[video] Curbing (online) impulse spending

[youtube=] [Watch "Curbing (online) impulse spending" on YouTube; running time 2:24]

What this is:

Having taken quite the hiatus from earning money last year, even dealing with it, you might say, I've been getting very serious about becoming a grownup with money. I promise not to turn this blog into a big, long, snoozy preachfest, but as I think of little ideas that might be useful or fun to share, you know I'll do it. Because that's how I roll, baby!

In this video, I explain a little browser-bookmark action thingy I do to maintain some control where there might otherwise be impulse spending. Basically, it's a semi-nerd version of creating a little distance between you and the purchase, to see if you really want it. You're probably doing this anyway, because you are way smarter about curbing your impulses. As I say in the video, I'm not half-bad at it in real life, outside of bookstores and when there is delicious (legal) food around.

Some notes on this week's video:

I got all CRA-A-A-AZY with ScreenFlow this time and taught myself two new tricks. See if you can spot 'em! (Just kidding, I learned how to make things bigger and smaller and how to make a spotlight thingy. I feel omnipotent and will probably try to chew through a car bumper now, just for fun.)

The site whose amazing stuff I'm lusting over is Tinkering Monkey. I want that Don lamp so bad I can taste it. (Tastes like car bumper! Rrrrrawr!) But the pendant, now that's a nice, modest treat a lady could get for herself if she did a really good job at something-something, right?

Sigh. I can point fingers all I want, but I'm as much a product of consumer culture as anyone I'd be pointing at.

xxx c

UPDATE [03/16/11]: I've removed the pendant from the menu bar because (drumroll) my friend Mike Monteiro surprised me with one at SXSW. Thank you, Mike! And I love you, little tinkering monkeys!

Knowing you're getting your money's worth [video]


[Watch "Entertainment Book Hack" on YouTube; 1:45, I'm gettin' there!]

One of the most baffling (but flattering) bits of feedback I kept getting last year was that I should post more videos.

WHATEVER. I mean, who watches videos when they can read? Only, well, I get it. There's a je ne sais quoi about seeing someone on video, where the "quoi" is "you get a much better real-time feel for what they're really like." And not everyone can come to the excellent and lively Biznik mixers I host out here in Los Angeles, or to SXSW, or wherever, so there you go. Me, out loud and in your damned face, from the comfort of your desk. Or the couch, if you're on an iPad.

I will try like crazy to keep these like me, on the short side, but as you know if you've met me in person, I am one loquacious motherf*cker. This one clocks in at 1:45, which ain't bad. On the other hand, there's probably :15  worth of actual info, so, you know, not great, either.


I have been buying those stupid Entertainment Books for years, since getting roped in by a fellow Toastmaster who was helping his Girl Scout daughter raise money.

The cover of this thing says "OVER $18,200 IN SAVINGS," but frankly, if you ate that much fast food and saw that many stupid Hollywood blockbusters, you'd need twice that amount in colon hydrotherapy, plus a good smack upside the head.

Still, theoretically there are enough good deals in there for most of us IF we plan carefully and use them. So this year, I'm taking it out of the theoretical and into the measurable. You can, too. Here's how:

  1. Affix large Post-It type sticky note to front of book.
  2. Write down amount paid for book.
  3. Each time you realize savings, write down the item/date/amount.
  4. Add up at end of year and see if you've been a sucker or a smarty-pants. (NB: I have not done this part yet.)

That's it!

As per usually, feel free to leave comments and suggestions here, or email me if you're feeling shy: colleen AT communicatrix DOT com.

And if you have awesome money-saving tips to share with other frugal types, do leave them in the comments.

Oh, most importantly, if you have ideas for things you think would make good videos, please please please let me know. Until I learn to orient myself toward video thinking, it's gonna be an uphill slog.



What if there really was room?


The class I'm taking around dealing with my money issues continues to amaze me for a variety of reasons.

The first is this whole "all roads lead to Rome" thing. Yes, it's nominally a class about money, but as Mark himself says, we can use the basic exercises we're learning in our odyssey with money and apply them to pretty much any stumbling block or confounding problem we have. (Obviously, this is not a class where double-entry accounting and Excel spreadsheets figure prominently.)

