Sitting Pretty bids farewell

After nearly four years of blogging, I’m officially retiring Sitting Pretty. Since 2006 my posts have always first appeared over at Queercents before being published here. As life gets busier, I’m less motivated to maintain this blog for the mere sake of archiving my personal content.

If you’re still interested in following along, then you can read my posts at this link or feel free to bookmark it here:

Or better yet, just subscribe to the Queercents feed and you’ll be able to read my posts along with the growing number of Queercents writers… We’re here, we’re queer and we’re not going shopping without coupons!

Be well and prosper.

Happy ending to Fertility and Finances category

Fertility treatments: $15,600

Sperm donor and other fees: $5,000

Three IVF procedures: $34,400

Deciding to Adopt: $30,000

Becoming a parent: Priceless

Since many of you followed our story (fertility and finances) over the last couple of years, I wanted to let readers know that our darling newborn arrived on Monday. His name is Sam. We’re home now and everyone is healthy, happy and eating every three hours.

Spending $85,000 never felt better.

Photo credit: stock.xchng.

Ten Money Questions for Cooper Smith

Cooper Smith is the editor-in-chief & publisher of Gay List Daily, a snarky, but superbly useful e-zine that boasts daily editions. I’ve dubbed it the DailyCandy for homosexuals. Cooper, who leads a public relations firm in his spare time, is the master at getting the word out on all things gay.

After all, just look at his Queercents endorsement: “Did you know that when the economy is down, booze sales go up? Shake yourself a martini and log on now!” Spot on suggestion! Now, we’ve turned the spotlight around and asked for his comments on all things money. List away…

Mosey on over to Queercents to read more or catch other interviews in the Ten Money Questions archive.

Equity Line of Credit: Seek Other Financial Shelter

“As long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance.” – Charles O. Prince, III, former CEO of Citigroup

Earlier this year, the HELOC on our Newport Beach home was reduced to practically nothing and the line on one of my rental properties was suspended completely. Both notices came as a result of the decline in home values.

I could argue that our house in Newport still has equity – covering at least, if not more, than the original amount of the equity line. In order to reinstate it, we would need to hire Citibank’s exclusive appraiser (LSI) at our cost – which back then was quoted at $750. But even if I went through this whole process, Citibank could rescind the reinstated credit line at any time according to the terms of the agreement since property values continue to decline.

After I wrote those posts, the blogosphere quickly took me to school about other people’s money. While I never used these lines of credit, I considered them part of my “peace of mind” strategy. That said, it’s nearly a year later and despite the warnings, I’m still here, paying my mortgage in Newport and on my rental properties.

So when the latest “your line of credit has been suspended” letter arrived the other day, I half glanced at it - out of curiosity - and to understand the current reasons. This HELOC (for $21,000 – and never used) was on a single family home I purchased in 2002 for $136,000. Recent / comparable sales in the neighborhood are in the $180,000 to $200,000 range. I owe $101,000 on the property – I have equity. But that’s not the problem.
This time they’re placing the blame – not on declining property values – but on Lehman Brother’s:
Dear Customer,

GreenPoint Mortgage Funding, Inc. services your home equity line of credit, which was sold to Lehman Brothers, Inc. some time ago. As the servicer, GreenPoint is responsible for temporarily advancing draws against your line of credit.

Lehman Brothers’ recent bankruptcy has created a situation where GreenPoint is not being reimbursed for those draws, making it imprudent for GreenPoint to continue advancing the funds. As a result, your line of credit has been suspended.

We appreciate how well you have managed your account, and we sincerely apologize for this inconvenience.
The reckless days of lending are finally over although the letter ended with this provision:
We may still allow line advances in cases of extreme financial hardship. If you believe you qualify, or it you have any question, please contact us at…
I’m sure GreenPoint will be getting a lot of calls this week. Of course, not from me. My peace of mind is banked in other places these days. What about you? Feel free to comment over at Queercents.

Photo credit: stock.xchng.

Life Insurance: More dependents, more premium

“The only rock I know that stays steady, the only institution I know that works is the family.” – Lee Iacocca

With the birthmother due in mid-December, our baby’s arrival is just around the corner. We saw her over the long weekend and if looks are the last signal, then it could be any day now. Jeanine and I came home and blitzed the house in final preparation.

We’re geared up: Yesterday, a friend stopped over with her 7-month-old and when it came time to change her diaper we took the nursery for a trial run. Our set up worked perfectly and appears to be adequately equipped. One diaper down!

There are a few other loose ends… mostly the kind that involve paperwork. Upping our life insurance policy is one of them. When I was single, I never carried life insurance because I had enough in savings to cover the final expenses to put me in the ground.

After Jeanine and I purchased our current home, we became more financially intertwined (thus dependent on each other) and this is when we first bought life insurance policies. It was term insurance… don’t get snookered into buying whole life. After all, the purpose of life insurance is really just to keep a person financially afloat if his or her partner passes on. Life insurance is meant to buy someone time… preferable enough time to cut expenses or find another partner that would bring in the missing income. Jeanine likes to remind me that the additional income scenario sounds better to her than cutting expenses. Apparently, we are all replaceable!

Now with the baby on its way, this topic seems even more important and begs the question: how much insurance do we need? Just like with retirement calculators, there are different formulas for figuring out the right amount. Trent Hamm at The Simple Dollar writes:

If you have child dependents, though, that’s when you really need good life insurance coverage. Take out a sheet of paper, find your last Social Security benefits statement, and do this calculation: calculate 90% of your salary, subtract your dependent Social Security benefit from that, then divide that amount by 0.08. That number is roughly what you should have in life insurance if you have any dependent children.

