Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey’s ‘A Woman of Independent Means’ Offers Both Financial and Life Lessons

When I read Grant Sabatier’s Financial Freedom: A Proven Path to All the Money You Will Ever Need three times in a row and decided to go after the financial independence thing, I pulled up this memory of watching this television miniseries, with my family, about a woman who had all the money she would ever need.

I know that particular detail because I had to ask my parents what the title of the movie meant. Of course, I couldn’t remember the title (was it A Financially Independent Woman?); only the moment where my parents explained that the woman in the movie would never need to earn money from a job.

So I looked it up. The 1995 six-hour (with commercials) miniseries A Woman of Independent Means, starring Sally Ford as the titular Woman, was based on the 1978 Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey novel A Woman of Independent Means, which was in turn inspired by Hailey’s grandmother’s life.

The novel is epistolary and written entirely from the perspective of Bess Steed Garner, who learns at a young age that an inheritance has made her financially independent. The book begins as a deceptively quick read — the first few pages take Bess from age 9 to age 20 — but becomes more detailed and immersive as Bess grows in both experience and writing talent.

It also packs in a wealth of advice about both investing and living — but since Bess is constantly maturing and changing, there’s a question of whether the reader should take her insights at face value.

Here’s a letter that the 29-year-old Bess writes her best friend, for example:

Dearest Totsie,

Your letter brought me the first bright day I have known since Rob died. The thought of joining you in Vermont for the summer fills me with delight! What a reprieve from the terrible reality of my life just now!

Once we decided to close the St. Louis office of the company, I knew I had no choice but to sell my house here and move back to Dallas — but to return without a husband and with less money than when we left is an unbearable admission of defeat. And I will postpone it as long as possible.

Your invitation for the summer is such a tangible offer of comfort at a time when words of sympathy ring hollow in my ears. I am so weary of people asking if there is anything they can do for me. Of course I always answer with a polite no, and they go away satisfied at having done their duty. If only one dared answer in the affirmative. But nothing frightens people more than undisguised need. I have kept all my old friends through this difficult time by never demanding the dues of friendship. Not that I doubt they would be paid — but only once. Friendship to me is like a capital reserve. It pays dividends only so long as the principal remains intact. Whatever personal sacrifice is required, I am determined to come through this experience without spending my principal — on any level.

The children are very excited at the thought of a trip east. We are all eager for the sight of a landscape without memories. How I look forward to holding the baby — and you, Please thank Dwight for his share in your kind invitation.

I love you dearly,

Bess

Is Bess “right” about the nature of friendship? Is she “wrong?” I’m not sure that’s the question we should be asking. A Woman of Independent Means invites readers to observe Bess as she observes the world, and take from it whatever lessons are most relevant to our own lives.

In my case, the biggest lesson I took from this book is that whenever Bess works to meet her own needs, her life — and her family’s life — improves. Whenever she does something that she believes is in the best interest of someone else’s needs without asking them first, especially when her actions go against her own needs and desires, her life and her family’s life and the life of the person on whom she’s acting get worse.

I suspect that if I read this book again in a few years, I might take a different lesson from it — because, like Bess, I would have the advantage of a few more years of life experience.

If you’ve read A Woman of Independent Means — or have some vague recollection of the miniseries, like I did — I’m curious which aspects of the story stood out to you. Despite the strong financial component of this book, for example, I don’t think it prompts most of its readers to get into investing.

But it might prompt us to view the world a little bit differently, after seeing it through Bess’s eyes. ❤️

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Where I Got Published Today: Lifehacker

I told you this article was coming — and it’s LONG, so set aside some time to read the whole thing.

All the Questions to Ask Before Starting Your Own Business:

Don’t assume that your business will be an LLC or a S-Corp before talking with a CPA. There are specific advantages and disadvantages of each type of business structure, and it’s important to learn which might be the most beneficial to you—and why—before you incorporate. These decisions have tax consequences that could save (or cost) you a lot of money, so it’s worth it to get a CPA on your team at the very beginning of the process.

How to Look for Owls: On Writing, Ritual, and Intuition

Today’s guest post is from Tara K. Shepersky, a writer who holds conversations with inner and outer landscapes via essays, poems, photos, and feet. Read more of Tara’s work at pdxpersky.com or follow her on Twitter @pdxpersky.

