financial religion

Love and Money – Have You Talked Money with Your Partner Yet?

Yup, we’re talking about this today because we’re approaching the most commercial, consumer-centric holiday of the year…

Retailer-inspired, strip mall celebrated and middle-class embraced “holidays” like Black Friday and Cyber Monday do not hold a candle to the time-honored holiday that is…

Valentine’s Day.

In my opinion, Valentine’s Day is worse than both Black Friday or Cyber Monday.

Valentine’s Day preys on our emotional connotation of love to guilt them into buying shit.

(Side note: imagine having this opinion, then dating a girl who’s birthday landed on February 14? That was me. Good times.)

I want to go deeper than Valentine’s Day, though. Even the most lavish expressions of “love” on Valentine’s day only affects your bank account for one day each year. In the long run, it’s negligible (still stupid, but negligible).

Instead, I want to talk about relationships and money: two areas that affect every day of your life.

After reading this post, you’ll feel more comfortable discussing money with your partner. Because you’ll understand what’s happening beneath the surface when you talk dolla dolla bills.

First You Meet Someone, Then Things Get Tough

Los Angeles is a conundrum: so many people to meet, yet (as friends of both sexes tell me) a terrible place to meet anyone.

For those reading this with penises, DJ Lubel may (or may not) strike a chord:

Then you do meet someone. With that hurdle vanquished, you stumble on other challenges. My friend Greg brought one challenge up on the phone yesterday:

“How do you and your girlfriend approach the ‘money’ conversation?”

The “money” conversation is a difficult conversation for most people. I don’t envy couples embarking on their first.

It’s hashing out: how to split money for rent, for groceries, utilities, who pays for nights out, who is investing in your futures together.

You know. The sexy stuff.

At some point, it has to happen, though.

Along with the “do-you-want-kids?” conversation, or the “chances-of-a-three-way-with-your-best-friend?” conversation.

But it’s an emotional minefield.

Many people have deep, personal (and often, painful) relationships with money.

So what’s the best way to start?

The best way is realizing the conversation isn’t about money at all?

It’s a Conversation About Values

Think about it. We don’t actually want money.

No one wants a million dollars in the bank. We want the lifestyle and security we think a million dollars brings.

We exchange money for things we value — the necessities obviously (food, clothes, shelter), but after that, the list of things we want is long and complex.

Someone who wants a high-powered career as an attorney, an agent, or a Fortune 100 consultant: they may value convenience, which gives them more energy to focus on work.

So they exchange money for services: a cleaning service, a meal service, or a car service.

It’s a very specific value exchange.

Compare this to someone who prefers independence. They work as remote IT support, a mechanic, or a freelance blogger. They value their autonomy, controlling when and what they work on.

So they exchange money for more employees, and money for time (that it takes to do their own cleaning and cooking)

Money is a Tool to Exchange Value

Once we understand that, the “money” conversation becomes a “value” conversation.

Do you and your partner value the same things?

For example, do you value lavish vacations or location independence (option to do remote work?)

Do you value the option to eat out every night, or sitting down at family dinners?

Do you value expensive suits, or working in your pajamas?

Something my girlfriend and I value is our family – our respective families, and the one we’ll eventually start. Right now, we don’t live close to either of our families, so if we want to be able to visit at moment’s notice, that’s money we need to set aside.

We know that starting a family is expensive. It’s a huge investment of time, energy, and money. So we’re investing a great deal of all three now, so we’re preparing when the time comes.

This means less time, energy, and money to devote to other things, like watching two hours of television every day, or eating out every night.

Which is fine. It’d be nice to crash on the sofa and watch Breaking Bad reruns at night, or to never have to think about making dinner, but it’s not something we particularly value.

The Money Conversation

Is actually a value conversation.

Have that conversation with your partner. If those values align, then everything else  will fall into place.

If they don’t… if your values conflict with one another, then all the money in the world may not buy you happiness.

#####

Photo Credit: qthomasbrower

Monthly Expense Report – January 2014

This is the 4th post in a series of expense reports summarizing my spending for the month. I’ll cover what happened quantitively, and then qualify those numbers with details about the month. Finally, I’ll conclude with what I’ve learned, and what I plan to do in the future. I’ll respond to any questions or comments you have. Thanks!