Here’s an example. Freddy has a wife, a child, and an $85,000 a year job. His Social Security statement reveals that his dependent benefit is about $11,000 a year. So Freddy calculates 90% of his salary ($76,500), subtracts his dependent’s benefits (leaving $65,500), and divides that amount by 0.08 to get $818,750 in term life insurance.
Using Trent’s method, my calculation is three times more than the policy I currently have today. And Jeanine’s policy is half the amount that I have. We figured since I travel worldwide for my job, there is a greater risk of tragedy for me (e.g. consider the recent events in Mumbai). Jeanine dislikes talking about these matters… but I’m practical and a realist and it actually makes me feel less uneasy about the unknown knowing that we have planned properly. For Jeanine… this conversation just leads to the hebejebes.

But it’s really important to discuss and take action; especially now that we have this tiny bundle of joy completely dependent on us. Yes, we’re under insured and I’ll be calling our State Farm rep this week. That said, the amount we need is varies widely depending on the person dishing out the advice. For example, Suze Orman suggests:

Most people should get a 20-year level term policy that has a value equal to 20 times the amount of annual income your family needs to live securely.
Twenty times my annual income? Other personal finance authors say at least 8 times your annual income. So what’s the right amount? I’m curious to learn what other parents have done so please feel free to comment below.

In closing, I was searching GetRichSlowly for J.D. Roth’s take on this topic and found this guest post that came with a different reminder:

You are more likely to get sick during your working years than you are to die during the same period, so take care of that first.
So this means I should really be thinking about my disability insurance first or at least in parallel. How much disability insurance do we need? Is the offer that I get from employer enough? Probably not, since short-term disability benefits are typically better than the long-term ones. One more thing to add to the list of baby preparation… but it’s a list I’m happy to make! We are so excited about the arrival of our little dependent. Life is good… even when it requires paying for more insurance!

Photo credit: stock.xchng.

Buy Nothing Day: Spend a Day without Spending

It’s that special day of the year – the day after Thanksgiving! Some call it Black Friday. Others call it Buy Nothing Day:
Though rushing to the mall or local CrapMart the day after Thanksgiving has become trad for millions of Americans, many Americans spend Black Friday boycotting shopping altogether in protest. Buy Nothing Day — promoted since the early 1990s by the zany culture jammers at Adbusters — has become a holiday for anti-consumerist folk who enjoy taking a stand against all the shopping and spending that inevitably produces lots of debt, trash and disappointment (that American Apparel hoodie didn’t really fix the interminable gnawing feeling in your soul, now did it?)
More info can be found at the Adbusters web site:
Now in its 17th year, Buy Nothing Day is celebrated every November by environmentalists, social activists and concerned citizens in over 65 countries around the world. Over the years, Buy Nothing Day (followed by Buy Nothing Christmas) has exploded into a global movement, inspiring the world’s citizens to live more simply and buy a whole lot less.

Designed to coincide with Black Friday… the festival takes many shapes, from relaxed family outings, to free, non-commercial street parties, to politically charged public protests, credit-card cut-ups and pranks and shenanigans of all kinds. Anyone can take part provided they spend a day without spending.
I can’t think of a better way to confront the economic meltdown head-on – buy nothing! Today. And tomorrow we’ll try to buy less than we did yesterday.

I will be buying nothing today. Will you? Feel free to comment over at Queercents.

Image credit:

Happy Recession: Layoffs in the blogosphere

Because your Tumblr and Tweets, while clever, will not pay your bills.” – the folks at, creators of TypePad.

Big blogs, little blogs, straight blogs, gay blogs… apparently, the economy has taken its toll on the viability of online journalism. Thankfully, we write about money here at Queercents. Traffic is up. I wonder why.

But traffic alone isn’t an indication of a healthy business. Believe you me. As example, take The New York Times… Just this week, I read the news that one of my favorite bloggers, Marci Alboher, keeper of its Shifting Careers column at was laid off from her non-job:

Earlier this month I learned that The Times had decided to discontinue this blog. Suddenly, so many of the things I report and write about have been thrown right onto my own doorstep.

…the decision was made in response to the economic realities of the media industry, which is a polite way of saying that newspapers are in difficult financial shape.
I count Marci as a professional friend; inviting me to guest post, not once, but twice, and the only time my mother gave me an attagirl for my writing efforts. I’m sure it had more to do with seeing The New York Times logo two inches above my head than the quality of my guest posts… mom remains a hard sell with my queer content at Queercents. So thanks, Marci!

But admiration doesn’t pay the bills as Marci recently learned. And damn, that seems unfair.

Another site hit hard last week was From the editor, Grace Moon:

According to the LGBT News site the, “word came down Friday afternoon that will be shutting off all content effective immediately. Editor Grace Moon notified the staff of contributors and bloggers via e-mail on Friday afternoon. Moon said in the e-mail that the entire staff had been let go and that Friday would be her last day.”

You gotta love it when personal messages become public. Yesterday, I did indeed send out a personal email to all of the contributors of OurChart to let them know of the abrupt termination of my employment and their contributions to OC.

Almost a year ago I was hired by OurChart to be its managing editor. At the time the site, which had begun as a social networking space, was moving towards creating a more robust editorial component. I had previously worked for six years in the trenches of print, creating and managing Velvetpark Magazine. Moving from print to digital was totally illuminating. I realized that online content is actually a cacophony of live conversations that echo across the interwebs like yodelers on the Alps.
Her farewell continues on: catch it at VelvetPark or Bilerico where it seems to be the big news in queer media.

