- Shannon Page and her husband are both full-time freelancers.
That means their yearly income is pretty unpredictable.
- They live on Orcas Island in Washington — they have a small
mortgage, and covered their first three years of payments with
- Below, Shannon shares how they spent their money in a week that
included an out-of-town visitor, car repairs, and some overdue
- Visit Business
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My husband and I are freelancers: I’m a 52-year-old writer,
editor, and proofreader; Mark is a 62-year-old illustrator
and writer. We had a financially stable life — a paid-for house,
gym memberships, enough income to pay our bills — in Portland,
Oregon. But the Rose City is being loved to death. Tens of
thousands of people a year are being drawn there by the nice
climate, the foodie culture, the great music, the Portlandia vibe.
The city we knew is vanishing. Escalating crime, gridlock, road
rage and constant construction left us feeling embattled in our own
Happily, working at home for remote clients means we can live
anywhere that has a decent internet connection. So, two years ago,
we followed a long-standing dream and bought a lovely house with
five acres (and a pond!) on Orcas Island, Washington. This meant a
small mortgage, and because our income is unpredictable, we
immediately put enough of our Portland house proceeds into a
savings account to cover our first three years of payments.
Our “typical” monthly “budget” is always difficult to define.
Working at home for dozens of clients means no two days — or jobs
— are alike. Work floods in all at once, or not at all for
months. So both income and expenditures are wildly unpredictable.
Last year we grossed only $41,000 — that’s not a typo. This year,
we had surpassed that by the end of June, and are now on target for
Unless something unexpected happens! (Insert evil laughter from
Speaking of which, this year we’ve had a few medical issues, and
are already out of pocket $4,000 not covered by our health
insurance. Then Mark’s main computer died, and his backup computer,
and then his Cyntiq drawing computer. Then a printer — all within
three months. And then we got our
Hoping to shield ourselves from some of this chaos, we became an
S Corporation in May, incurring lawyer and accountant fees —
planned expenses, for once. We’re hoping this will help with our
taxes next year. Fingers crossed.
Our “average” monthly spending looks like this:
Mortgage (principal, interest, escrow for property
taxes & home insurance): $1,737
- Business expenses: $1,575
Income & self-employment taxes:
- Groceries: $800
- Medical: $575
Utilities (including firewood, our sole winter
Insurance (auto, life, umbrella, medical, emergency
- Garden: $220
- Legal & accounting fees: $200
- Auto (gas, maintenance, ferry fees): $120
With our projected average income of
$6,667/month, you can see that these numbers don’t
exactly pencil out.
Fortunately, we do have two years of mortgage money left in that
savings account. But we’re barely treading water here. And the
Pacific Northwest is expensive; island living is costlier still.
Gas is $4 a gallon here; asparagus can be $9 a pound. Ferry fees
are $56.55 per car.
Choosing adventurous living over the path of least resistance is
challenging. Here’s what we spent during a recent week, July 24 to
Wednesday, July 24 total: $37.14
Yesterday, just as a houseguest arrived from the high Arctic, we
called pest control to deal with a huge wasp nest in our living
room ceiling, and the rats on our bird feeders. (Ah, bucolic rural
Mark went to the hardware store for rat traps ($7.33), and to
the grocery store for steaks, cantaloupe, Rainier cherries,
nectarines, bread, mushrooms, and $0.50 of grocery bags ($29.81). I
wrangled the barbecue and a bottle of wine while our visiting
friend E. regaled us with tales of polar bears and the
never-setting sun. Her island adventure makes ours look tame.
Thursday total: $32.92
Orcas Island doesn’t have any big-box or chain stores. You go to
“America” for that, as locals call the mainland, and Amazon Prime
is our great friend. We’re learning how to do more for ourselves,
like canning our own fruit, pickles and preserves, making our own
liqueurs and pastries — and routine auto maintenance. After
several months of unanswered messages left with the island’s
overbooked auto repair shop, I finally gave up and ordered new
wiper blades for my Miata ($20.62). (Prime “overnight” shipping
here means Thursday-to-Tuesday, by the way.)
We’re good cooks who don’t eat out much — avoiding calories
and poverty both. But that evening, E. treated us to an amazing
dinner at The Loft ($0.00,
for us). Afterward, we drove to West Beach to watch the sunset, a
rare event in the high Arctic. I bought a glass of wine ($8.30).
