Coffee heat rising

Why Blog…Still?

Just imagine! Funny has been online for  over 12 years! Its first post in WordPress appeared on Christmas Eve, 2007, but that was far from the first word. Funny about Money was born on an ancient Apple platform that was (as I recall) dubbed “iWeb.” It was a pretty limited tool, but it did allow you to publish a daily squib that could reach an audience on the Web, if you publicized it enough.

Over time, personal finance blogging took off. I’d started my site after becoming enamored of Trent Hamm’s The Simple Dollar and thinking “I could do that!” Never occurred to me to try to make a living at it — as he apparently was doing. For me, it was something to occupy my mind while sitting in front of the television set, trying to cool the brain after reading too many student papers.

Television sets…remember those? Free TV shows that came in off the air, that you didn’t have to pay to watch? Wow! Those were the days.

Whatever. By 2007, FaM was getting large enough that it needed a stronger platform…plus it was apparent that Apple’s thing wasn’t going to last forever (it was discontinued in 2011). But well before its demise, I’d made blogging friends who urged me to switch to WordPress or Blogger. Of the two, WP looked like the least hassle and probably the least restrictive, so it was away to the Big Leagues.

It took awhile after making the jump to WordPress before I realized some people (other than Trent) were actually making money off these things. And that Funny was doing pretty well as PF blogs go…at one point it ranked among the top 50 personal finance blogs in the English language.

So I tried a few monetizing strategies. Adsense was a bust, IMHO. It seemed as though if I could get my junior college students to go to the site and encourage them to click on a few ads, I could make…ohhh…maybe ten bucks a month (what is that? $.000001 a word?). But was it really worth junking up the damn site? And having Adsense serve advertising for Scandinavian…uhm…escorts?

Advertising goods for Amazon? Well…okay. Maybe. If I knew a friend or reader wanted to order XXX or YYY from Amazon, I could post a link on Funny and talk them into clicking through to the desired product. One friend liked to order very expensive dog food, in quantity, from Amazon. This worked, a couple of times. How well did it work? Well…maybe it produced enough to buy a package of chewing gum.

Advertising my own books on the site? Uhmmmm…. Ooohkayyy. Sorta. Certainly not enough to plan a night on the town, though.

But I wasn’t writing Funny about Money to make money. I was writing it because it entertained me and passed many an otherwise boring evening in front of the television. It made contact with humans in the outside world. And who knows? Maybe someone out there somewhere was even helped by some tidbit of advice the site emitted.

Over time, I drifted away from mumbling on endlessly about budgeting, investing, retirement planning, and all things money. There are only so many ways you can say the same things over and over: get an educational or decent vocational training. Get a job. Live within your means. Build an emergency fund. Stay out of debt. Pay off necessary debt (such as mortgages or car loans) as fast as you can. Never spend more in any given period than you have coming in. Be prepared for a layoff by having a side gig or too and contributing your emergency fund with every paycheck.

Quite a few personal finance blogs survive, although the most interesting and well written ones were sold off by their founders. Get Rich Slowly, Budgets Are Sexy, The Simple Dollar, and many others are no longer written by the excellent creative minds that brought them to us. In fact, it really is true that you run out of ways to deliver the obvious advice, and there are only so many fresh spins you can take on that advice.

Blogs went out of style some time back. Younger folk, it appears, prefer to communicate online in staccato blurbs or images, rather than wasting time reading thought-out essays. Presumably reading has gone out of style, too — even though books continue to sell. What do you suppose people do with them? Use them as fireplace kindling? 😀

Style not being my thing, I continue to post at Funny. It’s been quite awhile since I’ve thought of it as a “personal finance” blog…now it’s just a “personal” blog. Actually, it functions as a writer’s journal, a kind of five-finger exercise to warm up before turning to something more serious. Or to paying work.

So I expect it to be around for quite awhile longer. Hope you will be, too!

Big-picture thinking and the penny-pincher

This morning a fresh experience led me to realize that I spend way too much time on penny-pinching and way too little on focusing on the big picture that is my life—or more to the point, that is my earning potential.