Aside from some of our favorite online personalities being forced to shift to other gigs, the real story continues to be the economy. And writers are feeling the pinch. Perhaps, it’s a good time to pick up a copy of My So-Called Freelance Life by Michelle Goodman or take SixApart up on its TypePad Journalist Bailout Program:

Hello, recently-laid-off or fearful-of-layoffs journalist! We’re Six Apart (you know us as the nice folks who make Movable Type or TypePad, which maybe you used for blogging at your old newspaper or magazine) and we want to help you.
Click over quickly, since their offer will end long before the recession. Now back to the business of Queercents. In an email exchange with the Marci mentioned above, I was bemoaning these challenging times and she replied:
“I see the quandary with Queercents. Figuring out a sustainable revenue model for these content vehicles is quite the conundrum.”
I love any writer that can pack sentences with words like quandary and conundrum. It’s just a bummer that Queercents is smack dab in the middle of it. So while I’m not announcing any layoffs there – after all, we’re all thankless volunteers – please take this time to stop by Queercents and give your favorite contributor an attaboy or attagirl or attaqueer as we prepare for our short Thanksgiving break. They all love comments. Yours truly, included.

Happy Recession. We’re all in this together!

Photo credit: stock.xchng.

Ten Money Questions for Peterson Toscano

Ex-gay survivor and queer quirky Quaker, Peterson Toscano is a theatrical performance activist. His one-person show about how he tried to de-gay himself for a number of years is now available on DVD.

As some of you might know, therapy and residential treatment programs cost money… and Peterson spent a lot of coin before moving beyond the ex-gay movement. That being said, he’s paid a price for his activism too.

Mosey on over to Queercents to read more or catch other interviews in the Ten Money Questions archive.

Review: How to Profit from the Coming Rapture

The Rapture is coming, the Rapture is coming! Oy!

This Christmas, I’ve found the perfect book for my family’s white elephant gift exchange. It’s called: How to Profit from the Coming Rapture… a snarky, how-to manual about where and when to invest when the world comes to an end. Of course, I’m the only one in my Christ-like clan that will need this advice since the gays are guaranteed (along with the Jews!) to be left behind.

Speaking of Jews, Ellis Weiner and Barbara Davilman, authors of the bestselling Yiddish with Dick and Jane, put this little investment gem together (may I call it a bible?). If you grew up in a church that thrived on “end times” storytelling, now is the time to finally profit from all those Sunday night altar calls. If you need me to explain what an “altar call” is, then you might not fully appreciate this book’s humor. And it is classified as humor… at least according to the Library of Congress Cataloging system. My family is not laughing, but they are praying for me. Why?

Because the Rapture is indeed coming! And this means only one thing to me: investment opportunities! Weiner and Davilman are here to teach us:

… how to exploit the inevitable demise of the world in order to make a tidy profit. Sure, the rivers and seas will run with blood, locusts will swarm, mountains will move all over the place, and famine will strike. But for the five billion of us left behind, the post-Rapture world will be a time of even more unique investment opportunities.
And teach they do. But first, take the test to find out if you’re ready for the Rapture? It’s a short questionnaire that quickly weeds out the Armageddon lightweights: “I’m thinking of a number between 665 and 667. What is it?”

But don’t take my word for it. I leave you with a better review of the book than I could possibly write:

A hilarious, light read marked with a snarky matter-of-fact attitude, “How to Profit from the Coming Rapture” dances carefree on the line of offensive. Throughout, our doomsday experts are either feigning seriousness and dread over what the book of Revelations foretells by remarking unabashedly how distressing, terrible, etc. it will be, or reminding us that, regardless of how ridiculous the prophecies (horses with lions’ heads and snakes’ tales, stars made of wormwood falling to the planet and one third of vaguely everything being destroyed) may sound, they must be true because they’re all actually in the Bible — and cited. So it’s not really blasphemous, just caustically mocking.
Feel free to laugh all the way to the bank. Of course, you’ll need the Mark of the Beast to open an account. But don’t fret; the book has all these important steps covered. Go forth and profit!

Giveaway Alert: I have two copies to giveaway. Head over to Queercents and tell me why you’re going to be Left Behind and I’ll select the best two comments and mail out the book. By the way, you get bonus points for naming the Anti-Christ. Hint: Madonna is not the Anti-Christ, at least not over there at that fine blog!

Image credit: How to Profit from the Coming Rapture.

When celebrities fly coach (or at least on a commercial airline).

“Come fly the Friendly Skies.” – United Airlines commercial, circa 1987

Diddy isn’t the only celebrity flying commercial these days. In the past 2 months, I’ve seen Eva Mendes, Ron Howard, Paula Abdul and Carson Kressley – either inflight or at the airport.

I think Brian Grazer was traveling with Ron Howard, but I couldn’t tell for sure. It’s a big no-no to gawk in the Admirals Club VIP lounge; but apparently he was enjoying the complimentary salad bar while bypassing me and that lovely platter of warm goat cheese crostini.

Jeanine was with me on that trip. We were returning from vacation (and my year-end mileage run) and I remember thinking, wow; times must be tough. While some might argue that Ron Howard isn’t exactly A-List, he is at least a thousand times richer than Carson Kressley (sorry, Carson!) and yet, here he was flying with the masses out of JFK. It reminds me of the time that Glenn Close had a middle seat on JetBlue!

Are all these celebs feeling the economic crunch just like the rest of us? The LA Times thinks so:

Stars really are just like us. Celebrities and other VIP types increasingly are bypassing snazzy fuel-guzzling private jets for something less glamorous, maybe even flying — can you believe it? — coach.

Sean “Diddy” Combs recently made a splash on the Internet when he waved his coach-class ticket for a video camera and greeted surprised fellow travelers on an American Airlines flight, complaining that lofty fuel costs had grounded his private jet. Combs’ publicists later said that the video was a spoof to dramatize high oil prices and that, since Combs was only a part owner, the jet was never actually grounded.

