Why It’s Good to Have a Day Job
This week we paid out what is known, in technical terms, as a “buttload” of taxes. First, as we did well last year, we paid a fairly not small sum that we owed despite paying our quarterly taxes in a diligent fashion (when one is self-employed the government makes you pay out every three months, because you can’t be trusted to make a lump sum payment, apparently). Then we paid our quarterly estimated for the first three months of this year too, which was an amount pretty much equal to that first bit. In a word: Yow. Bye-bye, money.
The good news is that because my wife is such an excellent steward of our finances, we were able to pay both sums without discomfort and still have a good amount left in our savings (we use the savings as our “cushion” — our actual savings are our IRAs and 401(k) accounts). But having taken a large sum out of the savings, it is now below the cutoff line for which Krissy begins to feel itchy. I personally think her financial worry line is pretty high as these things go. But then, there’s a reason I’m not in charge of the household finances, and I’d rather have Krissy be conservative about these things than not, and then have us in a financial world of crap somewhere down the line.
When we get below this cutoff line, we naturally do an accounting of income sources, i.e., who owes us money and when we can expect it. And it’s here that we discover why, for a writer, things often get dicey. Because as it happens, I have a lot of money coming in — enough to get the savings back up to Krissy’s comfort zone and then some — but when it’s coming in is another matter entirely.
Here’s what I’m currently owed:
* 1st advance payment on The High Castle (for signing the contract)
* 3rd advance payment on The Last Colony (for publication)
* Royalties for Old Man’s War and The Ghost Brigades (the royalties on The Androids Dream are likely to be held as a reserve against returns, even though TAD shipped completely earned out)
* Royalties for The Rough Guide to the Universe
* Royalties for Coffee Shop
* Royalties for The Sagan Diary
* Payment for article on Ultimate Fighting Championship
* Payment for article on Annie Oakley
Add it all up, and it comes to… well, a lot. Good for us.
But it’s not here, which is the thing. Now, none of this is in arrears — in all cases the publishers in question are moving the money toward me in a customary and non-evasive fashion, which is nice — and all of this should be paid out in the next few months. I just don’t know precisely when in the next few months, however. Which means that none of this money can be used for the purposes of practical financial planning. For practical financial planning, you work with the money you have, not the money you expect to have.
And this is why I am happy that a) Krissy works for a company that pays her on a regular and predictable basis and b) I do By the Way and Ficlets for America Online, because AOL also pays me on a regular and predictable basis. Over the next few months, the amount Krissy and I will get from these regular and predictable sources is likely to be less than what I’ll get from the various publishers, when they finally disgorge what they owe me from the bowels of their payment departments. But it’s income we can count on, and which we can use to pay bills, groceries and mortgages, and which allows us not to have to panic while we wait for these various publishers to get their checks in the mail. The stability we have because of these day job incomes is worth an ineffable amount, when it comes to our peace of mind when the bills are due.
And this is why I always tell writers to be wary of ditching the “day job” — i.e., a source of regular income — unless they have something in place to keep the money coming in on a regular basis. A spouse with a good regular job can be key (it is in our case), but even then some amount of regular income from the writer him or herself in addition to a regular spousal income can make a real difference (also, it helps to have savings. But that’s for another time).
I’m happy to be doing well as a writer right now — it beats the alternative. But even doing as well as I am, I’m not at a place where I can say that a regular source of income doesn’t still matter for us and how we live. It’s something to keep in mind as you figure out your own writing path.