Compound

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 laughed.

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.”

An unfolded checkbook with columns for Number, Date, Transaction Description, Debit, Credit, and Balance.

“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.

A squat red safe with a piggy bank slot in the top and a black combination lock on the door.

Patreon is Here!

So some of you may have heard of this fancy new service called…

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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…

SailingFacePatronI 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!

 

Worthy

I don’t often use this blog for soapboxing about artistic issues, but this comic deserves a bit of an introduction. It’s part of a short conversation I had with my mother (a freelance writer and former cartoonist) a few months ago while working on an illustration job. I’m proud of how far I’ve come in the past year in terms of understanding my financial worth and being unafraid to charge money for what I do, but moments like this still leave me a trembling, anxious wreck. Money and creativity have a fraught relationship at the best of times, and somehow financial matters always manage to cut to the heart of many people’s insecurities. We often believe we’re worthless. That we’re frauds. That someone will come forward one of these days and expose us. It’s only a matter of time. Taking risks and charging a fair price for the services we offer opens us up for the ultimate confirmation of these fears. If someone refuses our price, we are indeed worthless.

Of course, this is a load of bullshit.

Charging people money for something you love doing shouldn’t be difficult, yet somehow it’s one of the greatest challenges facing new artists in the field. We’re steeped in mixed messages telling us that creativity is simultaneously priceless and worthless. “How hard can it be?” people ask, turning around in the same breath to babble about “talent” and “genius”. The attitude I encounter most often involves folks looking wistfully over my shoulder and saying “Oh, I could never do that” — as if drawing is some God-given jar of pixie dust rather than a craft honed over hundreds and thousands of hours. Conversely, onlookers or employers can be astounded at the amount of time and effort that goes into a job — “Surely it doesn’t take that long!” “But that’s so much work!”

How can we create a system where artists don’t have to overcome so many conflicting viewpoints simply in order to get paid for their work? Of course, a great deal rests on having the confidence to realize that self-worth and artistic worth are separate entities. Often it just takes guts to be calm and up-front about asking for your price. By being professional about our financial requirements, we set a precedent for other artists in the field. But it can be hard to know where to start. It’s a lesson I learn and re-learn every time I take on a new job or decide to increase my fees in relation to the amount of experience I’ve gained since starting out as a freelancer.

This is an awful lot of gabble for such a quick comic, but it’s an issue that’s really important to me, so I thought I’d share some of my thoughts. If anyone wants to read more, I’ve included some helpful links to other essays on the subject at the bottom of this post.

Phew!

Comic time.

Money

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Useful Links:

Jessica Hische: The Dark Art of Pricing

Katie Lane: Why You Should Raise Your Rates

Katie Lane: Be a Freelance Rock Star

Mike Monteiro: F*ck You, Pay Me