How to Afford Writing Conferences on an Unpredictable Budget

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I recently wrote about Mors Tua Vita Mea, a workshop opportunity for fiction and nonfiction writers in Italy. At press time, the workshop’s spring class has one slot left, but there are always new writing opportunities cropping up.

Some of these workshops and courses will cost you a decent chunk of change, somewhere around four figures.

This is not to fleece students, but rather to cover overhead costs like location, refreshments, faculty salaries, and so on. However, if you come up against a great writing opportunity only to find that you can’t afford it, this explanation must be of very little comfort. 

In the previously mentioned post, I promised an upcoming blog on savings tips, even when your finances are unpredictable. The following are savings tips that have worked for me. This is certainly not the be-all and end-all of lists, but it will get you off to a good start. 

First, create a SMART goal.

If you've endured a human resources seminar or taken a class on business management, then you know that a SMART goal is one that is specific, measurable, achievable, results-oriented, and time-bound.

For example, a poor one would be “I need to save money in case I get into a writing conference or workshop." A good one would be “I need to save $1,800 over the next six months in case I get into Sewanee” because gives you measurable, achievable numbers to work with. 

The measurements here are: your overall financial goal, the amount of time you have to save up to it, and whether or not the account you're using will accrue any interest.

Ask yourself the following questions:

Will you put your finances in a savings account for a few months, or do you have a year or two with which to stick them into a CD? (At the very least, keep your savings in an account separate from your checking so that you can’t access it readily.) What is the interest rate on the account?

Then, implement some easy ways to save money, like these:

  • Take on a side gig, and don't let yourself get used to spending the extra funds. If possible, have your payments set up to directly deposit into your savings account.
  • Bring lunch and coffee to work instead of buying. This should save you anywhere from $25 to $100 a week.
  • Prepare budget-friendly meals. Beth over at BudgetBytes.com has some genuinely tasty recipes for vegans and meat-eaters alike.
  • When you go out, order an appetizer or ask what their happy hour specials are. (Pro tip: if you live in New York, a lot of book parties and gallery openings have free food!)
  • Cut unnecessary costs — if you still have cable, ditch it for Netflix or another subscription service. Exercise in the park or in your living room instead of paying for the gym (Greatist.com has some awesome bodyweight exercises).
  • Attempt a $0 Day.

Finally, make it a habit to track your savings. 

As you implement these ways to save, you should notice extra money freeing up with each paycheck. Track your income at least once a month — or even daily so that you can be responsible for your purchasing habits — and put the excess towards in your writing workshop slush fund.

My freelance budget tracking template may be helpful here.

The best part of this exercise? Even if you don’t make your goal in time, you should still have saved up quite the down payment when you get into your writing workshop.

Happy savings!


Jessica Hatch is not a Registered Investment Advisor, Broker/Dealer, Financial Analyst, Financial Bank, Securities Broker or Financial Planner. The information in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be and does not constitute financial advice, is general in nature and not specific to you. Ms. Hatch is not responsible for any investment decisions made by you. You are responsible for your own investment research and investment decisions.