Termination dust.

Termination dust.Today dawned a typical September day: gray and foreboding. The sky was the color of a galvanized trashcan and the air tinged with a chill that whispered of summer’s end.

When the clouds lifted a bit I saw termination dust sprinkled on the Chugach Mountains. That’s the local parlance for the season’s first snow. The tail-end of the tourist trade clucks and points, taking numerous pictures of the shining whiteness while buttoning coats up to their chins.

Residents pretend they don’t care, but it can drive a little shiver into your day. Sure, the snow is still way up there. But we know it’ll make its way down to the flats fairly soon.

Even DF, who’s pretty cheerful about everything and a skier to boot, gets a little glum at the prospect. In fact, he sings about it (to the tune of Chopin’s Funeral March): 

Woke up this morning, looked out the door and cussed:

There on the mountains — behold! the whitish crust.

Termination dust. Summer is a bust.

Hate facing winter again, and yet I must.

That made me laugh. I needed to laugh: Termination dust showed up on the very day that I got terminated.

Yep: My time with MSN Money ends as of Sept. 30. Then again, so does everyone else’s. The company underwent some reorganizing and the word came down from on high: “MSN Money is not a content company.”

That’s pronounced with the accent on the first syllable, not the second, as in “MSN Money no longer will generate original pieces.” It will run partner site content (read: free) rather than pay writers for personal finance blogs and articles. It isn’t clear how many freelance writers/editors were canned; some put the figure at 100 or more.

What kind of work?

I always knew this could happen. Every spring when it came time to renew my annual contract I’d get a little jumpy. Lately I’ve felt the same nervousness, a feeling that things were about to change. So when my boss e-mailed this morning asking if I had time for a phone call it was like having the doctor say, “We need to discuss your lab results.”

I didn’t wail, “But whyyyyyyyy?” I didn’t weep, or even get choked up. However, I’ll cop to feeling a bit poleaxed when our conversation ended.

Put another way: I live in the most seismic state in the Union and I know that another Good Friday Earthquake could happen at any time (even on a Wednesday). But if it does happen, I’ll still be surprised. Knowing something is possible is not the same as being ready for the possibility.

I immediately sent a few “Hey, guess what???” e-mails to people I know in the business. Within a few hours I’d agreed to write one or two original posts a week for Money Talks News, which already syndicates Surviving and Thriving articles. That will more than cover my needs, even though I pay for my own health and life insurance; my expenses went down when I threw in with DF.

Next month is the Financial Blogger Conference, so I will shop my free-agent self around a bit. Last year someone offered me a fairly nice sum to write a guest post but I was way too busy to say yes. This year I’ll definitely entertain such offers.

Not too many, though. My initial, panicked reaction was “How can I get enough work to bring in the same income level?” Within a couple of hours I’d amended that to, “What kind of work do I want to get?” And the corollary: “What kind of life do I want to lead?”    

A question of choice

During a late-afternoon walk it suddenly hit me: I’m free.

I can choose not to rush to fill every hour. I can choose not to fret over every dime I feel I’m not earning. I can choose to focus on writing more for women’s magazine and various Internet sites. I can opt to develop my own website and maybe even (ugh) monetize it further. I could even think about books, if I wanted.

As I headed back home the sun came out, highlighting yellow spots on the birches. The breeze was still cool, but the termination dust had melted. I knew it would be back, maybe as soon as tomorrow. But right then the day was golden, and I felt fine. My unease had not entirely disappeared, but my attitude had adjusted.

My time with MSN Money changed my life. In almost seven years I went from being an emotionally broken middle-aged former newspaper reporter to a confident Internet journalist with a university degree and a voice of her own. Sure, I’ll miss that steady paycheck. But it was a helluva run, and I need to be glad that I ran it.

The race is by no means over. In fact, I no longer consider it a race or any other kind of competition. It’s just my life. I feel the word “journey” is overused, so I’ll just think of as traveling.

The comedian Rita Rudner says she never gets lost – she simply changes where it is she wants to go. My own destination keeps shifting, as does the pace with which I approach it. They say “not all who wander are lost.” I agree. And I think that not all who meander are lazy. Sometimes we’re slowing down to see what we might be missing.

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  1. On the one hand, and I speak for the internet here, bummer.

    On the other hand, it is great you’re at a place where this won’t hurt you!

    (And a third tiny part hopes you’ll go back to posting long and hilarious articles someplace like the ones you used to do at GRS. I still think Quinstreet should give you a raise and bring you back. Be sure to post links to the places you’re writing for– we’ll keep an eye out.)

