My transition to a work-from-home mom

If You Dream of Being a Work-at-Home Mom, Here's Everything You ...

I had my first baby over 11 years ago (crazy to think of! Time flies!) and ever since, my life has revolved in a large measure around my children.

Until my fourth child was born, I was mostly “just” a stay-at-home mom. Don’t get me wrong – it’s more than a full-time job! Oh, I did get some bits and pieces from my books and articles, but overall, I was more focused on saving money than making it.

My mindset shifted with a prolonged period of financial distress, during which I realized how vulnerable I really was. I knew I needed to have a source of income, but I also knew I wanted to be with my children. Thus I resolved to work from home. But how to achieve this, when I already felt like every spare moment was taken?

Well, I certainly made some lifestyle changes that enabled me to fit part-time work into my mom schedule. Here’s how.

1. I became a lot more careful with my time. Not that I was ever that frivolous, but I did watch the occasional movie with the kids during the day, and I could spontaneously set aside a couple of hours for a whimsical project like picking acorns for crafts.

Now I’m extremely jealous of every spare minute during the day. I am either with my children or working, and any extras (like outings) are strictly pre-planned. I don’t remember when I last watched a movie and I rarely answer the phone, opting to return calls at my convenience instead.

Does this sound too restrictive? It might be, but this schedule has enabled me to generate an income from home while also going on with writing and publishing my books. I think it’s a worthy tradeoff.

2. I sought the niche that works for me. I tried translation, transcription, and a couple of other things, and eventually got into freelance editing and, more recently, writing. If there’s one advice I’d give anyone, it’s this: don’t force yourself to do something you don’t like, even if it pays well. You’ll get burned out very quickly and won’t last.

3. I diversify and work towards creating a scalable income. I don’t concentrate all my work on one platform, but do some on several for a constant cash flow. I also work directly with authors, helping them edit their books.

Finally, even though it’s not easy, I set aside some time for my own books. In the past couple of years, I have been rewarded with a steady trickle of income from this venue, and I hope it will keep growing (book 5 in my Frozen World sci-fi saga coming soon!).

4. I don’t take low-paying gigs anymore. When you just start out, you may have to accept some less-than-lucrative jobs to get some experience under your belt, but take it from me, you don’t want this to last too long. Keep looking about you and angling up to raise your pay rate.

I currently work about 2-3 hours a day, splitting this time between early in the morning before my kids wake up, and a spell of quiet time I usually get around mid-day. I used to work after the kids have gone to bed, but realized I’m not really productive at that time of the day and it’s better to relax and spend some time getting the house in order before I go to sleep so I’ll have a good start the next day.

I don’t make full-time income yet, but that is my goal. Eventually, I want to be able to provide for my family single-handedly, if needed – like in case my husband loses his job again. It gives tremendous peace of mind knowing you have feasible, flexible options to do that – especially during a full-blown worldwide crisis.

Is stability still possible?

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These days, my heart is just breaking. It’s breaking for all the people who have been separated from their families as the skies closed. For all the people who lost their businesses. For the older folks who were active and hardy and kept in good shape, mentally and physically, by going to exercise classes, swimming, and traveling, and are now stuck in their homes, deteriorating by the day and unbearably alone if they have no nuclear family living with them.

It’s heartbreaking that children will have to start school next year burdened with restrictions that are far too heavy for their age, and other children who will be left out without adequate resources for at-home learning.

It seems we are saying a reluctant goodbye to job security, financial security, pension security, any-kind-of-security as stocks are plummeting and pension funds losing value as we speak. I am heartbroken for all the people who lived wisely and made all the right choices, and still find themselves financially (among other ways) vulnerable today.

This was also the core of my latest Mother Earth News post.

“What does this mean? I won’t say anything radical like “money is worthless now” or “ditch the money economy.” I’m a firm believer in personal finances, putting money aside, and planning for the future.¬†

But I also believe that the coronavirus crisis has shown us that stability, security, and wellbeing depend on much more than money. “

Now is the time to ask ourselves: how self-reliant are we? How prepared are we for another event of extended lockdown and empty store shelves? Do we have barterable skills we can use in lieu of money if the latter loses some of its value? Do we belong to a supportive community of people who can be counted on to help each other out when the you-know-what hits the fan and starts flying in all directions?

Read the rest here.

