Coffee heat rising

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!

Thank You, Mrs. Micah!


This afternoon Mrs. Micah spent half her day migrating The Copyeditor’s Desk from, whose proprietors had noticed that, yea verily, it’s a commercial site in violation of their ToS and so taken it off the air, over to Bluehost, present home of Funny about Money.

She accomplished this in a few hours, in contrast to the horrific project presented by the migration of FaM, a two-year-old site with endless graphics and more than daily postings and bastardizations of code from iLife, Word, and WordPress.

Even though the new Copyeditor’s Desk site uses WordPress’s White as Milk blogging template, it’s set up to mimic a business website. Click on the “Articles on Editing and Publishing” link at the bottom of the front page and you’ll access what really are posts of general interest to writers and editors.

Speaking of Mrs. M’s many talents, have you read her amazing post on 2009 tax deductions at her PF blog, Finance for a Freelance Life? This is one of the best articles I’ve ever seen on a personal finance blog.

We debated whether to monetize the Copyeditor’s Desk. I didn’t want ads on the front page, and Mrs. Micah thought it would be unproductive to confine advertising to the posts. Given that my hands and Tina’s are full with trying to cobble together our respective livings from innumerable sources, we know neither of us is likely to write daily posts for CE Desk to make it operate as a full-fledged blog. So, we decided to leave it unmonetized for the time being.

At any rate, it gives us a URL to add to our e-mail signatures and business cards.

So…you’re a writer? Remember…

Every writer needs an editor!

Ax falls but…uhm…bounces?

Okay, folks. Hang onto your hats.

They gave me NINE. MONTHS’. NOTICE.

That’s right. I’m canned, but in the slowest of slow-mo.

They’re closing my office, but pretty clearly because they’re nervous about the faculty’s response (which will be stentorian), they’re “phasing it out.” They’re going to renew my contract at the start of the fiscal year (July 1), but only for six months. The editorial office is now slated to close in December.

My suspicion that they converted my assistant editor’s job from classified (nonexempt) to service professional (exempt)—behind my back, and without telling her—so that they could more easily can her was dead on. Classified staff must be given first dibs on any openings for jobs comparable to the one they’re being laid off from. This means there’s one job like it coming open and they want someone else to have it.

Dollars to donuts, that little maneuver is illegal: for a contract to be valid, both parties need to sign it, eh? I don’t think you can switch a person from a classified job to a contract job without bothering to let her know, which is what they tried to do. The only reason I found out was that a woman who either wasn’t too bright or wasn’t any too friendly to what they were up to telephoned and let me know. My sidekick now is aware—through me—that her job classification has been changed, but she’s never been offered a contract. Our business manager said that our offer letter isher contract, but the offer letter, as I recall, was for a classified position, not for a service professional’s contract.

I understand that lawsuits against Our Beloved Employer are sprouting like fancy mushrooms in Room Farm’s closet.

For me, this could work out well. Nine months will give me plenty of timeeitherto look for another job (ugh! not bloody likely) or to figure out how to extract a living from several income streams. The possibilities for Bumhood are rife:
Monetize Funny about Money
Market and expand The Copyeditor’s Desk
Put together the two books I have in hand, and sell the things
Line up a few university or junior-college courses to teach
Find a part-time job
Get Social Security started
Bunch up all my savings and start drawing down 4%, Bush economy be damned

The beauty of this is that my health care insurance is now covered. Nine months’ notice will carry through until the end of December, 2009. I turn 65 in May of 2010: only five months later. The cost of COBRA is being cut, so that the amount I will receive in vacation pay will easily cover five months’ worth, after which I’ll be eligible for Medicare. Six weeks’ worth of vacation pay will cover five months of COBRA and then some: I’ll have cash left over.

Medicare may cost more than the new, reduced COBRA, which could represent a problem. But I’ll deal with that when I get to it.
* * *

A huge typhoon of a windstorm is roaring around outside. Stuff is banging against the exterior walls and thumping down on the roof. Poor little Cassie, who’s scared of wind (she apparently thinks it has something to do with the supernatural), has been locked inside for eight or ten hours, and now she won’t go out long enough to do her Thing.

She was trapped interminably because I left the campus at 6:30, got stuck in perfectly hideous late rush-hour traffic, had to get off the freeway and make my way 15 miles across town on jam-packed surface streets. Went by M’hijito’s house to tell him what’s up; he took me to dinner, so the Cassie wasn’t rescued until after 8:30 at night.

This morning I took my unfortunate client’s corrupted file out to the powerful PC on campus and to my amazement contrived to save it. The computer actually broke into the defunct file! It tried to crash when I hit the corrupted table, but by then I was wise to things and had saved changes. Next time the file opened, I managed to surgically excise the suspect material, and from then on the thing worked OK.

I had to rebuild 2/3 of Author’s twenty-sixtables, some of them very complex. It took hour after hour after endless hour, wrapped around a meeting in which I was told I soon will be out on the street. The upshot of it is that even though I saved the client’s job and will get paid (I hope…), I’ve earned something less than minimum wage for my trouble. Oh well. It’s enough to buy a month and a half worth of groceries, so I’m not going to complain. Much.

