Back in the old days before I was an author, I used to work on computer games, doing art and such. Someone I knew at the time wrote a great article called ‘right sizing your life’. A few of the discussions I’ve seen over the past few days brought the old essay to mind, so I thought I’d go over some of the salient points.
The truth is, any independent, freelancing solo businessperson has to deal with similar situations and problems. And we can find similar solutions as well.
What Is “Right Sizing”?
Our modern society has a tendency to encourage us to supersize, well, everything. Buy the biggest house we can, get the latest phone, drive a new car… We’re pushed pretty hard to spend as much money as we can. This locks us into mortgages, car payments, cell phone payments, credit card debt, and more.
All that debt in turn locks us into our day jobs, because that’s the only way most people can afford to continue living the lifestyle our society says everyone should want.
Right-sizing is about shifting priorities and focusing on minimizing expenses that matter less to us so that we can manage a fruitful and happy life on less income. This allows us to commit more time to our writing and jump to full-time faster.
Pay Down Debt
One of the biggest barriers to running a successful business is debt. Carrying a lot of debt is stressful, which negatively impacts our ability to be productive. It locks us into those day jobs because we cannot afford to quit and still maintain our lives.
This makes paying down debt one of the mot important parts of moving toward full-time life as a writer. Debt is one of the things which weighs us down more than anything else. A lot of folks talk about building up a nest egg, a cash pile to use as a backup when things go sideways. This is really good advice, but it’s just as important to reduce our debt load.
After we’ve slashed out debt down to zero and stopped taking on more of it (easier said than done, I know!), the next step is to find ways to reduce our cost of living. We can do that in small ways or larger ones, depending on how much we need to shift things.
One of the best examples of this was a guy I knew well back in the day named Josh Ritter. Josh and his wife sold their home and moved to North Dakota. They put most of the value of the old house into investments and paid for the North Dakota house in full. This left them with very few expenses: no mortgage, no car payment, no credit card payments… As a result Josh was able to successfully run his own MMORPG for years. In fact, last I heard he’s still out there, developing cool new games.
We can do this, too.
Sometimes it’s a matter of something simple: finding a cheaper apartment, selling a car for a less expensive one, or similar. Or sometimes we might need to make more drastic changes than that. For the person living in a $5000 a month downtown NYC apartment, it might mean really big changes.
Much of the time it’s going to come down to moving, or ‘go where you’re treated best.’ For example, I’ve recently done some casual surveys of the cost of health insurance in various states. I was astonished to discover the amount of variance in rates! For example, a basic insurance package in Georgia costs about 50% more than the lowest end health care plans in Massachusetts — and the Georgia plan is nowhere close to as good as the Massachusetts one, in terms of what it covers.
Some states might levy high taxes. A 12% tax rate can be devastating to the small business owner. It might even spell the difference between being able to quit a day job or not. Moving to a state with lower or NO income tax could be a way to improve this, but it also might not. Other factors matter as well. For instance, if I moved to a state with lower taxes but much higher healthcare costs, then I might be out more money than I save. Or if I move to a state that has lower costs for both taxes and healthcare, I could find out that their corporation/LLC costs are so high it doesn’t actually save me much.
Various other costs of living have impacts as well. Housing costs vary wildly from state to state and even within most states. Sometimes moving from one town to another in the same state is enough to drastically reduce costs. Other times it might require a jump to another state entirely.
This makes doing some serious research super-helpful. It’s not a good idea to make major changes based on any one element; so I wouldn’t recommend moving to Massachusetts for the cheap health insurance if there are other factors which will increase cost of living enough to offset that savings, just as one simple example.
Moving can be scary, but going where we are treated best is a powerful tool that not enough indie authors consider seriously.
One of the more well-known methods of right-sizing for digital employees these days is to become a digital nomad. This is someone who takes advantage of the easy 90-day visas that many nations offer tourists. The setup is simple: you go live three months in a country, move to another country and repeat. As a tourist, you don’t owe taxes to the nation where you’re staying. Although technically you’re not supposed to be doing work as a tourist, in practice almost all nations encourage this sort of thing because it boosts revenue in other ways.
Because the digital nomad is living abroad (outside their home nation) all year, most people will pay zero taxes via this method. The USA taxes citizens based on global income, so we US citizens do NOT have that advantage, but we’re still tax-free for the first $105,900 per person (so twice that for a married couple), and there are other exclusions which can boost that figure higher. As a result, it’s not strange for a couple to be able to live as digital nomads and pay no tax on the first $250,000 or so they earn each year.
This clearly isn’t for everyone, but it is another possible choice for the more adventurous among us.
Going full-time as a writer is a challenging prospect and one that’s only made more so by the nature of our society. We’re encouraged to see being employed as more secure than being self-employed, even though that’s entirely false. We’re encouraged to spend beyond our means, even though that’s often death to a small business startup. The massive cost of healthcare insurance keeps tens of millions of people (in the US, anyway) in jobs they hate because they can’t afford it otherwise.
Breaking free of this wheel is one of the best ways we can help ourselves reach the goal of full-time writing more rapidly. By right-sizing our lives, reducing debt, building a nest egg, downsizing costs, and if necessary moving where it’s more affordable to live, we can accelerate the process and reach success much sooner than we might otherwise have managed.
Best of luck out there, and I hope some of this helps! 🙂