Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Bricks and Mortar Method To Financial Sustainability

Like many writers in the sustainable homemaking space, I'm guilty of writing more about saving and extending resources than I am about gaining more, particularly when it comes to money.  Oh, sure, I write about how to get more produce out of your garden or more fleece when you go to the fabric store, but I don't spend as much time as I might on how to make more money.  This is an oversight on my part, because part of the sustainability equation is increasing your resources.

Think of it this way:  "sustainability" means nothing more or less than a system that can keep going for the foreseeable future because its rate of use of its resources does not exceed how quickly the resources are made available.  If we were talking about using our cars, we would say that our driving habits were sustainable if we could make it to all of our commitments and errands with the gas we can put in our tanks on our gas budget.  When gas prices go up, we either have to decrease our driving or increase our gas budget to keep the system sustainable.

The same is true with your income, and for this, I like to think of my approach as the "bricks and mortar" system of making money.  Full disclosure:  I am speaking from the perspective of a small business owner, but I think those of you with full-time or part-time employment can adapt this system as well.  Certainly, I use this thought process no matter where my income comes from.

Your income derives from two sources.  First are the "bricks."  These are the building blocks of your financial fortune, and you can't build your financial fortress without them.  For me, each metaphorical brick is a large project; each brick represents a commitment to a large chunk of work that will pay well.  I need to be sure that I have a steady stream of bricks coming in, so for me that means cultivating good anchor clients who will feed me a reasonably steady stream of work over the course of a year.  (Some of them read this blog, so let me go ahead and say, "thank you!")  If you are employed full-time, your bricks might be your biweekly paychecks or your base number of hours you are scheduled to work each pay period.  An adjunct professor might think of each class she teaches as a brick.  The point is, your bricks are your large chunks of income that are more or less dependable.

This is where most of us stop, but the strength of your fortress lies not only with your bricks, but with your mortar.  To really have a sustainable income, you need to fill in the gaps with other projects and income sources that can help you hold things together.  For me, a lot of my "mortar" comes from my smaller clients (income-wise).  These are the clients, some long-term and some one-time, who send me smaller projects or one-off opportunities.  When I feel like I have a gap between "brick" projects, you can be sure I make the rounds of old and new clients who might have some "mortar" available.

My mortar is also made up of extras from my "brick" projects, like add-on projects from clients who might be having a seasonal rush or need extra help.  Also, I get my mortar from my Etsy shop, Carrot Creations.  You could easily do likewise by picking up a part-time holiday job, selling some garden produce, or doing any number of other interesting short-term projects, like becoming a poll worker on election day.

As I read the financial news, I see an economy that is changing here in the U.S.  I think more and more of us will be constructing our own financial empires with multiple jobs and projects that we knit together to make a  sustainable income.  Your reaction to that might be dread, or it might be excitement.  For me, I like the challenge of putting together a sustainable income; I just need to mind my bricks and mortar.
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