The second is the profound level of support I'm feeling, both from the way the class and its surrounding activities are structured and from my fellow classmates. Every week, we're partnered up with someone so that we can practice the exercises we're learning on our own time and strengthen those muscles. Not only have I been matched with extraordinary partners for these two weeks so far, but when a future partner bailed for some reason, I had a host of people swoop down and offer to help me that week. All but one of whom did not know me from Adam. Pretty extraordinary.

But the thing that really has my head swimming right now is a central question that keeps getting asked of us over and over as we move through some of this difficult, swamplike territory we're navigating: what if it was okay?

What if, for example, it was okay that you were a crumpled heap of a poopy mess just thinking about what how money had leveled your family and laid decades of your life to waste? What if you could just let that be, and notice it, and not try to jump in and fix it?

What if you could just be a hot mess?

Not forever, maybe, but right now? What would happen if you could step back and just look at something under a particular kind of light, a loving light, in this case; a Light, if you will.

What would happen if there was room in your heart for the twin notions that everything was completely effin' fakata right now, and that someday, it might not be?

What would happen if you could start a project not knowing where it might take you? Or if you could even take an action, not knowing if it would become a project?

What if? What then?

It's funny: I signed up for a class about money; it seems I ended up taking one in the wonders of unconditional love...


Image by Rob Lee via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Excavation, illumination, and The Resistor, revisited


For those of you who don't track every damned thing I do, I've been a little busy lately addressing some...issues.

Or perhaps I should say, readdressing some issues, because two of these are whoppers that have been ongoing science projects: changing my relationship with money and getting down with my Actual Desires.

And readdressing these issues has brought back an old visitor 'round these parts, a little fella I like to call the Resistor, a shape-shifting, merciless motherf*cker whose sole purpose is to push back. Lovely, right?

I named him after a force Steven Pressfield describes in his battle guide for artists, The War of Art. Steven and his book have been much on my mind lately as I push back against the pushing back, or rather, he and it popped back into my brain when I sat down to write about the damned difficulty I've been having with writing lately. Because hey, the one thing I generally have little to no problem with is writing, so when that goes down, I know something's up.

I reasonably sure that the last thing Mr. Pressfield would want is for me to turn him into a patron saint of anything, much less Procrastination (or would it be anti-procrastination?), but hey, he wrote the book on it, and then showed me the fateful kindness of stepping out of the mists to say hello, so tough. Tough. We're at DEFCON 3, here, and as far as I'm concerned, that means I have license to do whatever it takes to beat the wave back. (Don't worry, Steven, I'm not actually going to bother you; I'll just, you know, light a candle and pray a little and stuff. From a respectful distance.)

So. Two things.

#1: Money is ass. I mean, it's great, what it can do, but it's ass, the way it gets abused. And my family graveyard is littered with the bodies of the Lousy with Money, in both senses of the phrase: they were either unbelievably good at acquiring it or terrible at disbursing it or both. A surprising number were both, which is doubly-super-awesome because then there is so much residual collateral damage after their deaths. Huzzah!

You grow up watching people who are either afraid of money or afraid of not having it and the chances that you'll magically have a healthy relationship to the stuff are sucker's odds. I've been outrageously fortunate in that, even without a lot of working at it, I've managed to have enough of the stuff to live comfortably my entire life. As my first shrink-slash-astrologer told me as part of a chart reading that I won on a bet*, while I have issues aplenty to keep me busy this planetary go-'round, money is not one of them.

Why, then, am I bothering to waste precious time, energy and (haha, irony pop-up!) money on correcting how I look at money? I don't even have a next generation to fret about passing this along to; the buck** stops with me.

Plain and simply, I think it's my job. I know it's not anywhere in the "hire me" section, but the more I do all this personal excavating-type stuff, the more it feels like that's what I'm here to do: excavate and illuminate. There will be no 1.34 children to benefit from my presto-change-o, but out of the few thousand people I reach via my various nefarious online activities, there may be one or two who will be spared some of the agony my family (most of whom I am estranged from because of money) and I have been through.

