More Info About My Budget

Last week, after I wrote about how I do money, reader Darlingpants asked me to clarify one aspect of my budget:

I’m curious how you manage budgeting many months far in advance in YNAB. From that post it sounded like you budget as far out as your emergency fund lets you? I tried that and I found it really frustrating to have to page months into the future to move money around for the current month, and I didn’t have the same “aha” moment you did, because spending more this month led to red numbers in a month I couldn’t see unless I deliberately looked far into the future. Maybe I’m misunderstanding, or maybe you’re much better than me about not spending more than you planned to (very likely!), but I was enchanted by your post about it and disappointed to not find the same emotions when I tried it out.

I do not just budget “as far out as my emergency fund lets me.” My YNAB budget is currently built out for the entirety of 2020, even though I haven’t yet earned enough dollars to cover all of the costs of the year. (Technically I could cover the cost of the next four years from my investments, but YNAB only lets you budget cash in checking and savings accounts — which is fine by me.)

What do I mean by “built out for the entirety of 2020?” Well, at the end of 2019 I took a look at my average expenses by category (which YNAB happily provides), asked myself where I wanted to spend more and where I wanted to spend less, and came up with some numbers that would allow me to support those financial values while still remaining within my $2,500/month personal spending goal.

And then I put those numbers into the budget.

There is, of course, some wiggle room. Currently I have $443.07 in discretionary income every month; this money lives in YNAB under a category labeled “discretionary” and gets moved to “clothing” or “dining out” or “books” as the month progresses. These budget line items, along with the majority of my “quality of life” expenses, begin every month at $0. If I want a new book or a new outfit, I’ll pull from discretionary. (I used to budget a certain amount of money for “quality of life” stuff every month, but it made me feel like I was locked in to spending $100 on clothes and $20 on books, and sometimes you need more books and not as many clothes.)

Likewise, if I decide to spend more on rideshares than the $60 I budget every month, I’ll either pull money out of “discretionary” or pull from a different area of my personal budget (like “tea,” and yes I drink enough tea that I have a $15/month budget line item just for Celestial Seasonings purchases).

But if I wanted to buy something that cost more than $443.07, I’d either have to pull from next month’s discretionary income or wait a month or two until there was enough in the discretionary category to cover it.

I do borrow from future months’ spending, on occasion. I’m planning some summer travel, for example, so I pulled some of the cash that I’d budgeted for the fall and front-loaded it into the first few months of the year. That way, I could book tickets in advance and still keep my budget balanced.

On that note, I actually considered setting up my January YNAB budget with the full total of everything I hoped to spend in every category for the rest of the year — if I wanted to spend $3,000 total on vacation, for example, January’s “vacation” budget line item would begin at $3,000, whatever didn’t get spent in January would carry over to February (and so on), and the budgeted amount would gradually get smaller as I made purchases against the budget.

But I knew that it would be a lot easier to pace myself throughout the year if I divided every total budget line item by 12. Knowing that I get $443.07 in discretionary spending every month is a lot different than knowing that I have to make $5,316.84 of discretionary cash last through December. It’s a lot easier for me to stick to my budget if I take it in monthly installments — and I think that’s the case for a lot of people.

And yes, I am very good at not spending more than I planned to, in part because my financial-independence-based motivation for saving and investing money is very, very strong.

Also because I spent so many years living on much less money than I am currently earning, and I’ve only allowed myself a very small amount of lifestyle creep.

So I hope that answers your question, Darlingpants. Does anyone else budget this way, and are you able to stick to your budgets? ❤️

How I Do Money

I’m writing this up by request, though I don’t think there’s anything particularly new about the way I do money; on the other hand, there are probably a lot of you reading this who haven’t yet caught up on the (subtracts from 2012) eight years of How Nicole Does Money internet content out there.

Not that I would recommend looking it up, either—even though the Tumblr on which I used to share weekly financial updates was kind of essential in launching my freelance career. (Or at least the personal finance side of it.)

