How to get back to basics as a freelancer
Just over a year ago, I took an almighty leap from security. From a secure job, stable life and my home of nine years. I thought that I had overcome the hardest part. No, the hardest part was yet to come.
You see, I used to think that “the hardest part” of becoming a freelancer was actually taking the first step. In the last year I’ve realized that this was a load of rubbish! OK granted, quitting my job, selling all my stuff, moving out of long-term rental apartment and heading out into the unknown was REALLY TOUGH but what I hadn’t figured out yet, or truly prepared for, was just how challenging the first year settling into a new country and lifestyle would be! I had become lost into the dream of the freedom surrounding the freelancing fantasy and needed a reality check.
You see, the first year of freelancing can be a very challenging year for various reasons, particularly if you add the extra level of fun and games by moving to another country within the same journey. Once I decided that Berlin was to be my new home, I had to go through the visa process and navigate the joys of a whole host of administrative matters (both in Germany and Australia) to make this a reality and set up my business. There have been moments of joy and (many) tears, but these hurdles I had mentally expected, I knew I had to do, I’d read about in blog posts by freelancers ahead of me, this was all clear.
Delving deeper though to my day-to-day life though, there was several things that I hadn’t really considered in advance, that would be an adjustment and a change to the comfortable lifestyle I had become accustomed to back home. The things I had to either let go of or give up (just for now), solely due to budget restrictions. You see when you’re building a business, that fortnightly manicure is just not a “need” anymore.
Although these seem like common sense, when you’re caught up in the excitement of being (finally) freelance, it can be easy to forget these until your funds at the ATM remind you to. So if you are considering going freelance, which I am totally all for, I want you to be mindful of the lifestyle changes that you will have to make initially to ensure you’re settled, secure and on your feet. This is my freelancer reality checklist:
1) Essential beauty only
Living in Melbourne, an amazing city but one where I did feel some pressure to look constantly good everyday (possibly a southside thing) – we’re talking regular manicure, pedicure, hair appointments, facials, waxing (you name it, it’s done), tanning, eyebrows, and more. As I previously worked in a job where the women there were verging on obsessive with looking good, I spent (too) much of my hard earned cash on such things.
Well not anymore. As a freelancer, these things just had to stop and only the bare essentials now happen - those items that I need to do to feel respectable, comfortable and confident - but the fortnightly mani/pedi with shellac just had to stop.
Thankfully in Berlin, you can get your hair done more affordably. A hair appointment in Australia for cut/colour used to set me back approx. AUD$180-$225 per session. I can’t even imagine paying that much these days! As a freelancer, I only get my hair done when I absolutely need to. When you’re working from home, unless I’m on a video call, I don’t need to have straightened my hair :)
Forget also all of the expensive beauty products too for a while and get back to the basics. I’ve been exploring various low-budget and homemade options in the last year as a way to keep costs down – coconut oil has many purposes – and have simplified my entire beauty routine, which is also great for when I travel and ultimately become a digital nomad in the near future.
Don’t worry, you don’t need to let yourself go as a freelancer, but you do need to rethink just how many of these beauty items you really need anymore and how much of it was just from pressure within your old working environment.
2) Rethink your groceries
I used to live in a rather trendy and wealthy area of Melbourne, where the food selection was diverse and considerable, jam-packed with all kinds of speciality items and health-focused products. I had grown accustomed to fancy spices, exotic fruits, high-quality meats, and expensive items from my local health food store. I had a very reasonable grocery spend each week (much less than some of my friends) but it was very relative to my income of the time. I planned all my meals and loved to cook. Since becoming freelancer though, those cooking skills have been put to the test – not only because Germany’s food selection is slightly different to what I’m used to, but namely because I have had to restrict my weekly grocery spend considerably.
Now my food choices revolve around a mainly vegetarian focus at home, except for the occasional piece of fresh salmon, frozen fish or chicken. I also have a fantastic market in my street every Saturday that makes it easy to buy fresh produce cheaply. I’d be happy to share some Freelancer Foodie recipes on here in the near future! I also had to learn to accommodate in some meals out per week – working at home everyday, you do need a break and expecting yourself to eat every meal at home to save money is actually a bit unrealistic and forcing yourself into cabin fever!
A friend of mine suggested to make your own cleaning products too from items like white vinegar, lemon, bi-carb, tea-tree oil, lavender, garlic and so forth. I have to admit, I’ve not tried this as of yet but am keen to this year. Cleaning products are actually quite cheap here in certain supermarkets but going more DIY would be better for my health and my pocket.
This all said, I don’t feel deprived or that I can’t enjoy my meals. But I definitely had to call back on my days as a student and get creative in the kitchen to get the most bang for my buck – as my grandmother would always do, never waste a thing!
