(Disclaimer: The premise of this article is my work as a freelancer. On the premise of my own risky, naive and adventure-seeking nature. I couldn’t be this variable - if my income and time management wasn’t.)
The only constant is the variable.
(a motivational pable talk quote at the core of the article)
The Unsettling Project (in short: not settling but instead living in every place at least once until I find the one I can call home) is unsettling. I am only at the beginning of this aimless journey. So when I share my finance gameplan, keep in mind that this too is variable. Fragile, risky. Like me.
The circumstance that made me unsettle is: I'm an independent, well educated and privileged human being. All three of these features are absolute chance. I am painfully aware of it. I will never take my privileges for granted (how could I, this world is a mess). I am not a good person, I’m a growing person. I am imperfect and foolish. So if any part of this article feels obnoxious and preppy, I apologise. It really comes from a good place (and I don't mean this beach I'm writing it from).
We are all fellow fools. We are bundles of atoms in a boundless universe - insignificant - and that should comfort us and put all our worries into perspective. Embracing my idiocy and my imbecile behaviour gives me the confidence to do this. This being committing to live an imperfect, messy life. No other commitment ever felt so liberating. It makes me the lighthearted human being that I am. It unsettles me in the best possible way. But an unsettled life has costs that I have to cover with currency. In best case I have converted it from my own productivity and creativity. And they - luckily - are pretty boundless.
So here’s how I do it:
To understand how Unsettling Finance works let’s first define what variable means in business Pablo talk.
a variable is
an element, feature, or factor that is liable to vary or change.
like: "there are too many variables involved to make any meaningful predictions meh meh meh meh"
Ok, what follows is the basic success mindset (as Pablo would say) I‘d put on a motivational quote for you: It‘s all variable.
I lay the groundwork for a personal balance sheet just like I‘d do for a company. It might sound boring but I’m neurotically working my sheets. I’m my own company now (In both senses of the word). Even unpredictability requires some responsibility.
A balance sheet balances income and expenses. Ideally with a surplus. I don’t want to geek out too much on the basics of economics but I’ll copy/paste the definitions of the two types of expenses to keep track of here:
Fixed costs are expenses that have to be paid by a company, independent of any specific business activities.
A variable cost is an expense that changes in proportion to how much a company produces or sells.
On a personal balance sheet - like in every business balance sheet - you’ll find variable costs (the fun stuff like food, travel and clothes) and fixed costs (the dull but essential stuff like rent, internet and other monthly bills). It’s pretty simple: If you have a fixed income then fixed costs are cool. You‘ll be in control. If your income is not fixed (like in my case), then fixed costs can be terrifying.
That‘s why I have minimised them as much as I can. Cancelled unnecessary app subscriptions, the gym membership I never used and most importantly: moved out. I'm a nomad now. Minus the van and the backpack. I want to live in cities.
Unsettling Finance means turning as many fixed costs as possible into variable costs. I am making my whole life dependant on my variable income. No set home with internet bills, no car, no belongings. Where and how I live is entirely dependent on how much I earn. Good times will be lived in beautiful places, worse times will require some tough compromises. To make that feel less frightening I ask myself with every hard decision: ‚What would be the worst possible outcome?‘ And I am privileged enough to know this would not be out on the streets. Death at worst. But that may as well be every time you leave 'home'.
There are even more variables that contribute to my financial independence:
1. My independence, I am now running our goalgirls projects as a freelance creative directress. I have let go of all responsibilities and duties as a leader of a registered company. Nobody depends on me and I’m not putting anyone else at risk when variable 2:
2. My willingness to take risks is increasing (so exhausting). The older you get, the more people depend on you (in case you have found your partner in crime or decided to have children, for example). I don’t have either. It’s me and - which takes me to variable 3,
3. My time - because it is money. I have complete ownership of my day rates and hourly rates as a freelancer and it is my challenge to allocate my time efficiently to all the projects I am running. To not fuck it up.
So if you plot my financial situation on a geeky graph, you‘d see that with decreasing responsibilities and fixed costs, my willingness (or urge) to take risks increases. Partly because it’s in my nature. It is the perfect moment for unsettlement. The reason why my willingness to take risks increased was not just because i was ready to start my life over: I have also turned all my time into money - I have been working like a lunatic basically.
I have built up a financial buffer that will allow me to live (it up) for 3 months - in case it all goes tits up. I have invested it into crypto and stock (I will share some thoughts about my crypto journey another time. That‘s a bit much now.). But if I‘m lucky, I won’t ever have to touch it. So my naive and risky advice would be: Save 3 months of living (up) but invest the money so it can work for you while you‘re out there being productive with the skills you love. And also set up an accessible ‚rainy day fund‚ in which you invest monthly. Because shit happens. A lot.
So my life depends on my balancing my sheet in three columns: the past month, the present month and the one ahead of me. I subtract the expenses (hotels, apartments, food, travel) I will have each month from the income I have safely cashed in - then I move what’s left over: 70% into stocks and crypto, 30% into my rainy day fund.
Side Note: Be aware that about half of your income will be going into taxes . Subtract them right away and tuck them away somewhere safe, where you can‘t access them (set up a new bank account). Or in my case: they go straight into an ETF.
To keep track of all these variable costs I use another sheet - it helps me keep the balance and project the money I need to make every month to cover for my lifestyle antics. I put in my expenses every day, it tells me what I’ve got left to stay on budget. It’s also nice to see how many late night ubers or hangover burgers I have ordered each month.
So: I can’t tell you how much exactly I’m spending every month. The only constant is the variable. I’ve decided to let my work and time / productivity be the guide. I am always in flux. It’s unsettling. It‘s up to me to decide how nice my life will be in each month. It’s a challenge to myself to work hard in order to get to the places I want to see.
The three deciding factors are: independence, risk and time. The money finds itself somewhere at the intersection of all three. It‘s all variable.
(So in case you see me tramping to the next hostel, you know business isn’t so good. And I’m crazy excited even for those times.)