    • (Did I say tiny part? Really it’s a large part that is trying but failing to suppress itself in case that’s something you don’t want to do.)

    • Donna Freedman

      One of the reasons I stopped writing for GRS was the realization that I was giving them some of my best material — and that they now owned it. Why wasn’t I putting stuff like that on my own site? When I get my groove back perhaps those slightly loopy pieces will resurface here. Thanks for the encouragement.

      • Post those here and get someone good to do your ads! (Or figure out the ad business yourself, whatever. I understand credit cards pay well. But I don’t know how true that is.)

        If you do decide to do that, make sure you pace yourself. If you have 5 awesome and amazing lengthy articles, don’t paste them 5 days in a row (or even 3 a week is too much)– save them up and get a nice predictable awesomeness posting schedule going.

        (And then you can put together a book of timeless selected postings for folks who like a little something extra for bathroom reading. I’d buy it!)

        • Donna Freedman

          I like the idea of “predictable awesomeness.” 🙂
          Someone had previously suggested that I put together e-books of my favorite stuff, or post specific essays up for Kindle something-or-other (I’ll have to ask her to re-explain it, obviously). They charge 99 cents to $1.99, which isn’t much (especially since you split it with Amazon) but she says a lot of people are happy to pay 99 cents to read something good.
          When the dust clears, I’ll start thinking about both possibilities. Thanks for your encouragement.

  2. Alane Farmer

    Well, I am sorry that your time with MSN Money is over you now have the time to write that book I have always wanted to read. I loved your surviving and thriving on $12,000 a year piece and really think you could expand and make it into a book. Please! I promise to give everyone on my christmas list a copy if you right it. Even my two year old niece. 🙂

  3. Donna, I know you roll with the punches and just add “de” to termination! It’s just a bump in life’s road, a detour, a break to evaluate your upcoming days.
    Please let us know where you will be – you have our e-mails!
    Best Wishes for whatever you decide to do!

  4. MAN…this business gets more confusing all the time. I listen to media analysts who say the future is in CONTENT and controling it…thus the reason Comcast bought NBC for it’s productions and control of CONTENT. This must be an interesting business model MSN has planned. IMHO the gig with Money Talks was an excellent move…those short video takes and articles are excellent and USEFUL. Explaining how to save money rather than spend it. And a book may be the way to go. The Tightwad Gazette gal has made quite the comfortable living off the compilation of her frugal news letters…perhaps this would work for you. Sorry to hear about the pink slip…but “one door closes…and another opens”…..

    • Oh, Jack, you brought up “the queen”. Amy Dacyzyn of The Tightwad Gazette really focused my already mindful attention back in the ’90s. I even had a letter published in one of her newsletters which got me a free copy of her book eventually.

      I sure do miss her and wish she would write again. Anything.

      • Donna Freedman

        I have one of her compilations, “The Tightwad Gazette II.” Bought it for 50 cents at a rummage sale. Amy would approve. 😉

  5. I lived in Alaska for 31 years. My dad still lives there. I remember the exact feeling of seeing Termination Dust. It’s a perfect mixture of doom and apprehension with a little splash of excitement. Summer’s over, but the winter fun has just begun. Sad to hear about MSN, but excited to see what you will make of it.

  6. I will miss your posts, I tuned into them everyday.

  7. You are the Phoenix. Now is the time for a rebirth and new and wonderful things to create. It is an opportunity not an ending.

    • Donna Freedman

      Thanks, ma’am. I remembered last night how lost and panicky I felt when it was time to move from Anchorage to Chicago: Who was I if I wasn’t a long-time reporter in a city where everyone knew me? Then I felt terrified after I left The Chicago Tribune: How would I find enough work to justify having quit?
      And now? Well, I’ll just work on creating something different. When I was back in school and people asked what I would do with my degree, I sometimes said “maybe the job I’m supposed to do hasn’t been invented yet.” Maybe I should do the inventing.

  8. hmbalison

    I love your attitude about getting laid off. I appreciate that you didn’t go into panic mode. That’s so easy to do when termination happens. Keep us posted on what’s next.

  9. We’re flexibel and portable. Let us know where your writing is, and we’ll follow.

  10. oops.. flexible.

  11. Bummer! You have been my hero since I read the surviving and thriving on $12000 a year article. I am going to miss you a lot!! Good luck as you move forward into new adventures.