#2: 99% of the other shit I have left to deal with ties into #1. Those Actual Desires I mentioned above are so closely tied in with money, I feel very comfortable smooshing them together in one post and giving my Actual Desires short shrift here at the end. (Pause once more for the Irony Train to pass through.) After all, you can look over the whole almost-five years of this blog and find out-loud examples aplenty of me showing you my ghosties about being out there in a bigger arena. For Mistah Resistah, I'll be explicit: it is my full intention to remove every goddamned obstacle between me and getting what is is I'm supposed to be doing, which I have identified in this here article as the twin tasks of EXACAVATING and ILLUMINATING, out to the widest right audience.

You're already here; you know what it is that I do, and presumably, you're getting something out of it or you'd just, you know, hightail it out of here to one of the million-billion other places available to go and do one of the million-billion other things you could do with your own precious, precious time.

And so, to you, fellow traveler, I ask the following: take in what you feel it is useful to take in, and spread what you feel needs spreading. As you most likely are, but all the same, this is the place where it serves to be explicit. Forward this piece, or the website address (that's, or re-post a chunk of it, or whatever. I've got 50 breathing down my neck and this Resistor cocksucker throwing up roadblocks and while I will do my best to grapple elegantly with both of them, I'm not too proud to ask for help.

You hear that, Resistor?


*Someday I will have to tell this full story, if I haven't already. It may have violated every ethical shrink code in the book, but boy, was it effective.
**Again with the irony! Although admittedly, this is more of a pun. Shudder.

Image by oswaldo via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Referral Friday: Money honies


Referral Friday is part of an ongoing series inspired by John Jantsch's Make-a-Referral Week. For more about that, and loads more referrals for everything from cobblers to coaches to gee-tar teachers, start here. Pass it on, baby!

While I am reasonably good at putting one letter next to another, I am the suckmeister of all suckitude when those letters are replaced by digits.

Seriously, I've had more than one romantic partner shake his head when he saw the inside of my checkbook, and then never, ever bring up the subject again.

Fortunately, I have found fine, kind people who make things balance and suchlike with the utmost professionalism while never, ever casting any sort of aspersions on my complete and utter inability, thus far (we live in hope!), to do the same.

These people will be most easily employed by you if you live in the Los Angeles area, although theoretically, you can use them from anywhere via the magic of FedEx and/or cheap photo scanners. I know for a fact my tax dudes file everything electronically, and I could just as easily mail them my 1099s as anything; thing is, I like them so damned much, I feel cheated if I don't get a little sugar once or twice a year in person.

Gods of Taxes

For taxes, I've been using Actors Tax Prep for years now. Nine of them, to be precise, though I can hardly believe it. Co-founded by two actors who had previous lives in big business, Actors Tax Prep specializes in tax preparation for the performing artist and other related fields: basically, anything to do with show biz in any of its forms. They have grown by leaps and bounds since I began using them because they are thorough, reasonably priced, and "get" show biz types. (You know who you are and you also know what I mean by that.)

I've stayed with them even as I moved out of acting because they also "get" small business. Think about it: most actors don't just act; they do a ton of other crazy stuff, much of it taxable in nature.

My original contact and co-founder, Sid Wilner (who also played my father in a fine production of a Clifford Odets play), has retired from the business; his co-founder, David Rogers (who, in a weird stroke of coincidence worked with my real father in advertising), heads up a team of the nicest, thorough-est, patient-est tax preparers in the world...who also happen to be actors. Go figger.

Oh, and full disclosure: if you say you were referred by me, they knock $20 off my next year's bill. So if you have issues with that, just say you found them through the magic of the Internet. Really, I just like them and would totally refer them anyway. Which I just did!

  • Actors Tax Prep
    210 N. Pass Avenue - Suite 205
    Burbank, CA  91505
    (818) 557-3355

Prior to that, I used Ruzicka & Associates, a Chicago-based firm, for the rest of my tax-filing life. Which started three years later than it should have done (long story), which mess they unsnarled and got me back on good footing with the IRS.

Anne Ruzicka, who shares a first name with my dear, departed mother, but who was much, much better at finances, is a dream: another one of those thorough, get-it-done types who is also NICE. With no jumbrage, ever. And her husband, Tony, is lovely, too.

Ruzicka & Associates is a more costly proposition than Actors Tax Prep for those at the sole proprietor level; most of their clients are dealing with more complex tax issues, as I was when I was a homeowner and earning income in two states (CA and IL). But they're an excellent value for the right client, and a dream to deal with.