I used to have what I thought was a writing ritual. With earnest intent — though perhaps without full possession of the truth — I could tell you that my setting aside of space and time to write had three ingredients: there was a QWERTY; there was an appointment; and, usually, there was an owl.

Some of this, perhaps, is still accurate. More of it may still be useful, as lessons learned. In the last few days — since I sat down to draft this post, in fact — I’ve felt an existential shift, an unmooring of what I thought my practice was.

I will explain, but be warned: you’re reading this almost in real time. You’ve got a front row seat to the dissolution of a writer’s successful creative practice ritual, and I don’t know what’s going to happen either.


The shift began at depth, impossible to ignore but still unnamed. The way I imagine the Santa Barbara Channel feels, when great masses of cold water from its deepest reaches begin to roil toward the surface. The comparison offers some comfort. In the Channel, upwelling is a regular(ish) phenomenon with useful results: a dense flourishing of microscopic life that in turn refreshes everybody else.

I don’t feel refreshed yet; I just feel cold. But maybe I can look at this as an opportunity to examine the elements of what I thought of as my ritual, and explore what works, what has shifted, and how to create what’s missing.

First, though: why do I need a ritual? What even is that? What use is one to an artist? And why have I never asked myself these questions before?

Religion has been a deep part of my life from birth, one way or another. Both religious traditions I’m connected to are ritual-heavy.* It’s the very thing about them that keeps them grounded, and has kept me coming back for their wisdom. Done well and with love and for a right purpose, rituals help us celebrate and live into what is most important, particularly in the everyday.

You know how sometimes you know you look a certain way — you have blond hair, for example, always have — and then one day you look in the mirror and realize your hair is brown? It’s been brown for months, maybe years, and you never noticed the shift. I wonder if I’ve been coasting in a similar way on my self-image as a “ritual person.” I “know” this is a part of me, and my writing is a crucial part of me, so perhaps I’ve only assumed that ritual plays a part in my writing.

So. A ritual is a set of physical actions performed in a particular order, using (maybe) one or more tools. It functions as a signal, defining, in this case, a mental space which the writer commits to her practice. It helps push aside distractions, settle the mind, and offer reassurance to your imposter syndrome that you, and your art, are worth regular energy and time.

In my experience, rituals work best when you do them regularly. Like anything else, they get stronger with practice. And those times life gets in the way, pleasantly or otherwise, so that you don’t write for a few days? That’s when they really come in handy. They bring you back.

My own supposed ritual has those three components I mentioned earlier. I haven’t asked myself how they function. I’m asking now.

The QWERTY represents the only attention I manage consistently to pay to my father’s maxim of “having the right tool for the job.” I can use a keyboard — specifically this common, adorably named configuration — with the same unconscious ease that shapes a thought in my native tongue. I also use it quickly; it lets my fingers keep so nearly up with my thoughts that I’m rarely frustrated by the lag time. And I can use it by touch, allowing to me look out the window, rest my eyes, sometimes even daydream while still in the flow of composing. So it’s my exact right tool for translating prose to page. And it does just fine for revising — though not composing — poetry.**

The Appointment is critical. It comes from the best piece of writing advice I have yet to receive: show up for the same kind of work at the same time every day. Mary Oliver said it, Nicole wrote it; a little less than a year ago, I finally got the memo.

To really nail this one, you need to know what time of day and under what physical circumstances your mind is most interested and agile, and also most willing to be solitary. Clock-time doesn’t mean much to me, though your mileage may vary. I tune instead to light levels and body rhythms, so my writing appointments begin in the liminal space between night and day, outdoors and indoors, walking and settling. Which brings us to The Owls.

Walking, several miles at a time for pleasure, is so much a part of my life that it’s also part of my identity. So there’s a physical circumstance that meets the above criteria. Walking in the very early mornings, before the dawn and sometimes accompanying its unfolding, is a practice I began as a way to access exercise and fresher air in the over-heated, smoke-choked summers that have become the new normal here in the Pacific Northwest. It’s pure serendipity that I began to do this immediately before my high tide of solitary mental engagement: the first few hours of daylight.

The place I came to favor for these early walks mixes forest and field, wetland and hedge, and it’s less fragmented than most of what passes for “the outdoors” where I live. It’s perfect habitat for barn and great horned owls. Realizing this, and keeping my eyes and ears alert, is all it took for the owls to find me first.