But how do I deal with money these days, especially now that I’m earning well over what I need to cover the basic costs of living?

For starters, I’m still trying to keep myself at an average of $2,500 in personal expenses every month, or $30,000 for the year. (Those would be post-tax dollars, which essentially means I need to earn $1.30 in freelancing income for every $1.00 I spend on, like, rent.)

I’ve been capping my personal expenses at $2,500/month ever since I started using YNAB, which did in fact completely change the way I viewed my finances. It didn’t change the way I did money, per se; it just changed the time horizon through which I viewed my income and expenses. With YNAB, I could see exactly how far my net worth might take me if I never earned another dollar in my life—which made me want to see how much of my future I could get my savings and investments to cover.

And of course I was always going to aim myself towards FIRE at some point; I’d been interested in the idea ever since I graduated from college and found a copy of Your Money or Your Life at the library. I know I’ve told this story before, but that was the book that made me start tracking every penny I earned, spent, and saved—a habit that has stuck for (subtracts from 2004) sixteen years.

I didn’t realize when I began tracking my money that I would not be able to turn my telemarketer earnings into a stable income that derived primarily from U.S. Treasury Bonds; by the time I figured out how much interest rates had changed since YMOYL was initially published, I decided I’d continue to track my income and expenses just in case. This took me through the year I was on food stamps, the year I saved my first $10K, the year I got myself into $14K of credit card debt, the year I became debt-free, and the year I earned six figures as a freelance writer.

The ledger moved from a physical notebook to a customized spreadsheet to Mint, then to a different spreadsheet, then back to Mint, and now to YNAB—but it still exists, and I take a look at it every morning.

So… basically I track my income and expenses, and I try to keep my personal expenses at $2,500/month.

I also maintain a $10,000 emergency fund in cash, tucked into a high-interest savings account—which, these days, is 1.70% APY.

Then I invest any money that doesn’t go towards personal expenses or my freelance business (or taxes, a lot of it goes towards taxes).

It sounds so simple when you put it that way—and I have been putting it at some variation of “that way” for a while.

Billfold readers might remember, for example, that I committed to living on 50% of my income until I paid back my parents the $14K they loaned me to cover my credit card debt (this was, I always feel like I have to mention, an unsolicited loan—though it’s also a reminder of how family and privilege and everything else fits into financial decision-making). The idea that the majority of my money won’t be spent on my day-to-day life was a mindset I signed up for during my telemarketing days, when I told myself that if I got $500 together I could rent a black-box theater for one night and put on a play that I would cast and rehearse in a public park (yes, I was very young and very foolish and had no idea what was involved in artistic production of any kind). Even the $14K of credit card debt wasn’t spent on, like, me; I got into financial trouble trying to make it as an independent musician, and I didn’t even have the good sense to put that debt on a business credit card where the interest would have been tax-deductible.

Now that we’ve covered that aspect, I also have to remind you all that I got darned lucky with my current career (and, as noted above, some of that luck was absolutely due to privilege). I also took some financial risks, like choosing to make the minimum payments on my credit card debt while I worked as hard as I could to pick up freelance articles and crank out 5,000 words a day. I could have gotten another office job (I’ve had plenty of office jobs) and made more money than I earned during my first two years of freelancing and content writing. But I saw that I was earning more money as a freelancer month over month, and that I was rapidly building and expanding my client base, and I wanted to see how far I could take that.

And then I just combined my freelance earnings with my inherent frugality and love of, like, tracking stuff.

And it helps that I live alone, in a beautiful-but-small apartment in Cedar Rapids, and do not have any children.

Is this what you wanted to know? Is there more stuff you want to know? Do we want to get into the way I choose my investments or how I meal plan or how I live in Iowa without a car?

Keep asking questions, and I’ll keep answering them. ❤️

Back on the Budget Again

Okay okay okay I know that headline is technically misleading because I was never off my budget, but it’s a lot simpler than writing “remember how I told you I had extra money to spend in my personal budget? WELL I EITHER SPENT THOSE DOLLARS OR GAVE THEM JOBS.”