 

When being too frugal keeps you stuck

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I am a big proponent of doing more on less, living modestly, and implementing creative frugal strategies. In this post, however, I’m going to talk about how taking it too far can actually keep you broke rather than lift you up to a better situation.

A couple of years ago, our financial situation was pretty bad. Actually, we were in a crisis following a long period of my husband being out of work, coupled with some bad financial decisions. We were on the brink of not being able to afford to maintain the household another month without getting into debt. There were no longer any cushions or savings, and we were free-falling into poverty. 

I was very conscientious and very dedicated, and my mind kept looping and looping in endless circles, trying to come up with even more efficient ideas for saving money. I gave up on showering when there wasn’t enough sun for the solar heater to do its job, stretched one sack of chicken feed for months, and put off grocery store trips as long as I could.

All of these things helped, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t enough and I knew it. I felt helpless. I tossed and turned at night, wondering whether it would make a difference if we unplug the extra refrigerator and what to do if the thrift store doesn’t carry shoes in my kids’ sizes, because theirs all had holes.

What I should have done at that point was getting more proactive about getting paid work, selling my books, and building professional networks that would be useful in the long term. THAT makes a difference. Whether you choose a slightly cheaper oil for baking doesn’t.

True, I was limited. I lived in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of kids, with no reliable transportation and no steady internet access. I remember sitting for long minutes waiting for the HTML version of Gmail to upload and cursing under my breath when it wouldn’t budge.

But apart from that, I was a prisoner of my own rigid conceptions of a father of a family being the sole breadwinner and the mother stretching the income to make sure it’s enough. It’s a great way to do things, but if it doesn’t work for some reason – and it might fail at any time, temporarily or permanently – and you aren’t prepared for the possibility, you’re up shit creek without a paddle. I’ve learned that the hard way.

It took me a long, long time to face the fact that, while I can make a little go a long way, I do need that little. I can’t make do with nothing, or nearly nothing.

And that’s a key point of successfully overcoming financial hurdles. In a crisis, you should sit down and make a realistic, bare-bones budget of the minimum you need to live. If you aren’t reaching that minimal income, you need to focus on getting there. It’s that simple. Otherwise, you may tighten and tighten that belt until it chokes you, and it still won’t make a difference.

It’s GREAT to have the ability to go without frills. So many people have an entitled attitude and would rather live in debt that do without. But the primary focus should still be on not being poor. I wasted a tremendous amount of time on researching ways to pinch a few more pennies, while I could have used my efforts so much better looking up ways of working from home.

I have tried several things and it’s certainly been a learning curve, until I got into editing books for authors (quite accidentally) and acquired a few loyal and happy clients. I also do some content writing and, after a long time, began seeing profits from my own books, especially fiction.

I regret nothing. Whatever hard-earned lessons I had, I’m making the most of them.

For most people, financial wellbeing and resilience will have these two components – making enough money to live and staying within a reasonable budget. Sometimes, when you’re just hunkering down and trying to survive, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees.

If you’ve been skimping and saving and pinching for a long time, you might be so mentally exhausted and so, for lack of a better word, poverty-wired, that it can be hard to step back and evaluate ways that might actually help you improve your situation on the macro level.

Try to take a piece of paper and pencil and brainstorm for a while. What are your strengths? How can you utilize them to earn more money and become more financially secure?

Remind yourself that though things might look hopeless, they will improve. You won’t be stuck forever. You won’t be poor forever. This mindset, I have come to discover, is the most important element in pulling out of the quagmire.

The sea glass journey

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Following my latest post, I would like to elaborate a little on the sea glass analogy – how the process of roughing it we all go through in life will, ideally, smooth our prickly edges, sand down any uncomfortable bumps, and turn a tossed-off shard of glass into something new and beautiful.

This doesn’t happen, however, without the waves hurling and swirling the piece of glass, throwing it against the sand and rocks at the bottom of the sea.

Again and again. You can bet it isn’t always comfortable. You can bet it hurts.

When we just start out in life, we tend to be very optimistic, very driven, a bit naive, and extremely opinionated (a typical example is teens looking down on their parents and thinking they are so much cleverer and understand things so much better). This also, naturally, makes us a little unforgiving.

That’s why I love old people. They’ve seen it all. They have a much more balanced view on life. They have the wisdom that only comes with experience.

In my case, the opinionated thing manifested most strongly in the family model I yearned for: wife at home, homeschooling the dozen children and baking bread. Husband working diligently to provide for the family. Everyone enjoying the mutual fruit of these labors in harmony, peace, love, and respect.

