Yesterday, the Washington Post’s Michelle Singletary wrote a post about how to tell whether you’re living above your means. It begins with her thoughts on the whole Paul Manafort thing (which I’ve largely been ignoring but we can discuss in the comments IF YOU WANT) and then launches into a list of reasons why you, like Manafort, might be living above your means.
One of the items on her list? Not having a “Life Happens” fund.
You need an emergency fund for the big financial storms such as losing a job. But you will face unexpected gusts such a major car repair for which you need savings too. To keep from tapping your emergency fund all the time, create a life happens account. Money will flow in and out of this fund as needed. So when you have a major repair you tap this account rather than your emergency fund. When you recover from the smaller storm, you build the life happens fund back up.
If you don’t have your “Life Happens” fund — or any of the other items on her list — it’s time to cut back on the restaurants, vacations, etc. etc. etc. you know how this goes.
I’m interested to hear whether you agree with this advice.
I know that YNAB, for example, advises that you give some of your dollars the job of “future car repairs,” stashing ’em...
This piece originally ran on November 17, 2014.
The initial budget for our short was $3,500.
In January, I projected that my husband and I were due for a $3,500 tax refund, and I asked him, “Hey, can I have that to make a movie?”
He said “Sure!”
I was sitting on a short script that felt like the best writing I’d ever done — a five-page prelude to a feature I’d been developing for several years — and it had been too long since I’d directed anything.
So I called a meeting with Melia, my writing partner, who would also star in the film, and Jon, our producer, who would double as the cinematographer, and told them, “Hey, let’s make a movie! I’ve got $3,500.”
Jon told me $3,500 sounded tight. He said, “We can make something great for $4,500.”
I laughed. Producers always want more money. It’s their job to ask for more money. So we pretended the budget was $3,500, and I hoped we could do it for $4,000, and Jon of course was right all along.
Here’s what we spent:
The Screen Actors Guild minimum for a short film is $100/day. Technically, three actors for two days should have cost $600, but Melia waived her $200 fee.
Production Staff: $100
$50/day for our incredibly capable 2nd AD, who agreed to work for a pittance because he wanted film experience. Ricky stepped in as...
I started a job at a startup last year that I absolutely love — it is an excellent professional and personal fit for me. My manager is great; working with him has made a huge difference in the quality of our work and my professional development.
However, I live in City A and work in City B about 40 miles away. I take a commuter train, which, counting the time it takes to walk to and from the train station on either end, takes about two hours each way. (Driving isn’t an option.) I undertook this commute because I was promised the ability to work from home as desired, so long as I was in the office about half the time on average. In practice, there are some weeks where I’m in the office four or five days in a row and some weeks where I’m holed up in my apartment or a fancy coworking space (which work pays for).
During a discussion about an entirely different issue two months ago, my boss referenced making a policy change that would require me to be in the office essentially every day. I panicked (it was already a high-stress conversation for different reasons) and said that if we made that change, I would...
There once was a single mother with a young daughter. They lived together in the type of apartment complex where they were hesitant to unpack because they knew they might be evicted at any time. The mother might not get enough work hours that month. The landlord might raise the rent.
They had not been living in this particular complex for very long, and the mother had warned her daughter not to go around talking to people. You never knew, about your neighbors. Most of them would be a lot like the mother and her daughter, and eventually they’d become the kind of friends who knew that one day there’d be a knock on the door and one or the other of them would have fifteen minutes to put anything they’d unpacked into a black garbage bag, hoping it wouldn’t rip — but one of their neighbors could be the kind of person who wouldn’t bother knocking at the door, because it was too easy to push it open.
So the mother told her daughter to stay in the apartment, with the chair pushed up against the doorknob, but that day there was no electricity, and no library books to re-read, so the daughter made herself a peanut butter sandwich (to save opening the refrigerator) and went out onto the concrete steps, because it was too hot to stay indoors.
It’s Wednesday, which means it’s time to chew on some financial questions.
Today, I want to know if anyone is going to deactivate their Twitter accounts this Friday. Here’s a quick summary of what’s going on, from Lifehacker:
On August 17, Twitter users are organizing a social media walk out under the hashtag #DEACTIDAY. BoingBoing writer Mark Frauenfelder posted that his decision to leave is motivated largely by the platform’s refusal to ban Alex Jones, whom they’ve admitted has violated their official policies.
If you deactivate your accounts on Friday and don’t re-activate them within 30 days, they automatically delete. So… that’s a thing people are doing.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Gordon at The Outline thinks we should all go back to Tumblr:
On Tumblr, if the same post went viral (or better yet, a well-reasoned essay on why The Dark Knight is a perfectly entertaining, visually arresting action blockbuster with the emotional depth of a puddle), all I’d see would be generic “this post was reblogged” notifications with a smidgen of attached text. The only detailed reactions I’d read would be the ones on blogs I was already following. Meanwhile, if people had enough of an issue to talk about it, they’d be reblogging it on their blogs, for the purpose of talking to their community — a much more achievable and worthwhile pursuit than trying to craft...