    • Donna Freedman

      Well, you can always read me here, on MTN and who knows where else? Options are beginning to surface.

  12. You know what? You’re gonna be just fine. Life is good. As we get older we don’t need to work as much…living on less becomes more pleasant as we age. I’m only pushing 50 and I’m ready to slow down to a jog instead of a full on sprint. Life is meant to be enjoyed. You’ve worked hard. You’ve ran this marathon. Jog for a bit and enjoy the scenery. No one likes termination dust of any sort…but it sure does make you stop and think, doesn’t it?

  13. This is a great read. I’ll miss working with you.

  14. I heartily agree with the folks above who say you must write a book. Your voice is unique, your life experience is so varied and interesting (I’m sure “interesting” is not what you would have called some events at the time but being able to share your experience with others is now a blessing) and people would enjoy reading about your past and could learn from you.

    Best wishes, and remember: your readers will follow you anywhere.

  15. Wherever you wind up and whatever you wind up doing, I just know it’s going to to be exciting. Best of luck to you, Donna!

  16. I am beginning to see in my own life where one door closes another opens to lead to another life experience and it can result in something far better.

    I remember in March of 2009 I was laid off in the evening and after spending the night in shock woke up to find the stock market crashing the next morning. Even as a positive thinking frugal individual who managed my money well I wondered what in the world I was going to do. Fast forward 4 years later and that experience taught me more about myself than anything before. I faced challenges with more determination and resourcefulness than I thought I could muster, I see how my happiness does not have to be affected by my circumstances and what really are the most important things in life to me. I also ended up with the best job I’ve ever had with a different outlook on work and I think better at what I do for a living than before that fateful day in 2009.

    Take this as your golden opportunity to open a wonderful new door.

  17. I’m sorry for the rude shock, but I love that you can take your time to see what you WANT to do from here. That’s true freedom. Congrats on that, lady!!!

    • Donna Freedman

      Thanks, Crystal. I’m starting to realize just how finite time is, and how I want to spend it as wisely as possible. Or as unwisely as possible, such as going with my friend Linda B. to midnight movies (more costly than early bird shows) where I eat kettle corn (which is not good for me) and wind up groggy the next day because I don’t get home until 2:30 a.m. What’s life without a little sin?

  18. I’ve been a fan since that first article you wrote on living on 12000 a year. MSN Money just won’t be the same without you – their loss! Now you’ll have time to write that book WE’VE all wanted to read. I know you will be better off than ever.

  19. Your articles were the main thing I read on the msn money but I look forward to more excellent content here. Good luck with your step.

  20. I am so sorry you got laid off, but on the bright side, at least you won’t have to read those crazy comments anymore. Some of those people needed to be medicated. And I’m very glad new opportunities are opening up for you and you plan to keep writing. I know I’m not the only one who would miss your wit and wisdom if you threw in the towel. Still, it must feel a little bit like a sucker punch to the gut. I hope you be able to do something nice for yourself this weekend.

    • Donna Freedman

      The timing is great for that, actually: It’s the annual meetup of current and former female reporters for the Anchorage Daily News. We’ll congregate at a friend’s rural home, eat and drink way too much, sit around a campfire and — you guessed it! — piss and moan about the perfidies of the industry. Good times!
      Seriously: I haven’t seen some of these women in a long time (I was gone for 11 years) so it will be great fun. Perfect timing, too.

  21. I am so sorry to hear of your termination. I have been following you from the beginning and have been amazed. I want that book too, but a real book, not on kindle.

  22. Alicia aka teinegurl

    What? I love ur pieces. I followed u on GRS , MSN money on now here. I also hope u write a book about surviving and thriving $12,000 with maybe less financial advice more personal advice? Will this affect giveaways?? I had to ask LOL I have yet to win!! Good luck and I will follow where ever u end up! Good luck

    • Donna Freedman

      The giveaways will continue! They’re a business expense, after all. Keep entering them.

  23. Sorry to hear this BUT I don’t think you and MSN were a good match anymore. They seem to have NO idea of what direction they want to take. Yours were the ONLY articles I read constantly. All the other contributors were hit or miss for me.

    Maybe now you might have some time to visit us on proboards.

    • Melanie C

      I wholeheartedly agree. Now I don’t have to go to MSN Money at all anymore. I’ve been following you a long time, and I love that you’ll have more freedom to do what you want.

