travel

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.

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.

 

So.

 

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

Review:
  • 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!
Predict:
  • 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!
Plan:
  • 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

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*)

Review:

  • 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.

Predict:

  • 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.

Plan:

  • 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.

Why Do We Need To Talk About Fuck Off Funds…Again?

Life Since The Fuck Off Fund Became a Thing

I was sitting in my cubicle the day one of my stories, written as part of an exchange with another writing friend who was also in a slump, got published. In the web browser screens hidden behind the proposal for an environmental engineering company I was writing, I saw on Facebook that a few local writers I respect had reposted it. Around 9 a.m., when Jezebel posted a story about my story, I whipped around and looked at the office, as if someone were playing a trick on me.  

Cue everything I’d been working toward for years and years and years: Getting enough freelancing writing work to quit my job. Offers to write for The New York Times and Marie Claire and Cosmo. An agent who wanted me to write a proposal for a “financial memoir.” A publisher who wanted to make my writer’s course a book.

Then some big life changes. New Year’s Eve of 2016 was the last night I spent in the apartment I’d shared for five years, and then I went out on my own. It was more conscious uncoupling than Fuck Off. Also, deaths in the family, over the last few years, in quick succession: my mom’s mom, my mom’s younger brother, my mom’s dad, my mom’s older brother. Then, a man who bragged about groping women’s p-words, they way I learned we could be groped at a concert when I was 15, became the president. All around me, structures collapsed, floors I thought were solid gave way. 

I still had my Fuck Off Fund. My uncle who’d been the traveler and hippie left me $6,000 after his death. My grandpa, the hard worker and saver, left me a gift of $10,000. With all my work finally online and no apartment lease, I decided to take the trip I’d promised myself while in Peace Corps and struggling through the mental crucible that was learning to speak in Spanish: three months through South America, ending with the visit I’d promised my host mom. I would be one of those digital nomads in the shiny photos, easy. 

I zoomed out to all of the continent on AirBnb, and asked where I could stay for $20 a night. I found a spot in the hills of Colombia I’d ridden through on a bus from Bogota to Medellin seven years before while kind of looking for work teaching English, and I reserved a month in a house with a backyard where I could work through a first draft of my book. I would earn US wages and live on South American prices. I would spend what my uncle left me on the plane tickets, the way he would have wanted me to, and save the money my grandpa left me for a down payment on a house, the way he would have wanted me to. I would earn my keep as I traveled. My Fuck Off Fund, of course, would not be touched.

The trip worked out beautifully, at least in the photos. I flew to DC to march on January 20th, then headed down to Colombia. I got my first draft of my book done in that backyard and walked two hours a night to train for Machu Picchu.

I got my mom down to Ecuador, to hear her laugh while boogie boarding in the waves of the Pacific. I got my most scared friend down to a bamboo house where she had a bilingual love affair in which I got to play wingman and interpreter. I wrote a 4,000-word review of eye makeup removers, I rode the salt flats of Bolivia with a group of Italians. I wrote personal finance content marketing, I galloped on a horse again. I interviewed experts on children and technology over Skype (roosters crowing in the background), I learned a little Quechua. After 7 years, I just showed up at my host mom’s house in Paraguay, which is one of the best things I’ve gotten to do for anyone.

In short, it was the year I became this woman, and this woman is the only woman I’ve ever dreamed of becoming:

But…

But the money was going out faster than it was coming in. This is something I thought I could cure myself of, various ways. I thought Peace Corps would cure me of spending more than I earn, because I would truly understand my privilege. I thought being The Fuck Off Fund Chick would cure me of spending more than I earn, because I had so publicly stood for something I thought was so important. I thought setting up a system of passive income, tracking my spending on Mint, living for a while in South America. But no, I still was not cured of the thing that has followed me my entire life: I am bad with money. Bad doesn’t cover it, but we’ll get to that. 

On my way home, one of my clients paid for me to come to a credit union conference in New York, where I hung out with the brilliant personal finance writers and businesspeople I’d gotten to know through the Fuck Off Fund: Jane Barratt, Kristin Wong, Erin Lowry, Stefanie O’Connell and more. Standing in the lobby of Ellevest, Sallie Fucking Krawcheck, who once got a severance package worth $6 million, said, “Todd! Todd! Do you know who this is? This is the Fuck Off Fund Girl!”

Being bad with money had landed me here, among the money geniuses, dancing with a man in a tree costume at Tavern on the Green, with Bolivian dog bites on my ankles not yet fully healed. 

