The spending algorithm

This weekend, for the first time since I went freelance, I bought myself something.

Nothing fancy – a new bike, which I’ve been talking about getting for two years. On my current hand-me-down bike the only gear left working is five, and it’s really not the best when you’re going up a steep hill.

So this weekend I went and sat on luminous aluminium ones in Decathlon, on a wonderful bright yellow one with a basket and paniers in Go Outdoors, we had fun careering round on a silly fold-up number that made us feel like a magician on a Penny Farthing (totally saw someone on one of those in Kensington High Street once, and it was the best thing ever), and I briefly tried suggesting we get a tandem but for some reason that was quickly vetoed…

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Of course, I ended up going to buy the basic model out of Argos because, really, as long as it has a saddle and two wheels I’m pretty happy. I’m not an avid cyclist, I use a bike when the sun is firmly out and only then to get me to a country pub beer garden or to the seaside for a bag of chips.

But, fancy or not, this was a bit a monumental moment for me. Since deciding on a life of no regular income I’ve not really made any purchases that weren’t food, petrol or a train ticket.

Rightly or wrongly, freelancing has changed the way I think about my own money and my spending. The trouble with earning per word, per article or per shift is that you have a very measurable value of your own time.

If it takes X many hours to earn a certain amount writing an article, you can really decide whether what you want is worth the effort it took to earn that money.

Taking a holiday becomes a complicated mathematical equation. Not only are you limiting your earning potential for that time you are away, but you now know you laboured over X many words to pay for it.

None of this is an issue when you’re on staff somewhere, not least because of paid annual leave – joy of underrated joys. Some weeks you’ll write reams of words, other weeks might be a little less productive, but the amount that lands in your bank account each month is always the same. Some of that goes on the mortgage, some of that pays bills or goes to a regular savings account – I am a finance journalist, after all – and hopefully there’s some left over for nights out, new clothes and random bike purchases.

When individual chunks of money land in your bank account in dribs and drabs, it’s very different. I’d considered things like setting up the separate account with money for the taxman, and whether I should pay myself a set wage each month into a different account, but I hadn’t thought about how hard it might be to convince myself to spend some of it.

I’m sure I’ll calm down on this stuff over time (hopefully) – if you ever see me cycling down the road on a bright yellow bike, with gum-coloured wheels and a brown wicker basket on the front, you’ll know that I did.

Or is it just me?

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