Coffee heat rising

Turning what you love to do into a second income stream

Well, no: not THAT what you love to do!

My late friend Jerri, about whose shopping hobby you read recently, had an incredible eye for clothing. She owned racks and racks of really cute clothing, much of it designer-label and most of it purchased on sale. She absolutely loved to shop, and she was very good at it.

Right now I have on a beautiful silk shirt that her daughter gave me. It’s a couple of sizes too large—Jerri was a bit portly in her old age—but worn over a coordinating shirt, it works to create an awesome, arty-looking tunic. The effect is really nifty.

If I had known that Jerri could do this—find amazingly cute clothing in stores where I never shop at prices I never manage to extract from retailers—I would cheerfully have paid her to help me shop.

I’m no good at shopping. When I go into a clothing store, what I see is a jillion square feet of look-alike clothing that
a. doesn’t fit me;
b. by and large is ugly;
c. looks like it was designed for or by a teenaged hooker; and
d. is hugely overpriced.
It’s a real struggle to force myself to paw through rack after rack after endless rack of this stuff searching for something that fits, that looks OK on me, and that I can afford. To me, shopping isn’t fun; it’s a pain in the tuchus.

Jerri’s shape was even less like a 17-year-old babe’s than mine is, and she managed to find a boutique’s worth of clothing that looked good on her. Two or three sizes smaller, and it all would have looked good on me, too. She had a real skill. IMHO, it was a salable skill.

I know I’m far from the only woman who views shopping for clothes as an unpleasant chore—several of my friends have expressed the same sentiment, including one with a real flair for style. It seems to me that Jerri could have made herself a nice sidestream income by hiring out as…what? A shopping coach! She could have indulged her joy in shopping by selling her time as a shopping consultant to women who don’t enjoy searching for that one thing that works among the acres of chaff. Because she had a wonderful and funny personality, she could make a shopping trudge into a fun outing. I’ll bet she could have found enough women who would have paid her to help them buy clothing to supplement her Walmart salary pretty handsomely.

On the other hand…

Some years ago a friend of mine was left penniless during a divorce. Literally, for two or three weeks she ate nothing but zucchini out of a backyard garden, while she used the few dollars she had to feed her two small children. She let the dog run loose to forage out of the neighbors’ garbage cans. She took a miserable job waiting tables, an occupation for which she was decidedly not suited—this was in the days when coffeeshop owners felt free to order their waitresses to wear skimpy costumes and bone-crushing shoes (sex sells hamburgers, too), and so you can imagine what the job was like.

This friend had studied photography on the college level for several years and had quite a gift for it. She had an acquaintance who owned a major portrait studio in the city. I asked her why she didn’t try to get a job there or at least see if this person could help her get in with some other studio.

She said she didn’t want to spoil something that she loved to do by having to make a living at it. Since she didn’t last long at waitressing, apparently she felt strongly enough about this that she was willing to go hungry rather than turn a pleasurable pursuit to profit.

What say you? Given that it’s a good idea to establish more than one stream of income, is turning a hobby into an income-generating occupation out of bounds? Would you convert your favorite pastime into paying work?[polldaddy poll=1169792]

Dow up, in spite of it all

Well, folks, I tried to bring down the world’s economy by staying home on Black Friday, and it didn’t work: by golly, the Dow had its best week since 1932. Apparently it’s not necessary for us all to keep spending ourselves into bankruptcy to keep this country going.

Not that some didn’t have their hearts in it. In Palm Desert, enthusiastic shoppers got excited enough to take a few pot shots at each other, killing two. Even more amazingly, at a Long Island Walmart happy consumers trampled an employee to death in their stampeding ecstasy over the bargains to be had inside the store. Wow! What a country.

Now I enjoy the consumer society as much as the next person. What could be better than being able to buy every electronic toy, every glad rag, every ludicrously sweet and gummy riff on a cup of coffee the human mind can conceive in every city, town, and wide spot in the road? And yeah, I know it’s unAmerican to resist (not to say futile). But here’s my problem with consumerism as the driving force of an economy:

It’s fake.

It doesn’t DO anything. It’s hollow. It’s empty. It’s a STIFF PARROT. Dependence on buying as a major engine—possibly the main engine—in our country’s economy means that we depend on hot air. On nothing. Why? Because we’re producing less and less. Try to buy something that’s made in America—go ahead: try to find a baby’s crib manufactured in this country. Read the label on a package of hamburger: the mashed meat you’re buying came from Mexico and Canada, with maybe a little coming from the U.S. Americans aren’t doing anything productive.

Oh, you say: but we’re all doing brain work. That’s why we need such a highly educated workforce.

Ever notice how many young people with solid degrees from excellent universities are working in call centers or selling books and gewgaws at a Barnes & Noble?Ever actually looked at what goes on in high-rise office buildings? Not much.Most of the activity entails pushing paper, whether physically or electronically. Have we counted lately how many of our people spend their working lives answering telephones or pushing papers? Or selling stuff, most of it imported? Few of these jobs are highly paid, because few of them deserve to be highly paid. Because they produce nothing.