My goal, for 2019 (and, assumedly, beyond) is to keep all of my personal expenses under $30,000 per year. That’s roughly $2,500 per month, though it doesn’t fall out quite that neatly thanks to vacation and holiday spending.

One of the reasons I had a little extra cash in my budget was because I initially tried to shove both my business and my personal expenses under the $30,000 cap. Then my business income exceeded expectations, which meant I needed to reconfigure my financial strategy—which became “personal expenses at $30K per year, tax-deductible business expenses as anything I want that will also help me grow my business.”

That’s how I ended up a little under budget two months ago; I literally gave myself more money to put towards personal expenses than I had initially planned. Some of the extra dollars were given discrete jobs, and the rest went into “discretionary,” a YNAB spending category that had originally been two separate categories: the YNAB-recommended “stuff I forgot to budget for” and the Nicole-recommended “stuff I didn’t know I wanted.”

Then I spent that extra discretionary money—about $600—almost immediately, on plants and arts organizations and a dance pad.

When I say that my FI calculator predicts I’ll hit financial independence in (*rechecks calculator*) six years and six months, that’s estimating an annual spend of $30,000. If you add in my business expenses, the FI calculator jumps to nine years and two months—which still puts me at FI before 50.

That’s assuming my income and expenses remain constant (which probably won’t happen, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it) and I don’t run into any expensive surprises.

On that note: I’m going to be meeting with my CPA next month to discuss tax optimization, including how to max out my SEP IRA for 2019, whether I should open a Solo 401(k) in addition to the SEP IRA, whether I should invest in a business asset (like a laptop or desktop computer I use only for freelance writing), and so on. Will I end up owing more in taxes than my CPA and I anticipated at the beginning of the year? Probably. How much more? That’s still to be determined.

So until we know more about… um… all of that, I’m back on the budget.

Which I technically always was. This is just my roundabout way of saying that I’m not going to indulge in a bunch of non-essential purchases right now. ❤️

How to Earn Passive Income Through Self-Publishing

I could literally sum this up in one sentence: publish a book that people want to buy.

Of course, most financial stuff could be summed up in a single sentence.

Don’t spend more than you earn.*

Look for ways to increase your income.

Invest your extra earnings in something that is likely to increase in value over time.

A self-published book, in most cases, will not increase in value over time. There’ll be a spike of sales in the first few months, followed by a slow decline. (My most recent monthly Amazon royalty payment was for $6.51, for example. Last July, when I released the second volume of The Biographies of Ordinary People, my monthly ebook royalties hit $203.84.)

However, a self-publishing career might increase in value over time. As you build your readership over subsequent books, each individual book is likely to generate more sales—both at the time of publication and afterwards, as new readers catch up on your back catalog.

There is no guarantee that you’ll be able to build the type of self-publishing career that generates a sustainable passive income stream, so don’t go into self-publishing just because you want to make money. As I teach in my self-publishing classes, there are many ways to define self-publishing success, most of which are a lot easier to achieve than a passive income stream.

If your definition of “self-publishing success” equals “building a readership, going on book tour, seeing your book in bookstores and libraries, and winning awards,” well… all of that is a lot easier to achieve than developing a passive income stream of any significance. You’ll still sell books, and you can even earn back your expenses if you’re thoughtful with your budget, but you’ll find yourself in a situation where you earn, like, $5,000 in royalties in Year 1 and $500 in Year 2.

Yes, that $500 is technically passive income because you didn’t have to work for it (you already published the book and did the marketing, and at this point you’re getting paid whenever someone finds you online and decides your book looks interesting), but you can’t live on $500 a year.

So you have to write another book.

(Really, for most authors, it’s “you get to write another book.” The writing is the fun part!)

