financial religion

The Baggage of the Hollywood Dream

Last week in the Hollywood Career Anti-Plan I said:

“I believe the amount of work you put out into the universe is inversely proportional to the amount of baggage you carry. Just my theory.”

I wanted to explore the idea of (physical) baggage from the perspective of working in the Hollywood system. First, two stories I wanted to share:

The first is fact.

The second is fiction (but still illuminating).

The Fast Track to be a Hollywood Working Man

The first story is about David O. Russell.

He’s the director of critical darlings like FIGHTER, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, AMERICAN HUSTLE. Yet still calls himself a “working man… living from picture to picture.

Russell: … I’ve been a working man, I work to make a living; I take writing assignments. So I take a writing assignment to write this Uncharted film, because I have to support my family. I live from picture to picture, regardless of what anyone’s fantasy of Hollywood is. In Hollywood terms, that’s paycheck to paycheck…

Russell: Yeah, I never found that pipeline, so I’m just picture to picture.

The second fictional story comes from Simon Rich. Rich is the youngest SNL writer in the history of the show. In a piece called SELL OUT for the New Yorker, he tells the story of a character named, uh, Simon, who is a screenwriter living in NY:

“I already said no to that!” he says. “No—I don’t want to punch up any more sequels. Because it’s completely unfulfilling. It’s someone else’s characters, someone else’s plot—I’m supposed to be working on my novel, for God’s sake.”

He pauses mid-stride.

“They’re offering what? For just six weeks? Holy shit.”

“You know what?” Simon says, in as cheerful a voice as he can make. “That’s actually an excellent idea for a ‘Zoo Crew’ movie. I mean, they already had Captain Cow go to outer space in the fifth one. But he’s never been to the moon.”

His voice lowers.

“Do you think we can get them to go up even higher? No? O.K.—just checking.”

(Hat-tip to Isaac Katz for the suggestion.)

The Hollywood Dream in 3 Steps

There’s a version of the American dream that’s pushed in the industry. It’s the Hollywood Dream: make absurd amounts of money on your art, then spend a major portion “rewarding” yourself for your hard work.

Those rewards paint you “successful”: the nice cars, the beautiful homes, and the entourage of people who drive your nice cars, clean your beautiful home, and watch your kids.

Then you realize to maintain that lifestyle, you have to keep working. Eventually, you’re making choices based on supporting the trappings of success, not the work that made you successful.

This doesn’t just happen at the highest levels of Hollywood. It’s ingrained at the start. It’s pressed onto the assistants. It’s passed onto the interns:

  • “Work really hard now, someday when you’re an executive it’ll be worth it.”

  • “Don’t expect a raise. You’re lucky you’re working here. Be grateful.”

  • “I know you can’t afford it, but you won’t make it unless you look the part.”

And young Hollywood hopefuls lap it up. They don’t question the Hollywood Dream — they covet it.

How to Eliminate Baggage

It’s not crazy to covet the Hollywood Dream.

It’s okay to like nice things. I like nice things. I like nice restaurants and good tequila and Uber Black Cars. The problem with UberX is the drivers really like to talk — about themselves. So I’ll pay a premium for silence.

If you want nice things, save the money. Buy those nice things.

What I DO think is insane is most people DON’T THINK ABOUT WHAT THEY WANT. They buy shit because it’s conveniently been decided for them it’s what they SHOULD WANT.

That’s what leads to baggage. Which in turn, means you’re able to put less out into the universe.

I’ve been sitting here, thinking about what I want. I came up with a lot of stuff. A Ghurka bag made several appearances. And a Boosted Board.

Eventually, I whittled it down to 3 crucial things, however:

  • Freedom to work on things I’m interested in

  • Spend more time with family and friends

  • Freedom to pay for dinner or drinks — and never think about the cost

Great! That was a wonderful exercise…

But what will I sacrifice so I can focus on these 3 things? What will help eliminate the baggage?

Here are some ideas. You’ll probably have your own, for what works best in your life. Or maybe you’ll think, “no way I could do without X.” That’s fine. Some of these used to be big parts of my life. Now they aren’t.

Shopping For Stuff

I can’t remember the last time I went shopping for stuff. I mean, going out into the world and waiting for the world to sell me something.

I’ve exchanged this activity for one I call, “Need it? Buy it.” It’s very simple. No more fretting about sales. No more “cost-cutting strategies” like off-season shopping.

I need something? I buy it.

My friends are getting married. All the time, it seems like. I like to buy a new shirt for these weddings, because I’m terrified these friends will get together without me and look through their wedding photos on Facebook, then burst out in laughing fits when they see what I’m wearing.

“He’s wearing the same shirt!” they’ll laugh, pointing. “He wore the same shirt twice!”

So I buy new shirts. I walk into the store, pick what I like and pay full-price. Then I leave, only to return before the next wedding.

There was a time I loved shopping. I loved those timed online stores, like Man, the savings! Once, they had this amazing Mountain Hardware jacket for 70% off. Nearly bought it, until I remembered I lived in Los Angeles.