Life was hysterical.

Back to Life, Back to Reality

Then back to Seattle, where I would live as a single, freelance writer for the first time. And where I found a $650 flight to Italy, to visit the Italians I’d met, and just booked it, laying in my friend’s fold-out couch where I was staying while looking for a place. Because: impulse control issues. I hadn’t yet touched my Fuck Off Fund, and I was sure that I’d be able to pick up work and get back into regular life in one smooth sail. 

A long-time follower of the tiny house movement, I found a tiny place two blocks from my old apartment in Capitol Hill. Literally 150 sq feet, a 10’ cube with a galley kitchen and a shared bathroom. And here, May 22, is when I first breached my Fuck Off Fund. $2,000 for the first and last. Then $1,000 again on May 29, a fold-out couch from IKEA. Then May 31, June 5, 11, 29, $1,000 more, $500 more, $500 more. Patches stretched over the gaps in my spending. That juggle of dollars and time. 

I would stop soon, of course, because I was the Fuck Off Fund Woman. I would put it back real soon.

Only I didn’t. Only the opposite. A patch here. A patch there.

Meanwhile, my “financial memoir” didn’t sell. “Publishers wanted a prescriptive book,” my agent told me. Which was laughable. I’m a writer who’s bad with money. I can’t tell you what to do. I just now happened to know a lot of people who could. Guys, I never meant to become someone people mistook for a personal finance expert. I only wrote about my own weaknesses, and people mistook them for my strengths. 

Back and back I retreated to old ways. Complaining to mom about money, and her saying, “Do you want to use my credit card to pay for your insurance this month? You can pay me back.” Because it wasn’t “borrowing money,” but instead the cozy euphemism “using my credit card,” I did it, and then I somehow owed my mom $2,000 again. So that $2,000 I had left in my Fuck Off Fund wasn’t real.

It is shockingly clear to me that I will spend whatever money I get my hands on, no matter how much that amount is. Because something is wrong with me, something I haven’t been able to fix by living in country where people live on so much less, something I haven’t even been able to fix by getting 15 minutes of fame for being the woman who inspired a million other women to practice financial self-defense, something I’m scared will lead to serious fucking ruin, the kind my family knew when I was a kid, if I don’t do something serious. The kind I would never want to repeat if I had kids of my own. The kind I fear will land me as the one in every six women 65+ living alone and living in poverty.

In some ways, it was the best year of my life. I think the loss of financial power was masked by how much I grew powerful in other ways. Suddenly I had a voice, I had many options for work, I had a bit more confidence with each country I traveled through alone. If you could graph these happiness, aliveness, and gratitude, they were off the charts. But they don’t pay the bills.

So Welcome to This Blog

I have a new idea for a book, which we’ll start at a blog. We’ll be writing something prescriptive, here, but I’m not the one who’s going to do the prescribing. I’ve asked my financial friends to help me get to the bottom of being bad with money, to talk about saving myself, and to help me rebuild a fuck off fund of $10,000 over 2018

Because what I realized is that I’ve never saved a Fuck Off Fund, little by little. I got out of debt little by little, paid off $20,000 with a job at a tech company. But the Fuck Off Fund I had at the beginning of this year I had earned in a chunk, and I put that chunk away. I didn’t touch it back then, because life was easier back then. I lived the DINK lifestyle for a while, then worked on my art with a supportive partner. Now I’m freelance writing, living in the city, on my own, needing to make choices day-by-day about putting my financial security ahead of the lattes, the lunches out, the new dresses. I’m back here again. Fall down a million times, stand up a million and one.

“You don’t have to be perfect,” said Tonya Rapley, of My Fab Finance at the Lola conference on women and money. “You just have to be committed.”

In the lobby at that conference, while I stood waiting to get breakfast with Kristen, author of the forthcoming Get Money, I went to get money out of the ATM and found my balance: -$200.

Oh life. 

Me with my money ladies at Lola

The thing is, I’m right in the life I’ve always wanted, freelancing, traveling, and writing, and if I don’t do something drastic, I’m going to lose it.

Plus, we should mention the fact that 2017 became the year of the #metoo, the year we were all reminded of the need to keep ourselves as powerful as possible.

So here I am, naked financial fuck up, committed again to being the one practicing financial self-defense, to getting up, to forgiving myself even when I’m so far from perfect there should be a name for whatever I am, something with money that feels like an alcoholic is with gin.

Are you like this, too?

If so, see you January 1st.