Money. Money. Money. Part 3: Cost of Living

Posted on Apr 24, 2013 in Business, Living Creatively, Write Me a Letter | 8 comments

This post is part of a series about, you guessed it, money, as inspired by a letter I received from artist Rachael Ashe. Read Part 1: Guilt at HomePart 2: The Costs of GrowthPart 4: Where It Comes From and Part 5: What’s a Real Job?.

What Is Your Vancouver?

Time for a straw poll! If you’re self-employed or run your own creative business, leave a comment and tell me if you a) work from home (even if you have a home studio that’s a dedicated space) or b) work away from home (whether in a shared studio or your own space). Please also indicate whether you live in a big city, a small city, a suburb, or a rural area.

I want to know, because Rachael brings up how the high cost of living in Vancouver affects her business. It’s a huge issue, and one we might not consider in the context of business expenses like those I mentioned in my last post, but it most certainly affects our decisions about business-related spending. So many of us work from home that we can overlook how expensive that can be. When rent is through the roof, so to speak, we may end up trying to run our business out of a cramped apartment, without adequate space for storing inventory or getting into a healthy workflow. (Another not-so-hidden cost is health insurance, for example. There’s no way I’d take as many business risks as I do if I didn’t live in Canada with reliable, affordable health care, that’s for sure.)

Here’s what Rachael wrote in her letter:

I’d like to do some swearing about Vancouver and its crushingly expensive cost of living. I don’t think I can continue to thrive here, even though Vancouver is where I’ve become the artist I am today. Why does it feel so crazy, stupid and reckless to be an artist? (Is that a real job?) I could be working full-time somewhere, earning good money, saving for the future, and probably unhappily trapped in an office.

Sometimes, in our most cynical moments, Greg and I joke that we could sell our house and live like kings in Fargo. (I don’t know why it’s always Fargo.) Vancouver is wicked expensive. For reasons not worth blogging about, we’re exceptionally lucky when it comes to our cost of living, but most people – office-job professionals included – struggle to live in this city affordably. And certainly Vancouver isn’t the only area like this. San Francisco, New York and Boston come to mind.

We’ve stopped joking about me ditching my projects to work at Starbucks, because I think we’ve both come to realize that any sort of day job that doesn’t involve me mostly working on my own shenanigans would end up in a pile stress and contagious misery.

Burrard Street Bridge

I have a hard time working from home sometimes, especially lately when there’s a toddler in the house with his babysitter. We’re hoping (hoping so very much) to finally get a daycare placement this summer. But anyway.

For a stretch of time when I was working full-time as a magazine editor, I rented a desk in a shared office. In the end, I didn’t love the space and it just wasn’t worth the $300/month in rent. Though I’ve toyed with getting myself out of the house in a formal way more recently, I find I can neither justify the expense nor find a great space I could afford that’s both not aimed at a tech startup and not in a state of disrepair. And I certainly find I can’t justify the time for even a short commute when we’re paying for childcare and I could just stay home.

You might be thinking that losing the commute time would be worth it, and it might be if I could find a great place that’s not too far away. But I haven’t been able to, so home I stay, with a daily prayer to the daycare gods.

Obviously, I have no answers to the question of how to balance the expense of a living (and working) environment with the need to make a profit. In many ways, I am committed to staying in Vancouver simply because this is where we’ve made our home. I’m a city girl, and though money would be a much less of a stressful issue if we moved somewhere with a lower cost of living, we just wouldn’t be as happy. And like Rachael, I’ve become the creator I am here. Not that I’ve felt particularly inspired by Vancouver in a creative way, but my experiences here – socially, as an expat, as a parent, as a crafter and creative professional – have shaped me, and they certainly influence my work.

So I post this as an open question to you, crafters, makers, artists and writers: How do you make it work, living in your expensive city while trying to make your inconsistent income go as far as possible? Got any tricks up your sleeve the rest of us could benefit from? How do you continue to keep the awful lure of a steady, soul-sucking paycheck from winning you over?

  • piperewan

    In 2010, after a humbling two years of financial horrors, I gave up my outside studio and crammed it into my tiny apartment (in Portland, OR). Thankfully, I have basement storage (my apartment is in a converted Victorian), and a friend who will let me use her cutting table for big projects. I pared down, I took a part-time job on the weekends at a friend’s shop, and I have been slowly reinventing my business. Today I am not financially ready to move my work out of my house, but it is kind of killing me to have to be living with my work like this. True, I don’t have to take on projects I don’t want to do, because I am in danger of starving, but I cannot escape working. The result is that I don’t have any days off ever. The work is staring at me when I wake up, and it is there when I am trying to wind down in the evening. I have to fight with the cat about being left alone to work.

