How a Freelancer in a Portland Co-Op Does Money

Photo credit: Eugene Kim, CC BY 2.0.

Saul is a 29-year-old freelance writer in Portland, Oregon.

So, Saul, how much money are you making?

Right now, about $1,000 per month, give or take a few hundred dollars as my number of gigs and work hours vary month to month.

How do your gigs fit into your income? Do you have one gig that provides the bulk of that income, or do they all contribute about the same amount?

Great question. I have a freelance writing gig that is my most stable job (work from home, flexible schedule) and provides about 1/3 of my monthly income. I have two other temp/part-time jobs that contribute a similar amount, and I supplement that with a few odd jobs here and there.

How do your earnings compare to your expenses? Are you earning “enough,” whatever that means to you?

Until recently, I wasn’t earning “enough.” Everything I earned went toward rent, car payments, student loans, etc., and I was falling into credit card debt. But after downsizing a lot (selling my car, deferring my student loans, moving into a co-op), I was able to break even each month and it’s looking like I’ll finally have some extra income each month going forward.

How recently did you make that shift, and how did you figure out that was what you needed to do?

That shift has taken place over the past year. Part of it involved giving up some comforts, like choosing to bike year-round rather than keep my car. I’ve also learned a lot by living in a community with people who share some resources and expenses. And, I’m learning how to move more quickly from one temp job to the next, rather than facing months of un- or under-employment between gigs.

So tell us more about this co-op. How is it different from a roommate situation?

I live with ten other people who share access to three adjoining houses and a central garden area. We share more resources that roommates typically do (bulk food, some vehicle access, etc.), so that cuts down on a lot of my expenses. Plus, we’re looking into buying the houses co-operatively, with shared equity, which is about the only way I could afford to “buy” a house on my budget.

Oh cool! We’ve written about people doing that before on The Billfold, and if you’ve got a group of people you trust and want to live with, it’s a great way to solve the housing problem.

Solidarity Forever! Talking With a Radical Coop-Living Bride

Did you know the other co-op people before you moved in?

I didn’t know them before moving in, but I’d lived in similar places before so I had an idea what to expect. I’m still deciding if it’s the right place for me long-term, but either way, I’m learning a lot about the process of shifting from an owner/renter model to a collective one!

Where do you see yourself financially in the next few years? Do you want to keep working towards better-paying freelance gigs? Get a different job somewhere? I think I’m asking if your goal is to earn more money, or if you’re happy with what you have as long as you can afford what you need to live.

I’m definitely more focused on being happy with what I have. For now, it makes more sense for me to earn less and be able to defer my student loans, for example. I don’t think earning a lot of money would greatly increase my quality of life, though I would like a bit more flexibility to travel. I’d also like to earn more from my creative work than from wage labor.

How long can you defer your student loans? (And how big is that loan?)

It’s about $20,000, and since I’m on the Income Based Repayment Plan, it will supposedly be cleared altogether after 25 years or so. Since my college degree didn’t help with my career at all, it’s partly a matter of principle to me not to pay it.

Now that we’ve looked at the big expenses, how do you manage the day-to-day expenses? Do you have a budget for coffee shops and bookstores and the rest of it, or are you a go-to-the library, drink-coffee-at-home kind of person? Are you deliberately trying to spend as little as possible, or do you have room for discretionary expenses?

I don’t track my daily expenses too closely. After I’ve paid rent (around half of my current income), I have some flexibility with the rest of it. I like to work from coffeeshops, so I try to strike a balance between that and working from home. I spend almost nothing on going out to eat, since I live with such good cooks.

I’m also on the cheapest cell phone plan I could find (Republic Wireless). So what’s left goes toward travel and the occasional movie.

What about emergency funds, long-term savings, retirement, and so on?

At this point, those aren’t realistic options for me. I feel comfortable that I can depend on social capital (friends & family) in an emergency. And my retirement plan is to push for a universal basic income! I’d rather see what our system looks like in 20 years than put all my faith in current financial wisdom.

Two more questions, then. First, how did your childhood influence your current financial choices? Are you following your family’s example, or turning away from it?

My family never shared much of their finances with me, so I grew up thinking we had a lot more financial freedom than we did. I realize now they were just very frugal. So in some ways, I’m following their example, but I’ve also seen what didn’t work well for them (owning their own business, for example), and am trying to do things a little differently.

And the last question, of course: what advice do you have for Billfold readers?

I’m a big fan of diversifying income streams! I love alternating a work-from-home job with an in-person gig, for example. Plus, having multiple jobs gives you a safety net if one doesn’t work out. I’d rather be over-committed than under-booked.

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