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Even More Ways to Save

As promised in my previous two money-saving tips posts, here are even more ways to start building your savings.

1. Make a Grocery List

It is fairly common advice: Never shop when you’re hungry. I’ll add to that: never set foot in a grocery store without a grocery list. Write up your list of essential items, then stick to it. It is helpful to have your meals for the week planned out ahead of time and shop for ingredients accordingly.

NYC Subway R160A 9237 on the E

2. Take public transportation

If you live in a big or even medium sized city, chances are there is some form of public transportation available to you to get around. It may not be glamorous to take the bus to the grocery store, but you can save the glamour for when you strike it rich. Until then, live within your means and take the bus. Or better yet, ride a bike.

3. Get a Library Card and Use It

Libraries continue to be totally awesome, completely free community resources. Well, maybe technically, you’ve paid for them with taxes, but that’s even more reason to take advantage of them.  If you haven’t been to a library lately, I think you’d be surprised at how much you can do and learn in terms of programming and events, never mind all the books, movies and music you can borrow.

Frick Art Reference Library Card Catalog

4. Buy Second Hand

Shop at resale shops, garage sales, rummage sales and estate sales. Yes, you can even check the curbs for good, usable items that some person might consider trash. You know the say, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. You may think this is a bit too extreme. Maybe, but you’d be surprised what lazy and/or wealthy people throw out. I’m not talking about mattresses and old worn out easy chairs, but items like picture frames or shelving can often be found in great condition on trash day.

5. Reward Yourself

Saving money isn’t about deprivation. Well, yes it is, but living within your budget doesn’t have to be punishment.  In fact, if you don’t reward yourself for your good savings behavior, there’s the very real possibility that you could go to the other extreme with an uncontrollable spending spree. So treating yourself to something nice from time to time is fine.

The Pros and Cons of Freelancing

For creative people, freelance work is a way to supplement any income they may derive from their art. For some, it’s also a creative outlet in and of itself. It’s just another way artists, writers, poets, and musicians can treat their art as a business while they pursue the freedom to create it. While the life of the freelancer may appeal to some, there are things to consider before traveling the path of the freelancer.

The Pros of Freelance Work

There are many great benefits to working as a freelance writer or graphics artist. Here are six to consider:

You can create your own work schedule

As a freelancer, you can indeed set your own hours. Of course, this depends on who your clients are and what demands they make of your time. Deadlines must be met, but if you prefer to work in the early mornings and have your afternoons off, you can certainly do that. You can break up your time any way you like as long as you’re getting the work done and your clients are happy. 

You are your own boss

Yes, you are your own boss. You can work when you want to (see above), wear what you want (see below) and take time off when you need to, or even when you feel like it. When I was freelancing full-time, I loved the freedom I had to quit working in the middle of the day (a non-deadline day, of course), get on my bike and ride, sometimes ending up at the lake or the zoo. I also liked the freedom of turning down work (when I could afford to) from habitually late-paying or low-paying clients. 

You get to work from home

No long commutes spending hours crawling through traffic. Yes, that’s a huge time and money saver. It can be good for the soul too. Some may worry about all the distractions that the home/work life presents. For me, getting distracted by a pile of dirty dishes and taking ten minutes to do them is a distraction I welcome. As long as the work gets done, I don’t consider it a problem. There are plenty of distractions in office environments too. You need good self control no matter where you work.

You don’t have coworkers (or a boss)

Assuming you enjoy working independently, or are a bit of the reclusive artistic type, not having to deal with coworkers or a boss is a huge perk. Some people just don’t like small talk, or continually getting hit up for contributions to this or that birthday party, baby shower or retirement gift fund. Freelancing will definitely solve that problem, although it could be argued that freelancers have many bosses/clients.

You can work in your pajamas

This benefit is often mentioned in work-at-home job ads. These jobs are typically low-paying gigs so companies try to hype up this pretty worthless perk (in my opinion). I wouldn’t recommend working in your pjs, as it blurs the work/home line a little too much. But hey, if that’s something that’s on your career bucket list, you can certainly work in your pajamas or nothing at all.

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The Cons of Freelancing

For every pro there is a con. Here are five negative aspects of freelancing.

Sometimes the money just isn’t right

It’s feast or famine in the freelance world. There will definitely be lean times where jobs don’t materialize and clients will pay late simply because they can. To counter this, it is necessary to have good money management skills and to learn to live within your means. Even with savings and a good plan, when the work dries up and the money slows to a trickle, the stress level ticks up a notch.

No benefits (medical/dental, paid vacation, etc.)