    True, I am saving money and the stress of the financial burden of two rents. But how much money am I losing by not being able to make larger projects due to lack of space. And while I am constantly working (it seems) it is often less productive than if I am somewhere without the distraction of a sink full of dishes or laundry that needs folding?

  • Cynthia

    We moved out of Vancouver a few years ago and are *so* thankful we did. Even though that’s where I also started and have lots of friends, clients, and contacts still, the move did us more good than bad. We ditched the overly-expensive city for a peaceful and much more affordable home in the burbs,(like we sold our condo with sky high strata fees in the city for more than we paid for our own house with a yard out here!) which is the best thing we ever did, and really aren’t that far from the city if we have to go in- “have” to as we rarely do any more and like it that way! (Though I admit a visit to Dressew and Granville Island every few months is required but taking the train in to the city makes that easy!)
    There are still issues around money, I think there are anywhere, but a less expensive way of living out here definitely helps. We work from our home office with clients all over the place via email/phone so really it doesn’t matter where we physically are, in the city or the burbs, as we don’t need to actually meet with anyone in person to do our work. We’re also homebodies, and prefer to cook our meals ourselves at home with fresh produce from the local farm markets, which is much less expensive as well, we don’t frequent expensive coffee places when we can make our own fresh at home, and do a lot of shopping online so it saves gas money, car wear and tear, and time! Plus gas is cheaper out here!
    We love it and really enjoy the quiet life.
    I could never go back to a f/t or even p/t job working for somebody else so absolutely have to make it work and so far so good! :D

  • http://www.leethal.net/ Lee

    When we moved from southern California to Portland, OR almost 6 years ago, I only had to go on working my day job for 8 months here before quitting it to pursue self-employment full time, which I had no plans of doing back in CA. That’s how much our cost of living changed, plus being in a much more creative city with more opportunity inspired me to go for it, so I am ever thankful for just happening to completely love a (big-ish) city with such a relatively low cost of living!

    I work from home, and I love it that way, which I’m also so thankful for, that I happen to be the type of person who can love working at home, since I wouldn’t be able to afford working anywhere else. I do basically work constantly, but it helps tremendously that a big part of my job is knitting, which in itself is relaxing, and I figure it’s a trade-off – feeling the need to be constantly working is the price I pay to be able to do things I love for a living. If I wanted actual time off from work, then I would need to spend my working hours much less happily, so I choose to be happy (and also constantly stressed about work and money) all the time while working all the time.

  • Diandra

    I work from home! I got to the prize job in my career and was like, “what? i don’t want a m-f 9-5!” and got the heck outta there. I do social development/research contracting on a part time office from my desk in my kitchen/living room. I pay a lot for the size of my apartment and thankfully my kid goes to daycare on full government subsidy (yay single moms!). BUT, part of the reason I could make it happen was that I moved to Prince George! I live near downtown and have started doing bake sales with a friend with hopes of opening a grocery store. I write off all my expenses and because I make so little I tend to come out on top. But don’t even get me started about the repeated collections calls from MSP. Just because I lived a middle class life last year and had a job that paid my MSP doesn’t mean I can AFFORD it this year, BC Government! Now, THIS should be an elections issue.

  • http://twitter.com/TheAEblog Kerry

    We moved out of New York City for this very reason!

  • Lisa Santoni Cromar

    We live in a suburb. I do my messy creative work at home but most of my writing at our local Starbucks.

  • Pingback: Money. Money. Money. Part 2: The Costs of Growth | Kim Werker

  • http://twitter.com/Hooked4Life Mary Beth Temple

    Relevant post is relevant. I have made some big changes to the direction Hooked for Life is taking this year and so far they are paying off. I need to hire more people, and I need somewhere for them to work that is not my living room. I have the perfect space lined up, and my first hire picked out and I am scared to pull the trigger. So I make up rules – if this happens then I’ll sign the lease – no it must be this thing instead! Now I am thinking May 15 or a specific new order of a specific amount, whichever comes first, but ask me May 15 if I did it or not…

  • http://www.kimwerker.com/ Kim Werker

    Exciting, stressful times, Mary Beth! Good luck!