I started Scottish Country Dancing as a way to earn gym credits in college. It was only a couple hours of activity a week, it fit nicely around my class schedule, and the music was almost always live. I had no idea what Scottish Country dancing was before I started attending — I just showed up and hoped for the best.
Imagine square dancing, except the music comes from Scotland, the men are wearing kilts, and people care about your footwork. Oh, and dances are done in lines, not squares.
I loved it.
I didn’t know that I could crave the physical and mental stimulation of social dancing until I immersed myself, and I wanted more. I kept going to classes long after I’d satisfied the gym requirement. I got involved with the club and became the treasurer. I attended dances off-campus, where I met local Scottish Country dancers and found myself amongst a community of enthusiastic, nerdy, physically active people who welcomed me with open arms and lots of tea.
Eventually, I was encouraged to attend Pinewoods as a way to grow my dance abilities and network with the social dance community beyond my hometown of Philadelphia. Housed in the woods of Massachusetts south of Boston, each summer at Pinewoods (aka Adult Dance Camp) is broken up into several...
Rosalynn (not her real name) is 27, and is freelancing in entertainment in Los Angeles.
So, Rosalynn, how much money are you making?
Last year I earned $38,000 working 10 months out of the year.
How about this year? Are you still earning roughly the same?
This year I’m on track to earn $40,000. The final year total is up in the air because I’m trying to get a new job(s).
What part of the entertainment world are you working in? Are you looking for a new job within that world?
I have two jobs right now:
Yes, I’m looking for a job in the same worlds. I want to be a TV writer/playwright. I’m looking for writing gigs within entertainment. Due to burnout and recurring health issues, I want to get out of the technical side of theater and stop doing manual labor as part of my job.
That makes sense.
So where is your money going? What are your major expenses? Are there any job-hunting expenses that have been added to your budget?
I’d like to acknowledge my privilege for what I’m about to say next. I think it’s...
I couldn’t decide which of these articles to share with you today, so you’re getting ALL OF THEM:
I Paid Off $180,000 in Student Debt in 8 Years. Here’s How I Did It. Time’s Allana Akhtar interviews attorney Nicole Medham to learn how she paid off her six-figure student loan. It came down to aggressive monthly payments, the ability to live with her parents (while paying rent and bills), and math:
I had a friend in law school who had a really good Excel spreadsheet, where you could plug in figures for your income and it could figure out how long it would take you to pay off your loans. If you had a goal of paying things off in five years or six years, you could put in that information too. That stuck with me.
Medham followed the “pay yourself first” strategy, tackling her monthly loan payment after she’d put money in a savings account, so she’s both debt-free and has over $50K in savings.
Are rich people more likely to lie, cheat, steal? Science explains the world of Manafort and Gates. At the Washington Post, William Wan cites studies proving that both wealth and power can change the way you treat other people:
“To researchers who study wealth and power, it’s dismaying but not surprising, because it tracks so closely with our findings. The...
When my dad moved me into my dorm during my transfer to NYU, after we had an all-night road trip bringing my stuff up from Georgia, I didn’t realize just how convenient the location was. Union Square was literally across the street, a major hub to a variety of major subway lines. I could easily walk down University Place to my classes from our dorm, and I got a part-time job at the Barnes & Noble literally diagonally across the park from the building. I used to come home sometimes on my lunch breaks and take a nap, both a luxury and occasionally a curse when I’d wake up groggy and have to drag myself back across the street to finish my shift.
Convenience, however, was the dorm’s only real perk. My bedroom was one of two beds in the common area, and two other roommates shared a private room. I had little privacy — I was sometimes an unwilling witness to arguments or gossip sessions in the common area while I was just trying to lie in bed. I liked my roommates, but they were very social. The first time I met one of my roommates, I was coming back to what had been an empty dorm after a dinner date with a friend and...
At the beginning of the summer I set myself this “no more than $400 in unallocated discretionary expenses” budget that I was able to stick to for one month. This month, I bought a $1,099 digital piano and told myself I would pay for it out of my savings. Should I feel bad about this?
This is an interesting question, OBB. You write “should I feel bad about this,” which implies that you don’t actually feel bad about it — but you think you ought to feel bad, probably because you had one financial goal at the beginning of the summer and then you changed it.
I know a little bit about your current financial situation, so I know you originally set that $400-per-month goal as a way to ensure you could pay back the money you spent on some combination work-and-vacation travel you did earlier this summer. You owed that money to yourself, and I guess I’m curious why you feel like you need to erase your previous spending by, like, re-saving all the money.
