For much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the class-bound societies of Western Europe were dominated by a landed and monied elite that owned much of the land and the wealth. The United States had rich and poor, too, but the wealth was still spread around a bit more widely. In 1910, for example, the one per cent in Europe owned about sixty-five per cent of all wealth; in the United States, the figure was forty-five per cent.

In recent decades, the roles have been reversed. The U.S. monied elite has outstripped its counterpart on the other side of the Atlantic, and wealth has become even more concentrated in the United States than it is in Europe. In 2010, the American one per cent owned about a third of all the wealth: the European one per cent owned about a quarter. Citing figures like these, Piketty warns that “the New World may be on the verge of becoming the Old Europe of the twenty-first century’s globalized economy.”

Piketty’s Inequality Story in Six Charts : The New Yorker

It’s funny, but when I state that one of the reasons I prefer living in Europe to the U.S. is because I feel that the “American Dream” is more possible there now, most people (on both sides of the Atlantic) laugh at me. Now I have charts to prove my point!

Freelancing, by the Numbers: 2013

Well, if this post is any indication, 2014 is off to a procrastination-filled start. That’s because in 2012 and 2013, I managed to sum up the previous year within a few days of New Year’s fireworks. This year… not so much.

Luckily, at least I’m writing this before taxes are due (which of course I haven’t begun either), and perhaps this is a sign of some of the success I’ve had lately, if ridiculous amount of work = success as many seem to think. I’m starting to debate that theory, however, and am setting a novel goal for 2014: less work. But before reflecting on that, let’s have the numbers…

Here’s a breakdown of my total expenses for 2013, by category:

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Not surprisingly, my biggest expense was cost of living, i.e. rent + utilities + phone/internet bills took up a third of my expenditures. The only solution to that would be to live someplace even cheaper (southeast Asia, I’m looking at you…). I’m quite proud that over a fifth of my spending went towards my Roth IRA, which is more of an investment in my future (or so I hope) than spending. Otherwise, nothing surprising other than eating out costing me quite a chunk of change, though not as much as booze. Some would say that indicates a problem, but I will argue that the culprit is the increasing costs of craft beers in Poland.

Anyway, here is my income for 2013, by category:

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(Notice that sad 0% by book sales, despite my first book ever finally being published this summer. I did, at least, get the second half of my advance this year. Here’s hoping for some royalties in 2014…)

So what happened in 2013? Professionally, I had my slowest summer ever, with much of July-September spent blissfully twiddling my thumbs while waiting for the work to come in, and much of November-December attempting to replenish my savings account after having to live off of it for a couple months.

To illustrate, here’s a breakdown of earnings by month:

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This isn’t too surprising, as many of my translation and proofreading clients are from universities, which become dead zones come the summer months. However, when you compare income to expenses, 2013 was definitely a roller coaster:

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Lesson learned: always have a savings account with enough it in to cover at least three months of expenses. I’d heard that advice years ago and luckily took it, or this summer would have been much more stressful.

So that’s my financials, in a nutshell. I came out with net earnings of about PLN 11,600 (about $3,800), though almost all of that went right into my Roth IRA. Comparing that to 2011 (PLN 188.39 net income) and 2012 (PLN 13,500 net income) I did OK, though another goal for 2014 will be an even greater increase in that number, at least above the 2012 level.

Here’s the fun part:

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Translation? I averaged about two hours of work per day for a total of 770 hours (roughly, as this doesn’t include time spent marketing, billing or making cool excel graphs for blog posts), made enough to support myself and then some, and had a lot more time for the things that actually matter: travel, family and friends.

Short translation: freelancing definitely beats regular employment.

What about goals?

Last year, I listed the following goals:

  • earn 50% income from writing (or at least higher percentage than from proofreading & translations)
  • drink a lot less
  • spend even less on groceries and eating out and reduce all of my expenses to a bare minimum, so that I can spend on the categories that matter: travel, music and my business.

Vague, I know, and I should set better ones this year. Nonetheless, compared to last year I did earn almost half my income from writing (47% compared to 35%), drank a bit less (6% compared to 9%) and spent a total of 9% on eating out and groceries (and only 2% on clothing, yay!), so missions accomplished.