Freelancing is a struggle for sure. The freedom of creating your own work schedule is a huge draw, but the financial uncertainty makes it hard to relax and enjoy it sometimes. I never stopped worrying about when and if I was going to get paid and whether it would be enough—is it ever enough? Even when the work was coming in, pay can be slow to arrive and there is no such thing as paid time off or medical insurance, much less dental and vision benefits.

No feeling of security

There is simply never a guarantee that you’ll find enough work to support yourself as a freelancer. If you can find one or two clients, publications or websites to give you steady work, then that’s great, but you never know when one will go out of business and/or will no longer need your services. It’s a crap shoot.

Isolation  

If you really enjoy the social interaction an office environment provides, then freelancing may not be your cup of tea. It can be very lonely sometimes and freelancers often go an entire work day without interacting with other humans. Freelancers need to make an effort to connect with other people (offline) when they start to feel too isolated.

No time for your own work

Many artists think that freelancing will give them lots of time to work on their own projects. This is true in theory. The lack of a commute can give you back ten or twelve hours per week which can  be used to create, however, the brain does get tired and the thought of painting, drawing or writing after a day of doing that for someone else, can be daunting. I personally recommend starting the day with your own stuff. Give your best effort to yourself. Don’t put it off for another time. That time may never materialize.

Now go do it!

So there you have it. Do the pros outweigh the cons for you? If so, you may be suited for the freelance life. It’s not much different than the life of a working artist. There is the same freedom of autonomy coupled with the constraints of finances. Let me know your thoughts and experiences as a freelance writer, artist, set designer, or studio musician.

5 Way to Treat Your Art Like a Business

Many artists have difficulty thinking of their art as a business. They may feel that to do so cheapens the process and compromises the integrity of their art. Maybe it does. I’m not going to try and convince anyone otherwise. I will only point out that the goal of supporting yourself as a working artist, writer, painter or poet, requires a compromise of some sort. Refusing to treat your work as a legitimate business could be a mental hurdle that is preventing you from getting your work seen, your manuscript read or your music heard by a larger audience.

It’s Your Choice Not to Make

Treating your art as a business, doesn’t mean you need to be obsessed with money. You no doubt have a different goal beyond simply making bank. Most artists want their work to reach a larger audience. Painters want their paintings seen. Poets want their poems read, songwriters want their songs heard, but the act of selling their work seems beneath them. If you truly aren’t concerned with money or recognition, and want to make art solely for yourself, then you have no worries. Of course, you will have no cause to complain about a lack of success. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to have it to both ways.

Change Your Thinking and Your Methods

If this is something you’ve been thinking about, read my five tips below on how to treat your art like a business. These tips are not to be taken as a how-to per se. They are merely a few things I’ve learned from my writing as well as my work recording, releasing, and marketing myself and bands I’ve been involved with. Remember, success is how you define it. Set modest goals and you won’t be disappointed.

1. Get a Game Plan

Now that I’ve told you that you should be treating your art/music/writing like a business, how do you do it? First, you need to put a plan into place. Grab a pen and paper or your laptop and start brainstorming: What are your goals? How you are going to achieve them? What are your assets and liabilities? Don’t be modest at this point. Don’t be afraid to reach high. The time to determine what is practical and what is pie in the sky will come later.

Here are five things you should be asking yourself:

  1. Do I have enough output to make a living even if sales were to come?
  2. Can people find my work online?
  3. Do I have a professionally-written  press kit?
  4. Do I have enough money to live on while I work towards my goals?

2. Identify Your Strengths & Weaknesses

What do you do best? Are you a strong writer, but weak with numbers? Do you have graphic arts skills? Are you a good photographer in addition to being a good wordsmith? Are you a good salesperson, or are you so horribly introverted that you can’t face the very public you hope to entice with your work? Don’t worry if you don’t posses all of the skills you need to promote yourself. You can always ask friends for help or barter for the services you’ll need. In addition to being a talented artist, almost everybody is good at something else that can help move the whole thing forward. Find out what that thing is and use it to your advantage.

3. Establish an Internet Presence

You need to exist online. Fans of your work—potential buyers—present and future, need to be able to find you. You want them sharing links and doing some of your promotion for you (for free). You should be using at least three of the following (all three would be even better):

4. Press Kit

I have written a lot about the value of having good press materials. They are great tools and necessary to help you get press coverage and reviews. Having a press kit and a collection of your best past reviews are invaluable when contacting websites and print publications about featuring you or your work. Many writers at these outlets are strapped for time and the more work you can do for them, as far as bio information and links, the more likely they’ll be to write about you.

