Monday, January 7, 2008

Writing and Money: Trade Offs

When I spent most of my time either working on creative projects, active with various nonprofit and neighborhood groups, or taking care of the kids and house (and building equity), I knew I wasn't making money, but I didn't always have a great grasp of what trade offs I'd been making. Sometimes it was probably better not to think about it. We lived as frugally as possible and that was fine.

Now that I'm getting some freelance work where I'm actually paid for my time, the trade-offs that I've been making are more apparent. Part of the need for paid work is to help make ends meet, but there will also be money left over after the core expenses are paid, and we can actually think a bit about saving. We're not especially into stuff--we don't have a burning desire for nicer furniture (though it wouldn't hurt) or a bigger TV or a nicer car. We don't need a bigger house (we live in a modest condo with just one bathroom and no yard, but in a cool neighborhood with great schools). But if I keep working for money, we will be able to visit my parents a little more often (my mom is in Florida and my dad is in Colorado--so for the four of us to visit either of them costs about $2,000 by the time you figure in airfare, car rental, dog boarding, gas, etc.)--maybe one parent each year.

I'd also really like for us to travel abroad sometime in the next few years (and use that passport I just renewed). It's important for us and the kids to see other countries and cultures (the last time I was overseas was a trip to Paris ten years ago)--as the world becomes more intertwined, it's more important to try to get other perspectives.

With some of the money I earn, we could save up for a few fun activities--it'll be fun to go to a few more movies (especially now that Kira can babysit), or maybe go for a day of skiing (about $500 for the four of us). I used to ski a lot when we lived in Colorado, but then it became too expensive. When I was younger, I was a bit of a ski nut (I even was a part-time ski instructor at Winter Park one winter).

And there's the whole notion of saving for college--Kira is in 7th grade, which means college is 4.5 years away. In-state tuition, fees, room and board at UMass-Amherst, our state school, is about $17,000 a year. We'll need/want to help her out as much as we can.

Then there's saving for emergencies. And I fantasize about paying off the mortgage someday (if I earned enough to play it off an extra $500 a month, it'd be paid in 13 years instead of 30, and we'd save $90,000).

Up until now, I've been willing (and Tracy has supported this decision) to trade all of that for time to write plays and novels and work on various projects. At first, especially when I was writing more screenplays, there was some thought that the early work was paying dues, laying groundwork for a career that might not make tons of money, but that would bring in a modest income. I've been writing for a long time now (20 years), and I've had lots of work published and produced, but I also don't see that paying one's dues has an actual financial impact. In the theatre, unless you're really lucky or well-connected, the money just isn't there. To be honest, it's not that different for writing novels, from the little I've seen of the business.

I'll keep writing and trying to make money from my productions and publications, but I'm less willing to make the full set of trade offs that I was in the past. In the end, some of this choice, through a richer life from better family relationships and more travel and cultural exposure, might end up helping the material that I do write become a lot fuller and more interesting. I'm nervous that paid gigs will drastically crowd out the time and mental energy I have for my own creative work, and that our financial needs/wants will continue to grow. I'll have to be more disciplined than ever, I guess.

I'm curious to see how it all turns out.

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