Great horneds are not too talkative in the summer, and their flight is silent, but catch half-sight of one crossing a waxing moon, and you’ll look for them ever after. Barn owls get described as “ghostly,” and indeed they seem this way, in pre-dawn not-quite-light, as you stop in your tracks and try to follow the dipping, fluttering hunt, low to the grass. Your eyesight will fail you; this is not a human hour. From the vagueness comes a sound like a waterlogged zipper, then pale maybe-wings tilting sharply to dodge your confused and clod-bound presence. Then a long cry, soft and terrifying — scraaaaiiil! — and if you didn’t know yet the presence of Mystery, now you are beyond invited — you’re impelled.

After the first encounters, I had to do the work. Owl-listening became something between a habit and a passion. Besides how to find owls (in my particular place), it reminded me how to walk in my surroundings, not merely on them; how to be, as Thoreau said, entirely present “in the woods,” thinking of the woods and not of things outside them. How to meditate, in fact.

And meditation is very good for writing. The regular practice of emptying your mind, then allowing just your immediate experience to fill it, singly and slowly, like dropping pebbles in a pool, both stokes and soothes that restlessness from which you shape the writing you know for truth.

There are about a hundred ways to meditate; mine is to dress in quiet colors and go out to meet the darkness. Before I can completely see the earth and sky, I have to reach for them, feel for them, listen. I enter a state that is set apart, reserved out of regular time for something Other.

So this is a pretty solid ritual, right? Five days a week, rise in darkness to walk a couple of miles with full attention on the natural world and your own internal state. Come home around dawn, at the beginning of peak creative hours, and settle to your practiced partnership with the tool best suited to help you spin experience, emotion, and thought into words on a page.

Here’s the wrench I didn’t know I’d left in the gears, though. I didn’t start meditating by happy accident, and I didn’t start doing it as a way to shape space for my writing. I did it specifically to control my anxiety. There was a synchronicity involved: I discovered that walking with attention was just as good as say, sitting in your bathtub for 20 minutes with the lights off, thinking of nothing in particular. And then I happily combined meditating into my pre-writing walks and thought no more about it.

When I subsequently went back to therapy and (yes, I know this is a big claim, and it’s true) got rid of my general anxiety, the first component of what I had imagined to be my writing ritual sort of… shook itself loose.

I used to return from my pre-dawn forays absolutely itching to meet up with my keyboard. I didn’t always know what I wanted to say until my fingers touched down, but I was that perfect combination of emotionally settled and creatively provoked.

Lately I leave the fields feeling unsettled and unfinished. I still want to write, but I don’t settle to it. The currents that used to push me straight there are shifting, and I’m occupied trying to watch and understand.

My owl-time itself is almost speaking to me about this, insisting it is actually a different sort of ritual, about identity and inner quiet and connection. It used to be a tool, and it wants to be, instead, a deep well and a refuge. I think the direction it’s ultimately pulling me is toward a spiritual practice.

My religious identity is complicated, and I’m so confused about praying I’ve been known to conflate it with my writing practice. So what kind of spiritual practice my owl-walks or their successors want to be is an open question I will take my time and invite all my patience to live into. Meanwhile, there’s this other opportunity: I need a new writing ritual. How do I find that?


Here’s what I know: there is a compass inside me. It pointed toward owl-walking, it pointed toward therapy, and as of the morning I sat down, fresh from the fields, to write this piece, it spun around and pointed clear off the established map.

I’m not sure what’s over there yet. Ever play one of those role-playing video games where the map is covered in fog that dissipates only as you walk right into it? I’m well-practiced at walking into literal fog and darkness; I am totally up for this metaphorical challenge.

So. Watching for the path forward, what else do I know?

I know the QWERTY and the appointment and the timing of that appointment are elements I want in my creative practice. In the not-quite-one-year I’ve set my intention to partner with them, they’ve powered seven drafts of two manuscripts, uncountable new compositions, and 155 single essay and poem submissions. Even when I was too sick to owl-walk, or I couldn’t meditate, or my mind refused me the right words, they helped me deliver.

I also know how to look for owls. It’s a knowing I was graced with at first, and then had to learn in order to continue to succeed. So I know I can learn to follow my compass when it points somewhere I don’t yet understand.