Yesterday one of my former students sent me a LinkedIn invite. This caused me to return to that much-neglected site, where I was reminded that an old friend, a graphic artist with whom I worked at Arizona Highways and later through a talent agency I ran, had made himself one of my “contacts.” When I dropped him an e-mail to ask how things were going and mentioned that I’m now free of the Great Desert University, he invited me to join him for breakfast today with a business networking group he frequents. So, as dawn first colored the sky, I was shooting across the city to a Good Egg restaurant in one of Scottsdale’s toniest strip malls.

I arrived early, and since I didn’t want to be first at the trough, I spent 15 minutes or so window-shopping.

In more halcyon times, a colleague and I used to meet about once a month for lunch at the expensive trattoria that forms one of the small gems in this iridescent commercial strip. She has since moved to a historic whaling village in Massachusetts, and I have since taken to clinging to every penny that comes my way, and so I haven’t been back there in a long time. As I strolled past the elegant interior design stores, clothing boutiques, and gift shops, I thought, “Imagine what it would be like to be able to shop in one of these places whenever you feel like it!”

But when my friend and I were hanging out there, I used to shop in those glittery stores every now and again. And before then, when I was married to the corporate lawyer, I could indeed have shopped there any time I felt like it. Yes, it is true that even when my husband was bringing home a generous six-figure salary, I would never have purchased the luminous bedding set, redolent with satin and hand embroidery (if you have to ask, you can’t afford it…but you can be sure it’s more than my entire month’s discretionary budget). However, on my Great Desert University salary I did buy smaller items, which today I would not buy because I wouldn’t spend that much on, say, bubble bath or bathroom towels.

Can’t say I feel any great loss in the absence of these things, but still…the point is, I’ve taken to denying myself a lovely venue to hang out in and also small, not very expensive luxuries.

The meeting soon got under way: about a dozen small-business owners meet once a week to socialize and trade leads. I enjoyed these guys very much (the group was all-male, though they swore a couple of women belonged). They seemed like pretty nice gents, all of them fully engaged in their businesses and their lives. The group offered a number of ideas for expanding and improving on the enterprises I have in hand just now, and believe it or not, I got a lead to a full-time job. My old Arizona Highways pal has become a successful web design artist, and another member bills himself as “The PC Magician.” These two got me thinking about ways to improve and grow FaM.

At the end of the get-together, the group’s president suggested I apply for membership. Dues are $110 upfront and $50 a month, for which you get the pleasure of their company and breakfast every Thursday.

Gulp! thought I: Where the hell am I gonna come up with fifty bucks a month?

The money would have to come out of the S-corp’s checking account. The corporation actually has enough to cover that. But…it only just recently accrued enough to get me out of teaching one section of freshman comp next fall. And oboyoboy, do I want to get out of teaching one section of freshman comp! If I spend the money on socializing, I’ll be stuck with three sections next fall. And that, in addition to adding to the misery quotient, will put me over Social Security’s penurious earnings limit.

However, I did feel the group delivered more than that much in value received. And it really would take only one assignment to pay for it. Or one full-time job, eh?

Driving home, it dawned on me how ridiculous it is to feel I can’t spend $600 a year to belong to a trade group.

And, like the morning star sitting in that early dawn light, the thought also struck me that I don’t need to draw down money from the S-corp to get out of teaching one section of composition. In fact, I would do a great deal better not to do so! It would be far better to use $2,400 of the $10,000 emergency savings cushion, and to use the pretax money in the S-corp to pay for business expenses.


The savings fund has already had the tax gouged out of it. The community college is withholding 15 percent of the $2,400 I earn per class, so that third section is actually worth only $2,040. Using after-tax funds I already have would provide an extra $360 to live on. Meanwhile, The Copyeditor’s Desk can pay for anything that’s even vaguely presentable as a business expense with revenues that are effectively tax-free.

This strategy has two other sterling advantages:

By pushing my earned income below $14,000 in 2010, it would ensure that that I absolutely would not exceed the subsistence wage Social Security allows.

It would cut my taxes significantly, since my total taxable income would drop well below $30,000.