You know what, I still happen to think it’s a really, really good model and it’s absolutely wonderful when it works. I envy people for whom it did. But though I did always nominally acknowledge it might NOT work, I was a little in denial of how often it actually doesn’t.

That’s why, when we were hit with a period of unemployment, then another, and another, then lost our house and a humongous sum of money – all due to decisions in which I had little to no say – I got myself sick with worry and stress.

My thought process at that time went like this: “It shouldn’t be this way! My husband should be more diligent about providing for the family! He should be more careful with money! The people who owe him money should step up and repay the debt! It isn’t fair!”

Let me tell you something, it can drive you crazy, thinking and talking about things others should and MUST be doing differently, while you can do little to nothing to influence them. It makes you feel small, helpless, and anxious, not to mention resentful and bitter.

To make matters worse, for a long, long time I was held back from even attempting to improve the situation by my own misguided beliefs: that by offering constructive advice, let alone actively attempting to earn money for the family, I would be humiliating my husband and expressing my distrust in his leadership. I refused to acknowledge that my husband was just a man, with fallible thinking just like mine, and that ALL of us sometimes need a tug in the opposite direction to balance us out.

That’s the true meaning of the “ezer k’negdo”, by the way: it’s usually translated into English as “helpmate”, but it’s so much more than that. It’s “k’negdo”, meaning, on the opposite side. The wife who is a perfect submissive helpmate that enables her husband’s failings is not much of a helpmate at all. The REAL helpmate gets on the other side of the seesaw to throw her weight there and get things moving. She offers balance!

So as I wore myself down with anxiety, I wasn’t really a piece of sea glass yet. I was just a prickly shard stranded on a rock somewhere, crying about how life wasn’t going the way it was supposed to. At some point, however, I realized I have two choices: I could either retain my nature as the sharp glass shard by being stuck on that rock and getting nowhere, or…

… I could roll with the waves and let the water and sand smooth me out.

I could rant and rave about how my husband should try harder to find a job, or I could look at employment options myself.

I could grumble about the way my husband managed the family finances (pouring money into risky ventures, lending to untrustworthy people who never repaid the debt, etc), or I could become more proactive about managing my own bank account (I always had my own, but for many years it just sat inactively).

I could keep being inflexible, stubborn and unforgiving, or I could learn some kindness, maturity and humility and realize that sometimes, things just don’t work quite the way we want them to.

I made the choice. I jumped into the waves and let them start shaping me into a lovely, smooth piece of sea glass.

Today, I live in a safe, comfortable place where my children and I have all necessary facilities within walking distance. I still garden, bake and raise chickens, but I also work and pay the bills. I have accepted the fact that I can’t expect anyone, not even my husband, to take care of me, because I choose to be a mature adult woman rather than a woman-child held hostage by her own beliefs.

I have also realized I actually like the piece of sea glass, smoothed and rounded at the edges by the waves and coarse sand it had had to endure, much better than the original glass shard, which was pretty and flashy but would cut anyone who came too close. Oh, and it was much more brittle than it realized, too.

Is my journey done? I sincerely hope not! Life is a dynamic thing. I can only try my best to move upward.

Building a financial safety net

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When I was younger, I argued that maintaining a full-time career while what you would really like is to stay home with your children – not out of immediate necessity, but out of concern for possible future happenings such as illness, death, or divorce – is akin to living your life out in a bunker instead of being out in the fresh air and smelling the flowers.

In the meantime, I was doing something that was more like walking the tightrope without a safety net underneath. I had moved to a remote, inaccessible area without reliable transportation means, counting on my husband to always provide for our family and effectively making sure that, in the foreseeable future, I would not be able to contribute to the family income. Having no car and no driver’s license, I depended on my husband entirely for every errand and every little grocery store purchase (there being no facilities within walking distance at all).

I didn’t realize it back then, but I was setting myself up for some pretty unpleasant consequences should something go wrong.

Those who have been following my blog know what happened next: over the course of a few years, unemployment, underemployment and unwise financial choices had brought us to a full-blown crisis, while I couldn’t do much more than wring my hands and try to cope with anxiety and panic attacks. I did do some remote work, but even that was extremely difficult with patchy network access.