A publishing career, whether you work with a publishing house or become your own publisher, is a long-game endeavor. You get big chunks of money all at once and then little dribbles of money here and there, and in an ideal situation you’d release enough books to keep bringing in occasional big chunks of money while simultaneously earning passive income from all the little dribbles of money.

However, this system doesn’t work out for everyone. If you’re not writing books that people want to read (see the opening sentence of this blog post) you won’t build the readership that turns the long game into a sustainable passive income stream.

Sure, you can write a book that a small subset of people want to read. I’ve done it, and it can be a very satisfying process. Getting the right book into the right hands is always worthwhile.

But if you’re trying to maximize your income while also standing out from all the other writers trying to do the same thing, well… you can either hope you’ve got the kind of book that’ll appeal to a wide range of readers and that you get lucky enough to release the book at the right moment for it to become a bestseller (e.g. Andy Weir publishing The Martian), or you can focus on building your online presence first and then publish your book after you’ve become well-known for being yourself (e.g. insert your favorite celebrity/influencer here), or you can focus on a narrow segment of the long tail and publish hyper-focused genre fiction like “older woman younger man humorous romance where the younger man has a really cute dog.”

Ugh, that sounds discouraging, right?

Here’s the secret.

YOU DON’T HAVE TO MIN-MAX YOUR ART.

In other words: the odds of you successfully reverse-engineering a bestseller are so small that you might as well write what you want.

(Especially in the early stages of your career, when you don’t have enough of an audience to know the type of book they’re hoping you write next.)

Yes, it’s nice if what you want to write lines up with what someone else wants to read.

Yes, it’s worth learning how to build an audience and how to make money from your creative work (luckily, I have posts on that here, here, and here).

Yes, it’s also a good idea to structure your budget in a way that allows you to make a profit on every book you self-publish, though I haven’t been able to do that for every book I’ve published and I do this kind of thing for a living.

But it isn’t the only thing I do for a living, which is one of the reasons why I’m able to keep doing it. This isn’t just a self-publishing thing, btw; the majority of traditionally published authors have additional income streams as well.

So go after that self-publishing passive income if you want, but try not to focus on how much passive income you’re likely to earn from your first few books. Instead, think of the money you put into your self-publishing career as an investment—not just in your bottom line, but also in yourself and your readers—that might increase in value in the future. ❤️

*Don’t spend more than you earn is actually a terrible financial platitude. It really should be more like “don’t spend more than you earn UNLESS you need to go into debt to survive OR that debt will help you earn more in the future OR this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you can pay off with future earnings OR other valid reasons that I haven’t thought of.”

Everything You Need to Know About My Investments

So I promised you a post on my investments, since you asked to learn more about my passive income strategy.

I’m not sure my investments count as “passive income” yet (since I’m not living off them or anything), but right now my investments and my novels are the two items “making money while I sleep,” as it were, so… we’ll start with the investments.

Yes, that means I also need to get you a post about “passive income through self-publishing,” or something like that. I’ve added it to the schedule for next week.

Here come all of the standard disclaimers:

I AM NOT AN INVESTMENT ADVISER.

THIS SHOULD NOT BE CONSIDERED INVESTMENT ADVICE.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE INVESTMENT ADVICE, GO FIND YOURSELF A REGISTERED INVESTMENT ADVISER WHO IS ALSO A FIDUCIARY.

I MEAN, I DIDN’T DO THAT—I GOT MY ADVICE FROM THE LIBRARY AND THE INTERNET—BUT I THINK I’M SUPPOSED TO TELL YOU TO DO THAT.

PLEASE DO NOT SUE ME.

Okay!

So I currently have a Roth IRA, a Traditional IRA, a SEP IRA, a Rollover IRA that used to be a 403(b), a TIAA annuity account that was part of the 403(b) but couldn’t be rolled over into the Rollover IRA, a HSA, and an individual brokerage account.

Everything except the TIAA annuity and the HSA are with Vanguard.

