Because of a lovely speaking gig in the Midwest last week, I find myself in possession of an honorarium this week. Furthermore, because I won a prize in March for my article on Miss Mary Hoover (it was the Audre Lorde prize, given by the Committee for Lesbian and Gay History, an AHA affiliate), I was in possession of another, smaller, check. But it was a check all the same, one that was not only unexpected, but really a bonus, since who ever expects to make any money on an academic article? Much less win a prize, so that now the "awards and fellowships" section of my vita actually has an award on it? Last, but not least, I expect George Bush to send me a very large check later this month, most of which will go to pay my bloated Shoreline property taxes in June, but there will still be some left over. What do you do in such a situation of excess, dear? I mean, after buying a flat screen TV so that our nephews no longer mock us because we are still happy with a twelve-inch Trinitron?
Well, I always start by saying: "Thank you." Thank you Goddess, for my good health, and the job that allows me to write rather than drive to six colleges every week to teach twelve courses a semester; and thanks to those of you who took the time to judge the Audre Lorde prize and give it to me. Thanks to the journalthat published Miss Thing after two journals rejected her. Thanks to the Director of Women's Studies at Little Midwestern College, one of the many unsung heroes of higher education who, this spring, spent a lot of time arranging my visit when she could have been doing her own writing. Thank you fate, not just for getting me a nice job, but one that pays well (my rants against tenure have revealed that many of you out there, of similar rank and accomplishment, make half to two-thirds what I do.) Thank you that I am not being foreclosed on, or paying for chemotherapy with my tax return. Thank you, George W. Bush for not spending every single dime I sent you on outsourcing the war at premium prices.
But now that the thanking is done, here's the question: what to do with the extra money? If I were a graduate student or an adjunct, I would probably buy food. But I have a salary that pretty much takes care of that, plus the utilities and the car insurance. So what to do with windfall profits?
I put them in my Vanguard Roth IRA.
You see, I had one of those old-fashioned fathers, who would not have understood the current world of credit and debt we live in: he had an American Express card, which he paid every month. He is the only person I have ever heard of who paid cash for a house (ok, Tony Soprano did, but my dad was a gastroenterologist.) The idea that you would take a loan on your home to consolidate your credit card bills would have appalled him. And he was the kind of father who said, when I graduated from college, "Just remember: when you get a paycheck, pay yourself first." What this meant was, no matter how little you can save, save it anyway. People like Suze Orman make zillions from giving this kind of advice now. My father wrote a book called A Better Life With Your Ulcer, which, despite the snazzy title, did not make zillions.
Of course, I completely ignored my father's advice for many years, and for the same reason many of you will ignore mine now: during years when I was scrounging under the sofa for pizza money, or even later when the mortgage for our first house in Zenith plus the rent in New York was more or less cleaning me out - like many of you -- I didn't have any money. Then when I did have money, I started amping up my TIAA-CREF (word to the wise: do not even open your TIAA-CREF statements for a few years. It's bad right now.) But a few years back, I found myself in possession of a chunk of cash for which there was no earthly use except perhaps to take a ski trip. Instead I bought a Roth IRA. And now, whenever I get a royalty check (always small), or a speaking fee (bigger, but not as large as Bill Clinton's), or any other unexpected windfall, I send it off to Vanguard, on the theory that $100 saved today will grow exponentially by the time a take it out at age 70. Why do I recommend this policy? Because even with the instability of the current market, I am over $7,000 ahead of my original investment after only five years of this personal savings plan. By my calculations, and adding a social security payment of a little more than two large after age 67, that is an extra three months of retirement at my current after tax budget.
And actually, Vanguard shares have only dropped four dollars over the past year, so it's really ok to open the envelope.
In other news, I am pleased to say that I have been invited -- and have accepted the invitation -- to join Cliopatra, a group history blog hosted by George Mason's History News Network. Don't read it yet? Well, if you snooze, you lose, that's all I can say. Stay tuned.