While I’m still a big proponent of making decisions out of love, not fear, and while I don’t regret for a second being a stay at home mom to my children (which in fact I still am), I would give my younger self one piece of sound advice:

Make sure you have a safety net. Don’t travel down a road that gives you no possibility to do a U-turn in case the you-know-what hits the fan. This doesn’t mean you are a wimp or lack faith. It’s simply common sense.

If I were to break it down into practical points, I would tell her:

1. Keep on building up your credentials even if you think you won’t be needing those. You never know.

2. Think twice (maybe more like ten times) before you move to an area where you would have extremely limited mobility and no services. Even if it’s your quintessential rural dream with rolling hills, olive groves, and herds of goats. If you purchase a house, take into consideration how easy or difficult it might be to sell it later on.

3. While role division in marriage makes perfect sense for many occasions, two heads are better than one. For a long time I used to think I’m displaying loyalty and trust towards my husband by leaving everything concerning the family finances entirely in his hands. In fact, I was doing none of us any favors. My husband was fallible, as was I. Neither of us was perfect in any regard, but it’s always so much worse when you feel pressure to do what is “right” rather than what works practically.

4. Build up your savings. That’s a tricky one with zero income, I know! But in case you come into some money, like after selling a house, stash some away right away and don’t allow it all to be frittered on stuff like food and rent (ask me how I know).

I guess it all boils down to this: don’t put yourself in a situation where you are disproportionately, entirely dependent on another person for all your basic needs. Even if that person is your spouse. Do not place yourself in a situation where you would be unable to help yourself if need be.

I have a friend whose husband, a really nice, hardworking man suffered an accident on the job and has lost his livelihood. Insurance doesn’t come up to scratch. He is undergoing a long and grueling process of physical rehabilitation. However, my friend is keeping afloat because she lives near supportive family and there’s every necessity readily available in the vicinity. The you-know-what has certainly hit the fan for them, but they had not placed themselves in a situation where they wouldn’t have the tools to cope.

I shudder to think what would have happened to me in a similar situation a couple of years ago. I would be left stranded in the boonies with a bunch of tots, unable to help my husband or my children or myself. I count myself lucky to have been able to move to a better, safer place.

Being safe doesn’t mean being a wimp. On the contrary, the wimpy choice is sticking one’s head in the sand and refusing to consider tomorrow.

5 Strategies For Surviving Extreme Poverty

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Extreme poverty looks different in Western countries, but it does exist. If someone is Googling articles like this one, it means they have electricity and internet connection, and probably aren’t starving outright. Nevertheless, they may not know where they are going to live next month, how to pay for the weekly trip to the supermarket, or where to get shoes for their kids to replace those that are falling apart.

Our family has been through financial highs and lows, with extremely long periods of no regular income, but thankfully we have been able to cope by thinking out of the box and implementing some extreme measures. Hopefully, these will help other people who are struggling right now.

Housing – for many people, this is the biggest monthly expense. If you are renting, you may want to consider moving to a cheaper area and down-scaling. If you own your house, you might create a stream of passive income by renting out a room or a unit for Air B&B. Selling and purchasing a smaller house in a less expensive area is also an option. However, if at all possible, do not sell your house just to fund living expenses. I guarantee your money will get frittered away and you’ll be much worse off when all is said and done. We made this mistake once, and I still deeply regret it. Looking back, I’d rather have had us tighten our belts further for a few months.

If you are lucky enough to have supportive family, sometimes your best choice would be to move in with them. I would only recommend this as a last resort, however, because I believe in remaining independent unless there is absolutely no other choice; and, if you do move in with family, I’d constantly work towards having my own place again and, of course, make sure you are pulling your weight as much as you can by helping with chores, bills, groceries, etc.

Utilities – There are many creative ways to save on electricity, water and other bills. Make sure you make your home as energy efficient as you possibly can. This can mean drawing blinds in the summer or painting the roof white to deflect sunlight, or adding extra insulation in both summer and winter to keep cold or heat out. Check your doors and window frames; if you can feel a draft of air, it means your insulation has room for improvement.

Many people labor under the assumption that they are entitled to be toasty warm in winter while wearing nothing but a T-shirt inside, and comfortably cool in the summer up to the point of wearing a light jacket indoors. I invite you to challenge these assumptions. Wear layers in the winter, and cool off in the summer by hanging wet curtains over open windows. Save money by taking shorter showers and bathing two (or several) kids together.

