Income & Net Worth Update: January 2016


Well! Interesting start to the year, net-worth-wise. I spent more than usual this month, and the markets were, um, exciting. At the very last second, however, a rebound day in stocks, combined with a higher than usual freelance income, did keep me from having my very first net worth decline, so that’s something.




Income Sources

$2557.43: Full-time job (net, after taxes, 403(b) contribution & insurance premiums)

$25.00: Swagbucks

$25.60: Interest (this will be the last month this number is so high, because I had a promo)

$120.00: Freelance writing. During this first month of my freelance writing career, I took on a few small gigs for practice. My hope is to increase the $$-per-article quickly.

$51.43: Cash back from credit cards (Unusually high because of a reimbursed hotel trip and also because I’d been saving up points for a while to meet a redemption threshold on one card)

Total net income: $2836.43

I am sooooooooo close to my first ever Adsense payout — next month, I think/hope? I’ll also have income from Ebates in February. Anyway — how did I save/spend this income this month? To the numbers!

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Zero Food Waste: “Stem to Root” & Butternut Farro Salad

Good morning, anti-food-waste zealots. Having spent last year (mostly) conquering the worst of my food waste habits — overshopping, getting takeout instead of cooking what I already had — I’ll have to spend this year looking for slightly more arcane ways to save (a) the planet and (b) my wallet.

One thing I’m going to do is try to focus on the vegetable equivalent of “nose to tail” eating, which is the movement to use every part of an animal in cooking. Instead of just using boneless skinless chicken breasts, for example, we’d eat all the meat and use the bones, feet, and skin for broth. The really adventurous might even find something to do with the head? For vegetables, this is called “stem to root,” and it encourages you to use the whole plant.

So I’m interested in finding out how much I can use of common vegetable parts I typically throw away. I started this week by scooping the seeds out of my butternut squash — and then toasting them and having them as a snack. That’s a pretty typical salvage move. I’d like to see what other kinds of things I can come up with. Stay tuned!

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Dear Artist: Vocation does not equal Exploitation

Five women personal finance bloggers — all of whom have worked in creative professions — have joined to write this series of ‘letters to our younger selves.’ Please see the end of this post for links to others in the series.


I’m turning 37 tomorrow. Sometimes I wish I were still 20 — this feeling reliably comes up in the context of the yoga class I’m taking right now — but mostly I am so grateful to have worked my way through the period of my life when I was vulnerable to the idea that because I was lucky enough to do creative work, I should joyfully consent to sacrifice my financial well-being.

If you’re thinking about a creative or service-oriented career, as an artist, a teacher, a social worker, a filmmaker, even a doctor, you have probably already run across the idea of “vocation.” This is a good SAT word; it means, roughly, “calling,” and it’s borrowed from a religious framework. The one who does the calling is God, and the one who is called is compelled to become a prophet, a priest, a monk, a nun, etc. We use it all the time in everyday speech, though, to signal that same feeling of compulsion — “I feel called to be an artist/teacher/whatever.”

I used to say this too, and it’s true, in a sense. I’ve been working in an academic career for a decade, not because it’s what I most enjoy on a day to day basis (that would be cuddling with the dog and watching tv in bed), but because I felt led in this direction. It’s at the intersection of my desire to “make a difference” and my primary skills/talents. I’m reluctant to let go of this career even though it’s difficult to make a living and to find a long term job, and that reluctance can be directly traced to my sense that this is where I should be. The idea of the arts or teaching or the helping professions as “vocations” means that these career choices carry with them a warm glow, a sense of personal fulfillment, that’s not shared by more prosaic options. (I met a guy last night who sells car parts for a living. He kind of shrugged and said ‘It’s not my dream job.’ What he meant was ‘it’s not my vocation.’)

But there’s a dark side to the word “vocation.” Consider the infrastructure of the Catholic church in the United States — the hundreds of Catholic hospitals and schools. The vast majority of these institutions were only possible because the nuns who built and staffed them worked for virtually no compensation. This is a business model whose limits have become dramatically clear as the number of nuns available to teach and nurse has seriously declined in the last few decades. Institutions that once balanced their budgets on the assumption that they had almost no labor costs have struggled to compensate lay employees as a result.

One of the ways that universities, literary magazines, nonprofits, etc etc, make their finances work is, unfortunately, by playing on the emotions of people who feel some kind of calling. The emotional fulfillment of following your vocation compensates for a lower salary than you’d get in “the private sector” — ok, I might go that far. But people guided by the concept of vocation often go further. I hear it a lot from adjunct professors and humanities graduate students, whose work is so badly undercompensated that they typically struggle to keep food on the table, even as they provide a huge amount of teaching labor that makes American universities run. Take this guy, quoted in Slate a couple of years ago, who told the reporter that “abandoning a class mid-semester is ‘a serious professional taboo’ for adjuncts.” That article concludes that adjuncts’ “sense of professional duty is what, ironically, prevents them from finding a job in which they’re treated like professionals.”

