Leap Into Freelancing — Even if You’re Living Paycheck to Paycheck

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Leap into freelancing — even if you’re broke. Makealivingwriting.comI didn’t plan on leaving my job to become a freelance writer with next to no money and my 6-year-old laptop.

I had a 5-year goal to become a “real” writer, but my plans had to change. I was too tired and burned out with my career in addiction services — my stress level reached a point where it started affecting both my physical and mental health.

When I talked about quitting my job to write, people thought I was crazy. Maybe I was. I had less than $500 in my savings account, a house, a car payment, and three kids. My husband was a year into his business and barely turning a profit.

The time seemed anything but right, yet I made it work. My kids didn’t starve, my car wasn’t repossessed, and over a year later, I’m still writing full time.

Here are my tips on how to become a full-time freelance writer without a safety net:

Give yourself time

Once I decided to leave, I gave two months’ notice to my employer. This short timeframe actually worked better for me than the 5-year plan. Five years was too long to spur real action toward my goals.

Knowing I was only two months away from leaving my job forced me into serious planning mode. Procrastination wasn’t an option.

I was going to be out of work — and income — soon. I had to get ready.

Live on less

Since I expected a drop in income, I set out to cut expenses.

I cut satellite TV and switched to a lower-cost phone data plan. Grocery bills were cut with couponing and meal planning. I canned, preserved food, and made my own laundry detergent. Instead of department stores, I shopped at consignment shops. Barter reduced expenses, too — I traded writing services, eggs, whatever I could, to get the things I needed.

I cut my average monthly expenses by about $1,350, which helped us get by.

If you’re serious about starting a freelance career, but your checking account can’t seem to hit four digits, see what expenses you can cut. It’s amazing what you can live without.

Find hidden money

To help make those initial ends meet, I sold things on eBay, from an old iPod to my daughter’s outgrown clothes. I found old savings bonds and turned them in.

Still concerned about unpredictable income, I cashed out my 403(b) and tucked it in a savings account, creating a six-month cushion in case I needed it. I did end up using some of these funds, but not much. (I’m not saying this is the best choice for everyone, but for me, cashing in my retirement fund was the right fit.)

When you want to become a freelance writer and you’re short on cash, look for it in even the most unlikely places — make the things you don’t need work for you.

Go beyond your passions

Before I started freelancing full-time, I’d been writing on topics I was passionate about, and I was naive enough to believe it would continue. But it didn’t.

Instead, I wrote about employee surveys, tendonitis, and even how paint dries (not kidding!). While not the most exciting topics, these entry-level writing jobs paid the bills.

When I start freelancing, I quickly learned that you don’t have to write about your passion to be passionate about writing. Look for writing jobs beyond your immediate interests and a whole range of possibilities arise.

Market your butt off

I was writing for content mills when I quit my job, but I knew that wasn’t my goal.

On days I wasn’t writing, I was marketing. I’d spend six hours sending my best samples to companies I found on job boards. I handed out business cards to everyone I met at my small town’s business expo.

Within two weeks, I had three paying clients. Admittedly, I was only getting $20 an article, but it was better than the content mills were paying, and these jobs gave me the opportunity to gather clips and references, the exact thing I needed to break into better earning jobs.

Quitting your job to become a freelance writer isn’t easy, especially when you’re living paycheck to paycheck, but it is possible. I know, because I did it.

With a little planning and a lot of motivation, you can, too.

How did you make the leap to freelance writing? Tell us in the comments below.

Molly Carter is a freelance writer who specializes in health & wellness, medical, addiction & mental health, sex & relationships, outdoor recreation, and more.

101 Comments

  1. Karla

    I stumbled upon this website and was intrigued by the topic. Soon, I found that I’d read the article and all the posts and replies, because they are inspirational and speak to me. I am not a writer currently and have no formal experience in the field, but like a lot of people who have commented, I am highly burned out from my day job and dream of working at something I feel passionately about. One of the things that holds me back is health insurance. I haven’t heard anyone mention how they manage the costs of decent health insurance. This is a necessity, especially with children. My husband’s company offers minimal quality insurance for high costs, so part of the reason I maintain my job is to ensure this benefit for myself and my children. Do you have any recommendations regarding how you manage this as a freelance writer? Thank you in advance if so!

    • Carol Tice

      I’m glad you asked, because NOT letting the healthcare issue stand in the way of freelancing is one of my big passions. There are many possible solutions, as I’ve written about here: https://makealivingwriting.com/yes-freelancers-can-get-health-insurance-12-options/ And that post was a year ago, so by now there may be even MORE options.

      Yes, it costs money. I currently pay on the order of $14K a year in premiums. But it’s worth it. I couldn’t imagine still being an employee! (And remember, it becomes a business expense you can write off.)

      Also, remember that with the rise of Obamacare we are all transitioning AWAY from corporate-based to self-selected healthcare anyway. Companies will offer fewer and fewer benefits in future now that healthcare marketplaces exist in each state, so staking your career on that is a bad idea. More companies will be offering perhaps a subsidy for you to choose a plan on your own, and that subsidy will shrink.

      I speak as someone who left a 7-year job with TERRIFIC healthcare benefits. Still, no regrets. I mean, at the end of your life do you want to say, “I worked every day at a soul-sucking job — but at least I had good health insurance?” I’m thinking that’s not what you want on your tombstone.

  2. Lorianne Johnsson

    I hate to be a buzzkill, but cutting back expenses isn’t always an option. It certainly isn’t an option for me. I have never made much money so I have always lived very frugally. I don’t have cable and I never go out to eat. I haven’t bought clothes in years and I gave up having my hair done 20 years ago. I have never owned a car. I don’t have stuff to sell or a retirement policy to cash out. Don’t get me wrong; I’m glad things worked out for the OP, but saying anyone can do it fails to acknowledge that planning and motivation aren’t always enough. They haven’t been for me.

    • Carol Tice

      I’m definitely not saying everyone out there has expenses to cut — but many do. I’m sure we could all benefit from the frugality habits you’ve picked up over the years! And I never pay to do my hair, either. 😉

  3. Mike

    Lovely, helpful and humorous..found this particularly funny “had to make my own detergent” and writing about “how paint dries”. Thanks for the tips and for communicating them in such an engaging manner. Please do you have any book recommendations on how to improve my writing skills? or any of your blog posts that touch on this subject at length? Thanks very much

    • Carol Tice

      Mike, this was a guest post — but you can find my writing tips posts on this tag:

      https://makealivingwriting.com/tag/writing-tips

      You might also check out this e-book:

      https://makealivingwriting.com/13-ways-get-writing-done-faster/

      But I’ll honestly say my best writing-improvement tip is to write a LOT. I became the writer I am today because of my 12 years as a staff writer, having to file 3-4 stories every single week to keep my job. You can self-impose that kind of discipline, write a ton, and you’ll naturally get more concise, more compelling, and develop your style.

    • Mike

      Thanks very much Carol for the tip and links. Will surely incorporate in my efforts.

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