“Eighty percent of small businesses fail in their first five years, so hitting that milestone in what amounts to your own small business is pretty awesome.”

So said a friend when I told him that I was celebrating my five-year anniversary of being a full time freelance writer.

It was a nice compliment, and soothing. Freelancing is a precarious job. I scrap for every piece of work, and the pay doesn’t always match the effort. I don’t get any job-sponsored benefits, and I think I’ve only had two raises in those five years. Add on top of this that 2009 was not be kind to me. The Great Recession dropped my income by at about 25% in a year where I worked more hours than I ever had just to keep that 25% number from increasing.

So money was a big weight on my shoulders last year, and the start of this year, too, as I wait for several media companies to make good on late payments (and this isn’t just the small guys – I’m waiting for a mega international publisher to pay me on a job I submitted in AUGUST).

I’ve gotten smarter about money in the last five years. I didn’t have a choice – I have to be since I don’t get a regular paycheck. Since January 2008, I’ve been writing about personal finance because I wanted to know more about it. I treaded water the first four years of writing and wanted the fifth year to be dedicated to setting up my retirement and investment plans.

Well, that was washed away by the Great Recession, and I was back to keeping my head above water. But in that time, I read and wrote as much as I could about what I WOULD do when work started coming in again.

Which leads me to The New Frugality by Chris Farrell.

I listen podcasts of to Marketplace Money every Sunday while marathon training. Farrell is economics editor for the show, and this book is an excellent round up of the kind of financial information I’d been looking for. It’s not so much about how to save money anywhere you can, but how to plan for your financial future.

Apparently it worked. My mom works in financial planning, and last night I told her exactly what I wanted to do. She agreed 100%, and not just because she’s my mom.

If 2009 taught me anything, it’s about how to live on less. Even when things turn around (and I’m convinced they will), I will continue to live on less. I want to sock away as much as I can.

But I’m going to live my life, too. I’m going on vacation next week, which I know I need to recharge after a bad year. It’s not an extravagant one, but somewhere easy to get to, and somewhere in its off season so it’s cheaper.

Tricky this money thing.

A few notes:

1. Farrell says in the latter half of the book that he started caring more about his money when he was diagnosed with colon cancer. He then says nice things about having gotten cancer. After spending a few hours with Jen Singer, who is in remission, I was appalled by what he said. If you feel the same way about folks who say cancer is a gift, this might not be the book for you.

2. Farrell writes at length about being frugal when it comes to college. So very true. I’m glad that my parents forced me to go to the cheaper school. I don’t have to deal with an obscene student loans like a lot of friends do now. If you have high school aged kids, pay special attention to this section. It’ll help you cut through the emotion of wanting to give your kid whatever he or she wants when it comes to college, and to make smart financial decisions.

3. Farrell writes at length (again) about the choice to buy a home. This is a topic I think about a lot since I bought a house in 2007. There are so many factors that go into whether it’s right or wrong to buy. Some people might say this was a mistake. But my mortgage (plus taxes plus insurance) are about the same per month as what I was paying in rent. And I do love owning my own space. No creepy landlords!

One of my 2010 goals is to pitch segments to Marketplace Money (they said to go ahead, which is encouraging!). This book helps. I already got onto Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! It’s not too farfetched!

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Jen Miller

Jen Miller

Jen A. Miller is a an author and freelance writer. Her memoir, Running a Love Story, was a Philadelphia Inquirer best book of the year. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, SELF, Buzzfeed and the Guardian, among others.


  1. Jessica on January 22, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    Great review. Barbara Ehrenreich goes on at length about the "cancer is a gift" issue in her newest book "Bright Sided" – which she wrote after her own battle with breast cancer.

    I will have to check this book out – we are headed to college with our oldest in a few short years so I definitely need to read that chapter!

  2. Jen A. Miller on January 22, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    Jessica – Jen and I talked about that! I read that chapter when it was first a magazine article.

    Yes, check out the college chapter. I HATED that my parents didn't let me go to the more expensive school when I was a 17 year old. Boy am I glad they forced me to make that choice now.

  3. Jen Singer on January 25, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    He became more frugal after cancer, while other survivors spend more. It's the "I may not be here as long as I like, so let's go to Fiji" attitude.

    Cancer affects everyone differently, and some see it as a gift. But for me, it was no gift for my children, who almost lost their mother to cancer. That's where I have the problem with that statement. But you know that already, or you wouldn't have quoted me, Jen.

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