Haven’t been back since.

The “Right” Clothes

In high school, I spent an unconscionable amount of time trying to get my jeans to fall perfectly over my sneakers. It felt like social suicide if they bunched up at the ankle like a slinky.

The “right” clothes back then was anything with the brand name prominently displayed. On your chest, your arms, your ass. I didn’t like it, but I remember feeling profoundly more confident in a GAP hoodie or AMERICAN EAGLE t-shirt.

I like to look neat. Not neat like “neat-o,” but you know, polished. Fortunately that takes a lot less time and energy today than it did in high school.

Plus, one of the perks of working at a home office is the “right clothes” are often basketball shorts and a t-shirt.


I have about 10 pairs of shoes in the apartment right now. Haven’t bought a new pair in a while, but yeah, that’s too many. I’m working on it.

Brand Name for Brand-Name’s Sake

The last pair of sunglasses I bought were Ray-Ban.

Specifically, they’re a Ray-Ban’s model called “LA.” I bought them for the “LA” next to the Ray-Ban logo. I paid an extra $50. That’s $25 per letter.

The sunglasses themselves are okay. They do their job. But they slip down my nose a lot, so I was looking to buy a pair of Ray-Ban wayfarers. These cost $200.

I had them in one hand, and my credit card in another. Then I stopped. It wasn’t the price. It was the thought: “is the only reason I’m buying these because they say ‘Ray-Ban’ on them?”


Did I actually care?


I put them back.

Brand New

The table and chair I’m sitting at in the kitchen as I write this belonged to a UCLA grad student who was moving back to China.

The movable island behind me, I bought from a former neighbor, before he moved to Chicago. The sofa came from a couple in Venice. A couple years ago, I told Amy I needed a new desk. We walked outside, and 300 feet from the apartment, a guy was selling his on the street.

Are there reasons to buy brand new? If it’s important to you, sure. Buy new. Get the warranty and peace of mind.

Plenty of things don’t, though. Like this kitchen table. It’s got four legs. To my knowledge, those four legs will still stand upright tomorrow. No warranty needed. Is the idea I’m the only person who’s ever broken bread here something I’m willing to pay a premium for?

I understand if that’s important to you. For me it’s not.


A world of possibilities opens up when you’re comfortable with discomfort.

You can drive across the United States with a lot less hassle and worry. Instead of searching for hotels or trying to save money on rate differentials, aim for a National Forest and throw up a tent. Or if you’re in Utah, drive a quarter mile off the road and do the same thing.

Comfort 100% of the time is great if you want to be a giant pansy. “It’s too cold, it’s too hot, I’m hungry, I’m thirsty, boo-hoo.”

True story: when we used to go on long car rides, my siblings and I would complain we were thirsty. We wanted to stop at McDonald’s and get a Coke. My mother would tell us to stop whining. “Drink your spit,” she said.

Comfort on occasion is nice. You upgrade or whatever, it’s a great experience, but you don’t make it a way of life, because that lifestyle isn’t what’s important to you.

You know what is important to you?


Better get working on it, then.

If It Doesn’t Hurt You’re Not Doing It Right

The other day, I went to a lawyer networking dinner in Pasadena with my girlfriend, Amy. She asked me to be her date: to rub elbows and drink blended margaritas with too much ice and not enough tequila.

She asked… expecting me to decline.

Because most of the time, that’s what I do.

Amy knows me better than I know myself.

She knows what it means when I get quiet… or talk too loudly… she knows EXACTLY what I’m thinking when someone starts talking about what “they deserve” (e.g, a good job, a good salary) after earning a piece of paper after four years of delaying the real world.

So she knows when she asks if I want to go do something (drink blended margaritas, go to the beach, eat froyo) I’ll act like I’m considering it… but what I’m really doing is opportunity cost calculus.

Here’s what that calculus looked like when she asked me to this dinner:

  • “Well, I’ll take an hour train ride into downtown Los Angeles where she’ll pick me up

  • Then it’ll be a half-hour drive to Pasadena

  • We’ll be meeting these people who aren’t in my industry, so it’s unlikely any long-term relationships will come out of it

  • (plus they’ll probably be way older than us)

  • We’ll eat food, make small talk, listen to some speeches for two hours

  • Then get in the car and drive 30 minutes back home

  • At which point it’s 9 p.m., and I know I can’t work after 8…”

“So going to this event = an opportunity cost of 4 hours of work.”

Then I think: “Well, shit, 4 hours is lot, to hang out with a bunch of people I’m never going to see again…”

This happens in the pause after Amy finishes her sentence.

She catches it (and I catch her catching it). It happens in a blink but it’s still noticeable, like flicking on-and-off a light switch.

Opportunity cost calculus is something I do several times a day. It is, without a doubt, the thing I hate the most about myself. [click to continue…]

Would You Turn Down $500? How about $10,000? This Is When You Should…

Are you earning every cent you can possibly make?

Is that what you should strive to do?

Or are there more important things than extracting maximum value?

