Monday, August 5, 2013

Selling Cold Water on a Cloudy Day: My Fascination with Making Money

Starting Out

When I was about 11 or 12, I was inspired to start a lemonade stand. The concept was motivated either from a commercial or a show on Nickelodeon. It was intoxicating how one could make a few extra bucks using things laying around the house! All I wanted was to buy the next book in the Goosebumps series, but because I hated babysitting so much, my cash flow at the time wasn't supporting my reading habit. 
This kicked off my lifelong fear of ventriloquism props.
There were two major obstacles: one was we didn't actually have lemons or lemon juice. The second problem was that I didn't drink lemonade, and I had no idea how to make it. Fortunately, these setbacks were much smaller than my non-full bookshelf.

I decided to go with what I knew, and decided to sell plain water instead of lemonade from one of our plastic pitchers. I decided that the shortcomings could be easily remedied with smart marketing, so I created Burma Shave signs that began at the top of the street that closely resembled soda slogans:
Feeling Thirsty?
How about a refreshing drink?
Best water you've tasted all day!
Come on by!

I probably should have rhymed too, in retrospect
One of the neighbors took pity on me, and purchased a largish Dixie cup of ice water from my makeshift stand for a quarter. While certainly not the same profits of babysitting, I was impressed with myself for coming up with this idea, and pulling it off on a 60 degree, cloudy day.

Sometime around 2003, I idly dreamed of being an interior designer. Of course I skipped to the good part where I was making millions designing rooms for people who had incredible amounts of money. Since I had no plan or money, all of my decorating attempts at this point were C- at best. In fact, I vaguely knew what furniture belonged in what room, despite my mom's best efforts at repeatedly ordering Southern Living and other room-project-magazines during the entirety of my life.

Using the term "design" loosely, I implemented great ideas like:
A swing under my loft
Rope lights, a cheaper cousin of the neon sign.
Inside yurts with sheets. Do you remember sheet forts as kids? This is probably a more accurate description.
Spray painted picture frames.
Cat furniture as modern art.
Fake ivy leaves around mirrors... to create that 'fairy garden feeling' anywhere, especially the bathroom, which usually needs a lot of magic.

Money and Happiness

On April 15, I read Penelope Trunk's article about how much money you need to be really happy. While this concept isn't exactly news, it made me think about how much money would really be worth the effort. 

When I lived in Alexandria, I diluted my Suave shampoo with water so I could afford my sports car. The car itself had a high payment per month (over $500/month). The insurance, even though I'm female with no accidents, was $2200 a year! The taxes, on top of all of that, were over $350/six months just to park my car on the street (dents were free). It was an expensive choice. If I had to do it all over again, maybe I would have chosen differently. I was apathetic at the time whether I wanted better clothes or a car with a turbo.*
Who needs fresh hair when you're rockin' this??
It got sort of intense. There was a night where I made pizza out of the leftover veggies in the fridge. When the pizza was done, I bent to pick it out of the oven and it burned my hand. I dropped the pizza and had to choose whether to eat it off the floor or eat almonds for dinner. I didn't have enough money to go to the town's two-star Taco Bell. Feel free to judge, but I chose the almonds, simply because the state of my floor wasn't clean enough to be a plate. My paycheck, thankfully, arrived in my account the next day. 

Hopefully I will never go back to that lifestyle, as I had see-through toilet paper, and could not afford to go to the swanky places in and around the Alexandria area. In fact, every weekend I took a cooler to my friend's house (an hour away!) because groceries were cheaper there. The irony was that I was 20 lbs heavier at the time, because I was so enamored with, and perhaps dependent on, free food (e.g. bagels, ice cream, etc.), and salads are rarely free.

If you only get one trip to the Pizza Hut salad bar, make it count! 
What makes me kind of happy is that there are other articles saying that being a good saver is better than making extra dough. According to me (of course), I'm an excellent saver. I could probably stretch $30K way farther than the average bear because I can prioritize and discard what's unimportant. 

Unlike shampoo, undiluted ketchup is important.

Growing Up (a little)

After my sports car, I bought something easier to insure and equally zen to spend time in for the daily commute. It was everything I could want in a car, especially if I were to spend more than half an hour in it. I started eating better, and spent money to make salads and healthy food at home. Affordability was no longer an issue, but it was still expensive to eat right and make good money decisions. 

I hope if I get to the point of making $700K per year, that my decisions will be whether I get a driver for my car or not... whether I go to the French Riviera or not... whether I decide on the dryer that automatically folds clothes or does taxes. 

* When I was working on Capitol Hill, clothes were a big deal AND you spent a lot of time in your car. At the time, it was hard to find a good balance. Being respected and being comfortable are still in direct conflict, but at least now I'm not making those crazy insurance payments!