Trimming your freelance/personal expenses with a mind to indie business

February 28th, 2009

Like everyone else, I’m looking for ways to shave expenses. Dinners, presents, movies out, and tickets for live music are now few and far between. If I need clothes, I buy used as much as possible (I’ll break for new undees, sneakers, and socks though). If I play with friends, one of us suggests eating in or going to a free event, like a book reading or a talk. European vacation plans with the boyfriend are on hold. You know the drill — the frugal freelance budget, only on steroids.

I’m especially psyched that this insurance agent helped me pick a healthcare plan that costs $1500 less a year but still covers the stuff I need covered. (By dropping maternity, pharmacy, and vision bennies, I save money — who knew!?) And I made the switch from cable TV to Netflix a little while back. Together, these changes save me $200 a month, which ain’t too shabby.

Still, each time I revisit the “Where I can save?” question, two monthly expenses that I don’t really need to be incurring jump out at me:

(1) The money I pay to have my house cleaned every 4 to 6 weeks (about $100, depending on how dirty the house is). This is a total guilty pleasure for me. But I hate to clean and rarely have time to anyway. Besides, I look forward to that one day a month when I sit on the freshly vacuumed couch, survey the tidy, dog-hair-free living room, and think “Ahhhhhh.”

(2) The money I pay to have a 40-pound bag of Buddy‘s food delivered every 4 to 6 weeks (about $10 delivery charge each time). For some reason, picking up the dog food is an errand I’ve always hated. Usually I realize I’m out of kibble when the dog needs breakfast and an editor needs the article I’m working on. Also, those bags are dang heavy. So when I heard about a local delivery service, I was all over it.

Although I aspire to live leanly as possible — even if it means sucking it up and picking up my own mutt chow and mopping my own damn floors – I have a hard time letting either service go because these people are independent business owners. It’s a total thrill to not have to pay Comcast $60 extra a month or to tell LifeWise Health Plan where they can stick their stupid, plundering rate increases. But it does not feel good at all to take business away from another self-employed person. So I’ve decided that I’m keeping both services, depression be damned. Unless I have to start dipping into the dog’s food myself, I’m getting my house cleaned and my kibble delivered to my doorstep.

How about you? Are there expenses you feel you should cut back on but can’t bear to dump because you’d be contributing to another small business owner losing income?

Entry Filed under: Money honey,Overworked and underpaid,She's the boss

21 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Susan  |  March 1st, 2009 at 11:03 am

    I’m planning to dump my gym membership, but I’m waiting until the end of April, so I can get my health insurance gym reimbursement (which means I’ll actually spend less money than if I cancelled now). I’m a little concerned that I won’t get as much physical activity, but I’m planning to use Netflix workout DVDs and maybe take a free fitness class at the adult education center where I teach writing (one free class per term is a nice perk I ALWAYS use). Of course, my gym is a huge chain, so they probably won’t miss me the way your cleaning or delivery serive would. :)

  • 2. Renee  |  March 1st, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    This is a weird one because it involves my car and not a monthly payment, but I think it can still apply. I have a family friend who might as well be my personal mechanic. He can do just about everything and anything to my car be it healthy maintenance or repairs, and he only charges me for the parts! It’s a HUGE deal and quite the money saver.

    Every 3,000 miles, like clockwork, I get an oil change. Every 6,000 miles, just like I should, I get my tires rotated (and at this point I’m due for another oil change). BUT I only let my family friend do one oil change. When it comes time for the tire rotation + oil change, I take it to his best friend’s garage a few miles from my house. It costs twice as much (because now I’m being charged labor), but I feel like I’m supporting a fellow small business owner. Plus, he’s a very honest mechanic (hard to find) and it feels good to support him.

  • 3. Anlina Sheng  |  March 1st, 2009 at 11:45 pm

    I don’t have a house keeper yet, but it’s on my list of things to get. Unless you enjoy cleaning, it’s a boring, time consuming task that distracts from more important things like working and being productive. Even if I get it done in a reasonable amount of time it sucks my energy and I get nothing else done for the rest of the day. Having someone come clean the house sounds like a smart thing to spend money on if it frees you up to make money.

    I could cut back on my yoga classes – it’s something I could technically do at home, but not only would I feel terrible taking money away from my teachers, it’s also something that I enjoy way too much to give up. If anything, I plan to take more classes in the up coming months.