5. Get some capital

Like any business venture, you will need to invest money up front. I’m not talking about thousands of dollars either. I’m not even talking about hundreds. Many things you can get for free like a newsletter template (Mail Chimp) or an online press kit (Reverberation). Musicians can take advantage of sites such as Soundcloud and Bandcamp to promote their music. The resources are out there. Find them and use them, but be prepared to spend a little money to make money. Invest in some business cards or flyers and posters to promote a show or new music release.

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Now Go Do It!

I’m not suggesting that my advice is the only way to be commercially successful with your art. After all, I am not a big rock star or best selling novelist, or a world-renowned cartoonist. Nor were these things ever my aspiration. My goal as a musician was to make records and that I accomplished a dozen times over. As for writing, I have supported myself doing it and I don’t really consider it work. I also wanted to run my own record label, publish my own zine and comics, and book my own tours, and I’ve done all that too. This goes back to learning to define your goals. Surround yourself with people who have similar ambitions, get a plan together and put it into action. Don’t put it off any longer.

Let me know how it goes.

5 More Ways to Save Money Right Now

As promised in my previous money-saving tips post, here are some more. Not everyone can do all of them, but we can all do some of them. Today. Right now.

1. Use a Clothesline

If your electricity bill is too high, do yourself a favor and stop using your clothes dryer so dang much. This isn’t always feasible at certain times of the year or in certain parts of the country, but when possible, use a clothesline instead. Hang your stuff out on the back porch, in the yard or even in your bathroom. You will save more than a few cents which, when combined with all the other cents you’re saving following my tips, will add up to whole dollars pretty quickly.

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2. Beware of Energy Vampires

Another way to keep engery bills in check is to unplug appliances when not in use. Toasters, toaster ovens, coffee makers, fans, etc. Turn off power strips when you leave your house or apartment for an extended period of time as well. All of these things are energy vampires—they drain electricity out of outlets and cash out of your piggy bank. Cell phone chargers are energy vampires too so unplug them when they’re sitting idle.

3. Kick the Microwave Habit

Microwaves use up a lot of juice. Instead of nuking your frozen items, thaw them out on the counter, in your sink or in the fridge overnight. They’ll take less time to heat up on a stove top or in the oven. Humans survived for thousands and thousands of years without microwaves, you can too.

microwave

4. Kick Bad Habits

There are plenty of reasons to quit smoking, drinking and gambling. Saving money is right up there with concerns about mental and physical wellbeing. Moderation in all things is advised. Get some professional help if you aren’t able to stop or cut back. If you smoke or spend a lot of time at the bar, I don’t need to tell you how much of your hard-earned cash is going to support these habits. And drugs? Forget about it. I’m not trying to be your parent here, I’m speaking to you as your financial advisor.

5. Carpool and Ride Share

Ride your bike to work, ride the train (or bus), but if those aren’t options then carpool with a coworker. Share those rides and share the cost. Rotate who drives, make a schedule and cut down on costs as you shrink your carbon footprint in the process.

Read even more Money Saving Tips

5 Ways to Save Money Right Now

Art supplies are expensive, so is gas for your car and fuel for your belly. Everything costs money and many artists are flush with creative ideas but low on cash. Yikes! What can a starving artist do to be not-so-starving? Read my tips below. You’ve heard them before. They involve common sense and they bear repeating, over and over again forever.

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There is no shame in the coupon game.

I present these 5 money saving tips to you (in no particular order) to help you save cash today. Some are easy to pull off while others require a greater level of commitment, perhaps even a lifestyle change. The tips that take the most work will undoubtedly lead to the highest rewards, however.

1. Clip and Save Coupons

Some well known retail outlets seem to know exactly what I buy and they mail me coupons for those things. That may freak you out, and I admit it is a bit eerie, but I’ll be danged if it doesn’t save me 5 to 15 percent on the things I buy on a regular basis. It helps me keep within my weekly budget.

don’t like the waste that mailers generate, and digital coupons will likely become more prevalent, but until then clip and use coupons in whatever form they come. That said, don’t fall into the trap of buying things you don’t need just because you have a coupon for it. That’s not saving money.

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Healthy, fresh, cheaper than meat.

2. Go Meatless

I have written a lot about vegetarian cooking and the benefits of a vegan/veggie diet. In my culinary career I cooked at two different veggie restaurants and have been trying to stick to a vegetarian diet for several decades. I am not a strict vegetarian, however. You could say I’m a failed vegetarian and you would be right. Maybe I’m a failed carnivore. At any rate, I am an omnivore to be sure, but it’s not a dilemma. To put it another way, I won’t turn away a free meal regardless of what’s in it (almost).