For previous months, see below:

 

Important Going-Ons in January

  • I cycled 9 out of 16 working days this month, for a total of 77.78 miles and 7.15 hours spent on the bike. However, this number will drastically drop as I transition into my new job…
  • With one day left in the month, I reached my goal of hitting 450 page views in January. This month I saw 518 page views! To me this is particularly awesome since I did no outreach this month – I’ve been writing for this blog, working on finishing a web series we shot, and transitioning out of my old job. It left no time for marketing, yet I still hit my goal.
  • Like I said, I started a new job! (Though, I don’t think it’s all that surprising if you’ve been following along with the Zen Assistant – How To Quit Your Job series.) I started working as a Writer’s Assistant for a New York Times Bestselling author, as he transitions into working more in the film/TV space. Assignment for the first two weeks? Watch two cable network shows, and break down the conflicts, characters, and A, B, C story lines. 🙂
  • Until I fall into a rhythm with the new job, I’ll be taking my car into work more often than not, which is a bit depressing. My hope is once we establish a routine, I can limit the amount of time trapped inside a steel box. On the flip side, there should be plenty of days where I’ll work from home, and won’t commute at all.
  • It hit me today that Amy and I have a lot of weddings coming up this year (3, so far) and thus, a lot of travel. We’ve started earning air miles using credit cards (and we already banked our first bonus of 50,000 miles) but it does make me wish we started earlier.

 

Fixed Expenses

  • Rent: $688
  • Internet: $30 [wireless + domain hosting]
  • Gas (Utilities): $18.06
  • Electric (Utilities): $0
  • Renter’s Insurance: $10
  • Car Insurance: $77.50
  • Cell Phone: $50
  • Netflix: $5

 

Variable Expenses

  • Groceries: $157.17
  • Gas: 68.97
  • Drinks: $67.02 [“drinks” almost always means afterwork, with others who work in Hollywood]
  • Lunches: $40.64 [again, work related lunches]
  • Going Out: $225.63
  • Miscellaneous: $28.46
  • Travel: 0
  • Business Expenses: $105.76

Total Expenses: $1,572.21

Breakdown

  • Groceries: We spent a little more than usual on groceries, as we haven’t been planning our meals well. I’d get home around 8, Amy around 9:30, and both realize we have to run to get groceries, or just order-in. We also didn’t make a trip to Costco’s this month.
  • Gas: I filled up twice this month – once for Amy’s car and once for mine.
  • Drinks: I budget $100 / month for drinks and spent $67.02. I didn’t do many drinks, but they were definitely “quality” — I really connected with the people and felt like we had a great deal in common.
  • Lunches: I budget about $80 / month for lunch and spent $40.64.
  • Miscellaneous: Amy and I hosted a Boardgame Night, I hosted a poker game, and we bought household stuff.
  • Business Expenses: I bought Goodreader for the iPad, a VGA-monitor converter, and spent the rest on postage.

 

What I Learned This Month

  1. In my haste to earn those travel miles, I forgot to set up auto-pay and got hit by a finance fee and a late fee on the new credit card — which is the first time, ever. What a shitty feeling. I’ll talk more about that later, but I did call and get the late fee waived — which is why it’s important to be willing to call your credit card companies.
  2. I met with my accountant, who downloaded me on the perks of working as a freelance consultant (which I am now). Namely, “what exactly can you expense from you gross earnings?” (short answer: almost anything). Much of the information you can find online, but as I’ve always made a mess of my taxes, it’s good to hear it from an expert.
  3. Also, learned everything a HW Assistant not getting getting health insurance needs to know about purchasing their own health insurance, and will create an Ultimate Resource post on that very soon.

 

Blogging Lessons Learned This Month

  1. I’m shocked I hit my target of 450 page views this month (along with a PR for most views in a day, 95 page views), with one day to go. I know many of the sites I read (and admire and study) get that traffic in 3 minutes, but I’ve really managed to separate my goals and my “wins” from them. I want to put my head down, keep creating content and building an audience — and move all my numbers up and to the right. 
  2. In the month of February I want to reach 600 pages views. It’s difficult to say if this goal is easily attainable or a “stretch,” since I surpassed 450 without any outreach or marketing. I plan to make marketing a priority for this blog in the latter half of the month, though, so believe I can make that number.
  3. I’m regularly posting 3 – 4 times a week now. The 4th post of the week comes on Fridays, where I write about a random topic that’s been on my mind. I’ve got a lot of positive feedback on these Friday posts — I think because they’re smaller and more digestible. I prefer long, dense posts that cover a topic thoroughly, but mixing up the bag has been fun.

January has been a wonderful start to the year, between reaching my goals with Fighting Broke and starting this new job. Whether or not you set New Year’s resolutions (I didn’t) I hope you’re reaching your goals as well. Pilot season is amping up so many Hollywood Assistants are going to start hustling double-time, and I appreciate you spending the time to check out this blog.

If there’s anything you think I could help you with, please leave a comment or ping me on Twitter @thisisming. Thanks dudes!