  24. So many people have commented on the $12,000/year articles and videos that I really think you should expand on that a little bit. Those articles and videos were my first introduction to you and I LOVED them! They were fascinating, and made me really rethink just how much money it takes to survive. I would LOVE to see you expand on that concept a little bit more. And I really wish you would do some more videos of some kind. You’re funny, and smart, and that totally comes through in those videos. 🙂 Hoping that the next chapter, whatever it ends up being, presents itself soon!

  25. lostAnnfound

    I have been reading (and enjoying) your writing since the $12,000 a year piece on MSN and know I will continue to read wherever you post. There’s something out there just waiting for you!

  26. Punkinpye

    Donna, look at the bright side…and use this as a selling point to promote yourself…you have a following. Wherever you go, we will be there. If you write a book, we’ll buy it and recommend it to our friends. Whoever you wind up working for will gain readership. We’re just waiting for your decision. Think of yourself as the Stephen King of frugality.

    • Donna Freedman

      “The Stephen King of frugality” — ha! My book cover will have to have a dripping machete on it and the words, “SLASH your expenses! KILL off debt! THROTTLE uncertainty!”

  27. no offense but you were too good for them

  28. I have enjoyed your work on msn, but I found you were rehashing a lot of articles. Good luck on your next adventure.

  29. I’m with Holly and Diedra: You’re better than MSN. Their decision to embrace the “Walmart model” of cheap content will cost them the intelligent portion of their readership. As it is, your’s were the only MSN articles I read with any regularity. Now I have no reason to go to their website at all. And as every other poster has said, let us know where you will be and we’ll follow you. Finally, PLEASE consider writing a book! Your voice is unique and wonderful.

    • Donna Freedman

      Thanks, Deborah. All sorts of possibilities are opening up. I’m excited to see what happens next.

  30. This is a bummer, because I loved reading your articles on MSN (especially the $12,000/year article!).

    However, I’m really excited to see what you have in store for us next! I always enjoy reading your viewpoint.

    Good luck on the next step.

  31. Reta Davis

    Girl, you just don’t know yet what a blessing this change is. We seldom recognize right away the wonders of change from the fur-lined rut. The money was nice while it lasted, but I know you put some of it away for this snow-dusty day. I am making less and less money these days and really, really enjoying life more. You know what to do, and I KNOW you are going to love your “new” life. Yer fren, RD

  32. Change can be scary. But you have so much talent and so much to offer that I can’t imagine this not being a door to something better! So take a minute, be kind to yourself and then go find your next door!!!

  33. Pauline in Ithaca

    Hi Donna — Count me in with the fans of “Surviving &Thriving on $12,000…” Some of those early columns that you wrote when you were really “hungry” to get started clearly established a large collection of fans — you wrote from your heart and your own life, and we knew it. Yeah, you had a good run with MSN, and it moved your career forward, so no regrets. Wherever you land, your fans will follow. THANK YOU for all the years of faithful writing.

    Pauline in Ithaca

    P.S. Having seen the Chugach Mountains this summer, I can well picture the termination dust — great name! Must be time to wave bye-bye to the tourists and take back your wonderful town 😉

  34. Everything happens for a reason and better timing then if it happened before you moved 🙂 I love having my own website. I have only had it 6 months and it’s a major work in progress as I have limited time working full time but eventually I will be able to afford to stay home. Which thrills every cell in my body. They do all the technical and I focus on content.

  35. Am sorry to hear this Donna – but know there will be ample opportunities for a writer of your caliber around the bend.

  36. whatever you do in the future, i am sure that you will be successful. i enjoy your pieces for the content; but i really love to read them just because i enjoy your style. you are so talented. please continue!

  37. Boston Gal's Open Wallet

    Hi Donna,

    As a former personal finance blogger I can say that reading your posts has always been a pleasure. You have created an online following with your wonderful “surviving and thriving” content pointing out how living a fulfilling, adventurous, and comfortable lifestyle can be done on a very small income. Personally I also admired how you were doing this all on your own for such a long time before you combined households.

    You are in a unique position to once again provide a true life example to men and women of a certain age who are struggling with diminished employment opportunities, underfunded retirement accounts, few safe and predictable places to stash their saved dollars that will generate some sort of interest/income growth, and how to pay for changing and rising healthcare costs.

    You are a wonderful communicator and building out your personal website is long overdue. If you are comfortable with public speaking, I think you should also explore opportunities there. Freelance articles, ebooks, surviving and thriving workshops, all things are possible!

