Book Review: Women With Money by Jean Chatzky

Jean Chatzky is the financial editor of NBC’s Today Show and hosts the podcast Her Money — but you might also remember her from an unexpectedly viral November 2017 tweet in which she stated that 30-year-olds should have 1x their income saved for retirement.

When we discussed that tweet on The Billfold, I noted that, at age 35, I had managed to save up one year of post-tax income, or roughly $40K. A little less than two years later, my net worth has grown to $103,608.10, which I achieved through the magic of increasing my income, reducing my expenses (primarily by moving from Seattle to Cedar Rapids and cutting my monthly rent by half), and increasing my savings. Will I hit 3x post-tax income by age 40? We’ll see.

But the tweet sparked ire because, for many people, those kind of financial benchmarks are more laughable than relevant. College debt, credit card debt, healthcare debt, low salaries, stagnant salaries, high housing costs, etc. etc. etc. make it very difficult for people to save.

I even did the math, on The Billfold, to prove just how hard it was to set aside a year’s worth of salary in savings by the time you turned 30.

Everyone shared Chatzky’s tweet specifically because it wasn’t applicable to everyone. Her new book, Women with Money: The Judgment-Free Guide to Creating the Joyful, Less Stressed, Purposeful (and, Yes, Rich) Life You Deserve, is also not for everyone — but if it’s the type of financial advice you need right now, it is well worth reading.

Who’s the target audience for Women With Money? Remember my post on what book covers communicate to their readers. This book (which I received for free as an advance reader copy) doesn’t communicate much with its imagery. Instead, it packs it all into the subtitle:

  • Judgment-Free
  • Joyful
  • Less Stressed
  • Purposeful
  • Rich
  • Life You Deserve

Notice how these words are nearly all subjective (my definition of joyful might be different from yours) and emotion-based. This book is not a guide to increasing your net worth or getting out of debt or asking for a raise, even though all that information is present in the text. Instead, this book is about how to feel better about your money.

If that’s the book you need right now, go get yourself a copy. Chatzky liberally peppers the text with case studies and conversations with real women, so you’ll get to learn how other people feel about their money — and what they did when they realized they weren’t happy with where their money was going. You’ll also read about plenty of journeys towards joyful, less-stressed, purposeful (and yes, rich — or at least richer) lives.

And if that’s not the book you need right now, remember that the personal finance section should take up at least three shelves in your average public library or bookstore, so you’ll have plenty of other options. ❤️

Where I Got Published Today: Bankrate

Discover balance transfer: A step-by-step guide

If you’re transferring a $5,000 balance, for example, you’ll pay $150 in fees with the 0% APR/3% fee offer, and $395 in interest with the 5.99% APR/0% fee offer. That’s assuming it takes you the full 18 months to pay off your balance, of course. You’ll pay less in interest if you pay off the balance early, and a lot more if you end up carrying that balance over the 18-month offer period.

I love the ones that come with math. ❤️

On Preparing Your Audience for the Experience They Want to Have

Soooooo… as I hinted last week, I’m going to Walt Disney World this summer.

(Technically, since I’m going at the end of May, it’s this spring. But it’s after Memorial Day so most of us will consider it “summer.”)

At first I thought I liked Disney parks (and other amusement parks) because I liked rides; after I made my first solo trip to Disneyland two years ago I realized that I loved the solo Disney experience.

I am not the first person to discover that exploring the parks on your own can be, to borrow Disney’s favorite word, magical.*

I haven’t visited WDW since I went with my family in high school literally twenty years ago (I was seventeen); it’s changed a lot since then. Unlike Disneyland, which you can do on a morning’s notice, Walt Disney World now invites — if not requires — you to plan your vacation several months in advance.

And they guide you through the process in a way that is — did I use the word magical already? — fascinating.


The first step in the typical WDW vacation planning process is choosing a resort hotel. (This step tends to go hand-in-hand with picking the vacation dates, though it’s kind of a chicken-and-egg thing depending on whether you’re more flexible on dates or more flexible on resorts.)

As of this writing, you have thirty-four resort options. Each with a different theme, a specific price point, and the promise of a certain type of experience.

I picked the Port Orleans Riverside resort (which falls in the middle of the price points) because it promised me the experience of elegance combined with nature; I paid $10 extra per night for a garden-view room, and I am already fantasizing about the walking trails.

