What’s Your Lemonade Stand?

Money panic burns like bad whiskey, doesn’t it? But it creeps up instead of down. I felt the money panic start to grip me, as I realized my rent check of $795 was out in the world, but my bank account was creeping down to $900.

(BTW: Don’t feel bad for me, never feel bad for me: I don’t have money problems, I have money choices.)

After 11 days focusing on networking in New York, I had neglected the marketing and sales side of my business. I had no work lined up, and the process of pitching, discussing, getting assignments, executing the assignment, editing, invoicing, harassing for payment, then actually receiving a check made me feel like I didn’t know how I’d make it through this month.

My main client usually has work for me, and he pays his invoices on the same day like a saint, but he didn’t have anything for me at the moment. I went around Twitter and Facebook, mentioning that I was accepting clients. But it felt like begging.

In the weeks before, I’d been in talks to write for one of the most powerful women on Wall Street, one of the most famous guitar brands, and multiple people from the newspaper with the world’s most Pulitzer Prizes. But today, I needed a lemonade stand.

What is a Lemonade Stand?

Lemonade Stand. n. a personal mini-business from which you feel fairly confident you could make some money within the next 24 hours, including marketing, execution, and billing.

I know about this kind of hustle from living in South America, where people are hustling all over the place. Even a 10-year-old knows the pack of gum offered to you right now on a bus is worth more than a pack of gum a mile away at the store. You need almost nothing to create convenience for people. Last week in New York I saw a woman with a cooler full of drinks by Prospect Park on a sunny day. Same thing.

A lemonade stand is making work for yourself.

Get Hold of Your Assets

Your lemonade stand will always be made out of your assets.

Google says an asset is “a useful or valuable thing, person, or quality,” and also “property owned by a person or company, regarded as having value and available to meet debts, commitments, or legacies.” You want to have amazing assets.

An asset can be the $15 it takes to buy lemons, sugar, and the posterboard for your sign. An asset can be your time, which you can use to wash cars. My most amazing asset is my Fujifilm X-T2 camera, which I bought last year as an investment in travel writing and my career in general.

The camera offered the most immediate value: everyone loves a nice picture of themselves. Ooh, and, I realized, Mother’s Day was this weekend.

I took the rest of my business cards, counted that I had 45, and printed up labels as ads for the back. Just this action alone made me feel better, more in control. Hopeful.

The panic retreated.

Cost of labels: $12

Profit: -$12


I usually charge $150 for a portrait, but I set my price at $20. Why? Because I needed people to say yes without having to think about it, do research, or debate. They couldn’t have a lot to lose.

This is something rich people know: Money you need now will never be as good as money you can wait for.

The next morning, at 9 a.m., I left my house ready to work all day. I literally saw an early bird with a worm in its mouth in the park, but I saw no families. I didn’t want to litter, but I wove a few of my cards into the tables at a local playground.

I went to the coffee shop to warm up my photography skills on barista buddies. One of them mentioned that she needed professional shots done, and she might call me. Which is a good point about the lemonade stand. It should have something to do with your regular job, so there’s marketing and networking built in.

First Sale of the Day

At 11, I got my first text!

Oh yeah, sales are exciting! Feeling like, well, a kid at a lemonade stand with her first quarter, I ran back to the playground and took some cute pics of my first customers.

Gross earnings: $20.

Profit: $8

Sneaky Business Costs

By noon, I was out of cards. I had to rush to FedEx Kinko’s to print more. I did so without asking how much it would be, which is a terrible habit I have.

Price for 100 cards: $33.

Profit: -$25

I didn’t get out of Kinko’s until 2, and I told myself I had to pass out every one of those damn cards before sunset.


I kept tweaking my little speech. As a hardened urbanite who never accepts anything someone’s handing me on the street, I knew I had to be clever. I began the day by saying “Hi, I’m a writer and photographer…” Then I realized that started talking about myself. Not a great way to sell. Over time it changed to “Happy Mother’s Day. If you want some nice photos, I’m doing family or kid portraits for $20 today.”

If they just stared at my card, I said, “This has my Instagram on it. You can check it out and text me later if you’re interested.”

