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 Home, Part 2: The Costs of Growth, Part 4: Where It Comes From and Part 5: What's a Real Job?.
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.
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?