Port Orleans Riverside is also one of the quieter resorts (it literally has “quiet pools” that are separate from the big waterslide pool where you take the kids, which is in turn very far away from the hotel rooms), so it also promises the experience of being able to retreat and relax after the excitement of the parks.

And, to ensure I get to fulfill that promise of retreating and relaxing and rejuvenating myself amidst all this elegance and nature, I booked a stay long enough to allow me to enjoy both the parks and the resort.

So Disney makes even more money off my visit.**

Win-win.

Once you take care of that hotel booking, you get to start making dining reservations. You can make these reservations 180 days in advance. This is where the typical vacationer starts heading down one of four paths:

  1. “Nope, we’re bringing our own food into the park” (a perfectly viable option)
  2. “Whatever, we’ll figure it out when we get there” (also viable, but it means you and your traveling party won’t be able to get into any of the most popular restaurants)
  3. “Wow, there are a lot of restaurants, this Be Our Guest place sounds good, let’s just pick that one” (totally acceptable)
  4. “I AM GOING TO LOOK AT EVERY RESTAURANT AND EVERY MENU BEFORE I DECIDE” (that one’s me)

Notice how each person and/or traveling party is beginning to refine the experience they want.

Also pay attention to the way that Disney is providing its guests with entertainment — because a lot of us consider shopping and planning and thinking about where we might like to eat entertainment — a full six months before we set foot on resort property.

This entertainment, in the form of choice-making and experience-refinement, proceeds at regular intervals. At 60 days out, resort guests can begin selecting FastPasses (to get a shorter wait on certain rides). Guests that want the best options can set their alarms to 7 a.m. Eastern on their 60-day mark, so they can book at the first possible moment. All of this is exciting and novel and full of possibility.

And then the customized MagicBands arrive. In a beautiful box, in the mail.

And then it’s close enough to your vacation that you can contact your resort to request the individual room or block of rooms you want, if you’re so far down the mouse hole that you’ve researched individual rooms. (That is also me. I am going to make that call. Apparently they try to honor as many requests as possible.)

And during all of this time you’ve probably been buying special clothes to wear on your trip or thinking about the souvenirs you might buy on your trip or drooling over photos of donuts and Dole Whips on Instagram. Maybe you just rewatched The Princess and the Frog because Port Orleans Riverside is Princess and the Frog-themed and you want to make sure to catch all the visual references. Maybe you’re going to watch James Cameron’s Avatar for the first time because you want to ride Flight of Passage.

Etc.

By the time you make your trip, you’ve already been experiencing your Disney vacation for months.


Sooooo…. what does any of this have to do with our creative work?

This:

That kind of tweet serves four purposes:

  1. It presents an honest depiction of what it takes to draft a novel.
  2. It encourages other writers who might be considering drafting a novel.
  3. It begins to prepare readers for the experience they might get with this particular novel. This is a book for people who know what a tetromino is (or who are willing to look it up).
  4. It gets those readers excited about the possibility of having that experience with this novel.

Not everybody is going to be part of your readership or audience, just like not everybody is going to enjoy a week at a Disney resort.

But for those people who are part of your audience, well… let’s just say that I am currently studying the Disney method of bringing you into the experience months before the experience actually begins.***

Because I know I’ll learn something from it. ❤️

*One of the reasons I like going to Disney parks alone is because it is one of the few experiences that feels like the type of immersive exploration you get to do in video games. If you want to wander down some path and see where it leads, you can. If you want to follow the fastest route to the scariest ride first, you can. If you want to sit and enjoy the sensory detail, you can. (You could do a lot of this at any standard nature path for free, but those tend not to have rides. Or soundtracks. Or detailed walkthroughs with six pages of hints and secrets.)

**Arguably Disney would have made just the same amount of money whether I had booked a four-night stay or a six-night stay; they could have sold those other two nights to someone else, after all.

***Yes, I know that Disney is not the only entity to use this technique. Every author with a cover reveal, every movie with a cast reveal and then a poster reveal and then a trailer, etc. etc. etc. does this. But Disney does it exceptionally well.

Two Articles on Never Being Too Old to Go After What You Want

Longreads: Is it ever too late to pursue a dream?