For the rest of us, the high cost of flying has wiped the smile off the friendly skies, propelling a wholesale lowering of expectations among travelers…

Even though oil is well off its record highs, bringing the U.S. average gas price for self-serve regular to about $3.05 a gallon, the average price of the high-octane fuels used by small aircraft is about $5.35 a gallon but can cost nearly $9 at some airports, according to, which provides data to help pilots plan flights.
It continues on, so click over to learn why Michelle Williams (the former Destiny’s Child member) isn’t ashamed to be flying with the people these days. Of course, they’re not all flying coach.

Eva Mendes was snuggled into a business class window seat; adequately buffered by her entourage on a direct flight from JFK to Rome until she signed autographs 30 minutes before landing. Until then, I didn’t even realize it was her…although I remember making a note to self when the skinny girl declined the warm mixed nuts. Size zeros always pass on the nuts.

I’ve been traveling for work for over a decade and I’ve seen more celebs in the last few months than in all my-road-warrior-years combined. What do you think? Is it really a sign of the times or just chance?
Feel free to comment over at Queercents.

Photo credit: stock.xchng.

Ten Money Questions for Nina Poon

Over the last 25 years, Kenneth Cole and his advertisements have been topical and relevant to our ever-changing world. His recent campaign continues to raise social awareness and the exquisite Nina Poon is front and center when it comes to this non-uniform thinking. As a transgender model, makeup artist and illustrator, she has a few things to say about money and a-wear-ness!

Mosey on over to Queercents to read more or catch other interviews in the Ten Money Questions archive.

Frequent Fliers: The Year End Mileage Run

“The glamour of the frequent-flier award has faded.” – Anonymous

Last year, I was 2,602 miles shy of Executive Platinum status on American Airlines so I did a mileage run. What’s a mileage run? Travel novice, listen up! A mileage run, as articulated by Wikipedia, is:
A paid airline trip designed solely for gaining maximum frequent flyer miles and/or points for no other reason than to gain the miles and/or points… Another common reason to take a mileage run is to (re-)qualify for an elite level. Suppose that in a particular frequent flyer program, 70,000 yearly miles are required for Platinum status. If a person calculates that his or her business travel will net them only 65,000 miles, they might be tempted to take a mileage run in order to cover the difference and re-qualify for elite status. Indeed, such requalification may very well net the person much more frequent flyer miles the following year.
Why does elite status matter? Executive Platinum is the Holy Grail for frequent flyers and provides perks and benefits that a true road-warrior can appreciate. For me personally, it was all about the eight (yes 8!) System-Wide Upgrades (VIP Upgrades) that can be used to move me from coach to business class on international flights. I have plenty of 500-mile upgrades in my account (31 to be precise), but these are valid on domestic flights only and I rarely get to use them.

What did my mileage run cost me last year?
$850 – and if you divide $850 by 14 months (I was guaranteed Executive Platinum status through the end of Feb 2009), this comes to $60.71 per month. Was it worth it? You betcha! I was able to use 7 of the 8 VIP Upgrades and believe you me… there is nothing like flying business class to Europe or Asia.

Would I do it again?
Um, I just did! This year I figured out in October (based on the rest of my work travel) that I was going to be shy about 5,000 miles in hitting elite status. So I immediately canceled an Award ticket that I had booked for our vacation to Spain (we went a couple of weeks ago) and purchased the equivalent. This cost about $1,200 and while Jeanine thought this seemed like a total waste of money, I argued again, that $1,200 divided by 14 months (since I’m now guaranteed Executive Platinum status from Jan 1, 2009 to Feb 28, 2010) equals $85.71 per month. I like to look at things as part of my monthly budget and that’s a small amount to pay for use of those 8 VIP Upgrades.

What “personal” expenses are you willing to incur in order to make your job a bit more comfortable? Feel free to comment over at Queercents.

Further Reading:

The Art of the Mileage Run
Mileage Run Turtorial

hoto credit: stock.xchng.

Ten Money Questions for David Hauslaib

David Hauslaib is the twentysomething guy behind Jossip and Queerty. While he might not have as many URLs as Nick Denton or the name recognition of Perez Hilton; he’s got youth, good looks, a proven track record and time on his side as he makes his mark on the World Wide Web. All this makes for good money fodder in this week’s Ten Money Questions.

Mosey on over to Queercents to read more or catch other interviews in the Ten Money Questions archive.

Review: The Frugal Duchess by Sharon Harvey Rosenberg

“A good home must be made, not bought.” – Joyce Maynard

The theme in Sharon Harvey Rosenberg’s first book, The Frugal Duchess: How to Live Well and Save Money is really about missed opportunity, in particular; the dream home that got away from her. This home (referred to as the Dream House throughout) is in Miami and sold for $425,000 in the mid-1990s. After a decade of double digit appreciation, it was listed in March of 2007 for $2.6M. I suspect today, Rosenberg could snatch it up for an easy $1.9M, but that’s another story.

With the foundation in place by Chapter Three, I was eager to learn if frugality had landed her in the Dream House, so I skipped to the end just to find out. Spoiler alert: She’s still in her three-bedroom apartment but writes:

No I don’t have a house, but I’ve given my children the deed on dreams, frugal living, and hard work. And with those gifts, I can live comfortably on my balcony because I already have a dream home in South Beach.
Okay, so apparently the Frugal Duchess is no Rich Dad. And I have to admit, it was a bit of a let down as I made my way back to Chapter Three. After all, what’s the point of all this frugal living if you’re still paying rent?