A layoff strategy

On our morning walk, La Maya asked if I have a come-back planned should Her Deanship announce, during this afternoon’s unexpected audience, that the Great Desert University intends to lay me off.

As a matter of fact, I do. Several recessions ago in a galaxy far, far away, I happened to read a magazine article whose author argued that as soon as an employer proposes to lay you off, you should immediately come back with an alternative. The theory was that you can sometimes bargain yourself into a better position, or at least gain paid or partially paid time to search for new work.

Unclear whether this idea remains operative in the more extreme conditions we’re seeing today. But nothing ventured (etc.). So, I have a couple of come-backs:

1. Her Deanship says soooo sorry, we’re laying you off. I say:
Last night on the local PBS news program, a legislator said that a string the size of a rope is attached to the stimulus package Our Beloved Governor has asked the president for. To get the stimulus money, Arizona will have to abrogate and reinstate all the outrageous cutsto higher education(well, as one of the lead budget-cutters, he didn’t use the term “outrageous,” o’course). Therefore, in the next few weeks the university’s budget will be restored and all your programs can proceed as before.

So, why don’t you cut my hours by 50%, temporarily? This would save on benefits and taxes, and half of my gross salary would cover the cost of one research assistantship—including the out-of-state tuition waiver. Then, when things are better, you can reinstate me at 100% FTE.

2. Her Deanship says that will never do! I say:
Rather than yank the College’s support out from under not one, not two, but six scholarly journals (causing bad press for GDU not just locally but nationwide that will ring through the ages like time’s endless echo), why don’t you outsource the preproduction services to me? This will save the university the cost of my salary plus taxes and benefits, remove three research assistantships and a 50% FTE assistant editor’s position, and get the job done at enormous cost savings.

Pull that one off, and The Copyeditor’s Desk has a bread-and-butter client that won’t quit. Tina and I will both be self-employed, which has its disadvantages but also has the advantage that we won’t have to schlep to campus. We can farm the work out to the graduate students on a freelance basis. While we can’t give them research assistantships, we certainly could hire one a semester as an intern, given what we would earn editing six journals plus the other work we’re doing.

Mwa ha ha! No wonder I’m an academic. I was born for this kind of bullshit!

Reviewed the financial strategy I’d already planned for the layoff eventuality. It’s going to be very tight. However, if it’s true that the stimulus package will pick up 60% of COBRA, my back vacation pay will cover COBRA until I’m eligible for Medicare, especially if the university keeps me on until the end of the fiscal year (June 30). Also, $2,400 of unemployment is now tax-free, so that means the pittance Arizona dispenses will be a slightly larger pittance.

So, I guess the main reason I’m not feeling very exercised about this development (besides the fact that I’m tired of thinking about it) is that, although it would be a major inconvenience, if they lay me off my world will not come to an end.

Thinking about publishing a book?

My business partner and I just finished editing a book manuscript for a client of a client. Our client is a book packager (an outfit that puts books together for publishers); the subclient is an on-demand vanity publisher preparing to print a book written by the author of a fairly laughable conspiracy theory.

On-demand publishers have their uses and are worth considering if you have a book that will supplement a business enterprise. For example, a friend of mine ran a lucrative business providing in-house communications seminars to large corporations. She wrote a book that summarized the basic principles described in her presentations, which she sold in large numbers to her corporate clients—and also to the general public through the Barnes & Nobles and the Borders of this world. While the book would have been profitable on its own (she had something to say that people wanted to know), it vastly enhanced her company’s revenues.

You may have a subject too limited to your business or your specific interest to sell to a traditional publishing house, but it nevertheless would be useful if presented in a book. Before the advent of on-demand publishing, you could have the book printed and bound through a vanity press, but then you’d be faced with the many headaches of warehousing, marketing, and distribution. Most people who go this route end up with their cars parked in the street, because the garage is stuffed to the rafters with unsalable books. But lo! an on-demand publisher can produce only the number of books you think you can sell at your next dog-and-pony show, or that you want to give away to your 100 best customers.

If your book is adequately edited (so you don’t look like a screaming fool) and decently designed (not a matter to be neglected), a self-published product can be a valuable adjunct to any number of enterprises.

What you should NOT do is pay a vanity publisher to bring out a book that no one else in their right mind would publish. There’s a reason these outfits are called “vanity presses”: they profit nicely from the wannabe writer’s ego. Remember: when you’re a real writer, you don’t pay someone else to publish your golden words; they pay you!

And also remember:
Every writer needs and editor.

The Copyeditor’s Desk has a new URL

It took us a while to obtain and then ensconce our new domain name at The Copyeditor’s Desk. We’d expected to apply the domain name to the site shortly after we started it, but somehow we didn’t get the process done until after we had picked up a number of readers, who now probably think we’re lost and gone forever.

If you’re an unmoored reader of The Copyeditor’s Desk, here’s its URL:

Please come on back! Or, if you haven’t seen it, c’mon over. Tina just posted a squib on getting scholarly work published; in the next day or two, I’m planning to write on the progress of starting a small business. To our amazement, our little enterprise has already generated as much work as we can handle — if we get any more assignments this month, we’ll have to farm them out. We’ll let you know at that site how we did it, what worked, and what apparently didn’t work.