  • 4. PK  |  March 2nd, 2009 at 6:59 am

    In the same part of the brain as your question. Right after reading this on Sat, I ran out to do some errands. On my way back, I detoured to talk to the auto mechanic that used to do all my car work. I stopped using them for the last 3 years while I was on a lease which was mainly because I didn’t care about the car.

    Now that I just bought a new car, I will take care of it much better. And even for oil changes, why get ripped off at the dealer when I can probably go to them for a much fairer price and someone I can trust. They are two brothers who run a service and gas station. 30 mins away instead of 10 to the dealer. As long as it’s not something that falls under warranty, I’ll take it back to them.

  • 5. Donna  |  March 2nd, 2009 at 7:53 am

    I can’t give up the household quarterly bug-spraying. The do-it-yourself route just doesn’t fly, in the Southeast, where we sometimes get roaches the size of Volkswagens. Oh, and those big buggers are able to fly. Eeeww!!

  • 6. Yaritsa  |  March 2nd, 2009 at 9:30 am

    I’ve already cut back my yoga classes, which I love but are quite pricey. It was a little hard to part with entirely because doing it at home I don’t feel I get the same workout. I’ve decided to go more sporadically, this way I save money without feeling I’m totally giving up the things I enjoy doing. There are also free yoga classes in the city from time to time, which I will keep an eye out for.

    I also use Netflix rather than paying for cable.

  • 7. tina  |  March 3rd, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    My major cutback is buying materials for my clothing business. I get inspiration from shopping and looking and touching all the fabric there is to purchase out there, and inevitably buy more than I can use in one shot. I assessed the damage at the end of December and decided that I’d put myself on a “diet” until I could sew down the stash. It has certainly increased productivity – all I keep thinking is “as soon as that one bin is empty I can shop again”!

  • 8. Rebecca Agiewich  |  March 5th, 2009 at 12:53 pm

    I’ve been cutting out the lattes, the piano lessons, lunches out, and just requested a forbearance on my student loan (in my experience, those are easy to get). I’m also looking into lowering my car insurance rates and have been offering my services in trade — for example I can’t afford piano lessons right now but I offered my writing services to my piano teacher’s band and am doing PR for them in return for a piano lesson or two. :-)

  • 9. Kristen Rask  |  March 5th, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    Coffee. It’s now a pleasure I get only a few days a week. I know I could just buy coffee at home but I don’t like drip, I like my latte. So now I try to only get it a few days a week instead of 5 days a week. I have also tried to start this new practice where I have NO Spending Days. I try to pick a few days a week where I decide I won’t buy anything. If I have to pay for the bus, I’ll walk instead, no coffee, no lunch, no drinks, no nothing. I bring a lunch, drink tea, etc. It feels pretty good at the end of the day too.

  • 10. Sophie  |  March 5th, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    Well I always enjoy saving money. It’s a pleasure to see the rewards for all the hard works you’ve been spending on your entire life, so when it comes to spending it on things that you really really like, but not really really need it, I just save it instead, though it really hurts.

  • 11. Gerard  |  March 10th, 2009 at 6:16 am

    Of course i would cut back even if it would hurt another small
    business. It’s not my problem. I’m using the downturn to
    get rid of problematic clients, who are small or micro businesses. Aggravation is distracting. Business is the same volume but arrives in different time frames. So I spent the downtime getting things fixed up. I approached a business for
    A barter: my advertising services for a free workstation in one of those rent a workspace in a cubicle farms/small office rental.
    He wanted to tilt the deal in his favor too broadly, so I walked
    away from a deal that was 98% done. If a deal isnt fair its not a good deal. Learn to walk away from greedy jerks who want more and more. If the meeting feels weird, and even the slightest inconsideration occurs, walk away. He needed my services more than I needed the space. And he was in the position to gain a lot in the basic agreement I offered.

    another thought: clients who cry poverty and want a price reduction are usually lying. They use the downturn as an excuse for begging for more more more…tell them to take a hike. If you give in they turn into nit pickers and complainers
    and get bossy. See ya !! bye!! Have a nice life!!

  • 12. cymk  |  March 11th, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    I love your blog and your column, and this is my first time commenting. This has been a top priority of mine lately – being a part-time worker, freelancer and spouse of a self-employed contractor. I’m really getting into the game of driving down our regular expenses, and have tasked myself with living on a smaller grocery budget rather than sacrificing my cleaning lady (that ahhh moment is just too precious). Remember that you can always negotiate a better price with a service like cleaning – just tell them you’re trimming your budget but you’d like to keep their service. An honest conversation can be very effective – and believe me, you won’t be the first person they hear it from.

