My husband and I sat in the mortgage broker’s office, running the numbers as we prepared to buy our first house. My husband is a cop and I’m a freelance writer, so most people assume his job is the cornerstone of our financial security. They’re wrong.
The broker asked my husband all the income-related questions to figure out if we were financially stable. He didn’t really ask me.
“Honestly, Kelly’s income is more stable, so that’s what we should probably be talking about,” my husband told the broker.
The man looked surprised. “What exactly do you do?”
At the time, my husband and I were making the same amount. However, I’d been self-employed for years, whereas my husband had changed jobs relatively frequently (which no mortgage underwriter likes to see). My solid work history is what granted us financial security and ultimately enabled us to get financing for our house.
Most people assume that having a good, secure job means working for someone else. However, in the eight years since I graduated from college, I’ve learned that being self-employed actually provides me and my family with much more financial security than if I worked a traditional job.
When I graduated from journalism school in 2010, I didn’t even bother trying to find a full-time job. The economy was still disastrous and I figured I’d leave the few available jobs to those who really wanted them. Instead, I freelanced and used the flexibility to travel.
In 2013 I got pregnant, just after my husband was laid off from his construction job. A newspaper editor offered me an in-house position that paid $13 an hour and offered no benefits. Despite my gut telling me not to, I succumbed to the pressure to say yes to a “real” job, especially with a baby on the way.
I lasted nine months. I was making less per hour than ever before, and I had little control over my career. Two weeks after my daughter was born I jumped back into freelancing, this time with the intent of making it a career.
As it turns out, taking my career into my own hands would be the key to making my family much more financially stable.
My first year of full-time freelancing, I made the same amount that I did working at the newspaper—while working about half the hours. Each year after that, my income increased by about 50 percent as I became more effective at managing my business. Soon I was making $35,000, about the same as my husband at his full-time government job.
Last year, my gross income was just under $70,000—about 1.5 times what my husband makes, despite the fact that I was working about 30 hours a week, compared to his 40 or more. We can survive on just my income, which allows us to use my husband’s income to pay down debt and save.
If I were working an office job, my income would be capped by salary. However, my income potential from freelancing is largely open-ended. Because I select my own projects, I am able to say no to low-paying work. I also have the flexibility to take on additional projects when I need or want more money.
For example, if a financial emergency arose, I could opt to work 40 hours a week rather than 30, in order to have more cash on hand. In fact, that’s exactly what I’ve done in 2018.
My husband and I have been together for nine years. During that time, he has been unexpectedly laid off twice (mostly through bad luck, since it was in two unrelated fields). In 2014, nearly 20 percent of American workers had been laid off in the previous five years.
Right now, job security is high, but anyone who has started the day with a job and ended it without one knows how jarring the experience of being laid off is.
During my husband’s job losses, my freelance income kept us financially stable and gave us peace of mind because no one could take it away with a pink slip. Last year, I worked for 32 different clients. Some were one-time projects that brought in a few hundred dollars; the biggest client paid me just over $16,000, about 22 percent of my income.
Because my income stream is so diversified, it is extremely unlikely that a huge portion of my income would disappear all at once. Of course, my income would suffer greatly if I were sick and unable to work. But that’s often true in a traditional job as well.
In addition to more income and job security, freelancing gives me a measure of flexibility that I’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere, and it strengthens my family. Today I work about 40 hours a week and only pay for 20 hours of childcare, since about half of my work hours are completed with the kids at home.
Cutting our childcare costs in half each month (for two kids!) saves us about $16,000 annually. In addition, if one of the kids is sick, I can stay home without losing much income, since I can make it up on other days of the week.
Freelancing also gives me flexibility to work while I travel. I’ve taken the kids on many shorter holidays and also extended visits to family abroad without giving up any income. While travel is a luxury, my daughters’ close relationships with their family members who live far away gives me peace of mind.
Of course, there are drawbacks to freelancing. I don’t have employer-sponsored health insurance, I have to deal with filing my own estimated taxes and I can’t claim unemployment.
But when push comes to shove, those are small sacrifices. Being self-employed makes us so much more financially stable. And I love what I do.
Fabric exists to help young families master their money. Our articles abide by strict editorial standards.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and are not intended to be the basis of any decisions made, financial or otherwise.
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