I came away from the meeting feeling energized and excited about building Funny about Money and The Copyeditor’s Desk into serious money-making operations that might, in the future, support me in the manner to which I wish to become reaccustomed. And in that flush of ambition, I realized that I spend too much energy and time figuring out how I can live on next to nothing, and way too little time developing assets that I already have and that could do a great deal more for me.

Case in point: sitting here in front of the computer shivering with cold because I’ve calculated, penny by penny, how much I need to save on utilities in the winter to pay the exorbitant air-conditioning and water bills next summer.

Why have I spent all that time counting little pieces of copper? Wouldn’t I be a lot better off to invest some money in living normally and to devote that time to marketing FaM, spinning off a book from it, and hustling some more editorial clients?

And why am I wasting my time teaching time-consuming, exploitively underpaid junior-college courses when I can live on cash I already have and use that time to develop the two far more interesting enterprises that have already shown they can generate income?

Why? Because I’ve been obsessively focused on pinching pennies, at the expense of thinking about the big picture!

What’s the big picture? It’s life. And it’s how I can make life in Bumhood comfortable without having to accept insulting wages and without having to deny myself little luxuries like central heat.

And so, my friends, to work. It’s time to jump-start that old entrepreneurial engine and get it running again!

Every Writer Needs an Editor!

“Every writer needs an editor” is our slogan over at The Copyeditor’s Desk. How true it is! Fortunately for this writer, longtime journalist and MSN Smart Spending ringmaster Karen Datko keeps a sharp eye on the antics at Funny about Money.

She points out, in the virtual equivalent to standing in the middle of the newsroom, waving a piece of misbegotten copy in the air, and hollering who wrote this?, a number of shortcomings in my recent rant about the tax increases proposed by the Phoenix city council and the governor of Arizona. Directing my attention to this report and also to this, she notes that the “temporary” tax the state hopes to faze past taxpayers amounts not to 3 percent (!) but to 1 (count it, ONE) percent.

That notwithstanding, even if the bloated figure I inserted in my post had been right, my English-major math left something to be desired. Whereas the fictional 3 percent added to the existing 8.3 percent tax presently holding good in Phoenix does indeed add up to 11.3 percent, in the first place 11.3% + 2% = 13% (2% being the proposed 2 percent city tax), not 15.3 percent. And in the second place, the proposed 2 percent city tax would apply to food only. So the tax on food would not be 11.3% (charged on all nonfood items) + 1% + 2%; it would be just 2 percent.

Since most grocery store, Costco, Walmart, and Target runs include a variety of household items, calculating the total tax bill on a shopping trip would be pretty complex. It would consist of 11.3 percent on nonfood items, which could comprise some or even all of your purchases, plus 2 percent and only 2 percent on the food items. In any event, there’s no way the total could come anywhere near 15.3 percent.

Ohhhh well! 🙄

Any way you look at it, though, sales taxes most certainly are on their way up. And a sales tax on food is as about as regressive as you can get.

Image: Pearson Scott Foresman, Quill pen. Public Domain. Wikipedia Commons.

Are Margaret & Helen for reals?

Dunno about you, but I’ve developed quite a crush on Margaret and Helen, two alleged old bats with strong sentiments about moronic politicians, about the state of the economy, and about life, the universe and all that. I especially enjoyed their pre-election characterization of Sarah Palin, which was somewhat less kind and distinctly more on-target than anything that ever appeared on SNL. Apparently I’m not alone: as of this evening they’ve scored more than a million hits.

The question is…are they real? Are these really two li’l ole ladies given to tooling around on electric scooters and, incidentally, regaling the planet with their trenchant opinions on the lunatics, nincompoops, and would-be dictators who have been in charge of this country lo! these many years? And if they’re not real, well then…who’s behind the blog, anyway?

I hope they are real. They’re my kinda women, if I had the guts to be their kinda woman. But I’ll admit to harboring some doubts. After umpty-gerjillion years teaching English and editing writing from all kinds of scribblers, I’d hazard a guess that they sound more like 28-year-olds than 80-year-olds. The syntax, the vocabulary, the rhythm of the language…none of it rings of 1928.