I can hear you telling me that you want your net worth to trend consistently upwards, and you want to make sure you checking account always has at least $3,000 in it, and since your summer travel affected both of those metrics you feel obligated to...
It’s Monday, which means it’s time to check in with our weekend spending.
This weekend, I did in fact buy a digital piano: a Yamaha YDP143B Arius Series in Black Walnut, for $1,099.99. I ordered it from Amazon because it came with free shipping and delivery, and Amazon Prime claims it’ll get it to me by tomorrow. (I did check my local chain music store, but they didn’t have one in stock.)
I also bought two stereo audio adaptors for $6.89, so I could play the piano while wearing my earbuds (because over-the-ear headphones always make my ears go numb). The Arius includes two audio jacks in case you want to play duets, and more people are likely to have a pair of earbuds in their pocket/purse than a pair of headphones, so I made sure to get two adaptors.
The Arius comes bundled with 50 Greats for the Piano, a book that includes the Moonlight Sonata, Clair de Lune, and other moon-related classics. It does not include To a Wild Rose or any of Edward MacDowell’s Woodland Sketches, so I paid $6.99 for Amazon to send me a MacDowell piano book (if you’ve read The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 2, you know why) and that plus the 50 Greats should be enough music to keep me busy for a while.
So, how much are you making?
I make more than $500K annually, but less than $700K. However, it really depends on stock options and bonuses, which are based on how well my business area does and how the company performs.
Can I assume you’ve reached financial independence (FI)?
What did it feel like to reach FI?
First, let me define what FI means to me. If you are young and you live below your means, you are on some spectrum of FI. If you make a large salary, but your lifestyle meets or exceeds your salary, you are not yet FI.
When I reached FI, I was relieved. However, it was somewhat anticlimactic because there wasn’t a definitive moment. Unless you receive a windfall, FI happens very gradually over multiple years. Oftentimes, you don’t even know when you reach it, it just happens. It also depends on what kind of lifestyle you want to live for the rest of your life.
Also, of course, I knew I was fully FI when I had amassed enough wealth to be unable to spend it all in my lifetime. I was able to plan my legacy — how much I want to pass on to my kids and how much I plan on donating to charity.
What’s the worst financial decision you’ve...
This week, Washington Post personal finance columnist Michelle Singletary explains why she doesn’t like to tell people how much she earns:
Money or the knowledge of it can change the dynamics of a relationship. When people know you have a high income, they’ll make judgments on your unwillingness to spend the way they might. Your frugality can seem miserly to them.
She also writes about the difficulty of hiding her income from her college-bound daughter as they filled out the FAFSA together — but when she finally revealed what she and her husband made, the conversation helped her daughter have a better understanding of how much money it took to run their household.
Her question opened the door to another conversation about all the ways my salary and her father’s are chopped into pieces, including saving for her college education for the last 17 years.
She got it. And, she immediately said, “I won’t tell anyone.”
We’re pretty open about what we earn and spend, within the relative anonymity of The Billfold — so I’m curious whether you keep your income private in your non-Billfold life, or whether you’re as open with everyone else as you are with all of us.
It’s Friday, which means it’s time to estimate our weekend spending.
This weekend, I am very likely going to spend $1,099 on a digital piano. I know this’ll be going over the budget I set for myself this month, but buying a piano has been on the to-do list for a while — and I’d been checking out used digital pianos on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace, waiting for the right bargain to pop up, but when I did some research on piano forums they all said “buy new, buying a 5-year-old digital piano is like buying a 5-year-old computer.”
So… looks like I’m going to buy new.
Total estimate: $1,099.
How about you?
A powerlifting meet boils down to one main thing: pushing, pulling, or lifting some heavy-ass weight.
However, if you were to pull back the curtain behind the big ol’ face of Oz, you would see all the costs involved with the sport that is powerlifting — aka squat, bench, and deadlift.
First off is joining a federation of your choice. I picked the USAPL due to the fact that it is drug-free. A yearlong membership will run you $55, but all this does is give you the option to compete and a fancy (read: paper) membership card. You may not be ready to step onto a platform in front of others just quite yet, so where better to train than a gym for the meantime? I consider myself pretty lucky in the fact that the one I go to only charges $35 a month.
Once you decide that you want to throw yourself into the midst of a meet, you’ll have to pay for that as well. The KC Metro Classic (and a few other meets I’ve been in) cost roughly $45 and registration is typically three to four months out. Sign me up!
This is about the time you realize, Shit. I don’t know what the...
I know that one of the benefits of freelancing is that you can take as much time off as you need, but — as it often goes with unlimited vacation policies, official or unofficial — I’ve never really been able to take advantage of it.