112908housingtractAs the real estate bubble was blowing up, I recall wondering who all those houses were being sold to, and how. Most of the people buying new Styrofoam-and-plaster houses were already living in the Valley, in perfectly fine block homes in perfectly fine neighborhoods. They were being induced to take on huge mortgages to move (about once every three years, at one point) into cheaply built structures in elbow-to-elbow tracts. This was called “development.” Basically it was a form of churning. Nothing of much value was being built, and nothing that made our city better was happening.

Go out to Scottsdale, Arizona, and you’ll see mile on mile on mile of expensive homes, well beyond the means of a family with one middle-class earner and well beyond those of a family with two middle-class earners. Where, I used to wonder, was all that money coming from? The answer, as we all know now, was nowhere: it was make-believe money.

It was fake. Fake money generated through bad lending practices and paid for, all too often, with jobs that produce nothing.

We need to get back to making things. That cheap labor overseas to which we’ve outsourced our productivity is undermining our economy in more ways than simply making well paid blue-collar jobs extinct. It has sapped the intrinsic value of what we do for a living, and in doing so, it saps an important part of our people’s work ethic and, ultimately, our country’s ability to survive. Americans expect to earn more than slave wages for factory work. And a population that earns more is in a position to pay more. Over time, the off-shoring of productivity and the influx of cheap goods have meant that our real wages have dropped, because employers do not have to pay us as much to keep us happy (in a superficial way) and because the unions that used to keep our wages up have been mothballed. Prices have had to come down not because stuff is produced more cheaply overseas but because American workers couldn’t afford the products if they were manufactured by people who earned a fair wage.

America’s economy needs to be rebuilt. We need to structure our economy on production, not on paper-pushing, circularity, and sales commissions.

Watch out for “sales” that aren’t

A local TV station reports that alleged markdowns at a Linens & Things going-out-of-business sale are anything but.

Our Intrepid Reporter took a close look at the price tags and discovered some showed X-ed out prices that were lower than the “sale” price. Other items had layers of price tags, through which an archaeological dig showed prior lower asking prices. An item advertised as 30% off had been marked up more than 40%, so that the “sale” price was more than the former sticker price.

Be careful out there.

In the Nick of Time: A new income stream appears

Now that GDU has rendered the teaching gig so outrageous, so underpaid, and so grossly immoral that even I, Queen of Creative Malingering and Dark Angel of Cynicism, will not take on another online course, I cast about for another way to generate the extra money needed to pay off the Renovation Loan during my lifetime.

One of my research assistants has been working for a small publisher of mystery novels. The proprietors are paying her $12 an hour to read page proofs. This works out to about 10 pages an hour or around $360 per book. She says they’ve given her four books to read since the first of the year.

By the month, that would come to about half of what I’m earning per class. But even if course enrollments were limited to the caps the university has had, reading page proofs of a mystery novel would amount to about a tenth of the work entailed in a month of teaching an online university writing course. And now that the caps are gone-well, the publisher’s pay would easily work out to far more, per hour, than an adjunct professor would earn pretending to teach “writing” to 100, 200, maybe 300 on-line students.

I called the publisher’s shop and was greeted with what sounded like sincere interest.

Given a Ph.D. in English, a job directing an editorial shop, several books of my own in print, and 20 years’ experience writing for and editing commercial publications, I suspect I’m a shoo-in.

If I could find one other publisher looking for someone to do similar work, it would replace the teaching pay.

Actually…. If they can keep me busy twelve months a year, just this one gig would come fairly close to replacing the teaching pay. As a practical matter, because GDU has a six-week-long winter break, the spring and fall semesters occupy only about 7 ½ months of your time.

$360/month over 12 months = gross $4,320 = net $3,110

Pay for one $3,500 course = gross $3,500 = net $2,110

Pay for two $3,500 courses = gross $7,000 = net $4,200

Of course, I’d have to pay taxes on the freelance editing pay, and I would forego the matching contribution of 7% of that $4,320 to my 403b plan (in fact, if I were teaching, the match would be 7% of $7,000 gross pay). However, because I deduct my entire life, I always end up with a couple thousand dollars of state and federal income tax refunds. Since I’m putting all the freelance money into savings anyway, I doubt the loss will matter. Moonlighting for GDU, because all sorts of deductions are ripped out of my paycheck, I only bring home about 60% of gross pay. I’ll cheerfully forego the $490 match to the retirement fund for the privilege of not teaching in the new madhouse regime, thank you very much. I mean…we’re talking about being paid to read mystery novels.

A second client paying comparably and giving me a comparable amount of work would bring the annual freelance pay to $8,640 (gross) or about $6,220 net. The amount of work-in terms of hours and of onorousness-would be significantly less than teaching two sections of undergraduate writing courses, and the pay, significantly more.

Let’s see how this works out. Pray for the best!