I am actively adding money to the Traditional IRA, the SEP IRA, the individual brokerage account, and the HSA. (The Roth, the Rollover, and the TIAA annuity are in the “hold” phase of “buy and hold.”)

I am withdrawing money from the HSA to cover qualified medical expenses, as necessary. (I know that some people say it’s better to leave your money in your HSA until you retire, to get the maximum growth out of your contributions, and to pay for qualified medical expenses out of pocket. I’m using my HSA as the health savings account it was intended to be, for better or for worse.)

It’s my goal to hit the maximum contribution on my HSA, Traditional IRA, and SEP IRA every year, because these three “above-the-line” accounts significantly reduce my adjusted gross income and my overall tax burden. If I keep my AGI small enough, I also get to retain my ACA health insurance subsidy (which means my Bronze plan costs $142.83 every month instead of $442.83).

I do not currently have a Solo 401(k), though it’s worth asking my CPA if I should get one.

Right now my investing strategy is as follows:

At the end of every month, I look at the money in my checking and savings accounts. I have two savings accounts — one where I stash the money that goes towards estimated taxes, and one for general savings.

The general savings account maintains a balance of $10K, to cover any emergencies or “didn’t get a freelance paycheck I was expecting” cash flow issues.

The tax account maintains a balance of “whatever my CPA told me to put towards estimated taxes next quarter.”

The checking account maintains a balance of $3K, which is $500 more than my typical $2,500/month expenses. (Right now YNAB lists my average monthly spend at $2,715.36, but that number should drop over the next few months as I get further away from the money I spent on my two-week vacation. When I configured my YNAB budget for the year, I set it to average $2,500/month, including vacation, Christmas, business expenses, and YNAB’s favorite category, “stuff I forgot to budget for.”)

Anything else in my checking/savings accounts at the end of the month gets invested.

Here’s where I’m investing it:

The Roth IRA, the Traditional IRA, and the HSA are all with VFIFX (Vanguard Target Date 2050). These accounts represent the first phase of my getting interested in investing; I was more excited about the idea of opening the accounts than anything else, and picked the target-date fund because that was when I assumed I would retire.

The Rollover IRA and the individual brokerage account use the Boglehead three-fund portfolio strategy, which means the investments are divided between three low-cost index funds that cover the bond market, the domestic stock market, and the international stock market. This represents the second phase of my investing strategy, aka “the part where I went and read a Boglehead book.”

The Rollover IRA is split between VBTLX, VFIAX, and VTIAX. These are all Vanguard Admiral Funds, i.e. “index funds that have lower expense ratios because you’re able to cover the buy-in,” also the finance world is totally Matthew Effecting and Vimes Booting all over the place. I get to save money on my investments because I was able to afford to invest in the funds with the lowest expense ratios, and is that fair, NO, and will I do it anyway, YES.

The individual brokerage account is split between BND, VTI, and VXUS. I picked ETFs for this account instead of index funds because I could start investing in ETFs right away without having to save up the index fund buy-in minimum. Was this a mistake? Should I sell the ETFs, pay the capital gains tax, and re-invest in Vanguard Admiral Funds? This is currently the question I’m trying to figure out, btw. Suggestions welcomed. I understand that you are not giving me investment advice and I will not sue you.

The SEP IRA is entirely invested in VTSAX, which represents the third phase of my investment strategy, aka “the part where I went on reddit.com/r/financialindependence and learned that a 100% VTSAX portfolio was theoretically the fastest path to FI,” although the redditors don’t all agree on that count and also PLEASE DO NOT TAKE THIS ADVICE AND THEN SUE ME.

But what’s interesting about having these three different investment templates (target-date, three-fund, and VTSAX) is that they kinda balance each other out over time? If one’s down, the other one’s up, and on good days they’re all up, and they’re rarely all down at the same time, so I always feel like I’m doing something right.