When I was a new, not-so-well-paid freelancer, I couldn’t afford to take much time off — so I combined work and vacation and cranked out more than one 600-word content assignment in a hotel room (or in my parents’ basement, the day after Christmas).
Now I’m better paid, but I have more responsibility. I’ve added small-business ownership to my portfolio, which makes it even harder to take time off. My long weekend in Missoula was technically a vacation, but I still spent part of it checking in on The Billfold, answering emails, prepping a few posts in anticipation of arriving back at my apartment too exhausted to work, etc. As Kelly Conaboy put it: “after you return from vacation you should have a mandatory one- or two-day period to readjust before you go back to normal life.”
Which brings me to this LA Times article — presented by Billfolder request — titled “Why retire when you’re too old to enjoy it? Quit your job now.”
There’s prudent logic behind a relaxing mid-career break. With longer lives come...
This piece originally ran on April 4, 2012.
“Middle Class Snack Kid” is a term I made up for people who do not spend a lot on themselves on the whole, but are running themselves into the ground buying food and drink. I coined this term for myself because I needed to diagnose my disease — the disease being that no matter how much money I make and how little it feels like I spend on myself, I am always living paycheck to paycheck. How can I be so damn broke all the time? Me! The person who doesn’t own a single piece of furniture that wasn’t given to her for free! The person who will wear one pair of jeans until they literally fall apart! The person who will wait until she looks like a crazy mountain woman before she will shell out $40 for a haircut!
Then it hit me: snacks. Fuck. I am all about snacking. As a friend once put it, I am D.T.H. — Down to Hang. And for me, hanging means snacking. I will watch entire seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in one sitting, as long as my friends and my snacks are there. My version of the shameful closet full of shoes would be a closet full of Kettle Chips and cherry tomatoes. And this connection between hanging out with friends and snacking started early.
For the Middle Class...
A friend of mine, himself divorced a few years ago, asked me recently how I was doing. Was I still measuring against how things used to be, or was I able to start rebuilding and making plans for my new life?
I’m rebuilding, I told him. But I’m nowhere near the “making plans” stage of things — my only plans right now are to furnish my apartment.
“That’s fun,” he said. “Do you enjoy it?”
Do I enjoy it? The question baffled me. I enjoy window shopping and online browsing. In a perfect world, I’d love picking out the perfect piece of furniture to complete my vision.
But that’s not how it works. I sort low-to-high, I wonder if I should buy now or wait for the next sale or discount code. I enjoy the piece of furniture I end up with, sure. But is it fun?
No. It’s not fucking fun.
Do I enjoy it? Sure. Right up until I have to pay the credit card bill.
I found out my house was for sale last month.
It’s not like I’d been living in it since December, of course, and the...
There once was a father with two sons. The oldest son was like his father in many aspects: solid, reliable, adequate at sports, more than adequate at work, the type of person who might have lived a quiet middle-class life two generations ago — and still, in many ways, expected to.
The younger son was a YouTuber.
He was called Hans, not because that was his name but because he had started his YouTube career after playing a supporting role in another YouTuber’s video. He had willingly plunged his hands into a series of buckets, each containing an unknown substance — ice water, ghost pepper salsa, live bait — and had improvised a cry that became a meme: “my hans, my hans!”
His friend was no longer making videos, but Hans had over 500,000 subscribers.
“But it’s not a job,” his brother said, because his brother had a job.
“Sure it is,” Hans said. He was wearing a unicorn hoodie provided by one of his recent sponsors.
“But it’s not stable.” His brother had made it through two rounds of layoffs without being fired. He knew the value of being a good employee. “Aren’t you afraid that all of this is going to disappear someday?”
“I’m not afraid,” Hans said. “I’m not afraid of anything.”
“Well, you should be.”
“Hey, it’s Hans! So...
It’s Wednesday, which means it’s time to let go of those financial questions you’ve been hanging onto.
Yesterday, the Cedar Rapids Gazette announced that bus service between Cedar Rapids and Iowa City would begin in October. The cities are 30 miles apart and lots of people commute from one to the other (or from one of the rapidly growing “bedroom communities” in between), so getting a bus that runs every 30 minutes in the mornings/evenings and every hour in between is going to be a gamechanger.
It’s specifically going to be a gamechanger for me, since I’ll be teaching in Iowa City this fall and won’t have to rely on Lyft/Uber. (It’ll probably be a less fortunate gamechanger for Lyft/Uber drivers, who regularly take people up and down the Iowa Corridor.) A rideshare trip would run around $40 each way; the Greyhound bus, which I took exactly once, cost $23. The new bus fare hasn’t been announced yet, but I’m guessing it’ll be significantly cheaper.
Which brings me to my question: What’s the next big thing that’ll make a positive financial difference in your life? A new bus service? An anticipated raise? A child starting kindergarten this fall?
Discuss — or ask your own questions — in the comments.