How Amazon, Facebook, and Endeavor Started Their Businesses

At the Amazon headquarters in Seattle, a friend who works there says you’ll notice something strange when you enter the garage.

Head to where the middle-level executives park, and you’ll find your typical assortment of yuppie luxury cars: gleaming Benz’s and Lexus’s, the occasional BMW painted in a matte finish once strictly reserved for the Batmobile.

Further in the catacomb, where the high-level executives park: Bezos, Berman, Eldridge, etc. al, the collection feels like you rolled up on a Certified Used Toyota Dealership in Orange County. This section is filled with 10-year old Corollas, Accords, and Civics — the kind of car a practical Asian father recommends.

Not the vehicles of choice for people worth north of a couple billion dollars.

But that’s how Amazon rolls.

 

Amazon Fights Broke

Amazon embraces fighting broke. It starts from the top and trickles all the way down. It moves from the highest executive suite, straight to the garage, and winds through the rest of South Lake Union like a fog. Here are some examples:

  • Printing your sales deck in color? Better not let Bezos see it — he’ll stop a meeting to scold you for wasting the ink. 
  • Want a soda from the fully-stocked kitchen? What does this place look like, Facebook? Swipe your card in the vending machine and pay for it like everyone else, ya cheap bastard.
  • Don’t think about taking out the company card if you’re out with co-workers — that’s only for clients.
  • Even at the highest level staff meetings, executives are expected to buy their own lunches (they rotate who purchases lunch for the whole room — out of their own pocket).

 

Where’s the glamour? Where’s the joie de vivre?

There’s this expectation that glamour is intrinsic to Silicon Valley start-ups and Hollywood show business.

In Silicon Valley, the Google stories are pretty ubiquitous: an amazing kitchen serving free meals throughout the day, their 20-percent time policy (20 percent of your time can be invested in projects of your choosing) and a free gym, day care, and stipend to socialize with your co-workers.

Facebook offers much of the same, and throws in some nice perks for expecting parents (4 months paid leave, “baby cash” bonus, and day care).

Hollywood also has a tradition steeped in gross overspending.

It’s usually considered a cost of doing business.

At the agency level, part of this make-it-rain culture is to wine-and-dine clients, in attempts to woo them from the rival shops scattered across Century City and Beverly Hills.

The other part? It’s the expectation that this is the life you signed up for. You may always be on the clock — but you’ll be ridiculously compensated for it. It’s a lifestyle where you’re expected to flaunt success, because success (or the appearance of) attracts more success.

A former Endeavor agent told me a monthly stipend was given to partners, with the expectation they’d go lease a Bentley with the money. (Instead, men like Tom Strickler balked at the idea, leased a Subaru instead, and pocketed the difference.)

Who’s to argue this methodology works better or worse than Amazon’s method of Fighting Broke? It’s worked for many companies: Google, Facebook, and WME are just a handful of examples. (Though, it certainly didn’t work everywhere in Hollywood.)

 

What’s the Best Approach for the Business of You?

“We are all in the media business,” says Gary Vaynerchuk.

This is true for Hollywood — you are you own business. Today, you’ll job-hop a dozen times, but the business of You remains constant.

How will you run your business? Fighting broke like Bezos, or spend-to-attract success like Uncle Ari?

(C’mon, get ahead of it — you know where I’m leaning…)

No surprise — I encourage you all to fight broke — especially at the start of your career. Even the companies that I listed here that have since adopted the “spend philosophy,” started their companies by fighting broke:

  • Facebook started out of Zuckerberg’s dorm room 
  • Google started with two 20-something Ph.D students who wanted to change search, from their garage
  • Apple started out of Steve Job’s parent’s garage in Los Altos, California
  • Amazon started as one dude selling books online for years. Now they’re the world’s largest online retailer.
  • Before the hostile takeover of William Morris, Endeavor started out as 4 TV agents kicked out of ICM by Jeff Berg, armed with nothing but files and an office above an Islands Restaurant

 

Amazon is the only company above that stuck to their philosophy of fighting broke. They keep heir costs low, their overhead low. This has given them the ability to fail many times. Anyone remember Amazon Auctions, Askville, A9, Amazon Checkout, or Endless? All “failed” Amazon products.

However, by fighting broke, Amazon can begin each project with a religion I attribute to Seth Godin: “The way I do my most interesting work is, I tell myself, ‘this might not work.'”

If those of us building our careers in Hollywood can take a page out of Amazon’s book, and bake the religion of fighting broke into our personal business, we’ extend how long we get to play this very long game.

We increase our number of at bats.

We get to take more risks.