In September 2017, Stoddard enrolled as a freshman at Algonquin College, one of Canada’s largest public colleges. Not long after, the accounting major joined the basketball team. But Stoddard wasn’t just acting on a whim, a loosely conceived midlife crisis outfitted in size 14 Air Jordan 8s: Stoddard, who is known around campus as “Old Man Dan,” has serious hoop dreams. “You can call it lunacy,” he told me over tea with honey at Tim Hortons on campus. “I’m not saying I’ll make the NBA or go play overseas, but I want to get to a point where I can do it.”

Can a 39-year-old play college basketball? Absolutely.

LitHub: When 80 Famous Writers Published Their First (and Last) Books

In compiling these figures, I found it interesting to see how the length of a writer’s publishing career didn’t necessarily have any bearing on their current level of fame. Just look at the ten writers with the shortest number of years spent publishing: Shirley Jackson, Zora Neale Hurston, J.D. Salinger, Flannery O’Connor, Roberto Bolaño, Toni Cade Bambara, Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Sylvia Plath, Nella Larsen. You wouldn’t exactly call any of these people “minor” or “forgotten.”

It doesn’t matter when you start doing THE WORK. It doesn’t even matter whether you can devote your whole life or just part of your life to THE WORK. All that matters is that you do THE WORK you want to do.

Whether it’s writing or singing or playing basketball. ❤️

Saturday Open Thread

Time to discuss WHATEVER’S ON YOUR MIND.

I’ve got vacation on the brain, first because it’s Spring Break and a lot of people I know are either traveling or getting back from travel or preparing to travel, and second because I just started planning my own vacation for this summer. (More on this next week. It ties into the creative practice, I promise.)

So chat about travel, or… whatever you’d like! ❤️

On Writing That Scene

I wrote that scene this morning.

You know the one.

The piece of the project that inspired the whole project.

The piece of the project that you’ve been carrying in your head (and in your heart) this entire time. Imagining how someone else might react when they get to it. What you hope they might think or feel.

And then you have to write the scene or, if you’re working in another medium, create the moment, however you do it, and it’s never quite what you felt, just like a retelling of a memory is not the same as feeling that memory which is not the same as having that experience the first time.

And part of you is like “Yay! I did it! I got so far into the project that I finally got to write the scene!

And the other part is like “Oh. This is the best I could do at this scene, and it’s already disappointing me, and even though I know I can always revise it I also know that it’ll never be the thing I imagined in my head because you can never make anything exactly like you imagine it.

But hey, I’m 18,547 words into this project and I finally got to write the scene.

And I’ll get to write again next Monday, and add another thousand words to the story. ❤️

The Perks of Having a Writers’ Group

Today’s guest post is from Kimberly Lew, a published playwright and writer whose work has appeared online on websites including The Washington Post, Real Simple, Fodor’s, The Toast, and The Billfold. Learn more at www.kimberlylew.com.

When I first started working at a play publishing company, I was immediately taken by how creative my coworkers were. They were mostly in their late twenties, and they all wrote plays or directed or produced on the side.

I remember early on, when I was just an intern, one of the founders of the company — a very prolific playwright himself — hosted an informal reading of his latest comedic one-act, and I was invited to participate. I wasn’t an actor by any means, but no one seemed to care. Despite fumbled lines and lack of writing expertise by some of the participants, me included, we had a really productive discussion about the piece and all got a sense of what was really working and what wasn’t.

I had done writing workshops and classes my whole life. I knew the graces of a good compliment sandwich and the pained challenge of perfecting a piece in time to be shared with a classroom. But never before had I felt the vibe of room that was so constructive and so fun while simultaneously educational.

When the play company moved to bigger offices that included a small but well-kept conference room, a couple of my coworkers, who had been friends since college and were both playwrights published with the company, began using the conference room as a meetup space for their after-hours writers’ group. As the company grew and a few other young female 20-somethings joined the team, I helped organize us into our own writers’ group, which remained a consistent creative outlet for the next couple of years.

That informal one-act reading I attended with the company founder was deceiving, though — while good discussion and feedback doesn’t necessarily require professional writers and creatives, there is a delicate balance that separates a constructive creative meeting of the minds from the dry writers’ workshops that leave you wishing you’d stayed home.

Here are a few things I’ve since learned about having a successful writers’ group:

Everyone in the group needs skin in the game

Theoretically, everyone who joins a writers’ group shares a common love of writing, but everyone has different creative processes and produces differently. In a good writers’ group, everyone needs to be able to feel like they are learning and growing from the experience — or they’ll be less inclined to contribute.

