Logan Sachon: Okay Edith. You have put together a Kindle Serial that drops (“drops”) today called An Experience Definitely Worth Allegedly Having: Travel Stories from The Hairpin. I just purchased it for $1.99 and an essay from Carrie Frye was sent to my phone. To confirm: I’ll get a new essay every … week? For eight weeks? And I won’t get charged again?
Edith Zimmerman: Right, $1.99 buys the whole thing.
LS: WHAT A DEAL. And you wrote one of them?
EZ: Hahaha, yes.
LS: It just gets better. And one more question: The writers, did they get paid?
EZ: Yes, although actually they have not yet gotten the money. They will also get a percentage of the sales. I am figuring how to most conveniently send it all in one bundle. I might not be doing the most amazing job. But yes, they will get paid.
LS: This really is too good to be true. (faces the camera) You, too, can purchase two months of travel writing for the low low price of $1.99: All you have to do is click this link and then click “Buy now with 1-click” and then you send it to your phone or your laptop or your tablet or your Kindle or whatever! And then next week you get another essay automatically! THE FUTURE IS NOW. Also there is a companion tumblr that actually adds to the experience of reading the essays with pictures and further details. Incredible deal. Incredible value.
And now please enjoy this email conversation that Edith and I had about her money.
LS: So you recently quit your job as editor of The Hairpin without really having another job, though you do a lot of freelance things. I am interested in the difference in your behavior re: money when you have a regular paycheck versus when you are living on freelance income.
EZ: Hmm. I’m not sure there is much difference. I’ve been stumbling over this question for a few days.
Maybe the difference isn’t so much between regular vs. freelance, but between how I behave when there’s not quite enough money vs. when there’s a little bit more than enough, which doesn’t really match up with regular/freelance paychecks. I don’t know, it’s strange!
I mean, I guess I’m bad with money. People in my family might be ashamed of me or frustrated if they knew some of the details. But I’m also okay, because it’s bad in not-too-horrible ways. Maybe I’m enjoying being bad with money after trying to be “good” with money for most of my life, although oddly I’m officially in the black now, whereas I was mildly in the red when I was “good.” I don’t know. I guess I’d like to believe I’ve earned the ability to be frivolous for a few months, because for the first time I made more than I spent and saved a bit of it, but it feels weird. And then once that’s over, I don’t know what I’ll do. But I have some faith that maybe it’s not entirely frivolous, and something interesting will come out of it. Or not. This is off to a fun start!!!
LS: What do you spend your money on?
EZ: Rent, utilities, alcohol, dinners out … hmm, random huge expenses. Travel, that’s a big one. Occasional furniture and linens. Cabs. I just got fancy glasses. Oh, and Seamless, oh my god. iTunes. I just ordered a Nespresso machine off eBay. It is amazing.
LS: What DON’T you spend money on?
EZ: Clothes. I mean, I do buy clothes, so that’s basically not true, but I don’t buy a lot of them. I’m also trying to cut down on bathroom products—makeup, shampoo, etc. Also I don’t have car expenses, since I don’t have one anymore (and haven’t for years). I don’t ride the subway that much anymore. I don’t buy a lot of groceries, but I hope to again soon. I also don’t go to a lot of movies or shows.
LS: How do rich people make you feel? Can you hang with rich people, what are you like when you do?
EZ: I love rich people! Haha. That feels like a strange thing to say. But I’m curious about rich people. How they got that way, etc. But I’m probably rich, I guess, depending on the definition of rich for this question. But I’m in a loosely top-ish bracket, although that’s only because my dad died a few years ago and I inherited things of his that maybe make me technically rich, depending on what you mean, and I don’t have dependents. But there are so many tiers of rich, and I am wayyyy far away from the crazy ones. But yeah, rich people. I don’t think I really know how to answer this question. Or, I can, but I would go on forever. Like for instance I think there’s a certain kind of potential for emotional poverty created by certain kinds of financial wealth, but that’s also obvious, and I have now already irritated myself. But I think it’s hard for super-rich people to give their kids certain kinds of opportunities to feel like they’ve earned things on their own, sometimes, maybe, or maybe it’s not, and the super-super rich are just so amazing at everything that they’re even amazing at those things. Should I delete this? I don’t know.