That quote resonates with me. I do understand why adjuncts continue to take these awful jobs and not only that, to stay in them even when better-paying work beckons. It’s hard to give up a dream, especially when you feel a strong sense of duty or calling or responsibility. But I now think it’s crucial to remind ourselves, every day, that our vocations (in this case, our sense of duty to students) are not an excuse for administrators to make us charity cases — and they are not a reason for us to participate in our own exploitation.

Looking back at my younger self, I see an idealistic young woman who believed that the main purpose of a vocation-job was for the employee to give, to serve, and the main purpose of an employer was to enable that giving and serving. I wish I could say to her, your labor is financially valuable to the institutions that employ you. Your vocation does not mean that you have to enrich others at your own expense. You need to pay the rent, put food on the table, and save for the future. Don’t let your potential employers try to pay you in the warm glow of fulfillment alone.

What else should young artists know about money? Check out the other posts in this series:

Stefanie O’Connell (The Broke and Beautiful Life), “Dear Artists: You Can Profit From Your Creative Skills”

Tonya Stumphauzer (Budget and the Beach), “Dear Artists: A Little Goes a Long Way”

Amanda Page (Dream Beyond Debt), “Dear Artist: It’s Not the Struggle That’s Interesting”

Melanie Lockert (Dear Debt), “Dear Artist: Your Creativity Is Your Greatest Asset”

I’m As Optimized As I’m Going to Get (for now)

So for those of you who don’t follow my twitter, some of the random budget angst from last week turned out to be a little premature. Turns out — ha ha! — I had accidentally hidden a category in YNAB, which happened to have $250 in it, so when I found it I relaxed some and also moved the $$ into my down payment fund, which now stands at $5250. I’ll just have to hustle back the $750 that went into my Roth IRA last week to make it back to the $6000 it was at.

Wait a minute, why hustle?

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Return of the Zero Food Waste posts

zero food waste challenge 2015Good morning! One of the nice things about being firmly back home after a long absence is that I can start resetting my diet, which was iffy at best while I was visiting my parents and a complete disaster during my work trip. At least I mostly managed not to outright waste any food.

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Should I have stretch goals?

Happy Monday everyone!

I’m slowly settling back into home after a long month of travel. In fact, right now I’m in bed with my feet tucked under my housemate’s dog…which is a good thing since last I looked it was around 7 degrees (farenheit) outside. Brrrrrrrr. Yesterday I made bread and went to church, and today’s agenda includes such exciting action points as “do laundry” and “write blog post.” It does not include anything like “buy plane tickets.”

So what I’m saying here is the cozy factor is through the roof around here. Naturally, this state of affairs led to an hour Saturday evening which caused me to tweet this:

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Working Out on the (really really) Cheap

I’ve been sitting on this for a few days because I was really worried it wouldn’t work. But it did! So here is another in the “make sure you know all your work benefits, kids” series. (And enough with the mystery; I’ll tell you what “it” is behind the jump.) Continue reading “Working Out on the (really really) Cheap”

That Was Unexpected

Well, folks, the new year is all of eleven days old and it’s already been a wild (though not expensive!) (well, not expensive for ME!) ride.

I got home from Christmas travel a couple of days before the new year, only to turn right around and leave on a week-long work trip. That was the first thing that threw me off. Holy schmoly, it’s hard to keep up a blogging schedule while schlepping all over an unfamiliar city and sleeping on a friend’s couch. [The trip had a complicated finance structure. The whole week was for work, but since I’m an academic my work includes research trips. Sometimes I get reimbursed for research, sometimes I don’t (long story.) This trip, I was reimbursed for the plane ticket as well as for the four days I spent at a conference. So for those four nights I stayed at a hotel. But for the previous three nights, since I was extending the trip to do unreimbursed research on my own behalf, I channeled my inner graduate student and crashed on a couch. Good thing too since the hotel was hella expensive.]

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Net Worth Update (and Year-End Update): December 2015

networthupdateHappy new year, savers and debt-slayers! December 2015 turned out to be kind of a spendy month. Even though I bought many of my Christmas presents in November, I bought a few more in December; spent money on travel over the holidays; and dropped several hundred $$ on gremlins, including two years of hosting and domain registration. Even so, the month turned out OK, with a big chunk of change added to my down payment fund. But enough summary: to the numbers!

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