For some time, a normal job has meant monthly payments of a predictable sum. Or perhaps weekly payments. When you know what’s coming in, you can make reasonable decisions about your expenditure, so that there is some balance. This is key for a viable household economy. Increasing numbers of people have been pushed into self employment in recent years, while zero hours contracts take away all pay predictability. Ever more people will be dealing with unpredictable incomes.
Of course in practice, expenses are unpredictable. If you manage your core, predictable expenses well (food, shelter, heat, light, communications, transport) you can have something to spare for clothing, repairs, broken things and sudden unexpected bills. You can hope it’s enough, but for a lot of people, a car bill and a really cold snap means either suffering or getting into debt, and there’s only so much safety net you can create when there’s not much coming in.
Unpredictable pay makes life really interesting. I earn something every month from various small jobs I do, but how much varies in ways I don’t have much control over. Tom earns money in sudden and sporadic lumps from art sales, advances and commissions. Royalties are paid every six months. That means it’s not unusual to find that we have money, but absolutely no idea how far that money will need to stretch until the next money comes in. A month? Six months? A year? Working out what we can afford from day to day is really hard when there’s no guessing the relationship between days and income. Keeping our outgoings down, and keeping a reserve, are the only ways for this to be feasible, and that takes discipline, and sometimes it feels horrible and stingy, but when your money comes in erratic bursts, feeling rich enough to be massively generous or indulgent can be a huge mistake.
A little bit of predictability makes a lot of odds. This is why Patreon is becoming popular with creative people. If you like what someone does, supporting them with a small monthly donation can really help. It gives them a fighting chance of figuring out the month to money ratios in a way that is sustainable and survivable. It’s also worth noting that when people kickstart projects in part with an eye to being able to eat and pay the rent while they work, this is often met with outrage. “Why should I pay for your lifestyle?” It’s not about keeping a creator in luxury, it’s about not exhausting their energies on trying to make ends meet because that really does get in the way of doing the work. If a creator needs to pay their rent to be able to do a project, then supporting them is no more a rip off than is paying more than an item ‘really’ cost in a shop so that the retailer can pay their rent.
I am a fan of self employment, but not of zero hour contracts. I’m a fan of having some self control and some scope for self determination. However, the truth of self employment for most of us is that workflows and pay are wildly unpredictable, while certain outgoings are consistent, and big, sudden expenses happen. It’s also worth noting that there are plenty of people with regular but low incomes who get caught out by big bills and thrown into difficulty because there is no slack in the budget. And there are people not as poor who just don’t have the ability to manage what money they get as effectively as would be perfect – because this is really hard to do, especially in the face of constant advertising pressure.
As a culture we can be quick to judge each other around issues of apparent economic success and failure. Often what we’re judging is material possessions. It doesn’t help. If we could care more about the necessities and care less about the surfaces, we might be able to help each other survive a little better.