LS: When did you start being responsible for your own money?
EZ: I don’t know. In some ways, I might be more irresponsible now than I was during college, when I had my first credit card, with a $100 limit, and I was so careful to never go over and always pay on time and in full. Not that I go over now, but I don’t think as hard about purchases, because I know I have more than I’m spending (and I pay it all off each month). Also I’m lucky to have the cushion of the inherited money. Knowing it’s there obviously changes my mentality and makes it easier to take risks.
It’s hard talking about this, because financial situations are almost monarchic. Like, it’s not about the quality of your character, it’s a lot about the situation you were born into. But like if I could have my dad back I would obviously exchange the money I inherited. Just kidding, I love the money! No, that joke was really sad. I miss my dad every day. I wish he could have seen any of this. When I was in college, he co-signed my first credit card, the $100 limit one, and I wanted to buy this kind of … ahh, I hope this isn’t too weird, but a kind of mildly racy thing, and I was scared that the receipt or whatever, statement, would also go to him, so I asked him some seemingly breezy question, and he laughed at me, nicely, and was like, ‘No hotshot, you can buy whatever; I won’t see it.’
LS: Do you give money to people on the street or the train ever? WHY OR WHY NOT.
EZ: Not recently. And not on the train. I don’t know. Do you? I feel like I stopped giving (or never gave?) on the train after reading the signs that said to not give on the train, and I let the signs make me feel like “phew,” sort of an absolution, and I now feel shitty acknowledging this. Fuck, Logan, ask easier questions. I don’t know.
LS: I think there’s some misconceptions about how much money the sites bring in, and how much money there is to share with writers. On my site, the answer is, not much and not much! Which is a very easy answer. But it’s different for all of them.
Your site was older and more established, and also Young Women are a really sexy demo for advertisers, so I understand you were in a slightly different position. Also: Your site started with a sponsor and a chunk of money. But would you talk a little bit about how you chose to allocate the money you got from the Hairpin? Also was the money regular? Or did it vary?
EZ: Yeahhhh. This question makes me anxious. There’s so much to say about it, but I’m not sure the pros and cons of spelling all of it out. It’s a mess. But it’s not a bad mess. And it’s getting better! I think. Basically, The Hairpin started out in large part because of a financial package from an advertiser, then it started doing okay on its own, which was great, but at no point while I was the editor did it make enough profit that I thought I could pay all the contributors (beyond the co-editors) amounts that I thought would be meaningful. But I did try to pay people with other kinds of seemingly meaningful compensation—emotional satisfaction, fun, visibility—although I realize that’s also a cutesy way of rationalizing not paying people. I wrote and deleted a bunch more things here. I don’t know.
Checks were predictable for the first few months, and then they varied pretty wildly ever since. Although that was actually pretty addicting and exciting.
LS: Do you use credit cards? Have you ever gotten into trouble with them?
EZ: I love credit cards, and no, I fortunately have not gotten into trouble with them. Yet.
LS: Do you have other debt?
EZ: I don’t. I’m lucky. I paid for college with money my grandmother left me, and there was a little leftover from that to dip into when I when I wanted a car (used, $8K), and when I wanted to move (like $10K, all told).
LS: Tell me about saving money – do you do it, how do you it, why do you do it.
EZ: Yes, but it’s kind of accidental. Before The Hairpin I never did, because I didn’t make enough, but then with The Hairpin I was sitting at home a lot, so I didn’t really have that many opportunities to spend too much of it, and it started to become this little pile. And becoming a person who could accrue money in her checking was insane and amazing, but it wasn’t because of a plan.
LS: You travel a lot. How do you pay for that?
