Fri. Sep 25th, 2020

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  • When the pandemic began, I lost a chunk of my work as a freelance writer and had to apply for unemployment benefits.
  • Though I’m earning about $1,000 less per month on unemployment, the steady paycheck has been a godsend during this time.
  • While I earned over $4,000 writing in March, I’m still waiting on some of that money. With unemployment, I know exactly when I’ll be paid and how much, and can plan my life accordingly.
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Like many Americans, I’ve experienced the financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic head-on, watching my retirement account shrink, my interest rates drop, and turning to unemployment insurance to supplement my plummeting income.

But even as writing assignments dry up and freelance budgets are slashed industry-wide, I’ve seen an unexpected improvement to my financial life as well: a set payment schedule. It turns out that it’s hard to overstate the stabilizing effect of a steady paycheck, even if the amount of said paycheck is significantly lower than what I’m used to bringing in.

I applied for unemployment insurance in April

I haven’t had a full-time writing job since I was laid off from my last one in 2015 — RIP Crushable — and I’ve made good use of the intervening years. By nurturing contacts, working my butt off, and saying yes to every job I’m offered, I’ve been able to build up a network of clients that helps me earn more as a freelancer than I ever did working full-time. But even after five years of hustling, the one aspect of the 9-to-5 lifestyle that I’ve never been able to replace is payday.

But all that changed in April, when I was forced to apply for unemployment. After a surge of activity in late March, I’ve had radio silence from my previous anchor client, and most of my attempts to reel in new contacts to fill that void have proved fruitless.

Since I’m self-employed, my base weekly rate from the state of California is $167. Combined with the extra $600 in weekly jobless benefits from the federal government, I brought in $767 per week for the months of April, May, June, and July.

Why earning less on a steady schedule has been a godsend

It’s significantly less than I’m used to earning, but for me, knowing when that reduced paycheck was coming in has been a godsend. I think of it as a quality versus quantity issue: Knowing exactly when I’ll get one amount of money is preferable to earning a higher amount of money that I have to scramble and watch my bank account for.

It’s a concept that can be tough to understand unless you’ve worked for yourself. Folks with a set salary get used to the pattern of being able to spend more right after payday, or tightening their belts at the beginning of the month, after rent comes due. But freelancers are in that heightened “what if” state year-round. Sometimes you’ve been working non-stop for weeks, but your account won’t reflect that labor for 30-90 days. So you better hope that Past You laddered your invoices so you’ll have money coming in right now, when you need it.

How I was paid before the pandemic

Let’s take, for example, the month of March 2020, during which I wrote for five different outlets, earning a total of $4,055. For Outlet 1, I wrote eight pieces for two different editors, and was able to invoice for each upon submission, triggering the beginning of the 30-day payment period. For Outlet 2, I wrote 12 pieces for a single editor, and followed that outlet’s invoicing procedure by submitting a single invoice at the end of the month. (Again working within a 30-day payment period.)

Not too bad, right? But then it gets a little more complicated. I submitted a single piece each to Outlets 3 and 4, but since it was my first time writing for them, I had to complete paperwork and sign up for their payment platforms before my invoices could be accepted.

Outlet 3 paid promptly, within two weeks (unheard of — I swoon), but Outlet 4 has a 45-day payment schedule, so I won’t see that money until April at the earliest. And Outlet 5, that old chestnut, also works on a 45-day schedule, but accepts invoices upon publication rather than on submission. Plus, they burned me with late payments before, so I have to watch the website to see when my piece goes live, and then stay vigilant with my emails to the accounting team.

Clearly, March was an extremely busy month, but all that work didn’t start showing itself in my bank account until early April, at the earliest. In fact, as of this writing in early August, I’m still waiting on payment from Outlet 5.

So yes, would I like that extra $1,000 per month that I’m used to earning? I would love that, thank you so much. But especially during such an unpredictable time, the peace of mind that my biweekly unemployment payments have given me is pretty priceless.

Working for myself is pretty great, but the allure of a steady paycheck is a stabilizing force that I’ve clung to during these strange months. And one I’m loathe to give up now that benefits have officially run out. In fact, who knows? It might just be the thing that lures me back into working full-time.

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