Salary v Freelance: An artist's impression of Henry and Alice's respective work environments (Getty Images).

Full time vs freelancing: Is being your own boss really worth the stress?

In the fourth instalment of our Money Talks series, Henry and Alice are inspired to discuss the differences between working full-time and freelancing – and how to switch between the two – after Henry throws a spanner in the works.

After three months of confessing their money woes and missteps, Alice and Henry were ready to talk about retirement, but in an unforeseen turn of events, Henry managed to land himself a sweet new (full time) gig.

The freelance lifestyle, although full of flexibility and independence, is not always glamorous (or secure), and most people who freelance decide at some point that there might be more out there for them in the full-time world. And for those who land a job after freelancing for a while, there are a whole lot of changes that happen, including to their finances, lifestyle and workload.

Henry has worked freelance a few times in his life and is used to the lifestyle that comes with it, but there are a number of things he needs to stay mindful of when transitions into his shiny new role. And changing jobs is the perfect opportunity to revisit financial goals, says Blair Vernon, managing director of AMP.

“The moment we have some capacity to earn, or when we start earning more money, there can be a temptation to want to spend it immediately without thinking about whether we’re making a valuable purchase or not.”

He says it’s natural to want to splash out when you become more financially stable, but that it’s not necessarily a sustainable way to look after your money.

“I’m not saying don’t buy that new phone or go out for dinner to celebrate, just be conscious of the trade-off and what else you could be spending the money on, whether it’s saving for particular goal or putting it aside for your retirement.”

Blair also has words of encouragement for freelancer Alice, who is losing her Money Talks buddy to the charms of a stable income: as long as she has a plan and is happy where she is, there’s no need for her to change her career plans.

“I think the secret to enjoying life as well the things we use our money for is knowing we’ve got the important stuff covered in the first instance, and it’s easy to get sorted with a plan and a budget.

“The best career advice I’d give is to do something you love rather than something you think might make you the most money in the future, particularly in a work environment where things are changing so fast.”

In this instalment Henry breaks his job news to Alice, the pair talk about the pros and cons of freelancing, and agree that it’s more than possible to take care of your finances even on an inconsistent income.

We need to talk about money. (Image: Tina Tiller).

Henry: So Alice…

Alice: Yeah?

Henry: I’m about to throw a spanner in the works of this whole thing.

Alice: What?

Henry: You know how we were supposed to write for six months as two ‘young’ (flattering myself here) freelancers talking about money? Well, as I get less and less young every day, I have also decided to jump ship from both The Spinoff and freelance life in general – I have accepted a full time job that will not only pay a salary but will exclude me from any more of these fun chats about money.

Alice: What happened? What changed your mind?

Henry: Well, I got offered a job. And I took it. Still, even after five or so years of living on freelance contracts and self-employment of various kinds, I found it hard to commit to going back to a traditional PAYE job with a salary and someone else taking care of your tax and contributing to your KiwiSaver and getting you a deal on health insurance and a gym subsidy and all of that jazz. I don’t know why I was reluctant but I really was. When negotiating my employment, I even asked if it was possible to work on a contract, which might be the dumbest thing ever, but I just felt some deep desire to retain more control over my finances. Do you feel that?

Alice: I still sometimes wake up in the middle of the night wondering what I’m thinking going off on my own at 20 years old, straying from the comfort of a job that pays on time and with regular hours. Especially when I look around and see that so many of my freelance peers are older and much more connected to the industry and its people than I am. But then I look at all my high school and university friends and it really seems that everyone is just as clueless as everyone else.

In terms of plans for the  near future, going travelling and ‘finding myself’ or whatever people do at 20, freelancing seems like the option I can easily pack up and take with me wherever I end up, so at this stage you’re on your own with the “getting a real job” thing.

What will you miss about it?

Henry: The best thing about freelancing is in the word – the freedom. You have work that you’re contracted to do and as long as you do it, you can invoice for it. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got to go to your daughter’s sports day or you want to go to the beach or whatever. If the work gets done, it doesn’t matter. When you’re on a salary, even if you have some degree of flexibility, the nature of your relationship with your employer is more stable. You are (rightly) expected to hold up your side of the bargain and reciprocate that stability. But when you’re freelancing, you just do the work. You might have to be at certain places at certain times – attend meetings and contribute to certain things in person – but your work arrangement is based on outputs, not inputs and, in most places of work, outputs should remain more important than inputs. In traditional modern employment, your wage is tied to your input – how much time you spend at work – but what really matters in many work environments (but not all!) is the output – how much you get done.

Alice: You’re totally right, freelancing really is about the freedom to be able to work in the way you want to, but it’s not always easy to be your own boss. Some days motivation lacks, other days there’s too much or not enough to do, but I find that with the freedom to take on cool projects and spread my time across multiple projects and platforms, it’s a really enjoyable job.

And I completely understand what you’re saying in terms of output being valued higher than input. I think the most important thing freelancing has taught me is how much my time is worth, literally. Like, in money. The media industry is a complicated beast and becoming freelance has concentrated the most learning I have ever done into just a few months. But it’s all learning that will grow me into a much better storyteller, budgeter, self-motivator, and functioning human in general.

For me, freelancing was a shove into the deep end. I am a tiny bacterium in a huge pond, but I continue to meet amazing people from all walks of life, stretch my brain every which way for stories I once knew nothing about, and I get to live my dream of getting paid to write.

So is there anything you won’t miss about it?

Henry: The accounting, the administration, the uncertainty. Not knowing how much money you’re going to be making the month after next can be terrifying, especially when you have other people relying on you to earn a certain amount of money to help keep the family clothed and fed and all that.

And when times were good, work sprung up that was surprising and fun and took you places you didn’t know you’d get to go. The downside of that is when you don’t know what you’ve got coming down the pipeline. There are times when you’ve got the capacity to be working, but editors aren’t getting back to you, or a piece of work fell through. Usually, something falls out of the sky, but when you have to go into sales mode and push to get someone to use you for something it can get pretty anxiety-inducing. Writers aren’t often great salespeople, so trying to be your own agent can be trying. So I’m certainly looking forward to just doing the work in front of me and not having to drum up an assignment or a copywriting job or whatever.

For the most part, I loved the work I got to do. I always had a central piece of work to do, which changed from time to time, but everything around that could change in an instant. There were times when I was writing a script for an industrial video (that paid very well, to be honest) and I’d think ‘Is this what I’m doing with my life?’ And now, for the next chapter of my life at least, I know, in a broad sense, what I’m going to be doing. Now I just have to do it. And do it super well.

Alice: I have no doubt you will. Go well Henry!

More from Alice and Henry on money:

An honest conversation between two freelancers about money

Love and money: two freelancers discuss managing money and relationships

How to spend it: two freelancers on why they buy the things they do

This content was created in paid partnership with AMP. Learn more about our partnerships here.


This article was brought to you by AMP. A leading financial services and retirement savings provider in New Zealand. AMP is committed to helping Kiwis get more from their money, so they can get more from life.

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