There is little that feels more vulnerable than literally holding something out to someone and having them not take it from you. But I have a masters degree in rejection called Peace Corps. It’s a long story I’ll tell you later, but no one prepares you as a volunteer for the possibility that you will offer your entire self for two years, and people might just go, “Eh, no thanks.” In many ways, that’s what happened during my service.

So mostly, having someone say, “No thanks” to my business card wasn’t that big of a deal, but I felt the match of rejection light and flare out every time as I walked away.

Only one person looked at me like I was a piece of trash being dangled in front of her face.

Dramatic re-enactment of how this woman looked at me the entire time I was talking to her.

Many other people said, “Oh this is such a great idea.” One women didn’t want one today but asked if I do maternity photos. (I do. By which I mean I can.)

I accidentally tried to give people a card who I’d seen before. “You got us down the road,” the woman said, “but keep at it.”

People respect the hustle.

Getting a Raise

I handed my card to anyone who looked like they were with their mother, and landed a group of ladies, two best friends and their moms.

After fueling up with my own iced vanilla latte, (I know), I posed them in the park, they told me they actually might need some writing help. It felt funny to tell them, oh yeah, I have a book coming out this summer. Like, “Well then what are you doing in a park selling photos?”

Working in a public place has its challenges. I took the ladies to a round enclosure where I thought they could sit on the wall, but found a piece of obviously human feces covered in flies sitting right in the middle of the enclosure.

“Nope, not here,” I said, turning around fast enough to spare them.

The woman looked up at the trees covering it, “Yeah, too dark.”

I posed them on a wall in Cal Anderson park, then a bench. “This is all still $20, huh?” said one, incredulous. “Yep!” I promised.

Then at the end, one of the women slipped an extra $20 in my pocket, and the other sent me a $10 tip over Apple Pay.

Profit: $25

I got one more nice young family on the playground, and then a huge family having a picnic at the park. It’s usually so hard to get that many people together for a photo. I felt happy I could do that for them.

The Lemonade Stand Business Model

A lemonade stand is not a scam. The goal is to bring actual value to people. You buy the lemonade from kids because they’re cute, but also because lemonade is delicious on a hot day of garage sale shopping. This is how I want all my business interactions to feel: the other party felt happy with what they got, I felt happy with what I got.

I didn’t want to sell on the cute factor, which meant people were just buying from me to be nice. I wanted to give them something they wanted. But also, people do want to support artists, so I did mention I was a local writer and photographer for 10% cute factor.

Profit: $65

Passing an acquaintance on the street, I took pictures of her and her daughter.

“Can I give you some cash?” she asked.

“Sure,” I said. “I’ll take some cash.” I wished I could have afford to refuse, but who was I kidding?

Profit: $85

As I passed out the last of my cards after 5 p.m., I saw four groups of people I knew in the park, including one woman I work with day-to-day. It did feel a little embarrassing, like “Uh, yeah, hi, I’m just running around selling photos for my secret meth habit.” But I decided whatever inside me felt embarrassed was not a part I needed to care about. Getting you ego pummeled is always great for you. You have to be willing to see dirt on your face, which is a metaphor until it really happens.

After 6 I was done, and I laid back in the grass with a contented exhaustion. I felt like I’d walked six miles, and I probably did. But I also felt proud of myself, a great antidote for shame and panic.

My go-to is to look for someone else to save me. I’d spent the day saving myself. And really, what did I do? I went around in beautiful weather taking pictures of cute kids, which is pretty much my definition of a good day anyway. That was the best thing about the lemonade stand, remember? It was fun.

What I’ll Do Differently Next Time

Ok, so $85 is not great, but it’s not nothin’. I’m already planning on doing this for Father’s Day next month. I think next time I’ll make a little A-frame sign and just stick to one location. That way I don’t have to approach people, possibly create litter, and spend money on cards. And I can just chill in one crowded park instead of running around all of Seattle. I’ll also display some photos of cute kids I’ve taken, and have a more prominent link to my Instagram. To get people to understand the idea a little more, I’ll call it a “pop up photography studio.” Everyone loves a pop up, it’s something they’ll get immediately.

A lemonade stand is a tiny business model, and like everything, I’ll get better at it with experience.