But then I cooled my real-estate-owning / rental-property-buying / positive-cash-flowing jets, and settled into the next several chapters. Why? As a fellow blogger, I like Rosenberg. Plus, she’s Jewish and as we all know here in Hollywood, Jews are famously accepting of the Gays. From the start, Rosenberg has been extra supportive of our efforts at Queercents. She’s always one of the first bloggers to reply back with warm words when I send out what seems to be a monthly press release. That courtesy goes a long way in my book. The least I could do was keep reading hers. And I’m glad I did… here’s why:

Her tales of grandmothers, parents and a penny-wise Aunt Norma read more like The Secret Life of Bees than a book about frugality. Rosenberg shines in her storytelling… making this more of a money memoir and easy read. She offers an authentic voice; dishing out advice for the struggling spendthrift by revealing her gravest mistakes:

It took me awhile to stop believing that some fairy, angel or magical g-dmother would sprinkle my bank account with pixie dust or leave a stack of gold bricks under my pillow while I spent the night dreaming. I wish that I could tell you that I gave up such fantasies during my twenties. But here’s the truth: I didn’t find my brain until I was 30. In fact, if I could write off any decade in my life, I would probably write off my 20s. At 18, I should have just taken a 12-year-age deficit, refinanced my youth and then fast-forwarded to 31.
That’s when I became smarter about money.
This is also the age when she married a man ten years her junior; a tidbit that rings of How Stella Got Her Groove Back (you know, that movie they’re always playing on Lifetime with Angela Bassett)? Yes, Rosenberg is all woman; and comes full circle with useful tactics to silence her shopping gene.

Because of this, I’m not exactly her target audience. I hate to shop. Perhaps it’s because a Size 10 doesn’t necessarily feel like “retail therapy” when you’re standing in front of the dressing room mirror. But Rosenberg (a Size 0) is a shopper at her core and much of the book deals with saving money and how to avoid shopping pitfalls. So if you’re a consumer, then this book is for you!

That said, I doubt Trent at The Simple Dollar is much of a shopper either; and yet he pulled out twelve of his favorite frugal tips from the book. There are a ton of lists and guides in Rosenberg’s money memoir and you will likely find a few favorites to enhance your savings plan.
For me personally, the part of her story that I could identify with most was her early career yearning to be a six-figure-salary, on-air broadcaster:
Driven by ego and money, I tried to transform myself into an anchorwoman. I took voice lessons. I bought new clothes. I found a hair dresser who could transform my hair (frizzy tight, tight curls) into a shiny straight helmet of hair. But that made-for-TV makeover didn’t really work for me. In the world of 1980s Barbie doll anchorwomen, I was a little Bratz doll – not yet ready for prime time.
It’s that age-old idea that you have to spend money to make money. Just make sure you have the money to spend in the first place. If not, then get on Rosenberg’s band wagon. She’s saving money and I suspect she’ll be in that Dream House long before the film version of the Frugal Duchess story makes its debut on Lifetime.

Final note: Typically, I give away the books that I review over at Queercents, but this one I’m sending on to Andrea Cecile. She’s writing our Turning Shoppers into Savers series (of course, it was linked to by the Frugal Duchess. Thanks Sharon!) and I think she will really enjoy this book. Perhaps, she just might pass it on when she’s finished. Why? Well, isn’t that the frugal thing to do? Enjoy!

Image credit: The Frugal Duchess.

Back to Mike: Money, Career, Transitioning and Tolerance

“There is always more to be learned about tolerance.” – Mercedes Ruehl, commenting on her Lifetime movie role as the mother of a transgender child

Before Queercents, I had never interacted with anyone from the transgender community. Perhaps, it’s just a by-product of living in a conservative area like Orange County, CA. Jeanine and I used to see a transgender woman walking regularly around the Back Bay, a nature preserve near our home. Once, I saw her waiting for take out at our favorite Mexican restaurant and I considered introducing myself. But then I couldn’t think of an appropriate next line after telling her my name. As you might suspect, I never was the one picking up others in my bar-going days. I always needed a friend to provide an introduction.

Queercents has actually taken on the role of friend doing introductions for me and even though I still haven’t met anyone face-to-face in the trans community; I’ve done plenty of interviews and feel like I have a better understanding of our brothers and sisters in the trans world. E.g. Donna Rose, Jamison Green, Alexandra Billings, Jennifer Boylan and next Friday (11/15), I’ll post an interview with Nina Poon – the model in the Kenneth Cole ads.

What I’ve learned from these interviews (and now from Ashley Wilson’s posts), is that coming out as a transgender person often times has a much greater impact on one’s finances than coming out as a gay person. In a way, it seems like the workplace treats the trans community today much like the treatment of the gay community thirty years ago. In the words of Jamison Green, employment issues are still a challenge for many:

I’ve met scores of highly educated, otherwise successful people who have either lost everything when they couldn’t retain their employment or find a new job once their transness became known, or who have limited themselves and avoided opportunities because of their own fear of confronting the world as a transgender person.
Or as Donna Rose explained to me why under-employment is still a significant issue facing transgender people:
It’s actually a very simple answer. Discrimination. Transgender people often make others uncomfortable so they’re not given opportunities to do jobs they’re well qualified to do.

Our society has expectations for men and women – how they look, act, and are supposed to “be” - and it doesn’t treat ambiguity in that regard kindly. Often, transgender people necessarily challenge that binary and have difficulty fitting into these neat little molds. This often manifests itself in unfortunate decisions that are made when it comes to hiring or retaining qualified talent.

