What Did I Bet On in Vegas?

My boyfriend had a last-minute work trip in Vegas right before Thanksgiving, and I last-minute tagged along, for a flight price of $390. 

Casinos are weird. I had never been to Vegas, and I wasn’t ready for all the random slot machine tie-ins. Sex and the City? Game of Thrones? Ellen? Seinfeld??? 

I had not known how many brands were making money tying their name in with slot machines. Of all my vices, gambling is just not one of them. I felt a sense of power as I walked through the casino at The Mirage. Casinos take advantage of people with gambling addictions, and, if you look at the lights and the spectacle of The Strip, you know that was not built on jackpots, but instead on the wealth of all the losers.

In the ’70s, my mom bet on my dad in Vegas, eloped with him to the chapel across from the courthouse. They later lived there, and my mom told me one morning she saw a man in a three-piece suit, sitting on the curb, sobbing. She could tell he had lost it all.

What did I do in Vegas? I went to visit the offices of The Believer, a wonderful literary magazine, where someone I’d known in Seattle had moved to work for the organization that runs it. I brought them a copy of my book, and she thought one of the illustrations might be good for the magazine. Which would be crazy. (Networking!)

Then I met up with Paula Pant, who I know from my money writing world. She runs the Afford Anything podcast, and, since I was in town and right in front of her face, (networking!), she invited me to be on the podcast. I thought we were going to chat about writing, but instead she asked me about my whole financial past. I spilled it all, things I’ve written about here and there, but never blurted out in one hour. There were tears. Afterward I felt like and shaky, like I’d just been in a confessional for an hour. 

I don’t know how, but I think that podcast will lead to me writing my financial memoir. Maybe because saying it all out loud like that made me remember how much I want to write it down, tell the whole thing. 

We didn’t go to shows, I didn’t bet a single dollar. What did I bet on in Vegas?


Anyone who works in the arts or in what they love is taking the biggest gamble there is in life, letting it all ride. 

Accepting your Financial Reality on Martinis and Your Money

On this episode of Martinis and Your Money, I talk with the business bad ass Shannon McClay, telling her about my fall from Fuck Off Funder to Fuck Off Fundless.

Listen now!

Shannon’s Podcast Notes

  • Cut down on non-essentials, don’t cut them out completely.
  • Willpower Instinct – a book about the hidden factors about willpower and how having something be forbidden and bad is not helpful.
  • When you cut out everything, often times you will go to the other extreme. It’s like yo-yo dieting.
  • Unfortunately, the biggest way to build credit is by using credit cards. Credit card companies report to the credit bureau the most. You need to know how to play the game.
  • Take the buffet of wisdom that is out there and apply what works best for you.



Ignorance is Bliss, My Blog Makes Me Face the Nightmare

Oh hello, you may remember me as the person who said she was going to keep this blog.

Here I am again.

Why haven’t I been here in a while? It’s here I have to face reality.

Why have I slacked on using YNAB? It’s there I have to face reality.

Why do I keep wasting time on Instagram? In there, I don’t have to face reality.


Oh Pauli P, you’re up to your old shit again my dear.


We had this problem growing up in my house. We’d set up a system, a chore chart, usually, and we’d say, this is what we’re going to do. And then… we would not do it.

I’ve always wanted to become the kind of person who did the things she said she was going to do.

In a large part, I have. I graduated college, I completed two years in Peace Corps, I finished my book. I’m going at doing the things I say I will do.

I’m still bad, however, at not doing the things I say I’m not going to do. Kelly McGonigal calls this “I Won’t Power” in her great book The Willpower Instinct. This year, I said I won’t spend the money that should go in my Fuck Off Funds.

And that, my friends, is going terribly. On paper.

Here’s what paper says:

  • I’m now almost $8,000 in debt from not saving for my taxes, and having to do a business loan, which is a fancy way to say I had to borrow money from my mom.
  • I’m back to my regular penpal, those little NSF slips

Here’s what my heart (or my denial) says:

  • This is a building year, building my reputation, my network, and my “brand”
  • I wrote an entire book, two years of work, for a take-home pay of about $5,000, so no shit I’m broke.


Here’s what my inner hard ass says:

  • Are you fucking kidding me? Quit spending money you don’t have. You are poor-ish. Act like it.
  • You could be working harder and spending less. But you’re not
  • Shut the fuck up.
  • What the fuck is wrong with you?
  • You’re a spoiled little shit.

Well that’s not very nice. Somewhere in the middle is the truth. Either way, the truth is that right now, I’m failing to make it as a freelance writer business.

Knowing you’re failing is good. You can change course.

Things I did today:

  • Redesigned my Excel spreadsheet with a fully separate personal and business financial section
  • Upgraded from Excel 2011 to 2016 to get the latest tools
  • Did a “fresh start” in YNAB
  • Signed up for Quickbooks
  • Wrote this blog post
  • Made these scary charts:



Back to Basics

Oh hey look everyone, now that’s I’ve started an official blog about money, I’m doing worse financially than ever. (Ok, maybe not ever.) Hmm, wonder what that’s about.

I realized while at Sasquatch that I’m up to my old shit again. Going to an event that I can’t really afford, one eye on the concert and one on my funds running low.

On the way home, I had $12 in my bank account and had to put $11.99 in my gas tank.

What is up?