Many writers’ groups operate workshop-style, where people take turns bringing in pieces to be critiqued by the group. In ours, it was especially nice that a lot of people had long-term projects that they could share in smaller chunks, instead of needing to bring in a finished piece every time. This gave everyone a forum to try new material still in development and bounce ideas off the group.

We also had members set goals from week to week, so even if we didn’t have a piece to discuss, we could discuss the progress we were making with our creative projects. As we became better friends, this became an opportunity to share goals related to both our careers and our lives. Writing wasn’t just about making a script for a play or typing out a short story — it was also about setting up a website for clips or submitting an application to a development program. We weren’t simply commenting on each other’s work; we were providing a support system for people’s creative endeavors.

A writers’ group needs structure

It wasn’t enough to simply open the floor to anyone who wanted to bring in a manuscript and have them share with the group. We needed to make sure that everyone had a fair chance to both receive and give feedback. We also wanted to make sure that everyone felt represented in decisions about how the group was run.

The ways in which we structured our meetings varied over the years. At one point, we had everyone take turns running the meetings, and usually the person who ran the group would have a piece to present. We also took notes every session, usually by having someone record any goals we discussed and circulating those goals to the group after the meeting to hold us accountable. When people were having a harder time consistently bringing new material to the writers’ group, we instated short writing prompts, sometimes for free-writing sessions during the meetings and sometimes for us to develop short pieces that would be shared in the meetings.

We also once tried to instate a “punishment” for people who didn’t meet deadlines. This involved creating alternate song lyrics to Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know” as a shame song for not fulfilling writers’ group duties, and then singing our song out loud as a group. This was all in good fun until we realized that this actually just punished all of us who had to sing in front of everyone.

A writers’ group doesn’t need to be just about creative writing

While it was always incredibly helpful to use the writers’ group as a forum for getting feedback on creative writing projects like plays and stories, it was also a place to get feedback on anything. As one of our members began getting more and more interested in graphic design and printmaking, she would share some of her art with us. When I started blogging for an arts website, I shared my initial posts with the group.

I feel like everyone could benefit from a writers’ group, even if they don’t think of themselves as a writer. It could be a great forum to get feedback on a resume, or a letter to an editor, or a Yelp review. Sometimes it’s nice just to get another pair of eyes on your work — and sometimes, in our group, we would simply share ideas about what wanted to see happen with our writing and our lives. It was nice to have a built-in think tank to discuss ideas with, even if those ideas never evolved into anything.

A writers’ group isn’t and shouldn’t be confined to one space

While our writers’ group met regularly in the office conference room, we would often go out to support each other in the real world. We often attended each other’s readings and performances. It was nice to have a group of people at these events who understood the nature of a work in progress — and how far our work had progressed!

We also planned a writers’ retreat once, where we all went up to the Cloisters for a day writing around the property. We split off to sit in the little courtyards, working on whatever we wanted to. We even stopped by the park on our way home for a quick writing exercise where we all sat on a park bench and wrote as much as we could in a few minutes. It was a great opportunity to get ourselves out of an office setting and feel like our creativity could roam free.

A writers’ group doesn’t have to last forever

In a successful writers’ group, everyone feels like the group is helping them grow as a writer and a creator. Unfortunately, not everyone grows at the same speed. It’s important to communicate with your fellow members and check in with how everyone feels about their contributions to the group. If someone doesn’t feel like they’re getting what they need out of the group, or that their time is not being well spent with the group, it’s fine to re-evaluate whether or not the group is serving its purpose. It’s important to keep people accountable, but depending on where you are in your creative development, sometimes you need to reprioritize to be accountable to yourself first.

Our writers’ group ended quite unceremoniously. Our goals just weren’t as aligned as they were when we had started and we were finding that we were getting less and less value out of our meetings. When one of our members decided not to continue, we disbanded. I missed it a lot, but with time I’ve also come to see that sometimes a writers’ group is a support group for a moment (or luckily, in our case, years) in time.

Bringing other people into your writing is always a tricky thing, but when you find a group of people with similar goals who genuinely want to give feedback, it can feel like the most valuable thing in the world. A writers’ group doesn’t have to follow a blueprint — you don’t have to bookend your criticism with compliments or have regular in-person meetings. You can form a writers’ group over email or FaceTime. You can discuss your latest novel or your list of failed ideas for novels. All you need for a good writers’ group is the ability to share your work with creative people — and a clear structure and/or agenda that ensures everyone gets what they need. It may sound simple, but when done right, it can be the most magical thing in the world.