Day-to-day Money Magicians

You know what saves you money? A bookkeeper, that's what! Liz Davies has been mine for two years now. She's another fellow actor, so she gets the creative mindset. But she works with all kinds of clients, and all different sized businesses. She works on site, and has a minimum fee for her visits (which, because of my colossal suckitude at this stuff, I always meet). She helped me set up my books, and she has patiently taught me new things to do as I've been ready to grasp them. Everyone should have a Liz; it's too bad you can't all experience it.

  • Liz Davies
    blizzful-AT-mailcan-DOT-com (take out the "-AT-" and "-DOT-" when you mail)

If I hadn't met Liz, I would be using Alexandra Ward as my bookkeeper. She's The BF's, and he loves her.

Alex has a design background and is "French-from-France" French, which means she has better taste than you or I can ever hope to have, and yet she never lords it over you! And if you speak French, you can handle all your telephonic transactions en Francais. Woo-hoo!

Alex works locally, out of her house, although she agreed that theoretically, if you were into it, you could do it all via FedEx/etc. She is mom to the cutest baby in the world, so she does not do onsite visits. Seriously, if you saw this kid, you wouldn't want to leave her, either. A-dor-able.

  • Alexandra Ward
    alexandracreative-AT-gmail-DOT-com (take out the "-AT-" and "-DOT-" when you mail)
    (323) 316-4400

Happy tax season, everyone!


Image by kevin dooley via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

"Thank you, sir! May I have another!?"™, Day 10: It is always about money

This is Day 10 of a 21-day effort to see the good in what might, at first, look like an irredeemable drag. Its name comes from a classic bit of dialogue uttered by actor Kevin Bacon in a classic film of my generation, Animal House. money rose

My late father was in the habit of mocking my late mother's side of the family for what he saw as their massively fucked up views on money and blithe disregard for facing up to the truth of just about everything, their mortality included.

It was not without some irony, therefore, that my sister and I viewed the colossal disarray in which he'd left his own affairs. And as for his relationship with the truth...well, let's just say it was rockier than we'd been led to believe.

Of course, we should have been prepared for this: there are few people who get excited at the prospect of their inevitable demise, and we'd been blindsided once by the bizarre structure our maternal grandmother had left in place. But this was our dad: the sensible parent, the one who didn't drink. If he had put a bit of a gloss on some...shall we say...interesting life choices, well, hell, we were a family of storytellers and ad people, for crying out loud! We spun for a living.

When there is a dispute about shekels left behind, the warring parties always declaim, "It's not about the money." But of course it is: the money is what's there representing the promises made (and broken). And since money means different things to different people, bequests represent love, security, freedom, fear and probably a host of other things. As with fetishes, there's one for everything you can name, and entire online communities for many things you can't.

For me, the difference between the airtight provisions that had supposedly been made and the jerry-rigged structure my sister and I ultimately discovered was devastating. Yes, because of the money, we're talking a lot of money, here, but also because of the years and years of haranguing about our supposedly subpar handling of our lives. My sister and I chose some pretty non-traditional paths, and while we weren't what I'd call irresponsible, we also were not living the suburban-American dream, socking away millions from our jobs at Shearson Lehman.

Dad was the responsible one. The one who supported his aging parents for the last 20 or so years of their lives while never, ever rubbing his father's pride in it. The one who paid for our mother's funeral, even though they had openly despised one another for most of their lives. The one who always always always asked if we needed money, and, though we always replied in the negative, quite often sent some anyway. The one who told us we'd be taken care of, and the precise sum that translated into, despite our protests that the whole discussion was silly and morbid.

So the blow was hard to take. And it was followed by another, far worse one which there's no reason to go into, the story is so old and clichéd and obvious, it's laughable. A story that happens to rich people and crazy fourth wives of famous singers, not middle-class girls from Chicago. The details hardly matter. Suffice it to say that it involved lawyers and family members taking sides and the besmirching of our good names. No one wins in a game like that, except the lawyers.

And yet, almost four years after the fact, I am grateful for this happening. My blood sister and I are closer than ever, having walked through the fire together. The family and friends who stood by us, I have an even greater appreciation for. More than anything, though, I am thankful for being introduced to who I am at my core, and for discovering the striking similarity it bears to the me that walks around from day to day in more mundane settings.