I realized I forgot about the basics, the things that kept my blog going and got me out of $20,000 in debt when I started the first iteration of this blog 7 years ago:

  1. Someone I didn’t want to disappoint reading it. In my case, Jeri.
  2. A visual representation of my progress or lack there of. In other words, graphs.

So here I am, getting back to basics.

Hi Jeri. Thanks for reading this after I email it to you.

And here are my graphs.

I thought about making pretty ones in Illustrator, and I do want to do that one day. But with this blog paying zero dollars, needing hours to market my book, and not making jack s this year, I don’t have time.

If you don’t have time for the fancy, go with the rinky dink. The rinky dink is still something.

So here are my ugly graphs.

Ok this is my normal Net Worth graph, but I realized the scale is too huge and dips seem so little, so I made one for just this year. Wee what a fun slide into financial ruin I’m on.

This is one area I’m proud of. I haven’t put anything toward retirement in two years, which is bad. But when I had the tech job, I threw money in there like crazy because I knew saving early was key and when I was in my first years of full-time writing, I would be making jack s.

If you do not have a retirement account, start one with Acorns today, literally. I’m not kidding.

Hey, that’s not good! Short-term stuff is money I have on hand, and includes my checking accounts and my owed taxes, which are $3,800.

My Fuck Off Fund is a fucking disgrace.


But I don’t totally hate myself.

I’m working so hard these days. It’s the year of the grind. I am doing shit. It’s not all money-making right now, but I’m building momentum for my career that I fully trust will pay off in the future.

Can You Be Financially Insane?

Maybe I’m just financially insane. Have we considered that?

This week I was waiting with bated breath to see which would land first: my $795 rent check in my $600 account, or the $400 from my freelancing client that would prevent the check from bouncing.

The $400 landed first, and I felt this rush of relief, and then that day I spent money compulsively, like, out-of-body experience compulsively. Oh, I thought, Something is definitely wrong with me.


Did I mention that guy with the ADD? I was interviewing one of the top experts on ADD in the country, and we got to chatting about distraction, etc, and he said, “It sounds to me like you have ADD.” He even offered to hook me up with a center in Seattle that diagnoses ADD. But of course the analysis is $260, so we’ll just have to wait and see on that one.


On this Monday I might have to take money out of my Fuck Off Fund, because, per the ush, I set myself up to go on a trip that I don’t have money for. I’m going to try to lemonade stand it a little while I’m there. It’s a music festival, and I’m going to do portraits. But also, I don’t know. I’m going to feel it out.

I thought this blog would be a journey toward financial wellness. Maybe it’s just the observance of a disturbed individual living out her dysfunctional life. Ah well, it’s still pretty fun.

One of the reasons I feel insane is that career-wise, things are going well. I’m in Glamour and Cosmo this month. (Pay: $0) I found out I was in Feminist Fight Club. (Pay: $0) I have amazingly successful people in my corner trying to help me along and get me work. My book is sitting here right next to me.

And still. Bank account:

It’s the peak time of something, that something being the space between the growth of my career, in reputation and network, and the stagnation of my earnings.

I haven’t saved for retirement in almost two years. I’m hoping that what I’m putting away, in time, work, and dedication to this career, will pay off in compound interest.



Taking action is the most important thing. Yesterday I spent the entire Sunday setting up my Society6 store with the illustrations from my book (done in collaboration with Tony Ong.) I went to my favorite coffee shop and they gave me my tea for free, they were playing Pinkerton, and Ace Ventura was on the TV. I felt more hopeful.

Somehow, I’m most comfortable with less than $100 in my bank account. It feels like home.

I haven’t been using YNAB, even though I labeled all over my cards to do so. It’s just so easy to ignore, because it does exactly what it says it does, which is shows you what you’re stealing from.


Ok, let’s face the numbers.

I have $73

I have to pay $40 to eBay for selling a friend’s breast pump on there. (True story)

The guy who was going to go to this music festival with me couldn’t, and I sold his ticket, and I didn’t give him the money at the time, so I owe him $325.

I still owe $500 for my skin cancer surgery.

I owe my tax account probably $300.

I haven’t saved anything for taxes. This terrifies me. I swore I would never do this to myself. YNAB tried to convince me to keep my taxes in the same account as my other stuff. It seems like I’m not financially sane enough to do that.

My earnings thus far:

So according to this sad little income report, I owe $2,800 if we assume 20% toward taxes.

Also I’m on track to make just $33,000 this year. Not. Great.


What we’ve done here is taken someone who might be financially insane and put her in a low-earning, unreliable profession. Will she make it?


Yes dammit, I want to make it. I commit myself. To whatever padded room, whatever straight jacket I need to not hurt myself.

Jessica Moorhouse said she would help me with bookkeeping, which is a skill I’ve never learned.

Liz at Express Credit Union said I should get a business loan to build my credit for something I need (which I’ll tell you about later). She said she’ll watch it to make sure I don’t use it for anything else.


Shouldn’t I be able to do this without help? Sometimes you can’t, and trying to convince yourself otherwise only gets you in more trouble. You need those padded walls so you don’t bonk your head. An accountability buddy is a kind of padding.

This blog is a kind of padding. You just need to do what you have to do, and this is what I have to do: continually confess, to live in a state of confession, do my weekly washing of my weekly sins. Forgive me readers, for I have latte’d.


What is wrong with me? Something. But I can work with it.






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.