without being in major debt. My wife would rather be teaching a drama class or working on sets at a community playhouse, but that would be financially devastating for us.

    With two young children that I have to send to college, $26k/year in daycare costs, and a $2100/month mortgage, quitting my 9-to-5 will probably never be an option. Health insurance is an absolute must, and since public transportation in DC not only largely stinks but also isn’t available in my little slice of suburbia, having only one car – let alone no car – is not an option. I priced out a bus/Metro ride to a hypothetical DC job, and it would be cheaper for me to commute in my car even with 87 octane at $4/gallon.

    I think a guy like me needs to cut down on his Facebook/LinkedIn/TV/etc. time and work out with his spouse a time she can keep the kids so he can write in peace (and make sure he does something like that for his spouse in return). Also, make sure you surround yourself with people who believe in you and want you to do whatever you can to reach that goal. My wife wants me to be on the NYT bestsellers’ list, and I want to see her next great production. But no matter what, our kids come first, and our dreams a close second.

  • Beth

    This article makes me kind of sad. Are you really making a living if you have to cut your own hair? Is drinking a bottle of wine alone in your room a reasonable alternative to socializing in a bar? I would far prefer to keep my day job and write 2-3 hours when I get home each night, than to scrimp along this way. It’s also interesting how you don’t mention any of the things that you actually like about your current career and lifestyle. You make it sound so drab. I hope you do like it.

    • Emily

      As someone who cuts their own hair and prefers to stay in, I suppose it depends upon your personal values. The article is for people who want to quit their day jobs and freelance (or similar). If you value time over money, you may have to sacrifice a few things while getting started. If having the money from the outset is most important, this article obviously doesn’t apply and you should keep your 9-5.

    • http://twitter.com/danasitar Dana Sitar

      I absolutely love it! I didn’t dwell much on everything I love about the writing life, since that wasn’t the focus of the article, but don’t be mistaken. I LOVE what I’m doing, and I even love the artistic romance of scrimping by in relative poverty sometimes — all of my heroes had to do it!

  • http://www.lifecommaetc.com/ LifeCommaEtc

    I was really surprised to read dismissive comments in response to this post – I don’t consider these things to be very extreme at all (in fact, I do a lot of them myself despite having the 9-5!). So, good on you!

  • http://twitter.com/AndrewKardon Andrew Kardon

    Awesome list. And yeah you do sacrifice things but you’re also living in an AWESOME city. Plus, if you go after the right stories, you can swing a lot of free loot from people/companies. I’ve increased my freelancing a lot lately and cut back on bills like mad. Biggest one I had to give up was the gym. I used to see a trainer 1 or 2 times a week at a really nice gym. Now I joined an uber cheap gym and no trainer. Hopefully when all my writing picks up enough, I can slowly start adding some of those things back into my life.

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  • http://twitter.com/DonnaBMcNicol Donna B. McNicol

    Good post….I run into the same thing about our living full-time in an RV and traveling wherever the good weather takes us. I also ran into it when I toured the country solo on my Harley at age 58, a year after my husband died. If you really want something, figure out a way and DO IT!

  • Marianne Callahan

    This sounds like a great idea, but I have a few questions that would be of concern to me were I to follow your path. Perhaps there are programs for which I cold benefit to pursue my dream. Maybe you can share those with me. Do you have a publishing contract assuring that as long as you produce, you are guaranteed earnings? Do you have connections in the industry who alert you to earning opportunities? Do you have health insurance under a reduced cost or gratis government program, or does a relative furnish premium payments for you……….or is health insurance not important to you? Are you paying into social security so that you may be at least guaranteed-somewhat-some type of earnings as you age? Do you have any capital invested to provide an income should you become disabled or ill? Are you currently on disability and derive your income from that? If so, what is your disability and how long did it take to garner approval for such a restriction in your ability to earn money in a conventional manner? If so, I understand Medicaid would kick in under that program to provide health insurance. Is CA a state that has alternative sources of income, such as paid for day care? Have you recently inherited a substantial or adequate in your eyes, sum of money, or real estate that you rent with no mortgage against it? If so, do you qualify for reduced property tax liabilities based on your low or erratic income? Do you have outstanding student loan debt that you are not paying on or are paying under a modified payment plan? Do you have adequate savings to be able to handle unanticipated emergency costs? How were you able to find a landlord or roommates who would rent to you without an income stream, or at least one that is verifiable, such as a trust fund, ex-spouse maintenance agreement or regularly reliable capital injections from relatives? Do you have any children for which you are ethically or financially responsible?

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