Seven Characteristics of a Lemonade Stand:

  1. Can get set up using assets you have
  2. Gets money in your hand today
  3. Is mostly made of hustle
  4. Brings value to the customer
  5. Has something to do with the kind of work you’d like to do
  6. Is a little fun
  7. Is repeatable

I think every freelancer, or even everyone should have an answer to the question: What will I do if I get in a situation where I need money immediately? Your lemonade stand is the answer.


Where Have You Been?: May 10th Not Monday Money Check-In

God everything’s a shitshow right now. An exciting, scary, pit-of-stomach, oh-my-heart shit show. Over the last month I’ve gone from San Francisco to New York, from the offices of The New York Times to free fancy dinners paid for by years of practicing writing to a housein the Catskills filled with badass women to my apartment wondering where I’ll get my next paycheck.

It was all “work.” Work in the sense that I was drumming up business, negotiating a raise with my steadiest freelancing client, brainstorming story ideas with two editors at The Times.

And none of it was “work.” It was not work in the sense that no one was paying me, except for the $500 speaking fee (poofed when I bought my flight and found a $50-a-night-room to stay in).

I finished my book on Tuesday, for which the two checks of $2,400 have long come and gone. I finished an essay I’ve been working on for months and submitted to Modern Love, but even if it gets accepted I’ll get $300 in, maybe, six months from now. Fuck Off Funds were in Cosmo and Glamour this month, for which I got $0.

I cannot cash my rent check on publicity, or connections, or exposure. They will pay off, someday. But I have $285 after my rent check clears (and I cannot, cannot bounce it again), and really no solid idea of where my next check will come from.

So today is spent hustling, and I will just keep bouncing back.

I so believe, more than ever, that I am on the verge. I will be paid well within the next few years. The book will give me a platform to make more money. Those stories will be published in The Times.

But damn, shit feels real right now.

One Day This Will Be Funny: April 10, 2018 Monday-ish Money Check In

“Guys,” I wrote on the Fuck Off Fund Facebook Page a month ago, “I had to turn down a really cool opportunity. A free ticket worth $1,000 to a conference, but it’s in San Francisco, I’d have to get my flight and hotel, so I had to say no. I feel responsible but crappy.”

Today, I write to you from San Francisco.

One of my favorite clients, Nir Eyal, is throwing this Habit Summit, where a bunch of brilliant people from places like Google are talking about how people form habits, information I want to use for my writer’s course to help people make writing a habit. Plus they’ll be teaching gamification, which I want to study to help people get through the course and actually enjoy it. In high school, I had a piece of software for studying for the SAT that felt like a game. It really helped me stick to a program, get a score good enough for entry into the University of Florida with scholarships. The more important a goal is, the more important it is that you make it fun to get there. That’s what I think.

But in a fit of responsibility, I told Nir I couldn’t make it. I couldn’t afford the ticket, the hotel. Then I thought about it for two days. Or it, rather, it thought on me. If you get what I mean.


I tried to find a free place through the Peace Corps couchsurfing Facebook to stay in San Francisco. Two people offered, but they were an hour and a half away by bus. So I did something I swore I would never do again. I signed up to sleep in a room with three strangers.

“My god no, I am too old for that shit,” I’d thought just a year ago. I was at the Lola conference in Portland, and Tanya from Our Next Life, on of the uber-frugal retire early bloggers, was talking about how someone had kept her up in her dorm. I just shook my head, thankful I’d never have to deal with that again.

I have done the hostels, the bed-collapsing, 2 a.m. drunk guys, 8 a.m. fart noises hostels, for many of the trips to the city when I was in Peace Corps. That part of my life had come to a close, I’d thought.

And yet here I am, in a (thankfully) all-female dorm at San Francisco’s HI Downtown. Because I said I would do the cheapest thing, and this is the cheapest thing.

If have the top bunk, if you must know.

Everyone was lovely. If anything, I was the jerk because I had to get up at 6:30. Luckily I was so worried about it that I anxiety-woke before my alarms went off. I’ve met a girl from Hong Kong, one from Brasil, and another from Spain. I met a dancer from Australia, who saved a year  and a half to come to America for three months to audition on each coast.