As of this very minute, I have $5,419.50 in the TIAA, $3,617.80 in the HSA, and $101,378.83 in my combined Vanguard accounts. ($6,427 of the Vanguard money is from investment returns; the rest is from contributions.)

Sooooooooooooo… that’s everything I know about my investments. If you have questions, ask ’em below; if you have comments, go ahead. If you were hoping for a less finance-heavy post, come back on Friday and I’ll let you know what cozy-mystery book series has currently taken over my spare moments. ❤️

 

On Debt, Value, and Time

Earlier this week, Seth Godin wrote a post about debt:

The simple but hard to follow rule is this: Only borrow money to buy things that go up in value.

He lists some examples of “bad debt,” such as going into debt for a wedding, but my immediate response was well, aren’t you having the wedding because you want the relationships to go up in value?

And sure, that is a different kind of value (and credit card companies won’t accept it as payment) but, arguably, you have a wedding to bond with both your partner and your family/friends/community (unless you have one of those weddings that also serve as goodbye parties for people who won’t be following you to the next stage of your life) and those are the people who are likely to provide support, including financial support, when you need it most.

My other thought, after I read Seth’s post, was I wouldn’t have my current career if I hadn’t been willing to go into $14K of credit card debt.

As you might recall, if you are familiar with the Nicole Dieker Life Story: I got into freelancing in 2012, while I was in Los Angeles trying to make it as an indie musician. I didn’t want to get a job that would prevent me from taking every terrible gig that came my way, so I searched Reddit.com/r/beermoney which led me to Amazon Mechanical Turk which led me to the content writing site CrowdSource, at which point I started throwing all my spare time into writing and editing articles and quickly became the fourth-highest earner in CrowdSource history. (I have no idea if that record still stands; it’s been years since I last wrote for them.)

I balanced writing and music for another year or so, until it became so obvious that the writing career was the only one of the two that was actually taking off, and then I went all-in on writing.

But I also accumulated $14K of credit card debt in the process (starting with my initial move to Los Angeles and ending when I left Los Angeles for Seattle because, at the time, Seattle was significantly less expensive).

I swiped my credit card for a lot of stuff that didn’t increase in value. The groceries were consumed immediately; the train tickets I bought so I could go play background music at a steampunk festival didn’t help me get a better-paying gig; the vacation I took with the guy I was dating didn’t lead me towards a long-term relationship.

However, the debt bought me time — first to founder at my music career, and then to build my freelance one.

Here’s another story I’ve told before: when I graduated from college in 2004, I moved to Minneapolis for an internship that ended up falling through. Since I needed to earn money right away and did not want to go into debt, I did the usual new-college-grad flail at finding something “in my field” and ended up working as a telemarketer for the Minnesota Orchestra.

Later that year, I transitioned into an admin position at an insurance office (that I got primarily because I went to a temp agency and aced the typing test) where I spent most of my work hours either filing envelopes in an empty room or pushing boxes of copy paper around the buildings to refill all the copiers.

I was trying to save up $500 so I could rent a black-box theater for one night and put on a show, since I’d read about people doing that kind of thing in the 1970s, but even though I could have put the $500 on a credit card and gotten it over with and learned from what I would have undoubtedly considered a mistake, I told myself no debt.

So I worked, and saved, and waited, and nothing happened, and then I went to grad school. If I’d been able to test my artistic theories right away, instead of spending three years in an educational environment that prevented me from learning whether they had any value in the marketplace, which is what I had to do, on my own, anyway, well… who knows what might have happened.

Yes, it is a privilege to be able to have the kind of credit score that lets you get into five figures of debt, but it’s not the kind of privilege that’s exclusive to the very few. If you don’t have poor credit to begin with, and if you always make your $25 minimum payments, you can run up a lot of debt and maintain it for a very long time.

Which is what I did.

And it bought me the time it took to establish my freelance career, which will probably gross six figures this year.

Technically, I did exactly what Seth Godin advises. I went into debt for something that increased in value, and paid it off four years later.*

But I couldn’t have predicted any of this back in 2012.

