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A penny-pincher has an epiphany

A new retiree was so focused on living on next to nothing that she overlooked ways to increase income. No more.

By Karen Datko Feb 26, 2010 5:43PM

This guest post comes from “vh” at Funny about Money.

 

A fresh experience led me to realize that I spend way too much time on penny-pinching and way too little on focusing on the big picture that is my life -- or, more to the point, my earning potential.

 

Recently one of my former students sent me a LinkedIn invite. This caused me to return to that much-neglected site, where I was reminded that an old friend, a graphic artist with whom I worked at a magazine and later through a talent agency I ran, had made himself one of my “contacts.” When I dropped him an e-mail to ask how things were going and mentioned that I’m now free of the Great Desert University, he invited me to join him for breakfast with a business networking group he frequents.

 

So, as dawn first colored the sky, I was shooting across the city to a Good Egg restaurant in one of Scottsdale’s toniest strip malls.

 

I arrived early, and since I didn’t want to be first at the trough, I spent 15 minutes or so window-shopping.

 

In more halcyon times, a colleague and I used to meet about once a month for lunch at the expensive trattoria that is one of the small gems in this iridescent commercial strip. She has since moved to a historic whaling village in Massachusetts, and I have since taken to clinging to every penny that comes my way, and so I haven’t been back there in a long time. As I strolled past the elegant interior-design stores, clothing boutiques and gift shops, I thought, “Imagine what it would be like to be able to shop in one of these places whenever you feel like it!”

 

When my friend and I were hanging out there, I used to shop in those glittery stores every now and again. And before then, when I was married to the corporate lawyer, I could indeed have shopped there anytime I felt like it. Yes, it is true that even when my husband was bringing home a generous six-figure salary, I would never have purchased the luminous bedding set, redolent with satin and hand embroidery (if you have to ask, you can’t afford it … but you can be sure it’s more than my entire month’s discretionary budget). However, on my Great Desert University salary I did buy smaller items, which today I would not buy because I wouldn’t spend that much on, say, bubble bath or bathroom towels.

 

Can’t say I feel any great loss in the absence of these things, but still, the point is, I’ve taken to denying myself a lovely venue to hang out in and also small, not very expensive luxuries.

 

The meeting soon got under way: About a dozen small-business owners meet once a week to socialize and trade leads. I enjoyed these guys very much (the group was all-male, though they swore a couple of women belonged). They seemed like pretty nice gents, all of them fully engaged in their businesses and their lives. The group offered a number of ideas for expanding and improving on the enterprises I have in hand just now, and believe it or not, I got a lead to a full-time job. My old magazine pal has become a successful Web design artist, and another member bills himself as “The PC Magician.” These two got me thinking about ways to improve and grow FaM.

 

At the end of the get-together, the group’s president suggested I apply for membership. Dues are $110 upfront and $50 a month, for which you get the pleasure of their company and breakfast every Thursday.

 

Gulp! thought I: Where the hell am I gonna come up with 50 bucks a month?

 

Since it would be a business-related expense, the money would have to come out of my business account. There’s actually enough to cover it -- but I’ve only just accrued enough to get me out of teaching one section of freshman comp next fall. And oboyoboy, do I want to get out of teaching one section of freshman comp! If I spent the money on socializing, I’d be stuck with three sections next fall. And that, in addition to adding to the misery quotient, will put me over Social Security’s penurious earnings limit.

However, I did feel the group delivered more than that much in value received. And it really would take only one assignment to pay for it. Or one full-time job, eh?

 

Driving home, it dawned on me how ridiculous it is to feel I can’t spend $600 a year to belong to a trade group.

 

And, like the morning star sitting in that early dawn light, the thought also struck me that I don’t need to draw money from the corporation to get out of teaching one section of composition. The emergency cushion in my personal account -- a pile of savings accrued over the past couple of years by spending less than I earned and by stashing the so-called “extra” paychecks created by the biweekly pay system -- amounts to six times what one composition course earns.

 

Duh! Spend part of it on living expenses, and I’ll still have more than enough for a major emergency.

 

I came away from the meeting feeling energized and excited about building Funny about Money and my copyediting business into serious moneymaking operations that might, in the future, help support me in the manner to which I wish to become re-accustomed. And in that flush of ambition, I realized that I spend too much energy and time figuring out how I can live on next to nothing, and way too little time developing assets that I already have and that could do a great deal more for me.

 

Little pieces of copper

Case in point: Sitting here in front of the computer shivering with cold because I’ve calculated, penny by penny, how much I need to save on utilities in the winter to pay the exorbitant air-conditioning and water bills next summer.

 

Why have I spent all that time counting little pieces of copper? Wouldn’t I be a lot better off to invest some money in living normally and to devote that time to marketing FaM, spinning off a book from it, and hustling some more editorial clients?

 

And why am I wasting my time teaching time-consuming, exploitively underpaid junior-college courses when I can live on cash I already have and use that time to develop the two far more interesting enterprises that have already shown they can generate income?

 

Why? Because I’ve been obsessively focused on pinching pennies, at the expense of thinking about the big picture.

What’s the big picture? It’s life. And it’s how I can make life in Bumhood comfortable without having to accept insulting wages and without having to deny myself little luxuries like central heat.

 

And so, my friends, to work. It’s time to jump-start that old entrepreneurial engine and get it running again.

 

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