It is a good thing to sleep well at night...

xxx c

Image by distinguish via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Frugality: the art of looking at things inside out

tall glass One of my odder fascinations has always been with the homely, humble art of thrift. I'm sure it springs partly from my fear of money (more specifically, of living out my retirement years in a shopping cart). Like lots of 60's babies, my young world was populated by adults who lived through the Depression; spend enough time in the Museum of Rubber Bands and Grocery Bags, it's bound to influence you.

But my passion for thrift is about more than saving the odd dollar or being able to wave the flag of righteousness. Frugal living satisfies the urge to create, to conjure. To think outside the box (which can be re-used as an inbox, cat bed, fort for the very tiny or jaunty chapeau for the mad). It's contemplative and giving, not loud and grabby. And as life gets louder and faster, I value quiet, both internal and external, more and more.

I remember the excess of my father's house as just that: excess. Too many things, too much noise, too much churn. TVs everywhere, closets bursting with unworn clothes, new cars before the last ones were old cars, jewelry bought at a premium and given away on eBay. Pointless, inelegant things, like the $300 throw pillow covered in, I shit you not, seashells. Because there's nothing that spells comfy snuggle on the couch like a gigantic coral reef against your head. And how.

I'd blame it on his significant other, who was clearly the shopper in the family, but the truth is, Dad just as down with the always-on, bigger-is-better, 20th century-American lifestyle. Or inured to it. Or something. He lived in those houses, he drove those cars, he chose that life.

Taken too far, or course, thrift veers into tightwaddery, its dingy, B.O.-stained cousin. I've learned the hard way not to cheap out on health care, for example: an early, scary brush with an HMO OB/GYN has kept me on the straight and narrow for over 20 years. And don't get me started on the freezing showers and the three-square allotment of toilet paper of my maternal grandparents' house, a falling-down paean to thrift fondly dubbed "Gloomy Manor" by the ones with the bag collection.

Goodness and greatness both lie, as usual, in the ho-hum middle. What seems to work best for me is a foundation of alert and sensible thrift, gently padded here and there with worthwhile luxuries. As I drill down to the center of the mess that is my money, I get comfortable both with having more and needing less, with conserving usually and splurging occasionally. True, my version of splurging, lunch out at a restaurant just because, good incense and candles, 2-color Pantone business cards on heavy stock, is probably laughably tiny to most of my neighbors in a 5-block radius.

But I don't live in a 5-block radius anymore. I live on a big, beautiful planet.

See? It's all in how you look at it...

xxx c

Image by Richard- via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

What money really means

shame shame shame One of my dirty little secrets has to do with money: I'm afraid of it.

Between role models who lived it up with cavalier disregard for cash, dying either in debt or indebted to loved ones (myself included) for covering them towards the end, and others who destroyed their health and emotional life in the pursuit of money, it's a miracle I'm neither pushing a shopping cart nor wedged between walls of newspaper, tying used paper bags together with twine against some future disaster, like a Depression-era baby gone whack job.

While I'm not rich, I'm also not in debt, and there's no wolf at the door. For my age and considering my nutty career trajectory, I'm actually doing well, living proof of the magic of compound interest. I socked away whatever I could as a Young Corporate Tool, living in rat-traps (okay, mouse-traps) in Brooklyn on overtime meals and happy hour appetizers while maxing out my 401k contributions. And this was back in the golden '80s, with dollar-for-dollar matching employer funds. Yes, you heard me: dollar for dollar.

And I've never exactly been a slacker. I was fortunate enough to have my college paid for, received gifts of cash here and there from my generous relatives and yes, I was subsidized to the tune of $50/week for the first six months I lived and worked in New York. Still, I've always worked, and never lived off the largesse of a partner or spouse. There were fat times and lean, but I managed to stay afloat, buy and sell a condo, keep clothes on my back and food in my gut, have health insurance (the good kind) and, while I've never been one to live high on the hog, even enjoy some luxuries like nice dinners out, nice food in, travel, cars (every one of which, of course, I've owned outright).

So this is not the story of someone who suffered the financial equivalent of being raised in a locked closet and never knowing light or human touch until age 16. I was good, I was fine, I looked completely normal, even together, compared to some people I know.

