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Sonya Mann's active website is Sonya, Supposedly.

How Much Money I Actually Spend in a Month

Photo by Thomas Galvez.
Photo by Thomas Galvez.

I like sharing my budgets and expenses because people are very interested in what others do with money. Last October I wrote about my planned monthly spending, but I never got around to figuring out how well I stick to those numbers. (My work situation and income have also changed since then.) In November I listed which charities I donate to, and how much each of them gets. In some ways this follow-up post is an accountability exercise.

This is how much money I spent in January, and what I spent it on:

  • Rent + utilities: $700
  • Groceries: $322.77
  • Gas + transportation: $77.37
  • Cafe outings: $44.02 (spread over eight occasions)
  • Website expenses: $23.74 (probably tax-deductible)
  • Advertising: $51.78 (probably tax-deductible)
  • Media, books, and games: $164.19
  • Charity: $158 (definitely tax-deductible)

The total sum is $1,541.87. If you include the money I owe to my parents for health insurance, car insurance, cell phone service, internet, and Netflix, that adds another $463, bringing the total to $2,004.87. I typically reimburse my parents in periodic chunks rather than steadily each month — I should set up an automatic system. And I need to do something similar for savings. Right now I’m just letting extra money pile up in my checking account.

Caveats to keep in mind:

  • I live in a part of the Bay Area that’s less desirable than San Francisco or Oakland, but my rent is still slightly under-market.
  • One month is statistically insignificant and not wholly representative of all the other months.
  • My original post factored in expenses that I paid in lump sums (like my Gimlet Media membership); I simply divided the yearly outlay by twelve. In today’s accounting I only recorded money that was actually spent in January.
  • Let’s not even talk about taxes right now. Freelance taxes = ceaseless nightmare.

How Much I Donate to Charity

I’ve updated my personal budget since the last time I shared it. One of my goals in tweaking how I allocate money was to donate more to charity. My specific intent was to financially support causes that I care about deeply. Now I’m sharing the organizations I picked, and my rationale for each, because I think my choices might be interesting to other people. Despite Thanksgiving’s brutal colonialist origins, it’s a time when we reflect on our own good fortune, which is a great prompt to redistribute some personal economic luck.

Charitable giving is a hard thing to write about without coming across as self-congratulatory, but rest assured that I don’t think that I’m ~saving the world~ or even doing enough. I’m still only donating $110 total per month, which is roughly 3.6% of my after-tax income. [Edit: I did the math wrong — it actually added up to $135.] The church traditionally reaped a tithe of 10%, so I can at least double my contributions. I may choose to add other nonprofits to my roster, or I may increase the amounts I give to the organizations I’ve already chosen.

So here’s the lineup of monthly donations:

  • $25 for the American Civil Liberties Union. I’m not especially patriotic, but I do care about constitutional rights, and the ACLU fights the big, tricky, important cases in court.
  • $15 for Bay Area Legal Aid. If you’re forced to navigate the courts without money — or the education and cultural capital necessary to fight successfully — it’s the same as having no opportunity to seek justice at all.
  • $25 for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Being able to share information without structural or systemic fetters is crucial, and the EFF advocates for things like encryption that governments seem incapable of understanding.
  • $50 for Planned Parenthood. Medical agency is important! I’ve always had access to birth control and the like through my health insurance, but not everyone does.
  • $10 for the Saint James Infirmary. This is definitely an amount I should increase, especially since they just got booted from their space in San Francisco. Healthcare and harm-reduction led by sex workers for other sex workers = yes.
  • $10 for The Marshall Project. The prison-industrial complex is abominable and we need vigorous reporting to keep the industry in check and inform the public of the heinous treatment prisoners endure.

Considering these additions:

  • Compass Family Services doesn’t provide an option for donating monthly, which is my preferred format, but I might give them a lump sum in the future.
  • The Southern Poverty Law Center carries out potent anti-hate activism and has a long history of enraging racists.

Any suggestions? I’m particular interested in helping homeless people and prisoners, since those are the most resource- and power-deprived demographics. Comment below, hit me up on Twitter, or email me.

Update: I now also give $23 to the Tor Project every month, for the same reason that I support the EFF.

How Much It Costs To Make A Zine When You Pay Contributors & Use Nice-ish Materials

1930s printing press. Photo via the Seattle Municipal Archives.
1930s printing press. Photo via the Seattle Municipal Archives.

Making a perzine is cheap. You write everything yourself, you use crappy paper, and you mail out copies in flimsy envelopes. Making a zine more along the lines of a chapbook is expensive, especially if you want to pay contributors a decent amount. I learned this while editing four issues of my now-defunct lit zine Balm Digest, even though I stuck with low-end materials, and I’m learning it again with User-Friendly Urbanism.

I launched Tradeoffs Press with an editorial vision, but also with the purpose of making money in order to facilitate my creative endeavors. (I’m aware that this might doom the whole thing — pleasing customers should be the foremost concern of any new business. And yet.) My goal is to earn enough to compensate myself for the time I spend as well as to earn back the cost of materials. I hope that I can do so while being open about money — I like being open about money. Please don’t resent the dollar of per-unit profit. Anyway, without further ado…

User-Friendly Urbanism Costs

  • $20 for Big Cartel (covers October and November)
  • $215 for Divya Persaud*
  • $250 for Nicole Dieker*
  • $200 for Loretta Carr*
  • $50 for bubble mailers
  • $70 for paper
  • $25 for card stock
  • $115 for ink (I sprang for the name-brand stuff because it really does print slightly better)
  • $1.42 postage per zine — $142 for 100

*Divya, Nicole, and Loretta each contributed an 800-ish-word essay, but the final lengths were slightly different.