3) Rethink that dessert
Melbourne has a vibrant and exciting café and restaurant culture, with a diverse range of food available. Dining out is definitely “a thing” there and we used to do it frequently. Think two to three courses, several bottles of wine, a cocktail and we’re easily looking at AUD$80-$100 a head for a serious dining experience. Even going to the pub for AUD$15 steak would turn into $45 with wine and desert added on. Those days are well and truly gone…
As a freelancer, I still love to dine out but the type of restaurants I venture to now are in the under €15 territory. And I rarely have wine or desert anymore (unless it’s with two spoons). It’s all about the meal, the company and some mineral wasser. Luckily in Berlin, there are many fab places to go in this price range (stay tuned for my city guide on here soon!), and if you really want a drink, grabbing a beer after for under €2 on the way home is the best option.
This change also made me rethink how often we ate out in Melbourne to just forget about how miserable I was in my job and to how much we would drink just because we could. It’s been refreshing and an interesting insight for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still go out for dinner when I go back to Australia, but the experience will be with a new perspective and purely for the enjoyment of the meal and company.
Eating out is something you should still do as a freelancer, but in your first year, you probably need to rethink how often and the type of places you go. And if you really do need that dessert.
4) Goodbye to mixed drinks
Once you reach a certain age and income, your days of drinking beer are relegated to outings at the cricket/football and summer BBQs, and you move to champagne and mixed drinks. When I had a corporate job, I usually drank bubbles or vodka/soda/lime when I went out. I hadn’t drunk a beer out for years before I moved to Berlin! Although alcohol is cheap in Berlin, I did have to make a change in the last year.
Now beer is my go to drink when I head out. Mixed drinks are just simply not in my budget anymore – with beer available for under €2.50 a bottle, it’s so much more affordable and easily available. I love wine though and thankfully, that can be affordable option for enjoying at home. I’ve also sussed out the wine bars (and a couple of wine clubs) near me where I can get the most decent wine to right price ratio just right.
That said, as a freelancer I’ve found that drinking also exasperated my stress levels during the more challenging periods and I’ve had to limit its intake overall. In 2016, I’ve cut back even further and have felt a considerable difference to my overall mindset and health. I can see alcohol as a special occasion or treat activity moving forward, rather a “every weekend” must-do. Not only will my health thank me, so will my pocket.
Don’t fear though, you can still enjoy that glass of wine or a beer with friends, but it’s good to be mindful of just how much you’re spending on it and whether you really need the expresso martini on Friday night, when a glass of wine at home or simply some mineral water with a dash of lemon would suffice :)
5) What disposable income?
When I started to close down my life in Melbourne, I realized just how many “extras” I had been spending money on, it was quite ridiculous.
As a freelancer, things such regular magazines, a latte a day, that new top for the weekend, that fancy health food powder I recommended, expensive gym membership, visits to the infra-red sauna, singing lessons, dry cleaning each week (for work wear) and so forth all had to stop. I just simply don’t have that disposable income anymore. But it got me thinking, how many of these did I really “need” vs “want”? (I do miss the singing lessons though, they were fab).
Now, my only extra expense is a €20 a month gym membership, which is purely for de-stress, regular exercise and a good opportunity to get out of the house. I only buy books from my local second-hand bookstore, because I can return them for a half refund. I’m determined to not amass the sheer volume of stuff I had in Melbourne, I find joy now in experiences not things. I’d rather visit a museum or some sight in Berlin I’ve yet to see, or visit a club to see a DJ I’ve never seen (which I can quite affordably do in Berlin), these experiences add value to my life, more so than a new top or shiny new things.
Without the disposable income either, I stay with friends or family when I travel or team up with others for an Airbnb. I’m even curious to try couchsurfing, plus housesitting is definitely something I want to try in 2016 too.
OK, so you may not have a disposable income for a while, but you can still have fun. You just need to rethink exactly why you had these things in the first place and if you really need them. Getting back to basics is actually really invigorating!
Interestingly as a friend recently pointed out, it's actually "in" or trendy right now to focus on the basics as a woman, especially in New York, all part of this more mindful and socially conscious movement. Minimal and natural-looking make-up is totally a thing and many bloggers talk about the "capsule wardrobe", one where you own a few very nice things that you regularly rotate through, rather than owning some huge wardrobe full of clothes. So really, what we're doing a freelancers isn't that new at all, or that unusual -- I like to think we're just actually on trend!
Seriously though... Ultimately as a freelancer, you’re playing a long-game. This short term "pain" (and I use that term loosely) is for a serious long term gain. I could have kept my old life, all of the above and stay trapped in a job I didn’t love with my self-worth in tatters, or I could go without some “luxuries” for 1-2 years and turn my life around into a more exciting, creative, soul-nourishing direction. I know which option I prefer – and every day as I take another step forward on this path, I know it’s not going to be like this forever. An exciting new life is unfolding everyday... :)
What tips and tricks do you have for saving money as a freelancer?