I joked with my partner that this behavior feels like stacking my pocket change. “Look! I can make a pyramid! Or a square! Ooh this one has rust on it, but the other one doesn’t! I WILL CATALOGUE THEM.” It’s fun, but at the end of the day it doesn’t change the fact that I’m just stacking five pennies as many ways as I can.
BUT THIS IS DIFFERENT, I PROMISE. IT REALLY MIGHT HELP.
Lily Williams wrote an absolute banger of a post about inflation, arts education, and fair wages for freelancers this week.
If we take the average woman artist’s 1980 income of $24,153 dollars and plug it into the US Inflation Calculator, we learn that in today’s 2021 money that would be $81,073.47.
Funnily enough, when I sat down in 2018 to try and figure out what I really needed to be earning to maintain my quality of life at the time, the number I settled on was $72,000 a year. (This process deserves a whole blog post of its own, because it also dovetails with adopting Whiteboard Accounting and was fascinating and only possible thanks to having started keeping an actual budget the year before. DATA! It’s life-changing.)
Anyway, jumping back to my post from yesterday: if I were charging my standard freelance hourly rate for my work on this graphic novel, I’d likely earn somewhere around $78,750 for a year’s work. This feels bang on target with what Lily is talking about! Bingo! Amazing! Inflation adjustment accomplished!
But that’s not the reality.
[…] when we compare that $81,073 to what the 2020 Census numbers are for artists... we find that the average income in 2020 was only $52,340. Meaning, yes, artists income hasn’t adjusted for inflation since the 1980s. In fact, artist’s income is less than $30,000 more than what it was in 1980, which is about $30,000 under what it should be if it had adjusted for inflation properly over the last 41 years.
Am I surprised? No. No I’m not.
So what do we do with the information that artists are underpaid and that their income has not adjusted for inflation since the 1980s? We strike back in the ways that we are able. Freelancers are less likely to make a strike because of the individual nature of freelance work, unlike more organized fields in art like creatives in the film industry, who have the IATSE Guild information and network to help organize strikes. So, from an empowered standpoint knowing we deserve more… what we do is charge more and we do not settle for less.
Back in February (oh, those heady, pre-COVID days…) I rewarded myself for bashing through my eighth tax filing as a self-employed artist by meeting a friend for tea. She listened patiently as I rambled about estimated quarterly payments and Roth IRA maximums, but when I bemoaned how much I still had to learn, she scoffed.
“I always think of you as someone who has this all figured out. You must’ve been into it as a kid or something.”
I did not like math as a child. I struggled with rules and numbers. Even today I have to fight to stay present when learning a new board game or trying to parse any kind of technical data. So it’s always a shock when someone thinks I’ve got this figured out. And from childhood? Yeah, right.
But as the conversation flowed on I realized there was something that had given me an understanding of how this practice could be pleasurable. I’d just never joined up the dots.
When I was about eight, I started receiving pocket money. Two dollars a week. Enough, if I saved for two weeks, for one of the smallest LEGO sets at the local toy shop. They were $2.95 a pop, the tiny, round-cornered price tags handwritten in loopy script. I’d generally save for two weeks and then blow my savings on a pirate brandishing a miniature blunderbuss or a deep sea diver sporting weighted shoes.
It was a peaceful time—until my mother introduced me to the concept of compound interest.
It started with a safe: squat and glossy and cherry red, with a tiny combination lock on the door. I can still feel the catch of the latch as the dial spun—this way, that way, click, open.
“You’re going to have an account with the Bank of Mummy and Daddy,” she explained. I was busy caressing the smooth red box, but I tried to pay attention. She handed me a narrow booklet. “This is your check deposit book. You write down all the money that comes in and all the money that goes out. Every week, when we give you your pocket money, you’ll put $2 in the deposit column, like this. Then you add up your new total over here.”
“If you buy a LEGO set,” she went on, “you write $2.95 in the withdrawal column and subtract that from the total.”
So far, so good. I could handle basic arithmetic.
But then she dropped the bomb:
“The account also has a weekly compound interest rate of 10%.”
I gave her a blank stare. Brave woman, she soldiered on.
“Earning compound interest means that the more money you save, the more you’re rewarded for saving. Every week we’ll see how much you have in your account and then take ten percent of that number and add it to your pocket money.”
I can’t imagine that I took to percentages like a duck to water, but after a few weeks the equation had become very clear. If I didn’t spend any money, I earned more money. Fast.
In ten weeks I’d saved $20—enough to double my weekly allowance. Then it became $50. Then $100. The entries in the withdrawal column thinned. The total balance went up by leaps and bounds.
Often, I would open the safe just to pull out the stack of bills and smack the soft, dense bundle against my palm. A tangible accumulation of patience. I remember how proud it made me feel. Secure and in control.
This went on for a long time—perhaps indulgently long—until I’d saved so much that my mother called a moratorium.
“The bank,” she declared, “has gone under. Let’s go get you a real account.”
While I was horrified at my new interest rate—a paltry 0.01% per year—the lesson had stuck. I was saving religiously, perhaps even a little compulsively. Over the next few years I started working lighting design gigs in my tiny hometown, socking away cash for international travel rather than bigger and better LEGO sets. When I finally felt ready to spend my savings, I had eight thousand dollars at my disposal—more than enough to cover the solo journey I’d planned around Europe for my gap year.
When I think about my drive to understand retirement accounts, investments, and budgeting, I think about that little red safe. The neat columns in the balance book made me feel like there was logic and order to this process. The increasing weekly deposits gave me a dopamine rush every time I resisted the temptation to spend. Even if I still struggled in high school math classes, I got a taste for the power and pleasure of making my money work for me.
I may never find a bank with rates to rival that first account, but now I can point to the thing that started me down this road. And if I ever have a child of my own, I will absolutely buy her another one of these.
So some of you may have heard of this fancy new service called…
In a nutshell, Patreon is a platform that allows fans to directly support creators they love on an ongoing basis. As a full-time freelancer, a ton of my time and energy goes into taking client work that will help me pay my bills and keep a roof over my head. Because of this, my passion projects often end up on the back burner — which bothers me because I’m sure those projects are exactly the kind of content that led you to me in the first place, and it’s the kind of content that I would really love to be pumping out for your enjoyment every month. Fortunately, Patreon has an answer to this conundrum. Here’s my project video to tell you a little about how it works:
If you aren’t able to watch the video right now, here’s the gist:
On my page you can pledge to send an amount of money my way every 30 days — it could be fifty cents, it could be forty bucks — and in exchange you get access to sweet behind-the-scenes action, special PDF downloads, or even a handwritten postcard from me every month. This ongoing support allows me to devote more time to creating the comics I want to share with you the most, and hopefully gives you a neat opportunity to see what my process is like from the back end.
Sound interesting? Then…
I am super excited about the possibilities of this platform, and I’m really eager to start sharing parts of my process that I generally don’t talk about online through the Patrons-Only Process Blog. If you enjoy my work and would like to see more of it in the future, check out the page! I would love to hear what you think of it.
Thank you so much, everyone!