I have many friends who held significant corporate roles prior to announcing their transition who ended up unemployed for many months to several years afterwards… In order to make ends meet many of us find ourselves forced to take jobs (if we can get them) that are significantly below our skill level, at a significant reduction in pay. The impact that this has, not only on our ability to pay our bills but on our overall psyche, is often devastating.
Knowing this, I was pleasantly surprised back in April 2007 when the Los Angeles Times was incredibly supportive about the transition of one of their own: Mike Penner, a well-know sportswriter, made a very public transition to Christine Daniels. She had positive things to say about her employer and taking on the role of spokesperson for the trans movement:
Yes, I was prepared for it, and it has come to pass. I am fine with it. I believe this is my calling — to help provide some sorely needed education about a natural but vastly misunderstood condition. I believe I was born trans and reached this life intersection for a reason — I am a high-profile writer already working within the “testosterone sports culture,” I have communications skills, I have a powerful platform at the Times with which I can help disseminate an important message that is long overdue.
Fast forward to today. Christine is back as Mike. Helen Boyd of My Husband Betty fame writes:

As far as I know, this is the most famous person to de-transition I’ve ever heard of, and it’s surely going to cause additional confusion to people who are just starting to get why people transition in the first place. So - why do people de-transition? I’ve met people who did because they couldn’t find a job as a female, especially if/when there were dependents in the picture. Others realize they weren’t transsexual - and that is the point of RLT, after all, & that means it’s working.

Joe Moag at the though brings up an great point about work:

I think the story here is a happy one. Mike went through whatever Mike needed to go through to try and do what we all need to try and do: become a happier, healthier human being. That voyage took Mike to Christine, and now has taken him back to Mike. All the while, the L.A. Times accepted him, paid him, employed him, and supported him. No one came unglued (oh, I am sure that Right-Wing Fundamentalists all over the place came unglued, but those assholes come unglued if it rains, so who gives a fuck?), and Mike was allowed to take his voyage on his terms. He did his job, he did it well, and he didn’t get fired or hassled.
So kudos to the Los Angeles Times for accepting, paying, employing and supporting both Mike and Christine. And all the while, Times readers haven’t skipped a beat. More companies should take note. I’ll end today’s post with the hopeful words of Donna Rose and how we can continue to promote change in the workplace:
Education. Gradual cultural acceptance. Continued visibility. Persistence. All are important to spotlight what is happening and to lower the barriers of discomfort that prevent many of us from realizing our career potential as transgender individuals.
As usual, your thoughts on this topic are welcomed over at Queercents in the comments section.

Ten Money Questions for Cathy Renna

Renna Communications provides communications strategies to organizations who are working to change the world for the better (and many of these happen to be LGBT advocacy groups).

Cathy Renna is a managing partner along with Leah McElrath Renna, her partner in business and in life. Together, they juggle a busy schedule with a young child and relatively young company and all this makes for interesting communication about money.

Mosey on over to Queercents to read more or catch other interviews in the Ten Money Questions archive.

Ten Money Questions for Alan Cumming

The many faces of Alan Cumming include film and Tony Award-winning stage credits. Of course, on television, he appeared in Sex and the City and The L Word. He also directs, produces, and writes films and plays.

He has earned his living in a variety of creative ways and as we learn below, he has always lived within his means. Step aside, Suze Orman; we have Alan Cumming dishing out a few financial truths!

Mosey on over to Queercents to read more or catch other interviews in the Ten Money Questions archive.

Needs vs. Wants: Having money to throw around…

Recently, Lauren at Feministe, one of the oldest feminist blogs, mentioned Queercents in her weekend roundup. She writes:
SINCE I’M BROKE and the economy has been tanking I’ve been perusing a lot of economics blogs. One of my new favorites is Queer Cents, a blog that talks money management with a focus on and around the queer community. Pros: posts on topics such as how to buy dresses when you look like a man, ways to avoid medical bankruptcy, and how to write letters to fix your credit report. Cons: many of the writers assume you have money to throw around in the first place. Still, great advice and worthy of the blogroll.
First, we blow big queer kisses to her for linking to us. The subscribers to our RSS feed jumped because of it. Apparently, feminists like their Google Reader. Mwah! Second, let’s talk about what she doesn’t like and how we can fix that. (Hint: this is a nice opportunity for our readers to weigh in with their thoughts about how we can make Queercents better!) “Cons: many of the writers assume you have money to throw around in the first place.”

I think this brings up a really interesting point. I recently listened to a free podcast from iTunes U (downloads from iTunes U are my favorite things to listen to on my morning run). It was a lecture at Griffith University by Cathy McGuane called Money: It is not what you make, but how you manage it that counts. Her topic was the typical women & money pitch, but she said something that I thought was really interesting:

Perceived needs change with income.
I got to thinking about it and yes, my perceived needs are different than Elizabeth’s or Melissa’s needs. Elizabeth is in college and Melissa is in her first job and budgeting for student loan payments. Another example: Paula and I are both Gen X, our experiences are very different at the moment – she made the jump last year from a corporate job to business owner. I’m still schlepping for a paycheck and have a kid on the way. Or consider Roland. He appears loaded! And after trying retirement for about two minutes, he went back to work for what sounds like something to do and not to necessarily make money.

We are different ages and income levels, but we all have money to “throw around” because we’re living within our means. Or at least trying to wind up with more money at the end of the month than we had at the beginning. And not less.

Achieving this objective comes in various forms – depending on the perceived needs of the contributing writer. So while, John and Aundi, might be taking a break from their careers to go back to school, their needs are completely different than the needs of Jennifer and Ashley. Queercents has a bunch of unique writers… all with distinct money voices.

That said, Trent at The Simple Dollar has a fantastic post about needs vs. wants because even our perception of needs sometimes could use a refresh. In a nutshell:

What do I actually need in life?

I need a roof over my head.

I need food and water.

I need clothing.
I need a means to earn a living to pay for the needs.
My wife needs a means to earn a living.

I need basic hygiene and health, as does my family.
I need to protect my family against my demise.