Right up until my generation (and beyond, really), women with the kind of education and wit reflected in the blog’s writing were powerfully socialized to refrain from vulgarity. Nice girls did not use coarse language. Neither, surprisingly, did many men—certainly not in mixed company. Not until Vietnam radicalized us and the women’s liberation movement oversensitized us to the restrictions that bound us to the pedestal did women begin to use the f-word, or even the s-word or the p-word or any other of those words. It just wasn’t done. You can be sure my mother would have thought all sorts of “words” about the incumbents, but even more surely, she wouldn’t have said them. And god forfend that she should put them in writing!

That kind of training is not easily overcome.

Hilariously typical, for example, is this passage, where the conversation turns to bail-outs:

So many of you kept wanting us to talk about Sarah Palin. Sorry, but I have tuned her out. If I want to hear an ass talk I can just ask Harold to pass gas. And speaking of gas, several of you asked about the Auto Industry Bailout. At first we thought “How Boring” but then Harold showed me his credit card bill from Exxon and that got us going…

But just when you’re thinking “naahhh! The grandson’s writing it. This is the language and the humor of a 28-year-old guy of the sort who sits in front of the computer a lot,” ZAP! Up pops something unmistakably produced by a female mind of a certain age:

Life is short. You realize that even more when you are old. I have said before that in dog years I am already dead. So each morning when I wake up there is a brief moment until I realize that I still need my glasses to see the clock before realizingI must still be in this old body of mine… Then I turn and put a mirror under Harold’s nose to determine ifI still need to put on my make-up and do my hair.

Even a passage or two in the Bitch Palin post can ring of the mature voice:

I’m old enough toremember the Republican party of Barry Goldwater – when the party stood for fiscal responsibility, small government and personal freedoms. I remember whenI couldtalk withfriends about politicsand just agree to disagree. And then religious nut cases decided that if you didn’t agree with them you were immoral.So they went and elected George Bush President so he couldtake the Republican Party from being a party full of respectable people to a party filled with asses, jackasses and yes – bitches like Sarah Palin.

Goldwater himself famously used the a** word in reference to the neocons, and if he were alive today I’m sure he’d be using it and other choice expressions…dare we say it?…liberally. And I do know one woman pushing 75 who has been heard using plenty of strong language about our soon-to-be former leadership. One. A wild one, she.

Here we have two wild hares. Is that credible? What do you think? Are they real or not?

My money’s on the grandson. But my heart is with Margaret and Helen.

Tip’d is official

If you’ve been awake in the PF blogosphere lately, you’ve probably heard of Tip’d, a new personal finance social networking site that’s been a-building for awhile. Well, it’s out of beta format and has “gone public.” Check it out!

For some reason, it seems easier to use (to my mind, anyway) than other social networking sites I’ve looked at. The layout is really attractive—soothing to the eye and handsomely designed—but more to the point, it’s extremely simple to navigate. The right-hand sidebar gives you many clues to what’s current, with a “what’s hot” list, latest comments, and the “20 top tags” cloud. Though the footer is a long way down the homepage, it’s worth scrolling to for its links to handy tools and the community blog.

I like it! 🙂

Mysteries of blogging

Tina, my associate editor at the Great Desert University and partner in crime at our business enterprise, e-mails to report that our Copyeditor’s Desk site appeared among WordPress’s fastest-growing sites. It arrived at number 64, after a reader stumbled one of Tina’s recent entries.

Isn’t that amazing? Our readership is anything but huge, and so, I suppose, when a spike to 340 hits appears, it’s relatively so large it creates the impression of rapid growth.

I never cease to marvel at what attracts readers. The olive-oil hair conditioner story still is cranking readership: over 300 yesterday. Every day, someone out there googles “olive oil” and “hair conditioner” and shows up at Funny. Interestingly, the piece I posted on using lemon juice or vinegar to bring out blonde or red highlights hasn’t generated anywhere near that much traffic. Must be a lot of folks out there with dry hair.

Wish I knew what people love. Then I would give it to them. But then, if we all knew what people love, we would all be rich, eh?

Or better yet, happy.