We can ignore more doubters.

We say “this might not work” over and over again and do it anyway.

Until one day, it does.

#####

Photo Credit: sⓘndy°

If David O. Russell Lives Paycheck to Paycheck, Then We’re All in Trouble

In the Movies.com interview with David O. Russell (dir. FIGHTER, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, AMERICAN HUSTLE), Russell mentions something very interesting at the end:

Russell: Oh, about that. So check this out. I do The Fighter, and after I doThe Fighter I’ve arrived again in Hollywood, you know. You’re only as good as your last film. So I’m alive again! I’m getting called in everywhere for meetings. 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.

Movies.com: In Hollywood terms, that’s paycheck to paycheck… 

Russell: Yeah, I never found that pipeline, so I’m just picture to picture. So I take the Uncharted assignment, and suddenly I’m like, “Okay, I can do this, but I’d want to do it my way.” But then I’m out doing Q&As for The Fighter and people are coming up to me, shouting, “Nathan Fillion!” Is that the character or the actor? That’s the actor, right?

 

Paycheck to Paycheck?

Are you freaking kidding me?

Here’s the thing: Russell’s got a string of hits – we can argue that they’re more “critical darlings” than the kinda hits that smash box office records (in fact, the above article argues just that). He isn’t (and doesn’t want to be) a franchise director like Gore Verbinski or Justin Lin (though Lin made his bones as an indie director).

But let’s not kid ourselves. Russell did not make a mere pittance for directing these movies, regardless of how “critical” they were.

The director is repped by the top agents and lawyers in the industry (John Campisi at CAA and at Bruce Ramer at Gang, Tyre, Ramer, Brown, respectively.)

Let’s put that in perspective.

Ever hear of a couple guys like Terence Winter, Rob Reiner, Stephen Spielberg and Clint Eastwood?

Yup, they rep them too.

Agents and lawyers like Campisi and Ramer are top-performers in this business because they do two very specific things well: they connect the dots, and they make their clients money. The kind of money that requires big checks and lots of zeros.

That’s it. Full stop.

 

Where Is This Train Going?

There are times I think: “What’s the point in writing Fighting Broke? Hasn’t all this been said? Don’t people understand the importance of building credit, of saving money, and not being slaves to the paycheck?” Why do I bother?

Then I read these articles.

I see amazing talent like David O. Russell talk about how they “take on work to support their family,” because they’re essentially living paycheck to paycheck.

And I’m bricking it because we (me, my friends and peers and colleagues in Hollywood) are all on the same runaway train, hurling coals onto the fire, too afraid to pick our heads up and say, “where the hell is this train going?”

That’s the first question we must ask:

“Where is this train going?”

And the second:

“Do I want to be on it?”

If not, what are you doing about it?

#####

Photo Credit: movies.com

Monthly Expense Report – December 2013

This is the third in a series of expense reports summarizing my spending for the month. I’ll cover what happened quantitively, and then qualify those numbers with details about the month. Finally, I’ll conclude with what I’ve learned, and what I plan to do in the future. I’ll respond to any questions or comments you have. Thanks!

Important Going-Ons in December

  • I cycled 6 out of 15 working days this month, for a total of 47.4 miles and 4.2 hours spent on the bike.
  • With a few days left in the month, I’m 7 page views shy of reaching my goal of 350 page views in the month of December 2013.
  • Earned a Christmas bonus of $1,400 and I break down where this money will go.
  • With Christmas travel and gifts, how do you properly allocate your cash monies? I talk about my system in the Breakdown!
  • I’m writing this from Cork, Ireland, where I spent Christmas with Amy and her family. Hope everyone had a wonderful holiday.

 

Fixed Expenses

  • Rent: $688
  • Internet: $30 [wireless + domain hosting]
  • Gas (Utilities): $10.17
  • Electric (Utilities): $32.39
  • Renter’s Insurance: $10
  • Car Insurance: $77.50
  • Cell Phone: $50
  • Netflix: $5

 

Variable Expenses

  • Groceries: $32.66
  • Gas: $65
  • Drinks: $0 [“drinks” almost always means afterwork, with others who work in Hollywood]
  • Lunches: $73.33 [again, work related lunches]
  • Going Out: $162
  • Christmas Shopping: ~$600
  • Oil Change: $50
  • Bike Repairs: $140
  • Travel: ~$600
  • Business Expenses: $87 [for the DIY Thesis skin]

 