I’m going to revisit this, but first, let me tell you a story…

From time to time, I do research for a client. It’s not difficult work, but it’s tedious. When the research bears fruit, he pays me generously — a couple hundred dollars per hour.

In September of 2013, he gave me my third or fourth assignment, and I got to work.

The day got away from me, though. By the time I turned in my work, he already reached his answer independently…

[click to continue…]

Love and Money (Part 2) – Money Management for Couples – 6 Tactics to Build Credit, Save More, and Invest Money… Together

On Tuesday I wrote about discussing money with your partner. These discussions should be about:

Your shared goals.

Your shared values.

And understanding money is a tool.

I stayed high-level, because once we get into tactics, those tactics change, depending on our values.

Which is okay. Our relationship to money is very personal.

But… I can’t resist getting tactical today.

I love the details.

Whether you’re moving to Los Angeles, buying health insurance, or quitting your job, I want to cover the angles like Magnus Carlsen whupping Bill Gates at chess.


A few friends have asked me, “How do you and Amy handle your money together?”

I want to get very specific.

After reading this post, you’ll have your own ideas on how you and your partner can manage your money, just by seeing the tactics Amy and I use. 

Money Management for Couples

This is what works for us. Is it perfect?

Hardly. However, we’re getting 90 percent of it right, because we’re:

Building credit.

Saving money

Investing money.

So, take what’s useful and discard the rest.

Do you pool money? Do you use a joint account?
No, we don’t.

We don’t see the value in a joint account right now.

I think a joint account is useful in pooling together resources to pay shared bills, but if we’re tracking who’s spending how much on what, then there isn’t much point.

For us, keeping separate accounts keeps things simple.

How do you split fixed costs, like rent and utilities?
We split fixed costs 50-50. For each individual fixed costs, we designate one person’s account. Then, the other person owes their half.

Fixed costs include: Rent, Internet, Gas, Electricity, Renter’s Insurance, Cell phone, Car insurance, etc.

For example, I pay the rent. At the end of the month, Amy owes me her half of the rent.

Amy, on the other hand, pays the car insurance. So we deduct what I owe from how much she owes on the rent.

It may seem like tracking the tab would be a pain. You’d be right.

Fortunately, I created a spreadsheet that tracks this for us. I’m making it shareable, so if you’d like to download it from Google Drive, just click the link below, and then go to File > Download As > .xls.

Click here to download the Fighting Broke Shared Expenses Spreadsheet

(If you find this spreadsheet useful, please share. Also, sign up to receive posts in your inbox for free — tons more of this material to come.)

How do you split household expenses?
We split household expenses 50/50.

For example: groceries, furniture, household supplies — we share all the costs.

We keep the receipts in an envelope and review it at the end of the week. I’ll go through and enter what we spent in the spreadsheet, and it calculates who owes what.

If at the end of the month Amy spent more on household expenses than I did, it deducts what she owes me, and vice versa. 

Click here to download the Fighting Broke Shared Expenses Spreadsheet.

It’s got a couple of major advantages:

It’s faster and more accurate than adding by hand.

Reviewing once a week keeps all your finances manageable.

Both partners can review their spending at any time.

Who pays when you go out?
This is always a good question. Honestly, it’s who gets out their wallet first, unless one of us is specifically taking the other “out.”

This can be a loaded topic. We all know how to get defensive about our spending (or lack of spending), on chivalry and feminism. And I don’t want to get into any of that right now.

It goes back to what I said before: if your values align, it doesn’t matter.

For Amy and I, we don’t look at it as spending her money or my money, or buying what she wants or I want.

It’s spending our money on us.

What if one person spends more than the other?
It’s all about the values (anyone else sensing a pattern here)?

If your partner spends more than what you’re comfortable with, or more than you’re able to afford, this can be a difficult conversation.

Which is why it has to be about your shared goals.

Are you on target to meet those goals? Where do you have to cut back in order to do so? Are your goals still the same?

How often do you and your partner talk about money?
We review our expenses once a month.

But when it comes to talking about money, it’s something we do pretty often.

For us, conversations about money aren’t dreaded. It’s something we can bring up between jokes about my snoring or our respective rants about work.

This took time.

It started with questions like, “what are you saving for?”

Are we both saving for a house, someday? For a family?

This led into how much we hoped to save, which progressed into how much we made, and so on and so forth.

What I’m saying is — we built our comfort around this topic over years, making every subsequent conversation about money less and less uncomfortable.  

The Tactics Are Constantly Changing

This works for us. For now.

Just because these are the systems right now doesn’t mean they’re the best, or that they won’t change.

For example, this spreadsheet to track your household’s expenses — by all means, tweak it to meet your needs. Take what’s useful and discard the rest. Create your own.

At the end of the day, tactics come and go.

The strategy and the values, however — those remain constant.

What’s your process or system for managing money with your partner? What’s worked for you in your relationships?

A better question: what didn’t work for you? 🙂

Click here to download the Fighting Broke Shared Expenses Spreadsheet

Photo Credit: Auzigog