I’m a Freelance Writer Living in Financial Survival Mode, and I Want To Learn How To Actually Save

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So you want to have a healthy relationship with your finances and prepare for retirement, but you’re not sure where to start or how to get there. With Money Talks, three people in different life stages outline their experience of working with a financial professional for the very first time. As it turns out, it’s never too early or late to chat through your goals with someone who can help.

Before meeting with a financial professional to talk through money roadblocks and goals, it's key to get clear on where you are currently and where you ideally want to be. Here, meet one of the three participants ahead of her conversation with the pros, and learn about her specific background and money intentions.

About me: I'm a 39-year-old writer who splits her time between Los Angeles and Colorado. I have a romantic partner, but we don't share finances. I also don't receive financial support from anyone, or have any dependents. Financially speaking, I'm a fully free bird—for now. I'm hoping to have a baby in the future, and I'd like to budget for fertility treatments, along with being able to save money for the future.

Household income range: $90,000–$170,000

Regular expenses:

Rent: $2,300 per month

Student loans: $120 per month

Car insurance: $150 per month

Wi-Fi: $179 per month

Utilities: $150 per month

Subscriptions: $250 per month

SBA loan payback: $150 per month

CBT Therapy: $500–$1,000 per month

Beauty upkeep: $200 per month

Home and pet insurance: $40 per month

Charitable donations: $80 per month

In addition to those monthly costs (totaling at more than $3,700 per month), I spend an additional sum on food, but that amount varies. My partner pays for most of our food when we are together, but that's on an irregular basis, so it's tough to plan for each month. Due to the unorthodox nature of his job, I may spend a few days to a few weeks each month without him. My food expenses, in turn, look vastly different each month.

Do you have a saving strategy, and if so, can you describe it?

I’ve had to cease saving completely since I was laid off from my full-time job in October 2022. Prior to that, I’d been saving around 20 percent of my salary each month, but only during the year I had that full-time, salaried job.

I'd have to work far too many hours, or find a way to significantly cut my expenses in order to begin saving again.

Previously, as a freelance writer, I never earned enough to save much. I’m now freelancing again, which is stopping me from being able to save. I'd have to work far too many hours, or find a way to significantly cut my expenses in order to begin saving again.

What are your short-term financial goals?

In the short-term, I’m trying to get by and hold steady while I look for a new full-time job. So far, I haven’t had to dip into my savings much, but I’m about to undergo an unexpected surgery that is going to put me into some medical debt. I may also undergo IVF in the coming months as well, which will further add to this debt (insurance doesn't cover infertility). I'm hoping that I won't end up debt-ridden as a result of these expenses, and I'm open to any advice surrounding how to achieve this, whether that includes a strategy for acquiring loans or something else.

What are your long-term financial goals?

Ideally, I’d like to get out of survival mode and back into saving mode fairly quickly. From there I’d like to ensure I’m putting enough aside to support myself as I age or if I become disabled. I worry about this a lot.

Ideally, I’d like to get out of survival mode and back into saving mode fairly quickly.

I’m also hoping to have a baby join my life in the near future. My partner and I plan to split financial responsibilities, but even so, I feel I need to be earning a lot more than I am now in order to cover the added expenses while still saving for my future.

I’d also love to own my own home, separate from my partner, as home ownership is one of the best ways to build wealth in America. This would give me a sense of long-term financial security. This currently feels like a pipe dream, but I wonder if I should focus more on actioning this goal.

What barriers are in the way of you achieving your financial goals?

The writing industry simply isn't what it used to be, and my area of expertise is grossly undervalued and underpaid. I feel it's impossible for me to be financially healthy as a worker in this industry without parental or partner support.

Well-compensated full-time jobs in my field, like the one I had last year for one year, are few and far between. I’m currently interested in pivoting into a slightly different career trajectory that would still use my skill set, but that feels like a longer-lead project. Right now, I just need stability in light of my plans to hopefully have a baby. But, prioritizing stability brings me back to the initial large obstacle of not earning enough to cover everything I need to pay for. It feels like an impossible vicious circle.

What do you consider your biggest challenges when it comes to managing your financial wellness?

I don't feel work is compensated fairly for people in my industry, specifically freelance writers. It’s also a challenge to live part-time in LA—the city is just expensive.

What is your current strategy for retirement planning? 

Candidly, I've paused on contributing to retirement accounts, as dealing with my present-day finances are absorbing my income. I was laid off last October, and have been dealing with health expenses in the meantime. At my previous role, I was contributing to a 401(k), but not anymore. Not only do I not feel able at this point to action a retirement plan, but I worry about my depleting nest egg of savings. Retirement isn't my pressing priority right now, but I know it's in the best interest of my long-term financial health to create a plan that will work for me. I could use some help here.

Is there a reason you've never worked with a financial professional


What emotion does talking about finances evoke for you? What emotion would you like to feel surrounding your relationship with your finances?

Until this baby situation, I felt okay if not great about my ability to support myself. But now I am about to enter into what feels like a lot of debt with no clear way out. As a result, I feel tremendous anxiety around my finances, and also some shame. I feel like so many other people in my stage of life have made different choices that led them to financial situations preferable to mine—whether by way of a career choice, or partnering up, or otherwise having financial support from their families.

I would like to feel safe. That is all I’ve ever wanted with respect to money.

Describe your relationship with your finances as it currently stands as well as historically.

I never felt like I made enough money to save meaningfully, so it felt futile to try. Doing underpaid freelance work leaves me to identify options that would help me be financially healthy. I have to overwork to make just enough, and I don't see an end in sight to that reality until I decide on a new career path.

I wouldn’t call myself financially savvy, but I was doing my best to set myself up with a small safety net (and pay down debt) while I had a well-paying full-time gig for a year. I also raised my credit score by something like 200 points during that time. Most of that progress has since been upended as a result of underemployment, and I expect it will be completely annihilated by upcoming medical expenses and then the ongoing expenses of having a child.

I’ve always had anxiety and shame around money, but it’s definitely at an all-time high right now—and I hope it won't be this way forever.

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