Prioritizing: The "Starving Artist" Dilemma

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Today it's safe to say that most artistically-inclined people don't have a rich benefactor or aren't independently wealthy enough to devote all hours of the day to honing their craft. If you work outside the home, how do you stretch your money to support writing endeavors? Or, if you're married and you've made the decision to scale back to a single income earning household, how do you budget without feeling like every penny is being ripped from your writer's-cramped fingers?

When I worked on the first draft for my book, I had a full-time job as a supervisor. It was hard to clock in the hours all day, do business travel, go to the gym, cook dinner, and then sit down to write. With prayerful consideration, my husband and I made the decision that I would work part-time. It hasn't been easy, but nothing that you truly desire to gain ever is.

We had to do some priority shifting. If you're going through a similar experience with your finances, I want to share with you some of the ways my husband and I address the situation.

  • Decide what matters to you
For many of us, there is no choice but to have a job outside of writing. When you're faced with having to budget resources, ask how important writing is to your overall life. Is it a passion you're willing to sacrifice some of your discretionary spending on, or would you rather put that money to something else, like traveling, a hobby, etc.? Knowing the degree of what you value will help you stay motivated to keep the budget in check.

  • Figure out what you're willing to cut back on
Whether we have recessions or not, the cost of living continues to go up. I like going out to eat, but I love writing more than overpriced food. So I cook the majority of meals at home and eat more vegetarian dishes when possible. A pound of beans and a two-pound bag of rice costs less than $5.00, as does a simple dish of pasta mixed with vegetables, garlic, and olive oil. Hubby and I are still carnivores. We will tear up a slab of bacon and a hunk of brisket, but I've learned to incorporate meat into the recipe instead of making it the focal point.

We have been doing this for a couple of years. When we get tired of our cooking, we treat ourselves to a dinner out. It happens less often, but it helps us appreciate the experience.

  • Take advantage of the library
Your local branch likely carries how-to books on the writing craft. I've also found several up-to-date copies of Writers' Market and issues of Romantic Times Book Review. Borrowing materials helps me weed out what books I should merely take notes on and what I should buy for my reference collection. I've saved a small fortune this way.

Don't forget your library's events calendar. Many branches hold free or low-cost writing workshops every month. It's a good way to network with other writers and published authors.

  • Read your junk mail
There are plenty of little price-saving gems that make it into your mailbox each week. I'm not an extreme couponer, but I do like when I'm able to save a few bucks on my favorite brands. The cents add up.

  • Get on your favorite store's mailing list
When JCPenney had a New Year's sale, I received a coupon pamphlet with up to sixty dollars in savings. Yes, it's annoying to give the cashier your phone number every time at the register, but it's worth it if you shop there often.

  • Get support
This is completely unrelated to money, but I think it's vital to have a positive attitude while you're trying to make ends meet. We need support from other people, especially since we spend a lot of time by ourselves in front of the computer. Some days it's just not fun to be frugal artistes. That's when a caring phone call or email means so much. I'm blessed that my husband affirms what I do, but I know he can't be there 24/7 for every high and low. Other relatives, understanding friends, and people from the online writing community help share the joys and carry the loads.

What are ways you save money? Do you have a writing budget for supplies, books, etc.?