EZ: With whatever my regular money is, I guess. Also frequent flier miles, sometimes. But I don’t really think about where travel money comes from specifically. But travel is a priority for me, so I don’t mind spending most or all of my money on it. I like that saying about how you can usually get money back, but you can never get time or phases of your life back. And now is a very travel-friendly one, for me, and I want to drive it into the ground. With travel.
LS: Do you spend money at the airport? On what.
EZ: Yes! Wine and nuts.
LS: Do you ever think about retirement and The Future? Plan for it?
EZ: No. Yes. No? I don’t know. As I mentioned, I have part of my dad’s retirement, and I have a Roth IRA that I started a couple years ago. I also technically have a microscopic 401(K) from a much-earlier job that I get paperwork for every now and then. Ughhh.
LS: When you were thinking it was time to move on, did you have any financial stipulations for yourself? Like, I’ll only do it once I have [x] in the bank, etc.?
EZ: There were no concrete numbers, but I knew I had enough for at least 6 months.
LS: Have you done math and figured out how long you can live without another job?
EZ: Nope! Ahhh when will this interview end!!
Just kidding, I am enjoying it, although it is unexpectedly hard and a little painful.
LS: Is owning property important to you? I feel like that’s something that maybe for our parents’ generation was a pretty universal goal, and for ours it’s not so much.
EZ: Yes, I think I’d like to. Although I do also like feeling light, or the feeling of owning almost nothing. Of not being owned by it in return. Etc., spacey-feely. Or choosing carefully what to own, because maybe inherently everything you own owns you back. But no, I do like the idea of owning property. But not too much, or too big. Also, then I could rent it. I say this now, at least. Perhaps, I will soon want a palace. Or maybe I can be the person who spurs a New York Times Styles or Real Estate trend column about people who buy swimming pools before they buy homes. “She lives in a swimming pool.”
LS: Can you remember any specific lessons either of your parents really tried to teach you about money? Or anything you learned from example?
EZ: The only things that come to mind are my dad emphasizing that I should always pay my credit card bill on time, and my mom impressing on me that it was ludicrous to pay for overpriced snacks at the cinema, so we’d always bring like a little sack of raisins with us when we went. But I guess that backfired because now I’m happy to spend stupid amounts of money on in-venue snacks. I am sorry, Mom!
LS: Do you think you’ll ever get a job where you have to be somewhere at a specific time and place ever again? Why or why not?
EZ: I hope so. I like challenges more than anything, and I would love to be part of something that involved … whatever it involved, and I can see it involving specific times and places! I’m kind of a fuckup at the moment. Left to my own devices I’m not sure I’m as good a version of myself as I am when other people are encouraging or demanding things of me. Not that they’re not right now, and maybe that’s an obvious and universal fact. Maybe I just need to pull myself together.
LS: What’s the last thing you spent a lot of money on that pissed you off?
EZ: Pissed about? Hmm. I’ve bought a few plane and train tickets that I just didn’t show up for in the past year, but I’m more embarrassed about that than pissed. I was pissed that I spent $215 on a plumbing procedure last year; my super had spent an hour trying to fix my toilet (free, and a contractual obligation), but he only somehow made it more broken, and then didn’t come back to fix it (admittedly I could have pressed harder, but I didn’t), so I was like, fine, I’ll just find an actual plumber on my own. But my super is good-looking, so it was nice to see him anyway, although it’s weird to have an attractive person all up in your toilet for so long.
LS: And the last thing you felt good about?
EZ: My glasses. I spent like $700 on exam, frames, and contact lenses. I love them.
LS: They are really good glasses. Last question: Do you negotiate with your freelance rates? Do you have an idea now about what your time’s worth, and you won’t go below that?
EZ: No, it depends on the publication. I guess I have a general middle (median?) number, but for certain places I’d try to get it higher, and for others lower. Or zero. Because it’s never just selling your words, it’s placing them, researching them, and all that other stuff. You heard it here first!
Edith Zimmerman lives in New York.