When I added up the expenses, I had slight sticker shock:

  • $1,087 total for 100 zines → $10.87 each
  • $1,489 total** for 200 zines → $7.45 each
  • $1,891 total** for 300 zines → $6.30 each

**Doubled and tripled the material costs accordingly.

$10.87 / $7.45 / $6.30 are production costs, not retail prices. I calculated that if I print 300 copies and sell 250 of them for $7.50 each ($7.27 after processing fees), I’ll make $0.97 per zine, AKA $242.50 total, which leaves me just $72.50 short on overall production costs. Selling the ebook for $3.99 → $2.79 profit, so if I manage to sell 100, I’ll make $279 and end up in the black for this whole project to the tune of $206.50. If I don’t sell as much of either format as I’ve guessed, then I’ll lose money. Which is okay — I wouldn’t undertake this gamble if I couldn’t afford it.

Should I have gone with lower-end paper and stuck with flimsy envelopes? Should I have offered to pay $0.10/word instead of $0.25/word? Yeah, maybe. CreateSpace or some other print-on-demand service might have been cheaper.

Granted, either way I can write off the expenses on my taxes! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

$75 Per Month For Clothes

Fashion illustration by Georges Lepape (1887-1971) via MCAD Library.
Fashion illustration by Georges Lepape (1887-1971) via MCAD Library.

After reading my post about budgeting, my dad emailed me:

Not wanting to be a downer, but a few items I’d suggest adding to your budget …

Car: operation, repair, and replacement fund: $250
Clothing: $75
Incidentals (haircut, parking fees, etc): $50
Entertainment (plays, movies, restaurants, camping): $75
Short-term saving (to cover unusual expenses, like travel, or a new computer — savings that you expect to spend over a 5 year period): $200
Long-term saving / rainy-day fund (building up your savings): $100

These are very rough estimates, but give you a more realistic picture of your total financial picture. Also, I’d suggest that you do some grouping of expenses to put all the similar expenses together. I can show you how to do that if you want

To which I responded:

Exactly, I wanted to figure how much room I have for saving & incidental spending! I didn’t think about adding car repair, though. That’s a good point.

Do you spend $75/month on clothes?!

Dad said:

Every year I probably have to buy roughly 3 pairs of shoes ($300), 4 pairs of pants ($120), socks (40), underwear and tshirts (60), and maybe one jacket ($120).  That would add up to $600.  So maybe I spend $50/month on clothes.  Maybe that’s a more reasonable budget estimate.

So that’s that. He’s apparently much harder on his wardrobe than I am.

Fashion illustration by George Barbier (1882-1932) via the New York Public Library.
Fashion illustration by George Barbier (1882-1932) via the New York Public Library.

Planned Monthly Spending

A Mirror of Competing Beauties of the Green Houses by Katsukawa Shunshō (Japan, 1726-1792) and Kitao Shigemasa (Japan, 1739-1820) via Wikimedia.
Half of A Mirror of Competing Beauties of the Green Houses by Katsukawa Shunshō (1726-1792) and Kitao Shigemasa (1739-1820) via Wikimedia.

I want to share my new personal budget. My salary recently jumped $25k — I graduated from $30k per year with no benefits to $55k per year with insurance and other benefits. This triggered the necessity of re-budgeting, in a wonderful way! Having more money is great.

You can check out the spreadsheet, but I’m probably going to adjust that over time, so here’s how I’m currently breaking things down in terms of approximate monthly costs:

  • Rent and utilities: $750 (I live in Richmond, CA; soon will be sharing a one-bedroom apartment with my boyfriend)
  • Car insurance: $84
  • Health and dental insurance: $300 (I elected to stay on my parents’ plan and receive a monthly credit from my employer)
  • Food: $200
  • Cell phone: $52
  • Netflix: $10
  • Internet: $17
  • Planned Parenthood donation: $10 (tax-deductible)
  • Saint James Infirmary donation: $10 (tax-deductible)
  • Stratechery membership: $10
  • Longreads: $5
  • The Marshall Project donation: $10 (tax-deductible)
  • Latterly: $2.67
  • Gimlet Media: $5
  • Instapaper: $2.50
  • BigCartel: $9.99
  • Vanguard Roth IRA: $460

Total cost: $1,938.16. Since I’m drawing $4,583 monthly (approximately $3,070 after taxes) there’s about ~$1,000 of room for me to give more to charity, spend more on media, and save more! Woohoo. I’ll have to figure that out. At the moment I particularly want to focus on charity — I’d like to increase my donations to Planned Parenthood and the Saint James Infirmary, but PayPal doesn’t offer any immediately obvious way to do this. I’m also considering Compass Family Services.

Frivolous possibilities: The Economist for $13.33/month and Stack Magazines for $8.30/month.

money to burn - illustration
Illustration by Michael Statham.

Edit: I posted an update, and then an article about why I choose to be financially transparent.

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