Everything else is a want.
It’s worth clicking over to get the skinny on each of his points. After dividing all his spending into needs and wants; his conclusion:
When I did this, I realized that the majority of our spending was on things that were merely things I wanted. Looking at those wants with a more critical eye - eliminating some and putting a bit more focus on the things most important to me - led me to making some cuts in my spending that I might have otherwise just assumed as a given. That’s made a big change in my spending choices - and has put some cash right back in my pocket.
And at Queercents, we all earn different amounts in our jobs or entrepreneurial pursuits but hopefully, our posts reflect that having money to “throw around” – whatever that amount might be – is really based on spending less than you make.

Photo credit: stock.xchng.

Review of My So-Called Freelance Life

“Contrary to popular opinion, the hustle is not a new dance step – it’s an old business procedure.” – Fran Lebowitz, The Observer, 1979

I love books published by Seal Press. Take a glance at just a few of their titles (e.g. Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex after Sixty and Labor of Love: The Story of One Man’s Extraordinary Pregnancy) and you’ll see their readers are looking for an edgier take on a number of topics.

Their “Career & Business” books offer the same frank discussion when it comes to self-improvement in our work lives. I’ve often thought about sending them my book proposal, loosely based on my Sleeping With Money posts, but alas, this would mean I’d actually have to finish the book proposal. As you might suspect, my so-called freelance writing life has not quite materialized. But there’s help for those who dream about making a living by pursuing creative work.

It comes in the form of My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire by Michelle Goodman. I was introduced to Goodman when I interviewed her last year at BlogHer just after the release of her first book, The Anti-9-to5 Guide. She’s what I’d call a cube-fleeing rock star. A woman that carved out a life (translation: makes a respectable living!) by turning her freelance dreams into a reality. And she’s been doing this for over 15 years.

By the way, she looks about 35. Or maybe 37. Why is this relevant? Well, I know tons of women in their late forties and fifties who were pushed out of corporate America and they sort of were forced to start a “consulting” business. But Michelle chose to leave. And she did it early on in her career. She’s made the freelance life work for her and all the mistakes made in her twenties are what make her an expert today.
Goodman’s book is broken into three sections with flashy titles and chapters, but in the end it really just boils down to how you can achieve these goals:
Be true to yourself. Work when and how and with whom you want. Treat your clients well. Charge what you’re worth. Keep setting new goals for yourself. Branch out into new niches. Learn new tricks and acquire new skills. Plant your ass in the chair and make time to refine your craft. Read interviews with your career heroes. Follow the news of your field. Take classes on anything that excites you. Go to book readings, art exhibits, rock shows or whatever else inspires you. Rub elbows with like-minded indie professionals at happy hours and conferences. Encourage, cajole, and collaborate. Celebrate your wins. Learn from your defeats, but don’t dwell on them. And above all, remember to have fun.
What I like best about the book is that its foundation is based on money. Goodman calls it the craft plus commerce concept. And let’s face it; if your freelance activities aren’t making you money, then it’s really more like volunteering. And jeez, take if from me: I’m the poster child for volunteering outside the day job. Umm, has anyone noticed we’re all volunteers here at Queercents? But this is the difference (at least for me): I don’t really mind the “cube” I sit in everyday. My career has been good to me. And Queercents has been a wonderful creative outlet that makes me feel like I’m helping people in the LGBT community. That’s currency I don’t earn in my day job. So my “freelancing” serves what I want to get out of it at the moment. But many people feel differently and want to make the break from their day jobs.

Take our own, Paula Gregorowicz as an example. She left her corporate IT job last year and has chronicled the journey in many of her posts: From starting her own business to dealing with self-employment taxes to learning how to maintain boundaries with her freelance schedule. She’s what I’d call Goodman’s target audience.

That said, even I can apply a lot of Goodman’s advice to my Queercents pursuits. Like when she said, “You need to give yourself a promotion every now and then. Because if you don’t, who will?” Amen, sister! Every now and then, I need to step back and look at how I’m spending those ten hours “freelancing” every weekend on Queercents. I’m certain though Goodman isn’t complaining that some of those hours were spent on writing this book review. Time well spent, reading and writing it, I have to admit. So if any of this is speaking to you, then buy the book!

I’m giving away my review copy to the best comment in the comments section over at Queercents (please don
t comment below). By the way, it’s worthwhile to note that just because Seal Press and Goodman’s book is billed as advice for women, well… don’t let this scare away the men. It’s relevant information for everyone and the “gender-specific” stuff is just marketing. So boys and girls, feel free to leave your comments!

Photo credit: Goodman’s blog.

Ten Money Questions for Barbara Raab

Many of us only dream about taking a leave of absence from work, but Barbara Raab turned reverie into reality. She’s on a 9-month sabbatical from her job as a senior newswriter and editor at NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams.

What is she doing during this self-imposed time-out? She’s teaching at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. Most people cannot take a career break without considering its financial ramifications and these thoughts are the source of this week’s interview.

Mosey on over to Queercents to read more or catch other interviews in the Ten Money Questions archive.

Illness or Injury: 4 Ways to Avoid Medical Bankruptcy

“If the debtor be insolvent to serve creditors, let his body be cut in pieces on the third market day. It may be cut into more or fewer pieces with impunity. Or, if his creditors consent to it, let him be sold to foreigners beyond the Tiber.” – Twelve Tables, Table III, 6 (ca. 450 B.C.), Ancient Rome

History has rarely been kind to debtors. Personally, I have never felt much sympathy towards the bankrupt: especially those that have Maxed Out their credit cards and lived well beyond their means. But the more I learn about the bankruptcy epidemic (Obama intends to amend the bankruptcy bill signed by Bush in 2005); it’s hard to remain indifferent to the stories.