    Also, I may switch my home phone to Vonage – they’ve got a screaming deal right now and if I switch we can save $354 a year!

    Here is a quick list of what I’m doing this week to bring down our expenses:
    1. Review our health insurance plans and possibly pick one with a lower premium and higher deductible (while balancing the needs of a healthy family with two wee ones)
    2. Try to live off $200 in cash for groceries, including take-out
    3. Switch phone service or seriously consider canceling home phone service all together
    4. Take a flyer or ad for my gym in and ask them to lower my rate to what a new person could get. It never hurts to ask. This is my only “What have you done for me lately” mission.

    Now that I think of it as a game, it is actually quite fun to see where I can trim. It is a fun and free new hobby for me.

  • 13. Paula G  |  March 12th, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    Great article…I recently wrote about this & wish I had seen this article beforehand. I would say some things just aren’t worth cutting. If they bring you joy, wellness, or free you up to do more important things in your life or business they are worth the expense. In moderation of course — while I consider a monthly massage a necessity (otherwise I end up injured from my athletic endeavors and pay through the nose for rehab anyway)…I wouldn’t say do it every week unless my income provided for that easily (even then….).

    Reviewing & cutting things you don’t need or paying less for things you do is great as long as it is done consciously and you don’t pinch pennies at the expense of your business or your life’s quality.

  • 14. Katy  |  March 31st, 2009 at 4:16 am

    When my employer started laying people off in January I began to mercilessly cut expenses and make quiet preparations to go into business for myself. I’m still employed for the moment but not taking anything for granted.

    I had no remorse cancelling my cable TV service a couple of months ago, but I had to think twice about letting go of my cleaning person because she’s self employed and this is her livelihood. If I’m laid off I may have no choice, but I would give her enough lead time to find a client to replace me.

  • 15. 3243  |  May 13th, 2009 at 10:47 am

    cmyk, I would advise you to stay away from Vonage. I have a family member who tried Vonage’s services, and the experience was a nightmare. Her Internet service wound up being messed up due to technical problems with Vonage, and it also adversely affected her regular telephone service. It took her about a month plus two or three phone number changes to finally get her phone and online services back to normal. Not only that but when she tried to send back Vonage’s equipment to them, they continuously sandbagged on helping her out with information on how and where to send it back, then they were sluggish about refunding her her money.

    And lots of people have had problems with Vonage. For example just go to the Better Business Bureau website for further research.

    If you want to save money on phone calls, you could try MagicJack. My aforementioned relative uses it and it works fine.

    Good luck to each of you.

  • 16. 3243  |  May 13th, 2009 at 10:49 am

    I apologize for misspelling your handle in the above post, cymk.

  • 17. Luna  |  May 25th, 2009 at 8:21 am

    Give up your expensive “Super-Size” postpaid cellphone service and pick up the prepaid plan instead. You’ll be saving on avega $60 a month. Go to WalMart and buy a regular, no frills cell phone (Tracfone has some pretty nice ones w/ camera and all), buy the prepaid card that should last you a few months and there you go, frugal connectivity.

  • 18. Tony  |  May 25th, 2009 at 11:54 am

    Get rid of your contract phone! You’re paying way too much, unnecessarily! When I switched to prepaid from my contract service, my bill decreased about 30 dollars a month, which is incredible. I was very pleased with the results because I saved so much money but was still able to do everything I had done with my contract phone. I could make phone calls…local and long distance…text message, and even take pictures. I would recommend this to anyone who is in need of a price cut on their phones bill.

  • 19. Jennifer  |  June 5th, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    We are about to cancel our land line and go to a naked phone line since we both have cell phones (only for dsl use). I clean my house (it’s good exercise), cut our own lawn and started drinking starbucks brew at the house instead of buying it. We also canceled our security service (the dog is working out well for that), installed a HD antenna where the dish used to be and watch Hulu.

  • 20. alison  |  July 28th, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    I’m trying to keep up with the piano lessons, even though financially I shouldn’t. Since I play the piano for church, there might be some way I can deduct the expense.

  • 21. alison  |  July 28th, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    Oh, I did talk my piano teacher into an hour lesson at the half-hour fee. On the upside, I have offered to do free resumes for anyone at my church who finds themself unemployed. Not entirely altruistic, just hoping they remember me if they need paid work done.

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Hi, my name's Michelle Goodman and I've been freelancing since 1992. I'm author of My So-Called Freelance Life and The Anti 9-to-5 Guide. Read my full bio here.

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