Mark bought an ice cream cone ($4). E. took photos to show friends
back home what sunset looks like.
Friday total: $235.36
While E. and I hiked up Turtleback Mountain, Mark stayed home
and fought with his website provider about why his third serial episode this month
violated his plan’s five-mailings-per-month limit. Their solution?
Upgrade to a 20-mailings-per-month plan ($136.54) to send out that
third episode. (New math?)
After our hike, E. and I had ice cream ($7.57), and brought some
home to cheer Mark up ($3.78).
Later, we drove E. to the island’s tiny airport and put her on a
tiny plane, then took ourselves to dinner at The Kitchen ($50.47). Next we
bought Mark some vitamin E oil at the pharmacy. He tried to cut his
index finger off with a cheese grater a few weeks ago. Seven
stitches. E oil’s supposed to help that. Then we saw a movie, “Toy
Story 4, ($28.00)” where I also bought a glass of wine ($9).
Saturday total: $27.85
Some good friends were moving stuff out of their just-sold bed
and breakfast. We brought our truck to lend a hand, and they bought
lunch at the Lower Tavern ($0.00, for us). This was not a
Then back to the grocery store for a few essentials — ice
cream, tomatoes, broccoli ($27.85).
After that, we went home and worked (there is no such word as
“weekend” in freelancer-land) until dinner — at home, for once
— before watching “Good Omens” on Amazon Prime. We don’t have —
or want — cable or satellite TV, but we do splurge on Netflix as
Sunday total: $19.26
Our friends are still running their just-sold B&B through
the end of the month, and they’ve hired me to clean and remake
rooms for a few days — as freelance editors do from time to time.
When I got home from turning beds and scrubbing toilets, I placed
another Amazon Prime order, for body lotion ($19.26), and worked
all afternoon until dinner — at home again!
Monday total: $219.12
I went online and paid the final installment, interest, and
penalties of our payment plan to the IRS for that overdue 2018 tax
surprise ($1,082.37). It feels good to have this paid off! Now to
start on this year’s taxes …
Mark ordered some desperately needed tulip bulbs online
($46.16), and I paid the pest control bill ($172.96, which included
the $50 setup + $110 quarterly fee + tax).
Then — you guessed it — we worked all day and had dinner at
Tuesday total: $113.05
We have an out-of-state friend who lives on government
assistance and barely scrapes by, so every month we put some money
($40) in an account he can access. After doing that at the bank,
Mark went to the grocery store for milk, half and half, grapefruit
juice, artichoke hearts, breakfast cereal, more amazing Rainier
cherries, blueberries, Galia melon, a mango, and some lettuce, plus
a $0.25 bag because we keep forgetting to put that dang canvas tote
in the car ($49.00).
My wiper blades arrived; I haven’t worked out how to put them on
my car yet. I’m almost certain it’ll be easy-peasy, and I won’t
regret trying to do it myself. Almost …
We walked back down to West Beach to enjoy another sunset over a
dinner of hot dogs, a glass of wine, and a Lopez Ice Cream
milkshake ($24.05), and called my dad and stepmom to wish her a
happy birthday. Then we walked back home, 30 minutes up the hill,
and excellent exercise!
We love our island life. Its high cost of living and sparse
amenities are a small price to pay for such inspiring peace and
beauty every day. Our home is a serene oasis (even accounting for
wasps, rats, ravenous deer, raccoons herons, owls, and river otters
… ) in which to create and live. We will figure out how to get
our finances on a more stable basis; we have several layers of
plans. Mark’s serial is building an
audience, and my writing — both fiction and nonfiction — is gaining
traction as well. In addition, my editing
business is booming, and my biggest client just decided to
raise their freelancer rates by 25% — without my even asking for
The world might be scary and so many things are uncertain, but I
think we’re going to be all right.
At least we’re where we most want to be. And we have each
Shannon Page is an author and editor on Orcas Island who has
published dozens of short stories. Novels include “Our Lady of the
Islands” (with Jay Lake), a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2014;
“Eel River”; “The Queen and The Tower,” and (with Karen Berry)
“Orcas Intrigue” and “Orcas Intruder.”
Source: FS – All – Economy – News
My husband and I are both freelancers with unpredictable incomes. Two years ago, we moved to an island off the coast of Seattle — here's what a week of our typical spending looks like.