The craziest and most rational decision I made in the past year was to leave my incredibly challenging job as a comic book editor. The reason: to pursue my dreams of making my own graphic novels full-time. The decision came from inspecting a few variables and making sure I had the resources to last at least six months before any kind of freelance money could cover my bills. Here’s what I did:
Cut Expenses: I’m sure there are adorable apps that help you manage your money, but I’m too much of a mess to do the work for that… I wrote a list of my monthly expenses (rent, utilities, groceries, therapy, gas, EATING AND DRINKING OUT, etc), and I tried to cut it down by half. You’d be surprised how much “necessary” shit you can drop if you want your day-to-day freedom. I remember once listening to a friend complain about how he had no money to pay down a credit card, but like six or seven TV add-ons (premium cable! HBO! DVR! Netflix!), and if someone’s truly struggling, they could just Hulu Plus it for a while. Worse comes to worse, I could move back in with my mom… we all know that’s akin to suicide, but it would also be hundreds of dollars freed up and the convenience of a fully-stocked fridge… but: suicide.
Safety Net #1- Mom: At the beginning of 2012, I told my mom that I wanted to save up and move to New York and try to make connections there in the publishing and fashion industry. She asked me how much I was trying to save, and offered to “loan” me the amount so I could jump on the dream bandwagon sooner rather than later. While an amazingly generous offer, I did not take her up on it. I DID — however — ask if an iteration of that offer stood for my current endeavor. She’s there if things get bad, but so far I have not needed the net.
Probably Download That Money-Managing App: Let’s be real, we’re not as good with our money as we’d like to believe we are. Watching exactly where your money goes month in and month out will help you curb any behaviors that you may not have even noticed (yeah, you didn’t really need to buy a croissant with your coffee twice this week… you also didn’t need to buy coffee when your roommate has a coffee maker at home). These apps include color codes, charts, and could be the actual wake-up call that you need to cut things out. You’re making a huge change, and you should change how you handle and look at money.
Be Smart and Stop with the Frivolous: This doesn’t mean avoiding a silly day at your mall or whatever, this means coming up with smart ways around instances where you would want to buy something… I LOVE buying gifts, I LOATHE coming to a party empty handed. Be smart — learn to make something cheap and by hand, or buy your booze in bulk (and cheap) at Costco and have it ready. One of the best gifts I got this Christmas was a necklace made from a chain door lock… it probably cost my friend all of ten dollars for parts, but it was neat and thoughtful (and yes, I’m aware not all of you can pull this accessory off, but that’s for another essay). Every city has so many free events — art openings, free concerts, museum days — you can still participate in your city’s nightlife on the cheap-cheap. Also, test yourself… shop down, too. If you do need a new jacket for whatever reason, challenge yourself to find it at the lower-end shops.
Get Rid of Stuff: I am one of those guys with small collections of thises and thats. I have a brick of vinyl, some DVDs, some books… nothing insane, but I have enough of these things that I have been systematically selling them for grocery money. There was some stuff I got from work that proved — err — lucrative on eBay, but I’ve also had to sell my guitar (giving up that dream of being in an indie band to pursue my aspirations… put THAT on a mug). There’s no need to be precious about items that are objectively “stuff.”
Safety Net #2- ??? : For most people, this would be an actual savings… sadly, I saved zero dollars while I was employed. At my old job, there was a merit-based bonus that dropped in my bank account right around month two of being jobless. Let’s pretend that was me saving money. I know some people are smart and are able to earn “funemployment” while they take time to do some Me Time… that could be your safety net. Sadly, it’s not mine.
Be Prepared to Work: This isn’t the first time I’ve been without a job and have had the luxury of free time to draw. Right after I graduated college, I would work a few hours a day on my art, take classes, and work diligently to grow as an artist and storyteller. Even during the busiest times of my editorial career, I could be found drawing in the middle of the night. I had an understanding of how to do the work, and how to build a regimented schedule so I wasn’t just re-watching Gossip Girl on Netflix, or catching up with friends who had similar schedules.
Have a Business Plan: The DAY after I quit my job, I drove up to the Bay Area to promote my own comic book. The week after I quit my job, I worked tirelessly to meet a deadline for the book I’m promoting now… I didn’t just sit at home, get a gym membership, and work my core. I only have money enough to last me about two more months… I don’t intend to get a day job in the next few weeks. I want to be racking up enough freelance work that I can continue this lifestyle. There are several projects I have going on, and the hope is that ultimately one or all of them will be yielding me legit cash.
This isn’t a fool-proof plan. You shouldn’t even look at this as a proper blueprint for how to live the unemployed life of pursuing your dream… read this as an example of someone who needed to devote time to his personal pursuits, and did it responsibly. If you want a better life, it will not be handed to you. It’s hard work, and some days it will suck, but a friend once told me: nothing is more important than your personal health. This decision is the best yet, and I’m glad that I have no one to answer to except myself… and my editors. And my landlord.
And my mom.