Where I Got Published Today: Bankrate

If you like turning 🏚️into 🏠or 🌱into 🌼, you’re going to love my latest Bankrate post:

Best credit cards for home improvement and gardening

Home improvement isn’t cheap — according to The Spruce, even something as simple as a surface-level kitchen remodel could cost between $2,000 and $20,000. Add gardening into the mix and you’re looking at what could be a very expensive, but very rewarding, project. Your home is where you live, after all. It’s worth it to make your living space as comfortable and beautiful as possible. (Plus, the right home renovations can add a lot to your resale value.)

The Importance of Scheduling Unscheduled Time

The two most important blocks of time on my calendar are 6:30-9:30 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

I call these blocks whim time. They represent the time between when I wake up and when it’s time to get ready for my Les Mills class at the YMCA (I take BodyFlow on Saturday and BodyAttack on Sunday*).

They also represent my best time. If you had a chance to read my Lifehacker article about how I schedule my day as a freelancer, you might remember me writing “I solve more problems between 6:30 a.m. and 9 a.m. than I do the entire rest of the day.”

So, during whim time, I can sit comfortably on my sofa with my cup of tea and think about things.

Or put harebrained schemes into action, e.g. “what would happen if I started doing Saturday Open Threads?” (I now prep my Saturday Open Threads on Friday, to keep my Saturday whim time free of obligations like writing blog posts.)

Or read everything the internet has to offer on a particular topic, such as “how to rope drop Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World**.”

Or immerse myself in a book, though I usually end up saving reading for the afternoons because those mornings are just so beautifully wonderful for thinking and digging and journaling and processing and creating.

Anyway, I knew I was going to write about whim time at some point, and then Lifehacker ran an article titled Give Yourself the Gift of Time This Week and I thought yep, I agree with all of this.

To quote Lifehacker’s Alicia Adamczyk:

One of the greatest pleasures of my new-ish morning routine is that I start many of my days by doing nothing. I lay around for a bit, before getting ready and then sitting with a cup of coffee for a few minutes.

My resting cup of coffee never takes me more than 20 minutes to finish—and it’s usually far less than that—and yet when I skip I can feel how much tenser I am, and more prone to stress during my morning commute.

What I’m missing is the benefit of doing nothing, of enjoying a bit of alone time before I venture out into the world and the daily grind begins.

I start all of my weekdays with yoga practice, which is my way of enjoying a bit of alone time before the daily grind begins, but I give my weekends an extra-long chunk of doing nothing time, which is to say time to do whatever I want. To go where the whims take me.

This is where I have to remind new readers that I am single and have no children and have the privilege of a freelance career that fits within a 9-5 schedule. In case you’re wondering how I manage to carve so much time out of my weekends for whim.

On that note: I had an absolutely beautiful whim day last Sunday. No plans (besides BodyAttack, which I wouldn’t miss for the world), no obligations, nothing but whatever I felt like doing, for a full day.

I played the piano and played video games and went for a walk and did some excellent sitting and thinking and did two loads of laundry and watched an entire movie without pausing it except to use the toilet, which is something I rarely have time for on non-whim days. (When I do decide to watch a movie, I tend to break it up into two or three 40-minute chunks because that’s the only way I can fit it into a typical evening.)

If I don’t get a full whim day at least once a month — and it’s nicer to get two — I start to feel cramped and worn out and overwhelmed.

Which means I have to plan for these days in my calendar, just like I plan my whim time on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

And then say no to anything that might conflict with those plans — or if something comes up that I can’t (or don’t want to) say no to, rearrange my schedule to find another whim day.

Because they’re that important.

Is this an introvert thing? I don’t know. It’s something I’ve always sought out, ever since college when I had the ability to start setting my own schedule.

I’m curious if you carve out similar unscheduled chunks of time for yourself, and how you keep those times sacred — and if you don’t, whether you wish you could. ❤️

*I also take BodyPump on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and BodyAttack Express on Wednesday evenings.

**More on this later — but yes, I might be rope-dropping Animal Kingdom soon. (And the other three Walt Disney World parks.)