This morning, I went to the conference. My awesome boss/client Nir was, for once, not in email form. I got a free bagel and coffee. I got to sit in a very expensive room to sit in. I wrote 10 pages of notes for my future business plans.


This is how the woman next to me took her notes:


Back at the hostel, I realized the kitchen here is gorgeous and I’ve never cooked by myself in a hostel before. I really should. I finally know enough about cooking to throw something together. I probably won’t tonight. It’s 8:30, and I’ll do that thing where I get to uncomfortable hunger and think, Well now I have to go to a restaurant due to hangriness.

I keep promising myself this will all be funny one day. When I’m staying at the… I don’t know… I want to dream big… when I’m at the Hilton. With a room all by myself. I’ll look back on this and laugh and shake my head.

To make myself feel better, I keep reminding myself how funny this will be.

But what if it’s not? What if I stay a writer, and I just keep making this amount, and I go to conferences and I am in expensive rooms that I got with social capital, but I stay in very cheap rooms I have to buy with actual, god-fearing money?

That would be ok too.

I keep telling myself.



I’m not doing my Monday check-in list because A. I’m tired. B. I’m scared to look, which is why I’m pretending to be tired. I do have to pee though, so that’s a reason to go. I hope I don’t wake my roommate.

Fuck Off Fund Guide to YNAB

YNAB is a software that will help you. As long as you help it help you. Like a pet, you have to take care of it daily. Keep it fed and watered. Does that sounds like work? Well, it is, a little bit. This is adulting after all.

Here’s everything I’ve learned about using YNAB so far:

Daily Tasks

Go to your account, click Import

Categorize all purchases

Make sure your To Be Budgeted is green.


On Payday

Categorize the money you get as To Be Budgeted

Ask yourself what that money most needs to do



Look at the age of money. You’re trying to get that number to 30.

Ask yourself if there are things you need to save for, and set goals




General Things

Your Cleared Balance should match your bank balance

Any grey “C” symbols should be cleared. You can go to select all, edit, then mark as cleared.

How Much Should We Be Planning?: April 2, 2018 Monday Money Check-in

I didn’t know about this thing called “planning” for about the first 25 years of my life. I’m definitely learning to love it. It’s like, Ooh, you mean I can plan for the future instead of letting it bat me in the face with consequences when it finally arrives? Tell me more. 

This year, I put up a laminated year calendar on the wall of the office I share, and it’s given me such a sense of control. I don’t write on it in permanent market, so if I need to change my plan, I just lick my finger and wipe off what I thought would happen, write in what will actually happen, no big deal. I think before I was scared that if I didn’t get it exactly right, I’d be screwed.

As Michael Gerber has said, “Businesses that plan always do better than businesses that don’t. But businesses that change their plans are always more successful than businesses that plan but don’t change them.”

So you have to find that happy medium. I started the earliest version of this blog with a weekly check-in. I’ve added a monthly and a yearly, but today I realized it’s the start of Q2, so I’m going to do a quarterly one too.

Am I allowed to use phrases like Q2, if I’m a creative freelancer? Yes, because you are also a business person. Everyone is a business person, even an employee. A person is a business. We all want to stay in business. This is especially true of freelancers.

Planning takes time. I spend almost all of my Monday planning, doing my executive meeting and this check-in. But it’s time well spent. Invested.


I’m not doing that well with money right now guys, and I forgive myself. I’m going to keep working hard. I’m going to zoom out to the year, the quarter, and not let myself get lost in the little failures. I’m laying a lot of foundations for things that I trust will pay off later. But I have to save my fuck off fund this year, and I cannot make myself financially desperate while I’m networking and going to conferences.