My goals for 2014 are:

  • work smarter - increase average hourly wage while keeping total hours worked about the same
  • reduce food- and booze-related expenses by at least 1%
  • increase vacation-related expenses
  • earn 50% or more income from writing

To sum up…

As far as personally, I travelled to one new continent and one new country in 2013 (low for me, I know), with the former being South America (and Rio de Janeiro to be specific) and the latter being Israel. The five-day trip to Israel was also the first one I’ve ever taken since going freelance where I specifically didn’t work, and didn’t even take my laptop with me. It was refreshing to fully immerse myself in a place and take a proper “vacation”, even though it feels like I’d done that for half the summer in Krakow.

In 2014, I want to experiment more with taking actual vacations where I disconnect for longer periods of time. I already took one trip to the desert of West Texas and it was blissfully Internet-free (and the world didn’t end while I was offline). I’ve already planned trips to Paris and Barcelona this spring and hopefully Sicily this fall, so I’ll have plenty of chances to enjoy this life I’m working so hard for.

Oh, and of course I’ll continue to work wherever I happen to be as well. Just my way of ensuring I keep the “free” in “freelancing”…

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“I once asked a talented and fairly famous colleague how he managed to regularly produce such highly regarded 8,000 word features. “Well,” he said, “first, I put it off for two or three weeks. Then I sit down to write. That’s when I get up and go clean the garage. After that, I go upstairs, and then I come back downstairs and complain to my wife for a couple of hours. Finally, but only after a couple more days have passed and I’m really freaking out about missing my deadline, I ultimately sit down and write.””

Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators - Megan McArdle - The Atlantic

RE: Why I haven’t yet written my annual budget post (or anything, for that matter) on here since 2013.

“The point of work should not be just to provide the material goods we need to survive. Since work typically takes the largest part of our time, it should also be an important part of what gives our life meaning. Our economic system works well for those who find meaning in economic competition and the material rewards it brings. To a lesser but still significant extent, our system provides meaningful work in service professions (like health and social work) for those fulfilled by helping people in great need. But for those with humanistic and artistic life interests, our economic system has almost nothing to offer.”

The Real Humanities Crisis - NYTimes.com

This article makes an excellent point, and mirrors one of my own major criticisms of the North American economy when compared to (some) European ones, where artists are supported to an extent by the state.

While the writer of the article suggests the creation of fulfilling teaching positions for those in the humanities as a means of subsidizing their real work, this too fails to address the problem of divided interests. Of course, those humanists whose passion is teaching their craft and practicing it on the side should be free to do so, but forcing everyone to teach creates subpar teachers who can’t wait to get home and focus on their own work - which in turn suffers from lack of time and attention. The funneling of funds subsidizing sports is an interesting prospect, though I can’t see it gaining much popular support in the U.S.

In the end, the issue is this: were the burden to earn a living wage lifted off the back of the artist, musician or writer, at least for a few years, many more would have the freedom needed to perfect their craft and create works that could sustain them financially in the future. Since the private sector has obviously failed so provide this support, it’s up to the governmental or non-profit branches to step in.

“I prefer written communication because it gives me time to think about what I want to say, and to digest what others are saying. A phone call has the pressure of instantly responding to what you just heard. I can never fully understand and process what I’m hearing, and I’m never eloquent about what I’m saying. It makes me feel ignorant and like I’m bumbling through a conversation. The anxiety is even worse when I’m talking to someone who knows I’m a writer, because all I can do is wonder if they’re thinking “This person is actually a dumbass, maybe they’re a fraud.””

Why are you calling my texting device? » Blag Hag

I completely relate to everything written in this post, not necessarily because I have anxiety issues (if I do, they’re minor), but because I’ve always known I’m better at communicating through the written word rather than the spoken one.

It’s actually quite reassuring to think that someone as intelligent and educated as Jen McCreight has these same issues, because for years I’ve thought that my inability to think on my feet in live conversation as well as others was a sign of my inferior intelligence rather than an aspect of my personality and my introversion. I hate phone conversations as well, even more so than face to face interactions, and can rarely get my point across in the way I had intended. I’d say that after nearly every serious phone conversation, I spend the next half hour thinking about how much better I could have conveyed my thoughts.

That’s the difference between writing and speaking: revision. I lack the talent for perfect first drafts, so I need endless revisions before I’m satisfied with the final version (and even then, it’s only satisfaction to a point). When I was younger, I always wished live conversations came with a pause button, so I had the time to consider the perfect response. Now thanks to email and texting, I get some version of that.

So the next time I ask you to email instead of calling me, it’s not due to avoidance, but rather my striving towards perfection.