Intuition: that’s probably what this is. I used to believe I didn’t have any. Great at introspection, I never knew where to take what I had learned. My compass has constructed itself over the years through wildly varied efforts to figure that out: psychological study, prayer, meditation, acquiring a contemplative practice, reading tarot. And also just experience. I might be figuring out that the secret isn’t actually knowing. It’s trust.

So I don’t know how my writing ritual will re-shape.*** Nor, since this shift is so much larger than one area of my life, how my spiritual practice will coalesce. Nor how to reckon with whatever else I am without the anxiety I carried for so long.

But I am learning to trust myself to ride the upwelling currents. My compass has let me know when the course is changing; my job is to keep my eye on its dance, and follow. In itself, this trust is more valuable than any specific rituals that result. It is their source, and maybe my access to much that is deep and worthwhile within me. I am so grateful, finally, to have found it.

*I was born, baptized into, and participate today in the Lutheran Church. Some other important connections I discovered in early adulthood, via a moderately traditional version of Wicca. I suppose they do seem quite disparate, on the face of things.

**Poetry, in my experience, happens everywhere except at the neat-and-tidy keyboard, and often inconveniently. It’s the unruly friend you love being around — if she would only stop inviting herself over without notice. (At least she brings wine.) If I specifically want to be the one doing the inviting, I go for a walk and I pay attention. That’s it. Poetry is about rhythm, and so is walking; it’s basic sympathetic magic.

***I do certainly keep trying new ideas. But so far when I reach for one, my compass just wobbles. It’s an encouraging wobble, if that makes sense, but it’s not a Heck Yes. The closest we’ve come is lighting the fire and just staring at the flames until it feels right to pull away. My otherwise well-behaved tuxedo cat, d’Artagnan, takes this as an invitation to shout about how much he has missed me on my walk, and how I should settle in our chair now so he can snuggle. So this may not, in fact, be the best way forward.

Where I Got Published Today: Haven Life

I recently started freelancing for Haven Life, and am excited to share my first published post, What Millennials Should Know About Caregiving:

Millennials are getting older… and so are their parents. This means it’s time to start thinking about caregiving responsibilities, and how you’ll handle them if — and when — they come up.

After all, a lot of us will become caregivers at some point in our lives. Roughly one in four caregivers is already a millennial, most hold another job at the same time and spend an average of 20 hours per week providing care for their loved ones, according to the AARP Public Policy Institute.

Caregiving isn’t just about eldercare. Millennials can find themselves caring for a child with special needs or a partner with a disability. If you are facing an unexpected caregiving role or anticipate taking on a caregiving responsibility, here’s what you need to do.

Reedsy Discovery Wants to Match Indie Authors to Readers

You already know that I am a huge Reedsy fan; they’ve got a wealth of tools to help writers draft, edit, and market their books, including the plot structure infographics I wrote about earlier this month.

Reedsy also featured this very blog as one of their 12 Author Websites That Get It Right, putting Nicole Dieker Dot Com on par with David Sedaris and J.K. Rowling.

Plus, in 2017, they invited me to judge a short-story contest.

So yeah, I’m all in for Reedsy, and as soon as my NEXT BOOK draft is at the ARC stage — which, since the draft is currently at 6,908 words, probably won’t happen until next year — I’m going to submit it to Reedsy’s new indie author service, Reedsy Discovery.

Reedsy Discovery lets reviewers share their favorite new indie books with an audience of eager readers

Here’s how Reedsy Discovery works (I’m going to go ahead and quote Reedsy here):

When you sign up to Discovery, your book will be presented to a pool of experienced and relevant reviewers that have been hand-selected by the team at Reedsy. For maximum suitability, they get to choose what they review — so make sure that your title, synopsis, and cover catches their eye!

Then, on the launch date of your choice (which, we’re imagining might coincide with your publishing date) your book will be promoted to thousands of registered readers who can then:

Browse your sample chapter 👀

Comment on it 💬

Lovingly admire your cover design 😍

Read your review (if you have one) 🤓

Upvote the book 👍

And purchase it through your chosen online retailers 💸

The Reedsy Discovery service costs $50, and I’m betting that being an early adopter might get your book a little more visibility, so if you’ve got fifty bucks and a book that’s in the ARC-and-marketing stage, why not give it a try? Use the Reedsy Discovery Launch Prep Checklist to make sure your book is Discovery-ready, and then send it out and see what happens!

