A Whole Pile of Updates

As we approach the end of the year, I figured I should update you on a bunch of topics that either A) I left hanging or B) you might find interesting.

Here we go!


At the beginning of the year, I set myself the goal of keeping my personal expenses under $30,000 for the year (or an average of $2,500 per month). This includes rent, health insurance, personal travel, clothing, etc.; it does not include money I spend on my business, nor does it include the money I put towards taxes and investments.

It looks like I’m going to achieve this particular goal—and if you’re curious about where my personal spending actually goes, here are the numbers:

It's a screenshot of my budget. I'm sorry it's a screenshot and not something screen-readable.

To answer a few questions that immediately come up when I look at this budget:

  • Rent and health insurance are two of my biggest expenses—and my CPA is pretty sure I’ll have to pay back the $3,600 I claimed in health insurance subsidies, which will put my actual health insurance premium total at $5,913.96. Luckily for my budgeting system, that number will go under taxes and will still let me pretend that I kept personal expenses under $30K for the year.
  • When I applied for 2020 health insurance, I didn’t claim the subsidy. My new premium will be $370.33, which will mean either cutting $177.50 from another part of my budget or increasing my 2020 personal spending limits. (I haven’t decided what to do yet.)
  • Yes, the “Giving” line feels embarrassingly low. Combine it with the “Patreon” line and the “Arts” line (because part of giving to the arts is buying tickets to events and performances) and you get $1,371.18, which is 5 percent of my total personal expenditures for the year. Do I want to increase that percentage in 2020? That’s a good question.
  • The HyVee Membership lets me order groceries online without paying a grocery delivery fee. I did the math, and it’s worth it—in fact, it’s some of the better money I spent this year.
  • The $8.00 I spent on “Travel” (and not “Family Trip” or “Vacation”) went towards shipping my passport to the government to get it renewed.


Hahahahaha I am going to owe SO MUCH in taxes this year

(by “so much” I mean “probably $20K”)

(this includes the money I already put towards estimated taxes, but I’m still going to need to make an extra-large Q4 estimated tax payment to catch up)

Financial independence

The calculators claim five years and eight months if I continue investing at my current rate ($5,151.46 per month on average) and stick to a $30,000/year personal spending limit.

Who knows whether that will happen, but it’s interesting to know the numbers.

Phonebanking for Andrew Yang

Remember how I claimed I was going to do more of this?

Well… I did not, mostly because I was getting so many calls from political campaigns (and getting so irritated by the multiple calls from the multiple campaigns) that I did not want to add to the call volume.



Still excited that Yang made the next round of debates, though. 🧢

Various dietary abstinences

Look, I know that nobody cares about what I eat except for me. But I want to be transparent about this, just in case you saw me eating some award-winning peanut brittle at a holiday party this weekend—because I did in fact eat the peanut brittle, and the kringla from the recipe that has been passed down for generations, and I ate the ham even though I am mostly vegetarian, and I even consumed both bourbon and mead even though I hadn’t had a drink since (if I remember correctly) Thanksgiving 2017.

Because I’ve now been in Cedar Rapids long enough to get invited to multiple holiday parties, and that means ham and great-grandma’s recipes and carols around the piano and ridiculous festive holiday clothing and I am not going to abstain from any of it.

Do I feel like pretty much absolute garbage today? YES YES FOR SURE YES.

Was it worth it? YES YES FOR SURE YES.

Am I going right back to “no refined sugar, no meat, no booze, no coffee” in my everyday life? ABSOLUTELY.

The dance pad

I am using this surprisingly less than I thought I would.

The Instant Pot

I am using this exactly as much as I thought I would, and have finally overcome the learning curve.

The breadmaking project

Part of said learning curve included learning that all of those recipe blogs that claimed you could rise, proof, and/or steam-cook a yeast bread in your Instant Pot were wrong.

I wasted literally four pounds of flour trying to steam bread on the yogurt setting, proof bread on the yogurt setting, rise bread on the yogurt setting, rise bread on the warm setting, etc. etc. etc.

Then I made bread the ordinary way with an oven.

It turned out just fine.

No laptop after work

One of the best habits I picked up this year, even though it’s one of the reasons why I don’t use the dance pad as often as I thought I would.

Mystery Book

33,872 words—or just a little over halfway there. ❤️

I have a new website! Plus: Readerfest and a reader review

This post was originally sent to my TinyLetter subscribers.