So did I do the right thing financially, or not?

And if I hadn’t built a successful freelancing career, would the answer to that question change? ❤️

*In the interest of full disclosure: at a certain point in my debt repayment process my parents said “we don’t want to see you paying interest on those credit cards” and wrote me a check for the remainder of the debt; I paid back my parents in installments. I didn’t request their financial help but I did accept it, and that was where the privilege part of this story really kicks in. However, I am 100% confident that I would have been able to pay off the debt without their help; at that point I was living on 50% of my income in order to maximize my credit card payments, and planned to continue until the debt was completely gone.

The Cost of My Walt Disney World Vacation

According to YNAB, I spent $2,470.87 on my Walt Disney World vacation.

This includes six nights at Port Orleans Riverside, five one-park-per-day tickets, trip insurance, the extra clothing I bought prior to the trip, and all food and merchandise purchased on property. My flight was purchased on points, and I got free checked bags.

I budgeted $2,200 for the entire experience, and when I was creating that budget I added up all the fixed costs (like resorts and tickets) and estimated non-fixed costs (like food and souvenirs) to make sure I could reasonably hit my budgeted number. I had advance dining reservations at certain restaurants, for example, so I was able to look at the menu prices online and make an educated guess on how much I’d spend at each meal.

Where’d the extra $270.87 come from?

Turns out I didn’t budget enough for food, and I definitely didn’t budget enough for water.

If you visit the popular Disney World advice websites, they all tell you not to pay for water. “Every quick-service restaurant will give you a cup of ice water for free! Sometimes they’ll even have coolers and cups available, so you don’t even have to ask!”

Well. Those restaurants may have been offering free cups of ice water, but getting a free cup was not an easy task. None of the quick-service restaurants I walked by had visible coolers of water (interestingly, every table-service restaurant I visited offered a cooler, so you could have a drink while you waited for your reservation to be called). I could have waited in the long quick service lines to ask a Cast Member for free water, but the last thing I wanted to do was wait in more lines.

Fortunately for Disney World (and somewhat fortunately for me), there is a cart selling bottles of water and assorted treats every 50 feet or so. There are so many of these carts that they never have lines, and so I bought bottle after bottle of water because it was 95 degrees and humid and I got very, very thirsty.*

I also bought more food than I was anticipating, even though I had a perfectly good bag of Huel in my hotel room, because I never ended up going back to that hotel room until it was time to sleep. I was totally going to do the whole “rope drop the park, go back to the hotel and relax, go back to the park in the evening” thing, but the bus trip to my resort hotel took an hour each way, so… I just stayed in the parks and took breaks by visiting classic attractions such as The Hall of Presidents and Air Conditioning, The Carousel of Progress Including the Invention of Air Conditioning, and It’s Tough to Be a Bug in an Air-Conditioned Theater.**

So I did a little budget reconfiguration when I got back home, pulling cash out of other YNAB categories (like “dining out” and “home”) to cover the overspending.

As for that spreadsheet I put together before I left… here’s a sample entry:

I spent two days in Magic Kingdom, so if you’re all “but you missed some great rides and parades,” assume I did ’em on the second day.

This spreadsheet was based on information from sites like Touring Plans and EasyWDW, so it included “realistic” estimates of how long it might take to do a thing, but… everything took longer than expected.

I arrived at Magic Kingdom early enough to see the rope (though not early enough to touch it), but I still had a 30-minute wait to board Space Mountain instead of the reported 5-10 minute wait. Then I got delayed after Space Mountain because my purse got stuck in the bag where you stick your bags (a bit of mesh netting was wedged under my zipper pull), so they had to take the entire train out of commission to get my purse out of there. This didn’t shut down the ride, thank goodness; there were other trains running. But it slowed everyone down, so I didn’t get to Small World until after Extra Magic Hour was over, and I didn’t get to ride Haunted Mansion twice in a row because the standby line was already too long (I’d planned to ride it once in standby and then once with my 9:25-10:25 FastPass).