Transportation – What with gas, insurance, repair and maintenance, cars are huge money guzzlers. If you live in an area with good public transportation, consider doing without a car entirely. At the very least, consolidate your errands and, for recreation, explore your area rather than drive far. Rediscover walking and bicycling as alternative healthy local transportation means.

Food – Do not feel tempted to cut your grocery bill by opting for cheap, high-calorie foods full of sugar, white flour and refined vegetable oils. Rather, learn to make the cheapest nutritious foods you can get, and reduce some more by clipping coupons and shopping wisely. You can often find real treasures in your supermarket discount bin – foodstuffs that go for an extremely low price because their expiration date is near or because their packaging is slightly damaged. Bread and baked goods are often sold extremely cheaply at the end of the day, and vegetables and fruits at the end of the week. Swapping with neighbors and foraging help out a lot, too.

Necessities¬†– Thrift stores often carry gently used clothes, shoes, toys, books , household items, and so on, at the fraction of the regular price. Also keep a lookout for great finds people in your area are giving away. Don’t look down upon dumpster diving, either – we have salvaged some real treasures from the curb, from books and games to clothes and furniture.

Whatever you do, do not apply for direct government assistance, the kind that would get social services across your threshold. I don’t know about where you live, but here it comes with the price of being constantly monitored and probed for “parenting capability”. Children have been taken from perfectly adequate parents whose only crime was being poor. Because of budgeting allotment, this corrupt system would rather pay a monthly allowance to foster families than give the struggling parents financial aid.

Keep looking for ways out! Don’t let the present suck you in like a permanent sluggish murky bog with no prospects. This has been my mistake for a long time, just looking at nothing beyond daily survival – no matter how good you get at saving, pinching pennies and doing without, sometimes you just have to stop and think of ways to make a radical change and take a different turn. Always look forward with hope for change, and see your present strait as something that will pass.

Making money from home – revised

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Re-reading my previous post on making money from home, which I wrote almost two and a half years ago, I thought some updates are in order.

Following the birth of another baby, a house move, and many frumpy days spent in a maze of boxes and/or with sick little ones, I was reaffirmed in my wish for work that could be done in the comfort of my home, with a steaming cup of tea and in pajamas, depending on no one’s schedule but my own. Moving to an area with a fast, reliable internet connection was a godsend, and I am now able to play to my strengths more than before, focusing on what I’m good at: writing, editing, proofreading and translation – all of which is a perfect fit for a work-from-home solo entrepreneur.

My holy grail is still writing and publishing my own books, both fiction and nonfiction. I will keep at it, and if I could, I would do nothing else. But it’s extremely challenging to make one’s way as an author, and when you’re starting on a little to nonexistent budget, you are prone to get stuck. So part of my other-source earnings will be funneled as an investment in my books, with the darling wish of someday being able to work on them exclusively.

For more income streams, I registered on freelancing websites such as Freelancer.com and Guru, but soon saw these places are absolutely flooded with people from developing countries who are willing to work for ridiculously low wages and swarm upon every project within minutes. Getting noticed was extremely difficult without several “pay to play” options (on Freelancer, they offer paid certification tests) which I consider greedy and unethical – since the host website receives a mediator cut from every project acquired through it, I don’t think it’s fair to try and get more money off people.

Being trilingual, I’m also registered on several crowdsourcing translation platforms such as Gengo. I’ve made some legitimate earnings through Gengo, but their pay rates are low, their work volume very unsteady, and their ratings often arbitrary, with senior translators appointed for reviewing without really understanding the nuances of the language.

I tried doing transcription through similar crowdsourcing platforms, but quickly realized that, again, the pay is extremely low (unless it’s transcription + translation), plus you need a quiet work environment to listen to audio files – with four kids at home and me working on the living room couch, trying to get everyone to be quiet enough for me to listen to audio is stress-inducing and just not worth it.

Recently I discovered Upwork and so far I am loving it. Hands down, it’s the best freelancer website I ever came across. They are committed to only accepting qualified people providing in-demand services, so not every profile gets approved, and the traffic is a lot less crowded. I had to apply three times before I was accepted. There are many tests you can take for free to prove your qualifications, and choose whether to display them on your profile or not. You can check out my profile here.

I would like to stress that my objective is not to make as much money as quickly as possible, but just enough to allow me to stay home with my family without struggling financially. It isn’t easy to find the perfect balance, and I will probably keep going back to this topic in months to come.