  • Earned last week: $839. Short of my $1,000 goal. And I need to make some serious money because I have two conferences coming up this month, one in San Francisco, the other in New York City. Not cheap places. 
  • Saved last week: $0
  • Personal Checking Balance: $0
  • Business Checking Balance: $3
  • Fuck Off Fund Level: $2,000
  • Weekly wins: I did not do well last week guys. Like, seriously, a musical montage of everything freelancers could do wrong. What did I do right? There must be something… hmmm. Oh! When I was on Nicole Dieker’s podcast and I asked her why her voice is so clear and amazing, she told me she took voice lessons. So I signed up for voice lessons!
  • Look at all bills due this week: Rent, health insurance..
  • Update and review budget (I’m changing to YNAB): Done. I’m really learning that YNAB makes you see where you’re stealing from yourself. 
  • Look at any social events where I might want to spend some of my Fun Money: Thank god, I think I can keep it really low-key. 
  • Transfer 10% of money received last week: Easy, didn’t make any
  • Transfer $200 to Fuck Off Fund: I’m not going to do this right now, but I have a $400 payment coming in I can do it with. 
  • Transfer 20% of earnings to Tax Savings Account: Don’t need to. 


What Is The Animal You Are: March 26, 2018 Monday Money Check-in

I said I wasn’t going to go to the writer’s conference in Tampa, then I went.

I said I wasn’t going to go to Key West to visit my best friends, then I went.

I said I wasn’t going to go to Beyonce, then I got my tickets.

I said I wasn’t going to go to the Habit Summit in San Francisco, then I emailed my boss back to say I would.

I said I wasn’t going to go to the lady and money retreat in upstate New York, now I’m going to that, too.




I lie.


“I want you to remember something you said to me,” said my best friends’ mom, Jeri. “You want  a big life.”

Then Amanda Clayman said to me, “I feel like you’re trying to become someone you wouldn’t even like.

At the writer’s conference, poet Gabby Bates kept saying things about being the animal you are right now.


This morning, I got a confirmation of a meeting with a writer at the New York Times, so I said YES! as I shimmied and turned around to find my 150 sq. ft. apartment, in which I’m very happy for now. I’m so excited about the people I’ll get to meet at the Habit Summit, and, even though I told my boss, Nir Eyal, that I wasn’t coming, in the end I just couldn’t pass up the free ticket he offered me in exchange for volunteering (normal cost: $1,700)

I set up free housing in San Francisco using my Peace Corps network. I have a free place to stay in NYC, thanks to a tweet out to writer buddies. I’m taking these risks, these financial risks, because a risk-taker is who I am. I’m an entrepreneur, a creative, an adventuress. This is the horse I’m riding.

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!” ― Jack Kerouac, On the Road

For so long, I’ve tried to tamp down how much I like to talk, to learn, to go out and see. Now, I’m embracing it, and realizing it’s part of what differentiates me.

I have to stop pretending I’m going to let a chance to learn from the top people at Google pass me by. I have to stop pretending I’m not going to join in on a retreat of the top women working in my industry, or miss a session of worship at the high holy church of Beyonce.

You know what you want girl. Now just figure out how to get it.

I’m sacrificing, for now. The tiny apartment, the old car. I’m happy to do it. I can see, in the distance, as long as I keep this horse reined in, that we’re going to make it somewhere better.


Monday Money Check-in

  • Earned last week: $1,425 Hallelujah. I needed that to make up for the crappy weeks before it.
  • Saved last week: $200
  • Personal Checking Balance: $517
  • Business Checking Balance: $2254
  • Fuck Off Fund Level: $2,000 Woot Woot!
  • Weekly wins: I am not giving up learning how to use YNAB!
  • Look at all bills due this week: Need to pay my insurance! 
  • Update and review budget: Done and done
  • Look at any social events where I might want to spend some of my Fun Money: I’m taking my guy out to dinner and going to see Charles Johnson this week!
  • Transfer 10% of money received last week: EEEEEeeee can I next week?
  • Transfer $200 to Fuck Off Fund: Done!
  • Transfer 20% of earnings to Tax Savings Account: Done for real

The Fuck Off Fund Guide To Money

This is what we’ve learned so far.


Month: January

Superhero: Amanda Clayman

Theme: What the fuck is wrong with me?

Don’t yell at yourself. It’s just another way of procrastinating instead of actually addressing the problem.

Listen for when you’re calling yourself “you”, e.g. You suck at money! I want to murder you! I know 5-year-olds that are more fiscally responsible than you! Come back to I.

Accept who you are. If you know you spend money, look at how you can earn more.


Month: February

Superhero: The Good People at YNAB

Theme: How do I get my shit together?



