Author | Illustration Sarah Brown

When You Make Less Money Than Your Friends

When I was twelve, I woke up in pitch darkness to deliver the Times Colonist to the sleeping residents of Cook Street. The job paid well for a helpless preteen. A white envelope with $40 dollars enclosed landed on my doorstep every second Friday of the month and it was the first time I felt the sweet independence of payday.

I blew those earnings on strawberry milkshakes and overdue rental fees at Nighthawk Video and learned how easy it was to spend money instead of saving it. Fifteen years later, I can’t help but feel like I’m still waiting for the white envelope to show up in my mailbox as I live my life from pay cheque to pay cheque.

To be honest, my work style hasn’t changed much since I was twelve. I still wake up in pitch darkness every morning, but these days I challenge myself to make $100 by any means possible. I devote my day to writing stories, selling artwork online, working on client commissions and pitching editorial illustrations to publications.

Working freelance is a game of ups and downs and spending money frivolously really isn’t an option. I work six days a week, and it’s my responsibility to put money aside for slower periods of work. I’ve had to learn tricks to disguise the unflattering reality that I am, by nature, the cheapest person you’ll ever meet. I’ve stopped eating out. I never look at the menu beyond the cheapest bottle of beer. I leave my credit card at home because I don’t trust myself with it. I always walk; never cab. I can’t afford to splurge on shopping or let loose on party drugs. Most of my friends know by now that I won’t be attending the thirteen-person birthday table with the shared bill. But that hasn’t stopped me from enjoying myself. I’m cheap, but I still find ways to indulge in the company of my closest friends. I have money, but I don’t spend it.

Years ago, I remember feeling pressure to keep up with my friends’ spending habits, pretending like I had money. At dinner, I’d splurge and order an $18 main or an extra glass of wine to keep good company. One drink in and I’d suddenly find myself at the ATM, taking out $60 for the next destination. In the blink of an eye, I’d spend $120. For a friend, this might not be a big deal. But for me, it wasn’t okay. Spending over $100 in one night isn’t doing me any favours when I need to pay for monthly living expenses. I don’t make enough money to live my life like that and I’m not ashamed to admit it.

The greatest value I’ve gained from not having as much money as my friends is self-control. By default, I’ve become a healthier and mentally stronger person. I have to tell myself, “NO, SARAH” every other hour and it helps me focus on what’s important to me.

My advice to other freelancers is this: Stop comparing yourself to your friends because it’s a huge waste of time and they don’t give a shit about how much money you make. We’re all working in different industries and following different dreams. We have different priorities when it comes to spending money and planning our futures. My best friend eats out every day. I have a friend I never see because she’s always working but when I do see her, she’s the best-dressed person in the room. Another friend shops at Whole Foods! What the hell! Just yesterday, my friend bought a couch that wasn’t from IKEA. It blew my mind. My friends are kicking ass. They’re maturing and advancing in their spending habits and I’m pumped for them.

Don’t get me wrong. Money will always be a terribly sensitive topic and yes, I’m 100% jealous of my friends buying designer furniture and sharing bottles of fancy wine in front of me. But ultimately, how I make my money and what I spend it on is my business. I’ve chosen to live a little less ritzy because I’m granted the freedom of drawing every day and I know that my work will pay off in the future. I may not be able to indulge in lifestyle luxuries like buying a home or investing in stocks or owning a dog, but I’ll get there in time. And when that day comes and I own a dog named Otis, I’ll be more grateful than anybody. Life is annoying like that!

We’re all doing the best we can. Stick to your guns and don’t ever be ashamed for working hard and making a living the way you decide to do it. No matter what, your true friends will be by your side.

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