Total Expenses: ~$2713.05

Breakdown

  • Groceries: We didn’t spend much on groceries this month. Nearly a third of our monthly grocery bill is spent on a single Costco trip, which we didn’t make in December. Amy’s been studying for the bar, and besides writing for this blog, I’ve started to learn how to design with Thesis and editing a web series, so we didn’t cook much. I don’t count any of this money as “saved” however, as anything we saved we probably spent on eating out.
  • Gas: I had a leak in a tire and the bike needed a tune-up, so I drove more than I liked. This required one fill-up for my car, and one filled-up for Amy’s car, too.
  • Drinks: Jeez, this is atrocious. I budget $100 / month for drinks — and this month I spent $0.Ever hear the line about statistics, how you can make the numbers tell any story you want? This is similar: it’d be convenient to look at this and say, “nice, I saved $100!”  but in reality this means I spent zero time networking after work this month. Some drinks they pushed, some I pushed, and I didn’t make an effort to make them happen one way or another.Burn-out played its part in my apathy, but rather than beat myself up over it, I want to come back next month refreshed and strong and emotionally available to create value for others.
  • Lunches: I budget about $80 / month for lunch and spent $73.33. Part of this was spent on a brunch with a new tracking board I created, and I’m excited to finally launch it.
  • Miscellaneous/Travel: December is a difficult month to track for obvious reasons, and I still haven’t worked out what was spent on gifts, on traveling, etc. This year it was especially complicated since we traveled to Ireland to visit Amy’s family. Beyond better tracking (which is time intensive, difficult and not a lot of fun), what’s the best way to budget for this kind of ambiguity? I create “bucket” (electronic) savings accounts where I deposit money all year round. Then I label these buckets as “General Travel” and “Gifts.” After December’s over, I get a general idea of how much I spent in each category, and move funds from these buckets back into my regular checking account. It’s far from perfect tracking, but allocating money 11 months beforehand is an 80% solution.
  • Business Expenses: I bought the DIY Thesis skin, and started learning how to create a better blog.

 

What I Learned This Month

  1. When Amy and I bought luggage (my parent’s Christmas present to us) I signed up for a Macy’s card to take advantage of the sign-up “percentage-off” bonus. After the “Friends and Family” store discount of 25%, we got an additional 20% off — this knocked off $80 ($338 to $258). It’s a sweet short-term saving bonus, made all the sweeter because I actually look at the details of the credit cards I sign up for: Macy’s practically molests its credit card holders at 24% APR, which is 10 points higher than the national average of 14%. So I’ll be taking my savings, paying off this bill, and then never using this credit card again. Thanks Macy’s!
  2. I completed the $3K in 3 months spending goal on my Citi Mastercard to earn 50K miles. It took about 5 weeks to hit that goal, so now I can put that card away, make sure I bank those miles, then cancel the card before year’s end to avoid the annual fee. The process has gone so smoothly I’ll aim to earn 2 or 3 more bonuses in 2014.
  3. I earned a Christmas bonus this year of just over $1,400. Anytime I receive a windfall, the very first thing I do is bank half of it, preferably in a long-term investment vehicle. So I’ll jump start my Roth IRA contribution this year with $350, and invest another $350 into an index fund. With $700 automatically saved, I have another $700 that, no matter where it goes, I can spend completely guilt-free. Not sure how I’m going to cut it up just yet, but I think it’ll go to saving for a wedding, a dog, then buying some electronic gadgetry.

 

Blogging Lessons Learned This Month

  1. At the time of this writing, I’m at 343 page views with a few days in the month to go, and think I’ll reach my December 2013 of 350 page views! As I mentioned last month, I know 350 views is what many bloggers get after 30 minutes, nevermind 30 days. However, for me tracking page views has been an exercise in creating the behavior I want (e.g., telling more people about this blog) and not competing against other bloggers. It works. When I notice I’m not on track for the month, I know I have to step up in my direct sharing. (Note: I still don’t post this link on my email signature, on my Facebook or Twitter, so unless you got here by Google Search, it’s been purely through word-of-mouth.)
  2. In January 2014, my goal is posting 3 times a week and earning 450 page views.
  3. I bought the DIY Thesis theme and started learning more about how to create a more functional blog. It’s been something I’ve tried to learn several times in the past, but I always got frustrated with learning the backend and quit. To build Fighting Broke, I know this is an area I must improve, however, so I’ve already pushed through several dips. Hopefully in a few months I’ll have a beautiful new front-end to show everyone.

 

If you’ve followed along thus far, thank you. It really means a lot, and I hope those of you working in entertainment enjoyed the few weeks of holiday, whether you’re visiting home or enjoying the tranquility of Hollywood in December. Next month pilot season picks up again, so it’s going to be a crazy one, and I appreciate you taking the time to read this.

#####

Photo Credit: Alper Orus