Income Vs. Expenses: How a Freelance Writer Makes a Living

Part of a series about how a freelance writer does money.

March 2014 stats:
Total earnings: $3,583.39
Completed pieces (all types): 119
Essays published: 8 (check ‘em out here)
New contracts being negotiated: 2

So now that you have an idea of my monthly income, let’s look at expenses.

My monthly nut, aka “the money I must earn to fulfill my responsibilities to landlords and corporations,”  is $1,850. This includes rent, bills, health insurance, and paying more than the minimum on my credit cards. It does not include food, which usually comes out to around $300, and it does not include travel or discretionary expenses. My actual monthly expenses, in total, are closer to $2,500-$2,800.

If, at this point, you’re looking at the $3,583 figure and thinking “wow, she must be able to sock away a lot in savings,” remember that this is pre-tax income. It’s also before Paypal takes out its fees, which add up. I wish Paypal were not the ubiquitous method of paying freelancers, but I did not create the system.

(Also, to pre-empt the question “well, why don’t you request to be paid by check or P2P transfer?” the truth is that most freelance copy agencies require Paypal as part of the work agreement. The two new contracts I’m negotiating right now are for individual jobs, and so I’ll be able to request payment via check, but when you work with an agency, you have to get paid the way they want you to.)

To break down my expenses, one by one:



I pay $675 per month to live in a studio apartment in Seattle. The apartment is slightly larger than a full-size bed. The building itself is a converted 1920s hotel, which means that my converted 1920s hotel room does not come with a kitchen. (It does come with some truly lovely mahogany baseboards.)

I have a refrigerator, a toaster oven, and a microwave. I wash my dishes in a plastic bus tub in the bathroom. It’s a fair enough tradeoff, and is actually one of the nicer places I’ve ever lived as an adult.



I pay electric, smartphone, and internet. The rest of my bills are included in rent. I do not own a car.


Health insurance

I have a Premera bronze plan. I did not get it through the ACA exchange, since Washington State’s site was perpetually broken during the first round of the exchange. (It was so broken that I wrote a Billfold article about it. It has since been fixed.)



Like many people, paying off my debt is my biggest expense. (In a good month, I pay way more on my debt than I do on my rent, for example.)

I have no student loan debt, but I do have $15,866.81 in credit card debt. This debt doesn’t have anything to do with my current job; I actually went into debt before I made the decision to become a full-time freelance writer. (The shortest explanation: I tried to start a business and it failed.) Now that I am freelancing, my finances are back on track and I am paying down my debt as fast as possible. My goal is to have it paid off in two years.



Savings is not technically an “expense,” but it’s worth sharing. My savings at this point consist of a TIAA-CREF 403(b) account which, as of this writing, contains $34,787.52. That should cover one year of retirement.


How I handle shared expenses

Last week The Billfold ran a piece on how a freelance writer shares expenses with his partner, and so I feel like I ought to throw in a few words about how I share expenses with my boyfriend. We don’t live together, so we haven’t done the challenge of combining day-to-day expenses, but the important piece here is that we take turns volunteering to pay for stuff that both of us share. (Which is as it should be, amirite?)

Same goes for expenses I share with my friends, some of whom earn more and some of whom earn less than I do. Sometimes I pay for them, sometimes they pay for me, sometimes we split the check, sometimes I politely decline events I can’t afford.

And yes, when I learned that it would cost $1,200 to fly to my parents’ home in Iowa for Christmas, I did ask my parents for help. And they helped.

So there are a lot of factors involved in how I share expenses, but I try to err on the side of generosity. (I should also put a note in my GTD list about setting aside money for Christmas 2014 plane tickets right now.)

Next month, I’m going to answer the looming question of “why don’t I just get another job?” (Teaser trailer: People don’t get jobs. People are given jobs. Any discussion of “why don’t you just get another job” must start from there.) As always, please drop your questions in the comments and I promise I will answer them!


See the previous entries here.

Nicole Dieker is a freelance writer and ghostwriter, and is the only member of the band Hello, The Future!

Photo: Wikimedia Commons



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