Having said that, a plant-based diet is the best diet if you’re smart about it . It’s also a less expensive alternative to meat eating—for the planet, for your body, for your wallet. Veggie meals are less expensive, easy to make and won’t leave your kitchen covered in a thin layer of animal grease. If there’s just no way you can go forever meatless, limit your consumption to just a few meals a day. Do this and I guarantee you will appreciate your next hamburger much more than you would had you never made the sacrifice AND you will save money.

3. Grow Your Own

Grow your own produce! Fruits, vegetables, herbs, it’s fun, it’s a learning experience and it will allow you to eat fresh food on a weekly basis. Talk about local and in-season eating, this is the epitome of those movements. Yes, there are some costs involved: soil, fertilizer, seeds, etc. but your garden will pay for itself in salad fixings pretty early in the growing season. You can read about my own experiences with urban gardening here.

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Squash those pennies!

4. Eat at Home

Learn to cook, and if you can’t learn to do that, learn to assemble. Dining out is a money sucker and sometimes it’s a gamble anyway. If you don’t have time to cook every night, cook once a week and freeze, then thaw out individual meals as you go. This works great for casseroles (or hotdish as you Minnesotans say), soups, stews even desserts. Invest in a good cookbook. Don’t worry about trying to be a foodie, just make food. Having those meals on hand will limit any impulsive trips to your neighborhood takeout spot(s).

5. Brown Bag It

If you take my advice and start preparing your meals at home why not take it to the next logical conclusion and make a lunch to take to school, work or the studio? I once had a job delivering free weekly newspapers around the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago. The hourly wage was pretty low and I got hungry on the job. I would stop in various restaurants for lunch and would eat the equivalent of an hour and a half of my paycheck every time I worked. That ate into my profit margin and made a crappy job that much crappier. I started bringing PB&Js on the road with me. They did not require refrigeration while I jumped in and out of the delivery van all morning. I basically gave myself a raise by brown bagging it. Use the same game plan as above for home cooking: make a few meals at the beginning of the week then portion them out for the road. If you work in an office that has a microwave, you have many options for packaged and prepared food too. Use dinner leftover dinner entrees for lunch. Limit your food waste and keep cash out of the trash!

Read more Money Saving Tips

6 Tips for Defining and Reaching Your Artistic Goals

It’s a new year! It’s time for the worn out resolutions of eating better, drinking less and exercising more. That’s all fine and I wish you luck if these are yours, but I believe setting goals is a more worthy enterprise than declaring intentions to do better.

Many artists have a clear idea of where their inspiration comes from. While finding the inspiration to create is an ongoing struggle for writers, painters, musicians and other artists, setting goals is more of a left brain activity. Learning to define, set, work towards and meet goals is a skill that artists would be wise to develop.

Much has been written about the importance of setting goals. I won’t post any clever quotes or motivational snippets here, instead I would like to share my thoughts on how to set and meet goals.

Setting Goals

Setting goals is a way to motivate oneself and to measure progress. You can set daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly or annual goals to complete projects or to further your career. While goals will be similar among creators, they need not be the same. Instead they should be tailored to the individual.

I myself have many creative goals. Some of them overlap. Some of my goals are more important to me than are others. Some may earn me money, some may not and some I work towards simply because I feel compelled to do so. A working artist may set a goal of finishing a certain number of works ahead of a gallery exhibit. A writer may have a daily, weekly or monthly page count or chapter goal. A freelance web designer or graphic artist may have the goal of one day quitting their day job and we should all have some sort of financial goal.

Regardless of what your particular goals are, there are some universal aspects to setting and achieving goals. They can work in your personal, business and creative life. Take some time to read over the following tips and try them out. See if you don’t feel yourself moving steadily towards your goals.

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1) Define it

In order to obtain a goal, you need to define exactly what that goal is. Is it personal, professional, artistic? Is it what you truly want for yourself? Is is worth it? Is it even possible? Put it in writing and refer back to it. Set benchmarks to measure progress. Draw up a plan and put it into action.

2) Visualize It

Visualizing goals is an effective tool in helping you reach them. I’m not talking about a vision board, but visualizing things can go a long way in helping an artist find their own way forward. Artists are good at visualizing. Be creative. Imagine how you will accomplish your goals, then do it. Imagining where you want to be and how to get there is helpful in the creative process.

