We all do money differently. How do you do money, Richard Rushfield?
Logan Sachon: Richard Rushfield, what is your job?
Richard Rushfield: I am currently a combination of things. My main occupation right now is that I’m in the process of getting a website of my own off the ground. It’s been a long extensive process, and I’ve been living on a combination of money from the last book I wrote, savings from my time at the LA Times and old media, and I do a fair amount of freelance.
LS: Have you always been a saver?
RR: It’s only been in sporadic parts of my life that I’ve been able to get ahead. I’ve been a freelancer for most of my career with a few little exceptions. I came to the LA Times with the habit of living on on a shoestring and spending very little, and that enabled me to put away a little money while I was there. Also, when I was there, I was working every hour, every day, so it gave me little time to spend money.
LS: Why did you decide to break away from freelancing?
RR: I was at a point in my career as a freelance writer that I really wanted to become an editor as much as a writer; I wanted to be able to shape things bigger than my own writing, and to do that, you have to be a part of something.
And I was excited about the particular challenge. I joined the web team and the website at that time was known as the worst website in journalism. It was like the fourteenth most popular news website in LA—more people in LA looked at the Boston Globe site than the LA Times site. So I was excited about this bigger challenge. Also, the freelance life can get tiring. I’d been doing it for 15 years by that point, and the hustle never stops. To not have to hustle like that for your basic paycheck was a relief after all that time.
LS: Did you make more money with a “real” job?
RR: I don’t know that it was hugely more—when you include health insurance, it might have been slightly more. It was probably comparable, but it was consistent. As a freelancer, you have lean months and months with windfalls, and then you have places that go out of business before they pay you. Consistency is worth 20% of the dollar value, at least.
LS: Were you able to save money?
RR: When I started working at the LA Times was when I started getting ahead of the game and started racking up significant savings. Then I worked for Gawker and had the book deal, which was a very generous book deal. I was lucky they fell for it. The good thing about my book deal was that it was a very quick timeline. I had to turn in the book in five months, so it was like I was paid for a certain amount of time’s work, and I knew how long I had to last on that money. If I hadn’t had that calendar, I probably would have spent years on it.
LS: Do you have health insurance?
RR: I do. That’s where my money goes now: Gasoline, baby products, and health insurance, none of which are cheap.
Before the LA Times, I bought my own health insurance, and I do that again now. I went through an extremely talented insurance broker. I was put in touch with this broker, and the broker gets a commission from an insurance company for bringing you through them. Unless you’re some sort of savant and these things don’t make your head spin, this is the way to go. The brokers are people that know the whole system and can guide you to the best deal. And they have incentive to do that, because their money comes from keeping you insured.
LS: You seem to have it pretty together. Would you say you’re good with money?
RR: No. I’ll put it this way. I’m not good with numbers. It’s hard for me to keep track of numbers and things and to think about investing. My wife and I keep our overall longterm savings together, but we have separate account for our discretionary income.
LS: Do you have a budget you go off of?
RR: Ha, no. I have a budget in my head. I basically know where I am; I know what my monthly burn rate is. But I don’t have it written down in an organized way.
LS: How did you learn how to deal with your money?
RR: Back when I wore a younger man’s clothes and I was just getting started as a freelancer, I wasn’t making a lot of money. I was going out every night and I had access to credit cards, and I got myself fairly well in debt. I had no thought of, “I’m making this much, so I should spend a number that is smaller than that.” I just didn’t do that kind of math.
That experience of having very little income and being in debt was probably one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. I never got a good night’s sleep when I had that debt looming over me. Since that time I’ve had times when I’ve had very little money, but having no money and no debt is so much better than having money and having debt.
LS: How high did it get?
RR: It probably wasn’t very high. I was young, and it seemed high to me. It was probably $6,000 of credit card debt. Compared to giant student loans and things it’s not a ton, but owing $6,000 at a time when I was making $900 a month, the thought of how I was going to pay it back was horrifying.
LS: How did you do it?
RR: I started making more and spending less, a little at a time. No magic formula.
LS: Had your parents talked to you about money?
RR: They tried. My father is a banker, a man of finance, and he made every attempt to teach me all these things, to little avail. Nothing teaches you like getting in trouble. When I stopped using credit cards, I started doing better. I just focused on one number, and that’s the number in my bank account.
I went for five years and didn’t use them at all—I lived entirely all cash, but there are times when when you have to use them. I use them very rarely, and never just for day-to-day things. One example would be if you’re buying a plane ticket for a story, or something like that, and you don’t have the money yet, but you know is coming.
As a freelancer, while your basic guiding principle has to be spend less than you make, basically, you have to spend money to make money. Pursuing stories often takes money—for travel, for research, for instance. And if you’re going to be a freelancer, you have to make it your priority to turn over every rock in search of the stories that will make your name—knowing even, that most of the stones you turn over lead to nothing. You can’t miss out on a story because you wanted to save $75 on a ticket to something. You have to keep doing that. Be smart about it, but don’t be cheap about it. Thats the price of doing business.