Reedsy Discovery is also looking for talented book reviewers

You can also apply to be a Reedsy Discovery reviewer and get paid to read and review books — which is something I’m considering doing, but I don’t know if I can both be a reviewer and an author. (THIS IS A GOOD QUESTION FOR REEDSY, IF YOU’RE READING THIS BLOG POST. OR I COULD JUST EMAIL YOU.)

The reviewer payout doesn’t come directly from Reedsy; it comes from readers who can give you tips in exchange for your reviews:

When readers enjoy your work, they can send $1, $3 or $5 your way. These small thankyou’s can help you earn money from your reading addiction / passion.

I’m not sure how many people will tip Reedsy Reviewers — that’s still to be seen — so for me the draw isn’t the money. It’s the ability to grow my blog readership by getting Nicole Dieker Dot Com in front of a larger audience. (Remember that series of posts I wrote about audience-building?)

After all, every author whose book I review will share my review with their audience, and every author looking for a book review blog that’s still actively posting* will give Nicole Dieker Dot Com a visit, and so on.

But enough about me. This post is supposed to be about Reedsy Discovery, after all.

So go check it out — and then leave a comment if you’re interested in submitting your book and/or becoming a reviewer! ❤️📚💸

*If you’ve ever clicked through one of those “lists of book review blogs” — and Reedsy has such a list — you’ll learn just how many of those blogs are no longer actively posting reviews or no longer accepting submissions. But I love doing book reviews, and I’ve already decided that I’m going to do a weekly book review on this blog, so… let’s see if Reedsy Discovery wants me on their team.

Three Articles About Building a Creative Career

Here’s what I’ve been reading and thinking about this week:

Afford Anything: Give Me Money! How to Find Freelance Work

Trying to build a business when your financial footing is shaky is like trying to hang beautiful wallpaper in a house with a rotting foundation.

First you need to pour a solid foundation. Then you can take on the higher-level, long-term projects.

Step 1: If you’re not earning enough to pay the bills, use the Pepsi Method. Grab as many projects as you can, even though they don’t pay you what you’re worth.

Step 2: Do this until you’re earning enough to meet your minimum monthly bills.

Step 3: Switch to the Versace Method for all your additional work.

Step 4: With each Versace-level project you start, fire at least one Pepsi-level client.

Have I mentioned how much I love the Afford Anything blog? ❤️❤️❤️

Whatever: The Limits of My Knowledge, Professionally (and Otherwise)

It’s fine for creative people to go through stages in their career, where the knowledge useful to an earlier stage falls away and knowledge useful to their current stage takes its place. Time happens, whether we prefer it to or not. Experience likewise happens. My experience is valid, and the information I have can still be useful, but all of it exists in the context of this is who I am and where I am now in my professional life. Additionally, it should be viewed in the context of survivorship bias — which is to say, I have made it to a particular place in my career, and while I can offer you information based on my experience to tell you how I got here, it might be more useful to examine the careers of people who haven’t landed where I have, despite having similar starting points and early career arcs.

John Scalzi explains the stages writers go through as they build their careers, and why he might no longer be able to give entry-level career advice.

Kameron Hurley: Why Do So Many Artists Suck at Business? Because Businesses Like It That Way

Back before I’d published any books, but after I’d gone to Clarion, I’d heard about a meet up for mid-career writers that new writers weren’t invited to. I felt that was horseshit. Surely I, as a newer writer, would need to know mid-career things?

But now I get it. Most writers three books, eight books, twenty books in, have far different concerns and priorities and most of all, experience, than writers who haven’t been through the grinder. Newer writers want to talk craft. Pros are talking about their first or third career reboot, shitty sales, and how to get out of noncompete clauses and shitty contract language.

This piece is about the business of writing, but it’s also about going through various career stages and what you prioritize during each stage. (KIND OF LIKE THE OTHER TWO PIECES I PICKED FOR TODAY, DO WE SEE A THEME HERE?)

It also makes me think of Lev Grossman’s The Magician King, because it’s been 44 days since I last referenced The Magicians on this blog and that is at least 30 days too long.

