This guest post from Kristen Swensson is part of the “reader stories” feature at Get Rich Slowly. It's also the funniest post I've published since Robert Brokamp's last appearance. Swensson is the proprietor of Cheap Healthy Good, a great blog about food and frugality. She likes nothing more than good feedback and bacon, preferably combined in a delicious slurry.
A long, long time ago (2009) in a galaxy far, far away (New York City), I wrote about Jennifer Lopez's butt for a living. And I made good money doing it.
Working in TV can be a stellar gig. Your co-workers are young, talented, and motivated. After a few years, it pays well. Projects are at least marginally interesting, and you always walk away with good stories. During my ten years at a certain music channel, I penned scripts for famous comedians, rubbed elbows with rock stars, and discovered I am exactly the same size as Motley Crue's Vince Neil. So there's that.
However, like any industry reliant on ad sales, TV jobs have some significant drawbacks, as well. Newbies will likely spend much, if not all, of their careers freelancing (meaning: no sick days, little vacation, questionable benefits). The company's chairman might make $56 million in salary and bonuses the same year your stock takes an 18% hit. You could have to write a show about Lindsay Lohan. Or ten shows about Lindsay Lohan.
Undoubtedly though, the biggest downside of a TV job is instability. Work is project-based and business models are constantly shifting, so employment is never a given. And unless you're lucky enough to be anointed Staff, there's little advance notice you're going to be let go. Forget a severance package.
Prepping for joblessness
I was lucky enough to freelance for the same company for ten straight years, which isn't common in the field. My bosses had my back, and I'm tremendously grateful for that. Still, once the economy started dipping, I worried for my job constantly and began to prepare for the inevitable bye-bye. So…
- I didn't carry any credit card debt.
- I saved as much as I reasonably could without Scrooging.
- After a few years of blowing cash on god-knows-what, I embraced frugality with a vengeance.
- Subsequent to funding a Roth IRA and emergency fund, I took care of my college loans in one fell swoop. In fact, I overpaid Sallie Mae by $4. They sent me a check. I hung it on the fridge.
When the Great Recession reared its head, that pecuniary alertness turned out to be pretty smart. (Horn, consider yourself tooted.) While my division performed well, shows weren't being bankrolled like the olden days. More money was going to independent production companies. Company cuts were on the way.
My last day of work was the day before my tenth anniversary. I didn't say shmoopy goodbyes, because you never know if you'll return. I did take my KISS wrapping paper, because what's Christmas without Gene Simmons?
A year later, I'm not suffering. I'm not rolling in dough, either. I was never a huge spender to begin with, but there's a huge difference between moderation backed by a weekly paycheck, and moderation without a consistent income. The former makes you feel like a rock star and a good person. The latter makes you panic.
Fortunately, babysitting, writing, and sporadic unemployment have been enough to get by. Mostly, and I can't emphasize this enough: not carrying debt has made the ride a shmamillion times easier. It's an enormous relief, mentally, because:
- There are no bill collectors at my door.
- Nothing is in danger of repossession or FINAL NOTICE.
- I owe family and friends bupkis.
So, hear this: if you're young and making decent bank, get rid of your debt now, especially if your job is particularly unstable. I mean it. Even better — try not to rack any up in the first place. There's a reason J.D. hits that point over and over again here.
Moving forward, as the economy slowly recovers, I may begin working in TV again. Or I may move on to greener, Lohan-less pastures. Either way, I've learned to value my income a little more. And in a weird way, that's made the last year worth it.