Thursday, December 20, 2007

Airhead vs Workaholic: What I Learned about Money from Writing a Book

After over 25 years of writing about Wall Street, investments and personal finance, I thought I knew a lot about money. After 40 years of writing, I thought I knew a lot about words. And finally, after 49 years of living, I thought I knew a lot about life.

Ha! I've had a crash course on finance, writing and life while writing my book The Frugal Duchess of South Beach: How to Live Well and Save Money Anywhere You Live: which will be out from DPL Press next May. (Pre-orders are available at and and other outlets.) Fellow bloggers please contact me for a free review copy.

Here's what I learned:

1. Value the 3-Ps: Persistence, Perspiration and Patience. There's a great scene in a recent episode on Ugly Betty when Amanda Tanen, (a wannabe magazine writer) is under deadline pressure to write a magazine feature. Instead of working up a sweat to hammer out copy, she airily waits for inspiration to strike. Bad move: Her debut magazine piece is a disaster.

The Lesson: Writing, investing and living are hard work. The formula translates into about 10 percent inspiration, with the 3-Ps representing the other 90 percent of success. To deliver a manuscript on time, I had to sit down every day and hammer out copy. I made a schedule and stuck to it. Saving, investing and earning money works the same way. It's a daily commitment to follow a budget, track my money and save.

I've also learned to be patient. Writers and investors need patience to outlast difficulties. Sometimes the return in investment takes years to show up.

2. Create an outline: Budgets, investment strategies and chapter outlines provide a frame for dreams. One of my best friends used to preach this mantra: People don't plan to fail, but rather fail to plan. That advice applies to family trips, a stock portfolio or a novel.

The Lesson: An outline or a budget is like a road map. Of course, you can take detours or alternate routes, but it's very liberating to move with a sense of direction and a clear destination.

3. Know yourself. Confession # 1: I am an airhead. I am a dreamer. I am a space cadet. Left to my own devices, I would probably read romance novels and watch the clouds over the ocean from a cast iron chair on my porch. Confession # 2: I'm a workaholic. Left to my own devices, I will work around the clock. My longest work sprint was about 38-40 nonstop-hours ( I lost track) with a short break for my daughter's birthday party. I owed the Miami Herald a cover story on Kosher restaurants in Miami and I was behind schedule. The story came out fine, but I felt like an overcooked hen.

As you can see, the battle between The Inner Airhead vs The Workaholic is not pretty. I could easily shift from periods of total inaction to non-stop typing marathons.

The Lesson: I've learned to rely on schedules, calendars and to-do lists to strike a comfortable balance between work & rest. This planning stage works best when I organize the upcoming day during the night before. I try to apply the same forces of moderation to our family budget.

4. Find the Bottom Line: Successful writing episodes occurred when I kept my hands on the keyboard and my bottom in a chair. It was that simple. That was my bottom line exercise.

The Lesson: Every situation has a bottom line: If I want to go on a cruise for my 50th birthday (OMG! Next July!), I'll have to save X-amount of dollars between now and then. If I want to buy season tickets for me and my boys to see Miami Heat games, I'll have to save. Other savings goals, college tuition bills, retirement and the house of my dreams, also have bottom lines.

5. Network: Through networking, I was able to create and deliver a book. One summer at the Southampton College Writers Conference, my roommate was Donna Jarrell, co-author of Scoot over Skinny, a great anthology about being fat. (It's a great read!) Donna introduced me to her agent Bob Mecoy,( Bob Mecoy Literary Agency) who provided wonderful insights about my book.
Instead of writing a how-to book, Bob suggested that I combine my Miami Herald columns with a narrative. I took his advice on that matter and others. It was a good formula and allowed me to mix finance with stories about my family. My vault of family tales, includes portraits of my unusual grandmothers, hard-working women from the South, who left their husbands and children for assorted reasons.

One grandmother was a classic mixed-race, upper-middle class Southern belle, who became a maid after she left her husband and children. My other grandmother was also a maid, but she was really a pulpit preacher with her own church in Philadelphia. Both my grandmothers had a huge impact on my views of life, marriage and money. I discovered my roots (emotional and historical) while writing The Frugal Duchess of South Beach.

The Lesson: In business and creative circles, networking is valuable. I've learned important lessons in finance, strategic planning and writing by listening to others, including distant whispers from my grandmothers. What's more, networking is a two-way street. It's important to give back in the form of information, recognition and gratitude.
Previous Posts
Wait 'Til January & Other Great Last-Minute Shopping Tips
Free Online Typing Drills: 10 Frugal Business & Craft Classes
Frugal & Green Rx for Post-Holiday Cabin Fever




Anonymous said...

I hope your book is a smashing success.

Frugal Duchess said...

Sunny daydream:
Thank you. Thank you for those kind words.
Warm Regards,

Anonymous said...

Duchess- LOVE your blog and writing -- you're pleasant, down-to-earth and thoughtful. As a professional organizer new to Miami, frugal and simple living writing is very much up my alley professionally and personally.

ALSO, if you like the Heat, you can get some mighty good deals this season (my husband works for them so I have a bit of an inside track). I advise you to call the sales office and see what they can work out for you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this.

I am another airhead-workaholic, mom, lawyer, writer, and feeling particularly useless as I ride out financial disaster --- plus over 50.

Somehow, your post revived a glimmer of hope.

Best luck with your book, and when I have money again I will buy a copy.

Shannon @ Ace Cash Express said...

I like setting realistic and tangible goals myself. Some people just like to save and save, which is good but for those who are not inherently frugal, setting a fixed amount to save per week is easier. Kinda like a reverse budgeting scheme, anyway it really works for me so I hope it does for you too!