Until recently, I had always thought that the majority of filers for bankruptcy were deadbeats, but one study noted that more than 25 percent of the respondents cited illness or injury as a specific reason for bankruptcy. Other research has shown the number to be much higher: up to half said that illness or medical bills drove them to bankruptcy.

Let’s take breast cancer as the example. The New York Times found that women lost, on average, more than a quarter of their typical income during the first 12 months after their diagnosis:

Among the many challenges women with breast cancer face, here’s one most people don’t pay attention to: a smaller paycheck… One of the factors affecting lost wages was whether the patient lived close to the treatment center. Women were more likely to suffer large wage losses if they lived farther from the hospital where they underwent treatment. Whether a woman required chemotherapy also affected her income. Women with less education, more serious disease or less social support or those who were self-employed, worked part-time or were recently hired at their current job were the most vulnerable.
Long work absences or ultimately losing one’s job because of an illness is a common theme among those undergoing bankruptcy. According to the Washington Post, the problem is in the health care finance system and in chronic debates about reforming it:
1. Health insurance isn’t an on-off switch, giving full protection to everyone who has it. There is real coverage and there is faux coverage. Policies that can be canceled when you need them most are often useless… We need to talk about quality, durable coverage, not just about how to get more names listed on nearly-useless insurance policies.

2. The link between jobs and health insurance is strained beyond the breaking point. A harsh fact of life in America is that illness leads to job loss, and that can mean a double kick when people lose their insurance. Promising them high-priced coverage through COBRA is meaningless if they can’t afford to pay. Comprehensive health insurance is the only real solution, not just for the poor but for middle-class Americans as well.
But politics aside, there are four ways that people can avoid bankruptcy:
  • Sell everything
  • Work more
  • Reorganize your debt
  • Contact your creditors
Jeez, now those are helpful options when you’re sick. That said, there are four things you can do in a “preventive” way to protect yourself in case of illness:
  • Make sure your health insurance is in order.
  • Create a personal health savings account.
  • Create a backup to your emergency fund. I call this the catastrophic fund: access to cash in the case of long term illness that might result in a job loss. I used to consider my HELOC to be my catastrophic fund… unfortunately, no longer. Now if I depleted all my cash, savings and liquid investments, I’d have to sell off assets or cash out my retirement accounts. The HELOC was intended to buy me time.
  • Live healthy. One of the best ways to avoid the risk of ever facing bankruptcy is to simply be healthy.
Did you find your way here because you’re already in bankruptcy? Here are a few answers to the likely questions. And for those who are healthy, what measures have you put in place to protect against the financial stresses of a long term illness? Please feel free to comment over at Queercents.

Photo credit: stock.xchng.

Ten Money Questions for Kate Barnhart

MCCNY’s Homeless Youth Services provides emergency shelter to homeless LGBTQ youth in New York City. Kate Barnhart is the shelter director and works tirelessly by providing services such as food, clothing, mental health counseling, HIV prevention, and help with a variety of job and school needs.

Many of us think of money in terms of wants, but Kate deals in the context of needs - day in and day out. Mosey on over to Queercents and read her unique perspective to this week’s Ten Money Questions.

Are you being tossed by a fiscal storm?

“A collapse in U.S. stock prices certainly would cause a lot of white knuckles on Wall Street. But what effect would it have on the broader U.S. economy? If Wall Street crashes, does Main Street follow? Not necessarily.” – Ben Bernanke

A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times offered six interviews with New Yorkers Tossed By a Fiscal Storm:

A small-business owner in Brooklyn worries about making the payroll. A homeowner in Queens faces foreclosure. A suburban stay-at-home mother cuts back on luxuries. A retiree watches rent, food and cable bills rise while her income stays flat. An aspiring musician chooses between recording fees and a trip to see his family at Christmas. A head of a nonprofit group sees grants disappear.
In the print version, the vignettes were just pictures and captions… the online version had the full story. The story about the struggling musician emphasizes how interdependent our economy is in most cities. His primary source of income comes from bartending and he noted:
What I can see from last year to this year is that the season is definitely slower. I’m making less money because less people are going out. And when they go out, they spend less than what they used to. I’ve been doing the same, I’ve been having friends together in my house, to drink bottles of wine, instead of going out to bars. It’s kind of like a chain. I make less money, and I stop going out too.
The domino effect: Whenever I travel for work and jump in a taxi, I always ask the driver how business is in their city. In the past couple of months, I’ve been in taxis from San Francisco to Silicon Valley, New York City to Kansas City and of course, I typically take one back and forth from my house to the airport in Orange County. They all are saying the same thing. Business is slow. This summer their primary complaint focused on people staying home and not taking vacations. Now the cabbies are all saying that the business people are cutting back too. One guy told me that he works four days just to earn enough money to pay the cab company for the right to drive the cab. The fifth day is what he takes home.

So what’s he doing to make up the difference? He’s working six and seven days. And when he’s working, he’s not out spending money with his family on the weekends. He said, “That’s not good for the economy either. It’s a vicious cycle.” He also is considering working the night shift, because about the only thing that hasn’t changed with this economy: people are still getting drunk. Paula at Queercents already covered this nicely in her post, Economy is Down but Booze Sales are Up. Although I remember chatting up a cabbie in Las Vegas back in 2006 and while people were still partying in Vegas, he was already moaning about how gas prices had impacted his margins.

The New York Times article gives a pretty good cross section of the population in New York, but what’s the experience in other parts of the country. I’d love to hear from our readers in places like Dallas, Chicago, and Cincinnati. Of course, if you live on one coast or the other, in a big city or small… we’d love to hear your stories too (over at Queercents, of course). How are you weathering the fiscal storm?

Photo credit: stock.xchng.