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What to do when the work dries up

This post originally appeared on Stash Learn

The emails and text messages came in quickly and almost seemed to be getting faster – this project was postponed, this gig was canceled, we run out of funds to pay you.

Within a few days, the work paying the bills in our house was almost entirely gone. I am a freelance writer. My fiancée is a cellist with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, which canceled the rest of its season, and two quartets that can no longer perform. A pandemic is not a good time to be in a creative profession.

We also live in New Orleans, which had one of the fastest COVID-19 growth rates in the world and a death rate about double the national average. We lived under a protection ordinance for weeks, but that didn't stop some New Orleans from holding ad hoc parades called second lines to help get out of the boredom. We are now reopening society and I am happy to report that New Orleans is largely self-acting.

While I'm still at work, most of my clients have put their projects on hold, postponed, or canceled, and I'm making a small fraction of what I got around this time last year. There is certainly not enough money to pay the bills.

I also got the classic Covid-19 symptoms when coronavirus numbers skyrocketed in New Orleans. Then my son and fiancée got sick, albeit fortunately with much milder symptoms. My Covid-19 test was negative but the concern about whether or not we had it and whether the test was false negative and the disease was not helping us work efficiently.

New Orleansers are used to settling down and preparing for disaster. Whether it's hurricanes, tornado warnings, or flooding from summer rain, we know how to stock up and keep up to date.

But the Covid-19 threat is a whole different level of disaster.

For the first time in our professional life, it is not about hectic pace, networking, applications or auditions. These opportunities have largely disappeared. It's not that we can't find work, it's that work isn't there to be found. At least not the work enough to pay the bills.

And yet we still don't panic about money. Instead, we're working together to change our approach.

Reduce discretionary spending

This means that we read the books we have on our shelves, master the video games we have already purchased, and watch Netflix to which we already have a subscription.

It also means planning meals with the groceries we bought before ordering the shelter on our last big trip to the grocery store and freezing the leftovers. We also keep an eye on perishable goods and expiration dates so nothing is lost. We stretch leftovers by adding rice or pasta.

That doesn't mean we are depriving ourselves. We must seek the joy of life wherever we can find it. In April, I ordered Easter egg hunt supplies to keep this tradition going for my six year old son. For fun, my son got a cheap pogo stick, my fiancee got $ 30 exercise equipment, and I ordered some new puzzles.

Re-prioritize savings

Money that used to be put away is now used to pay rent, utilities and groceries. Between the two of us, my fiancée and I had big plans for our respective savings – retirement, investments, travel. Before the Corona crash, we talked about passive income such as running an AirBNB or managing a rental.

These plans, much like our careers, are being put on hold for now. Because we still have bills to pay.

Many utilities in our region and across the country offer deferred payments or waive late fees. However, the bills will still come due when life returns to normal. We'd rather pay them while we can than pile them up and risk potential debt.

Be smart about the stock market

We watched in horror as the stock market freezes, then freezes, plunges, and then freezes. In February alone I lost a five-digit amount from my investment portfolio.

My fiancée saw her accounts go down similarly and some stock options wiped out completely.

It's easy to say out loud that we will be fine because we are investing in the long run, but it panics when you see your money go away like it's set on fire. Yes the money is for the long term but how long will it be before it comes back? What would this portfolio have been worth if it never happened?

In order not to panic, we have decided not to touch the accounts until the economy itself has rights. That means not taking out any money, not putting it in, not buying or selling.

Buckle up and do the available work

In creative industries like ours, we don't have the opportunity to just sit back and do nothing. I keep in touch with clients and editors and she practices her cello for several hours. I take any work that comes my way and she records music for both the LPO and her quartet.

If we emerge from this, we need to come first to get back to work so that we do what we can now to stay relevant.

Think about options for the future

We realize how lucky we are that we had money to invest in the savings that keep us afloat. But no one knows how long this pandemic will keep us at home and how long we will run out of money.

So we started to chat about the next steps. We may need to start taking jobs that are significantly underpaid just to bring in something, anything that can make up for what we get out of savings.

We discussed whether one or both of us should start looking at jobs like Uber Eats or Postmates. This provides a service, but it wouldn't put us in great contact with other people.

And while we are well into adulthood, we may also have to borrow money from our parents and pay them back once we start working again. It will surely hurt our pride, but it's better than falling behind on our bills.

But we'll find out.

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