Specifically, the part where hedge witches get star tattoos to represent the level of magic they have accomplished, so they’ll know instantly whether another witch is at their level.

Because when you’re an early-career writer/freelancer/hedge witch, it’s easy to find peers. As your career continues to grow, the number of people at your level starts to shrink.

Which — I mean, you can always use what you know to help other people get to your level, and those types of interactions can be both emotionally and socially fulfilling for both parties.

But sometimes you just want to go to a bar with people who have the same number of stars as you, and those kinds of spaces aren’t always easy to find.

Saturday Open Thread

LOOK I KNOW I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH READERS YET TO DO A FOR-REAL OPEN THREAD

DRESS FOR THE BLOG YOU WANT

LET’S GO

Since it’s an open thread, you can discuss whatever you’d like — but if you’d like a prompt, I’d suggest watching the latest Lessons from the Screenplay video:

Michael Tucker always makes excellent points about storytelling, and in this video he reminds us that every scene is about desire — that is, even if the purpose of the scene is to give a piece of exposition or whatever, the characters still need to be going after what they want.

It was exactly what I needed to hear, at this point in the NEXT BOOK draft.

Where I Got Published Today: Bankrate

New Bankrate post up!

Your guide to Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining:

The easiest way to earn points with Rapid Rewards Dining is by using a linked credit or debit card to pay for meals at participating restaurants. You earn 2 Rapid Rewards points per dollar spent, including tax and tip. You can use the Southwest dining portal to locate participating restaurants near you, or you can sign up for Rapid Rewards Southwest Dining emails to get restaurant recommendations.

March Financial Update

It’s a new month, which means it’s time to check in with my finances.

Here’s a YNAB chart illustrating my net worth, which is $97,283.52 as of this morning:

Currently, my investment balances total $85,296.36, divided as follows:

  • Vanguard brokerage account: $6,401.14
  • Vanguard traditional IRA: $12,078.77
  • Vanguard rollover IRA: $45,534.32
  • Vanguard SEP IRA: $6,484.87
  • Vanguard Roth IRA: $6,685.68
  • TIAA annuity: $5,348.99*
  • Health savings account: $2,744.59

The big gamechanger this month was the money I put in my brand-new SEP IRA: $500 for 2019, and $6,000 for 2018. The latter investment came from money that was part of The Billfold LLC account, which is much better off invested in a SEP IRA than taxed (though it will be taxed eventually).

In case you’re curious, it has cost The Billfold LLC $1,399 to shut itself down so far. This money includes CPA and legal fees, and there is at least one more payment coming as I file the final paperwork. That money also came out of The Billfold LLC account.

I received $5,135 in freelance checks in February, and earned $12.24 in publishing royalties from Amazon. I spent $1,212.15 on personal expenses (rent, bills, food, fun, donations, etc.) and $187.33 on freelance business expenses, not including money put into investments or set aside for taxes.

According to my financial independence forecaster, I should hit FI in 12 years and one month. However, now that I am no longer giving the majority of my time to The Billfold, I’ve been able to take on several higher-paying long-term assignments, which means I’ll probably be able to save and invest additional earnings (especially in my SEP IRA, which can absorb up to 25% of my freelance earnings as tax-deductible contributions).

So I’m very interested to see whether that forecasting number changes by the end of March.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because I’ve been transparently sharing my finances online since 2012, when I was making $500 a week as a brand-new freelancer.

Because I want to present a realistic picture of what a mid-career freelancer (and author, and teacher) can earn.

Because I know that the type of freelancing work I’m doing won’t last forever — the internet might fundamentally change, robots might start grabbing all of the good copywriting jobs, companies might want to work with younger freelancers who know all the dank memes — and so I’m investing in my future by trying to save as much money and grow my net worth as quickly as possible. Even if I don’t hit financial independence, being able to set money aside while I have the privilege to do so will give me more choices in the future. 

So that’s my March financial summary.

We’ll check back again in April.

*When I worked as an executive assistant for a non-profit, I invested in a TIAA 403(b). I was able to roll everything over into a Vanguard rollover IRA except for this one non-rollable TIAA annuity that TIAA told me I’d have to keep until I retire, I guess. If anyone has any suggestions on how to get that money out of TIAA and into Vanguard, let me know.