This is the third article of our new series, “Lessons to My Younger Self.”
If there is anything I would tell my younger self, it's this: be responsible and money-conscious if you want to have a creative career.
I’m a freelancer and entrepreneur in the television industry, which means there are unpredictable highs and lows. I can work consecutively for six months and then have a two-month dry spell (though thankfully, the number of those is decreasing). And I don't have health insurance, because, frankly, it’s been hard for me to surrender my wages to that steep monthly fee.
I knew all of the challenges when I went into television, but I stayed arrogant and naïve, telling my concerned parents, "Don’t worry—I'll handle it." My dad wanted me to get a “real job" with more security. But I knew myself—if something didn’t interest me, I’d get lazy and apathetic. Working in television, no matter how unpredictable, would keep me on a productive course.
I thought that my very busy first year out of college would reassure my parents that things were headed in the right direction. And maybe it would have, if I had bothered to save a single cent I earned. Instead, I was out every evening buying drinks, dinners, luxury shades, and other frivolous goods, supplying myself with absolutely no contingency plan in case my freelancing opportunities came to a halt.
By the time I was done with my credit card spree, I was in five-digit debt. And then it got worse. One day, I went ice-skating with girlfriends and got a bad foot injury, which landed me with roughly $10,000 in medical bills.
Luckily, my mother (who, of course, was furious that I went ice-skating without health insurance and complained the entire ride to the hospital) bailed me out and paid all of the hospital charges. I know I’m so fortunate—without her help, my life would have taken a totally different course.
Sometime not much later, when I overheard my colleagues discussing their own health care, I realized that people with more junior positions and much smaller salaries than mine were finding ways to not only pay for health insurance, but to save money too. I knew then that I had to do more—there was no way I could put myself (or my mother) through such an ordeal again.
The challenges of my first couple of years out of college made me understand that I just can’t apply my creative or artsy sensibilities to my bank account or health. Tough, real-life situations happen to everyone, and in order to deal with them, you need to be practical, mature, and responsible.
So, keep emergency funds. Find the most affordable health insurance plan available. And open up a retirement fund.
I’m still a work in progress, but I am close to being debt free. I now have dental insurance (yes, I’m working on getting medical too!), and I’ve opened a retirement account and a high-interest savings account. I save at least 30 to 40% of my earnings from every paycheck.
Having a positive net worth is a huge accomplishment for me. But more importantly, having an emergency cushion allows me to focus my energy on where it matters: my creative career pursuits. Because—take it from me—the starving artist gig does get old after a while.