    Best of Luck – Boston Gal’s Open Wallet

  38. It makes me very sad to see MSN make such a terrible mistake… But I am glad that you are shaking off the termination dust and will still be around the blogosphere for us to enjoy. You are very talented… And that will take you far.

  39. I’m sure this is a blessing in disguise…..you are a very gifted writer and I look forward to your next chapter.

  40. I’m sorry you’ve lost this gig, but I join the others in hoping that now you’ll have time/opportunity to develop your own site and keep entertaining and educating us! I’ve been reading your columns for years and would hate to “lose” you. Good luck to you, and keep us apprised of where we can find you!

  41. Fru-gal Lisa

    Oh, Donna, what a bummer for you and for your loyal readers, too: you were the very best writer writing the very best articles on MSN Money! Luckily for me, I subscribe to both your blog and to Money Talk News, so this won’t be as much of a withdrawal pain for me as I went through when Ann Landers died (although I still enjoy her secretaries’ Annie’s Mailbox on creators.com). I, too, have undergone a 7-year journey from reporter to trying to teach school, only to find no school district wants to hire me despite making straight A’s in the alternative certification program and the students saying they love my classes when I practice taught or substituted. Such is life! But we keep on keeping on, somehow. Like John Lennon wrote, Life is that which happens to you when you’re busy making other plans. Good luck and keep writing!

  42. I know this has caught you off guard, but you’ll rebound quickly. As a matter of fact, it sounds like you are already well on your way. As stated in the Rascall Flatts song “…and if one door opens to another door closed, I hope you keep on walkin’ till you find the window.” You’ll be fine because that’s the type of person you are!

  43. No wonder the finance page of MSN was starting to suck.

    Going to miss your articles 🙁

  44. Donna, i’m sorry this is happening to you.. and I’m sure you will bounce back, better than ever! Good luck and Godspeed. Let us all know where you land so we can keep up with you. And as another poster said, write that book!!

  45. Carol in Philly

    I’m late to this party due to being on vacation with limited internet access. Best of luck in whatever you do – keep us posted. I’ll continue to eagerly await your Surviving and Thriving columns. (And will stop reading MSN Money, because yours were the only postings that interested me.) The internet needs more witty, thoughtful voices, not fewer.

  46. I have thoroughly enjoyed your stories and have implemented several of your ideas for saving money. I will also be losing my job on Sept. 30th due to downsizing. C’est la vie….

  47. Frances

    I am catching up on your posts and am sorry to hear of your layoff, but so glad to hear that you have not let it get you down. You will be fine and you will probably continue to help us all be fine along the way.

  48. Stephany

    I was catching up on your blog after a couple of busy weeks and am sorry to hear the news. You were one of the two reasons I still visited MSN Money, and I believe both of my reasons have now been terminated, so I’m really glad you have this blog (which I read more regularly, anyway).

    I like what you’ve done with the news you were handed, but I don’t like what MSN Money’s decision says about good writing and what they value. Perhaps I’m just extra disappointed because, as is so true to form for larger media companies, the bottom line won… though I wonder how much those 100 freelancers made in aggregate vs. a few executive salaries and pricey business trips, but I bet I know the answer to that.

    I value hardworking writers (which good writers tend to be), and I don’t like the idea that writing isn’t worth paying for. I like the idea of your having Kindle content or similar that we can pay for. Many of us find value in and enjoy your work, and I would gladly pay for it. I would gladly pay to have a quick way to a great voice on the Internet, rather than have to wade through a hodgepodge of free content at MSN Money that is probably available elsewhere.

    • Donna Freedman

      Thanks for your support — and don’t wait for me to disagree with you. 😉
      My friend Dana Stabenow suggested I do some Kindle Singles. I’ve got one in mind for sure, based on the “Surviving (and thriving) for $12,000 a year” article, which people keep bringing up. People sometimes e-mail me to say it made a big impression and/or it helped them get their own finances on track.
      When they ask, “Where can I find it? I want to read it again,” I have to tell them that it no longer exists online — MSN Money has changed platforms several time since then. What I’m planning to write isn’t a reproduction but rather a “What a long, strange trip it’s been” update.
      I hope to get that going when I return from the Financial Blogger Conference, but first I need to enter a long-form writing contest and also process whatever happens at FinCon.
      Best-case scenario: It’s ready in time for Christmas shopping. 😉 Although given how little the Kindle Singles cost, it might be more of a stocking stuffer.
      Again, thanks for your thoughtful comment, and for reading Surviving and Thriving.


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