3) Meditate on It

Don’t like the word mediate? OK, how about pray on it? Not religious or even spiritual? Not a problem, pick your own word. Some may find strength, inspiration and motivation in meditation. It can also be used to think about and visualize goals and find the right path. Create your own mantra. I have tried meditation to some degree and find it useful, however, I have largely been unsuccessful setting aside the time for it. Like yoga, exercise and eating healthier, it takes a commitment and resolve before you see results. Keep in mind that you need not become a guru of meditation to benefit from the practice. Just try whatever works for you. Do whatever you feel comfortable with and keep at it if it is helpful in helping you reach the goals you’ve set for yourself.

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4) Be Real

To reach goals you have to have realistic expectations. Your goals have to be possible. Setting the bar too high will result in failure. Once you do hit one of your goals, if you found it too easy, set the bar higher next time. This also helps build confidence along the way which will make your goal building stronger. Set daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, even yearly goals  for yourself. Why not have a five year plan while you at it. 

5) Measure and evaluate progress

Measure your growth and progress as you work towards your goal. If you are a painter or a writer, you can measure the number of works completed or page count, etc. Set benchmarks, make adjustments, don’t give up.

6) Reward yourself

Once you have reached a goal, take the time to congratulate yourself. Reflect on it. Be proud and treat yourself to something nice. Nothing too extravagant, mind you, you don’t want to blow that weekly budget you’ve put yourself on.

Goals don’t have to be creative either. You can set goals to exercise more, eat better, spend less money or anything else you want to do better.

Have your own goals and plan to meet them? Let me know what they are.

Further Reading:

How Do I Eat a Pomegranate, Damnit!

In many ancient cultures the pomegranate fruit was a symbol of fertility, fecundity and prosperity. Symbolism aside, the pomegranate (also known by the botanical name Punica granatum) is a deciduous shrub which bears a lumpy round fruit filled with hundreds of tiny, sweet arils. Poms also have great health benefits associated with them but as versatile as the fruit is, it faces one major challenge: opening them takes effort—a little more than peeling an orange or banana. And the fact is, most people don’t know how to eat them.

There are several companies that offer packaged arils for easy consumption, but if you like to eat your fruit in the old school way, read on.

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The Seed Inside

The aril is the seed of the fruit which is surrounded by a sweet, fleshy membrane. The aril is edible too, although they are small and can get stuck in your teeth.

Health Benefits

Poms have great health benefits. They are believed to help slow prostate cancer and lower the risk of heart disease. They are low in calories and high in antioxidants and they do battle against free radicals which can cause cancer.

Seasonality

Pomegranates are in season from September through February in the Northern Hemisphere and March through May in the Southern Hemisphere which means consumers in the US can enjoy them for most of the year. California poms are available from October through January, so now is the time to try one if you haven’t yet.

How to Eat a Pomegranate

One of the biggest obstacles to enjoying the arils is freeing them from the rind. While it’s not as simple as peeling an orange, and eating one on the go presents a challenge, opening them is not as difficult as it seems.  

Cutting the Pomegranate

There are two schools of thought on how to cut open a pomegranate. Before you do either, roll the pom around like you would an avocado that needs a little loosening up. This helps the seeds detach from the inside of the rind and will make them easier to remove once it is open. You can either score it around the middle (being careful to cut the rind but not the seeds) or you can quarter score it from top to bottom, also taking care not to cut too deep.

Removing the Pomegranate Seeds

Once you have scored the pom around the middle, gently pry the two halves apart. Place one half over a bowl and with a wooden spoon, tap the back of the fruit. The arils should fall out into the bowl.

If you have quarter scored the fruit, submerge the pieces in a bowl of water and remove the seeds by hand from each section.

Still unsure of how to remove the arils from a pomegranate? Watch this video.

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Pom arils.

Did it work? Was it worth it? For the pom I bought from my neighborhood produce peddler, some of the arils were sweet, a few were bitter and the fruit did appear to be rotting a bit on the inside. There was no way to tell that by looking at the whole fruit, however. There are definitely less expensive, less labor intensive fruits to consume than pomegranates, but as I mentioned above, fruit growers are packaging arils in a lot of different ways now so you don’t have to go through the trouble of removing the seeds yourself.

If you are really into pomegranates, then a de-seeder may be a good investment for you. Like this one for example:

Other ways the healthy aspects have been incorporated into products are:

Oil

Pomegranate seed oil is used to reinvigorate the skin, is believed it have anti-inflammatory properties and can also be used as a massage oil.

Arils

Pomegranate arils can be mixed in juices and smoothies, dropped in a boozy drink or glass of wine and used to top yogurt, cereal, salads and rice dishes.