1. I have a new website! It’s technically still nicoledieker.com, but it looks way different now! You should go check it out after you finish reading the eight other updates!

2. My favorite part of my new website is the part where I clarify my social media boundaries:

I use Twitter and Tumblr to share links to my daily Billfold posts along with the other freelance writing work I do every week, so they’re great places to follow my vast & fast writing output.

I use Instagram to share what I’m reading and where I’m going. If you want to know even more about what I’m reading, follow me on Goodreads.

Look at that. It’s so simple. This is what I do on Tumblr, this is what I do on Twitter, this is what I do on Instagram. I don’t have to tweet my grams, because Instagram photos don’t look as good on Twitter (plus the conversation on Twitter right now is very different from the conversation on Instagram). I don’t have to get Facebook involved at all.

I already feel so much better about social media, just by defining what I want to do with it and what you’ll get if you follow me.

3. My readings at Another Read Through in Portland and Fact & Fiction in Missoula went great. Thanks to everyone who came, and thanks to Kayla Cagan, Marian Call, and Seth Boyer for making the Missoula reading a jam-packed (LITERALLY, PUN INTENDED, IT HAD MUSIC) event.

4. My next appearance will be at Readerfest in Seattle on Saturday, September 9. I’ll be part of some panels on self-publishing and literary fiction, and I’ll be doing a book signing. Readerfest is a brand-new book festival, which means that everyone who shows up the first year will help shape what this festival becomes over the next few years. In other words: I hope to see you there.

5. I want to share an excerpt from one of Biographies Vol. 1’s Goodreads reviews, because I love the way readers have been responding to this book, and this particular review touches on one of the reasons I thought this story needed to exist:

I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say that there are things that don’t happen in The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 1. There is no adultery or divorce. There are no surprise love children or long-buried family secrets coming to light. There are some tough financial times, but no bankruptcy or ruin. There is death, but no murder.

I think I was nearly done reading the book before I realized that I was still half-holding my breath and waiting for any of the above things to happen. A sweeping family saga that tells the story from multiple characters’ perspectives must, at the very least, involve one or two extramarital affairs—right?

That’s what I’ve been conditioned to believe, but The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 1upended my expectations in the most pleasant of ways. Nicole Dieker (who, full disclosure, has edited my articles for The Billfold at times) has written an engrossing story without falling back on any bombshell plot moves.

There is actually a divorce in the book, but it’s mostly finalized before we’re introduced to the characters. But yeah, I didn’t put a big secret or mystery or threat at the center of the story because life usually isn’t about solving the big problem that’s at the center of everything. It’s about the smaller conflicts and the everyday mysteries of who we are and what we want and how we can love each other.

(I just wrote that, by the way, with the understanding that right now we really DO have a big problem that’s at the center of everything, and we’re all kinda struggling with the fact that we can’t three-act-structure solve it.)

6. I’m going to be teaching a class at Seattle’s Hugo House on Saturday, October 7: How to Manage—and Grow—Your Freelance Income. Signups open on August 22. My previous Hugo House classes have hit capacity, so if you want to be part of this one, sign up soon.

7. Yes, I just added a piece of news that wasn’t related to The Biographies of Ordinary People. I’d like to expand this TinyLetter to include updates related to my teaching and writing work. How do you feel about that? I don’t plan on sending a gob of emails, but I do want to tell you when I’m doing stuff like conventions or classes. (And, of course, whatever novel I end up writing after Biographies Vol. 2.)

Is that… something you might appreciate, or do you just want all Biographies all the time?

8. The best thing I wrote in the past week is probably Thoughts From Missoula, at The Billfold. (I also like the #SquadGoals piece I wrote for The Write Life, if you want something less political.)

9. The best podcast episode I heard in the past week was Lucy Bellwood’s conversation with Abby Kraai—they discuss practice, and boundaries, and being the kind of creative person who wants to share as much as possible while also keeping part of themselves just for themselves. (That last bit is #1 thing I am dealing with right now, besides OUR CURRENT POLITICAL SITUATION.)

Lucy Bellwood’s podcast is Patreon-locked, so if you want something else to listen to I’ll recommend the newest Friendshipping Podcast episode: “Sucky Eel Friends and Midwestern Dads.”

Thanks for reading. ❤️

Photo by Jerry Kiesewetter on Unsplash.