And yet, I am so conflicted about money, so filled with anxiety and conflict and trepidation, I cannot balance my checkbook. I mean, I have, at times, but I won't do it consistently. I've let money languish in low-interest accounts rather than make the simple step of moving it to a higher-interest vehicle because somehow, keeping it vague is more comfortable to me that keeping it real. I stubbornly resist getting a handle on my money which, believe you me, is not the best modus operandi for anyone, much less a sole proprietor.

But I've never really understood why until today, when I read something Suze "Yes, I'm Gay!" Orman wrote in her column for the March issue of Oprah's magazine. Orman was counseling a woman who's in a relationship with a guy who sounds kind of creepy about money, and she suggests that maybe this chick should bolt, because...

When a person can't share his financial life, I question his ability to share his heart. The way we handle money is a manifestation of who we are inside, and how he approaches the subject signifies his love and respect for you.

I tell you, I almost burst into tears reading this. Because it suddenly struck me how much of my life I have lived in fear, how worthless I have often felt about myself and my abilities, how much better it felt to look somewhere, anywhere, else, to tap dance a little faster, instead of sitting in the feeling I was really having until I owned it and could move on.

I have a lot of work to do yet, but I feel like the worst of it is over. Because at least for this last stretch of uncovering myself, thanks to a freshly-out financial guru to the masses, I have some direction and a little more light to find my way...

xxx c

Image by Simon Pais via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Quotation of the Day/"Bling is Stoopit" Edition

"Beware of the "golden handcuffs." Beware of a profession that pays you so well in money that you enter into a lifestyle (house, cars, a great deal of stuff) that traps you. You may end up in a vicious cycle of trying to earn more in order to maintain the material things that give you less and less pleasure." , John December, on taking care of your money, in his eBook Live Simple

Asshole Tax

I used to call my mistakes "lessons", as in, I didn't see the "No Parking/Street Cleaning" sign and got a $35 lesson or "I waited too long to buy so-and-so a birthday gift and had to FedEx it last minute for a $40 lesson." That is, I called them lessons until I realized I would likely repeat or, in fact, had repeated my errors and wasn't learning a damned thing from them, ergo the word "lesson" was a misnomer.

"Asshole Tax," however, was right on the money.

Think about it. Essentially, you're forking over a premium (tax) on top of what you'd ordinarily pay because you: (a) did not organize your time properly; (b) remember what you shouldn't have forgotten; or (c) otherwise wantonly disregarded the plainly obvious, i.e., acted like an asshole.

It's heavy on my mind because the holidays, with their crazy time compression, are typically a time of heavy Asshole Tax Assessment for me.

Paid $4 for a bottle of water at the airport because you were too slammed for time to pick up one at the supermarket? That's a $3.40 Asshole Tax.

Buying your hosts a (crappy) $15 bottle of wine because you forgot to add one to the cart at Trader Joe's? A $5-10 Asshole Tax, depending on how skinflinty you were to begin with.

Of course, there are circumstances under which Asshole Tax is not Asshole Tax, namely, when they fall under my other-favorite financial designator, Value For Your Dollar. Like this morning, when technically I had left myself enough time for (free) street parking but was too tired to hike the four blocks to the hair salon; I paid $2.50 to park a half-block from the salon and believe you me, I got every penny's worth.

Sometimes it gets tricky to discern between the two. For instance, if I pay for takeout because I am too busy to make myself dinner (because of dietary restrictions, I almost always have to make myself dinner), I could call it Asshole Tax because I didn't plan my time properly, but I could also call it Value For My Dollar since a well-balanced meal is probably going to serve me and my intestinal health better in the long run than calling yet another fistful of cashews and cheese (my fast food) "dinner." (Believe me, those 11-day hospital stays don't come cheap.)

What's fascinating to me about the Asshole Tax/Value For Your Dollar equation is how it is not at all amount-dependent. I know I'll grumble over every cent of gift shop Asshole Tax that those pantyhose/false eyelashes/tampons I forgot to pack for my upcoming trip will cost me. But I couldn't care less about the premium I'm going to pay to park my car at the airport for six days because I'll squeeze every drop of value out blowing off Super Shuttle.

Unless, of course, I've already missed the chance to make my parking reservations at a reasonably-priced lot.

Asshole Tax, here I come...

xxx c