You get the idea. Every plan is perfect until it makes contact with reality, or whatever the quote is.

I did, however, get to ride everything I wanted to ride and see every show I wanted to see (except for Tower of Terror, which was shut down during my Hollywood Studios visit). This wasn’t due to my crafting detailed plans of action before entering the parks, because all of those plans became useless pretty quickly. Instead, it was because I had decided beforehand what I wanted to do and what I wanted to skip, and just stayed in the parks until I’d done everything on my list.

Which cost me an extra $270.87.

It was totally worth it. ❤️

*Yes, there are drinking fountains available. But every Disney World forum warns travelers to STAY AWAY FROM THE DRINKING FOUNTAINS, first because they claim Florida water tastes bad (I drank the water out of the tap at the hotel, it was fine) and second because they claim they’ve seen parents use the drinking fountains as diaper change stations.

**If you have never done It’s Tough to Be a Bug, you need to visit the attraction twice. First to experience the special effects, and second to watch all the other first-timers scream when they experience the special effects. There is never a line for this experience, so you should be able to go back-to-back.

One More Thought on The Hustle

Look, I’m not saying I agree with Danielle Steel, but this is an interesting piece of synchronicity:

Steel struggles with the idea of burnout culture, the “millennial affliction” of being completely exhausted by work and the world. She recounts a conversation with her son and his partner; both are in their twenties. Her son told her that he never works past a certain time at the office, a model of that elusive work-life balance. Steel balks. “They expect to have a nice time,” she says. “And pardon me, but I think your twenties and a good part of your thirties are about working hard so that you have a better quality of life later on. I mean, I never expected that quality of life at 25. I had three jobs at the same time, and after work I wrote. Now it’s a promise that it’s all going to be fun.”

Read the full article at Glamour, just because it’s great (Danielle Steel writes at a desk shaped like giant Danielle Steel books, for starters), and then… um… think about how that quote ties in to everything else I’ve published this week:

Brandon Stanton’s thoughts on when to hustle and when to ease up

My review of Juliet’s School of Possibilities (and its reference to my review of Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You)

Em Burfitt’s guest post on why she likes writing for content mills (for now)

There does seem to be an unexpected theme here, even though I am also very very very very in favor of work-life balance. You hustle better if you give yourself time to rest between sprints, after all. ❤️

When to Ease Up on the Hustle

I don’t know if you saw this tweet or not, but I’ve been thinking about it all weekend:

The screencapped text is from Brandon Stanton’s Patreon, and I will admit that I feel a little weird about sharing text he originally reserved for Patreon subscribers (and did not elect to tweet himself, as you’ll notice), but maybe more people will subscribe after seeing the tweet? Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself?

Anyway, if you don’t want to read tiny print, here’s the important part:

I think for every successful artist and entrepreneur, a good portion of their psychology remains anchored in the early days. When nothing was working. When nobody cared. When nobody was paying attention. When it felt like you were in a giant hole and the only way out was to work harder, and harder, and harder. And you were always scared that you were going to fail, unless you stay focused. And don’t stop. Don’t ever stop. Then suddenly it’s ten years later, and somehow you’ve made it. But you feel like the only reason you made it is because you didn’t stop. And you must keep going. Because there’s an hour of daylight left. And you can still fit in one more interview…

But you shouldn’t.

Because things are different now.

Things are definitely “different now” for me. I’m not worried about whether I can pay my rent this month, or whether I’ll be able to build a career and a reputation as a writer. On the other hand, I’m nowhere near the point where I can afford to go without continuous paying work—and I’m smart enough to know that if I want to keep booking work a year from now or two years from now, I need to keep building my skills and portfolio and network and readership.

So in my case, it’s figuring out the balance between not hustling every second and not letting my hustle slide to the point where I’m not growing.

I am very sure I haven’t found that balance yet.

What about you? ❤️