Go to account, click import


Put any transfers in To be budgeted

Review all transactions

Make sure everything is green


Under Budget

If the available is in red, at that much in budgeted


On Payday

Put the amount in To Be Budgeted

Ask yourself: Where does this money need to go?

Think through true expenses



Age of money: try to get it up to 30 days

Are there things I’m saving for?

Oh Shit! When Will My Money Run Out?: March 19, 2018 Monday Money Check-In

Thank god I got Kristin Wong’s book, Get Money, in the mail this week. Because she pinpointed exactly where I am right now.

Next stop: Cursing myself. But Amanda Clayman actually did a pretty great job of helping me stop doing that. It’s been hard this week. Things are not looking that good. I made that $300 mistake with the flight, where I booked it under my first initial instead of my first name. This also cost me a lot of stress and 6 hours on the phone.

Then: I have $200 left on top of the money that’s in my account for my rent check. YNAB is hard! I’m still learning, and I somehow, in the fog of travel, performed my favorite magic trick that is turning money into not money. I have a $2,700 invoice for work I did in December, which I was told I would get the check for today. That check is not yet with us. (*checks email, sees that they sent the check to my old address and speak of it as if it will be sent (future tense) to the new one. Sends passive-aggressive email to please just paypal me the money for the love of god*)


  • Earned last week: $375
  • Saved last week: $0
  • Personal Checking Balance: $800 (with a $795 for rent out in the world. Cash it already you hoes!)
  • Business Checking Balance: $234
  • Fuck Off Fund Level: $1,800. This is the first week I can’t afford to send in my $200. I can only have two weeks a year like this or I’ll fall short of my $10,000. Maybe I can double it up one week!
  • Weekly wins: I really have done a good job of not falling into the shame spiral of hating myself for messing up. Just moving the f on.


  • Look at all bills due this week: Phew, looks like none
  • Update and review budget (I’m changing to YNAB): did it!
  • Look at any social events where I might want to spend some of my Fun Money: I have to tell all my friends I’m in the danger zone and can do nada.


  • Transfer 10% of money received last week: Done, because, you know, $0 received
  • Transfer $200 to Fuck Off Fund: I can’t, wah!
  • Transfer 20% of earnings to Tax Savings Account: $0

I can’t wait to read more of Kristin’s book and Get Money and Get My Shit Together.

Mother Effer, making $300 mistakes: March 12, 2018 Monday Money Check-in

Son of a trick ass bitch, I am here at the Silver Airways ticketing booth, trying to get to Key West, and as it turns out my reservation was made for P Perhach, not Paulette Perhach. Win: I was at the airport two hours early. Lose: The ticket agent told me that it will take 24 hours to re-issue my flight, It’s nearing an hour before the flight, and the last hour that I was supposed to spend giving my mom my full attention at a nice meal is spent with both of us on the phone, me snapping at her out of panic, and a Category 5 storm of self-hatred brewing in my chest.

You dumb fucking…

When are you ever going to learn to…

This is why you’ll never

And I was feeling so good too, after a few days of hustling and networking at the writer’s conference here in Tampa. I’d met my goals, met 5 possible people who could license my writer’s kit, and an editor of Poets & Writers who offered me to send in a chapter of my writing book for her to review as a possible contribution to the magazine.

I’m so glad this writing thing is working out, because I’m terrible at everything else. This whole issue, all the stress, the time, the cost, is because I didn’t check carefully when booking my ticket. Sigh. I accept this wild creative mind. It is not always the easiest thing to go through the world with.

  • Earned last week: $350 
  • Saved last week: $200
  • Personal Checking Balance: $800 ($5 above the rent check that’s about to cash)
  • Business Checking Balance: $291
  • Fuck Off Fund Level: $1,800
  • Weekly wins: Felt like a did a kick-ass job networking at the writer’s conference I went to
  • Look at all bills due this week: T-Mobile
  • Update and review budget (I’m changing to YNAB): Ugh kind of. Still struggling. 
  • Look at any social events where I might want to spend some of my Fun Money.
  • Transfer 10% of money received last week: Negative.
  • Transfer $200 to Fuck Off Fund: Yes
  • Transfer 20% of earnings to Tax Savings Account: Negative. I’m totally screwing myself