Make Hay While the Sun Shines

In my funemployment, I have two desired approaches to my work, which have been in conflict in the last few weeks.


Approach 1: I work best in slow and steady increments. (I learned this while writing my preliminary exam document and confirmed it while writing my dissertation.) When I have a big project that feels overwhelming, it’s best for me to work on it a bit every day and get small pieces finished at a time. Pretty soon, I can look back and see that I’ve accomplished quite a lot. This would translate for my current projects into writing a minimum number of words or creating a minimum number of slides per day, or working for a certain period of time like one hour on a project each day.


Approach 2: For my contract job, I have a turnaround time on assignments of two to three days. I’ve noticed in the past few weeks that the assignments are offered quite sporadically. I’ve had up to six at once that I’m responsible for (with staggered deadlines), but also plenty of times when I have none. On Tuesday I finished a big push when I completed five assignments in two days, and now I have none in my queue. I’ve asked for the maximum amount of work they allow someone in my position, yet the volume I am offered is low enough that I don’t think I can pass any up and still meet my income goal ($1,000 for December). I basically want to take every assignment that I can, even if that means I’m devoting quite a bit of time to this job on some days.


These approaches have been in conflict over the last month or so because my contract work has been offered in batches. Some days I will get nothing done but contract work and housework (generally cooking), even though I would prefer to spend a couple hours writing or working on my seminars each day. If the contract work were spread out more evenly, it wouldn’t be an issue. To resolve this conflict, I’m letting approach two win, telling myself to “make hay while the sun shines.”


make hay while the sun shines


The idiom “make hay while the sun shines” basically means to take opportunities when they are presented to you because you may not see them again for some time. Even though I would prefer to work at a steady pace on my contract work and funemployment projects, I know my websites and seminars are there for me to pick up at any time. In contrast, I don’t have control over the contract work that is offered to me, so I want to claim it when I have the chance. I started telling myself to make hay while the sun shines in the first half of November, anticipating a slowdown in assignment offers over Thanksgiving, a pattern that I’m sure will more than repeat itself over Christmas.


The contract work also gets a preference because I am actually paid to do it, whereas I’m not being paid (yet!) for my writing or presentations. However, I am seeking balance every month – if I meet my earnings goal with my contract job, I can slow down or stop taking assignments for the rest of the month because I do want to make time for my other funemployment goals.


I like this new mantra of mine and I can easily see how someone could apply it to other areas of personal finance like saving. The fact is that the sun is not shining for me right now in terms of income, as I ended my last full-time job in August and won’t be working full-time again until January. I’m glad that Kyle and I made hay by saving into our short-term accounts while we were both working because that has helped sustain us during my funemployment. The income sun will peek out again in the spring for my fellowship and then disappear again for an unknown period of time until I find a full-time job. The hay we can make during that period is to save as much money as we can from my stipend, both into our Roth IRAs and to replenish our general savings account.


I really didn’t anticipate that income would be such a problem for me after finishing my PhD. Being the trailing spouse who is available before the leading spouse sucks in that respect (though I’m still grateful that I don’t have to work). It’s like I didn’t even realize that the income sun was shining during graduate school – graduate school. Yikes. But we were unwittingly making hay by living below our means and saving a lot, so it’s not so bad.


My advice to you today is to take advantage of the opportunities around you right now! In particular, don’t live on 100% of your income. Saving a good percentage of your income gives you the double benefit of living on less and building up reserves. You never know when the sun will stop shining (for a time) or even when that will be paired with a rainy day! (Metaphor overload?)


In what ways is the sun shining or not shining for you right now? Are you making hay or can you be? What is a mantra that is resonating with you this month?


photo modified from SwaloPhoto


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22 Responses to "Make Hay While the Sun Shines"

  1. E 2 says:

    I think your approach is a good one! I’ve done the same this year, taking on a few different bursts of extra part time work even when the timing was tough just because I know my sun will be going behind a cloud after December and I don’t know when it will re-emerge. (Geez, that sounds grim! All I mean is that my grad stipend is ending as well.) Opportunities aren’t always convenient but they can help a lot with financial peace of mind when your income is limited.

    My principle is “say yes whenever possible.” But know your limits and priorities so you can recognize when it’s not possible.

    1. Emily says:

      Say yes whenever possible is very related to make hay while the sun shines, though perhaps from a different motivation. Good for you for pushing yourself when you could to earn a bit extra, knowing that the cloud was coming.

  2. We live on less because we’re a single income family and would be pretty vulnerable if we lost that job. We try to simplify our lives, so we’re not big side hustlers like some, but we do some hustling if it’s something we actually enjoy.
    Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom recently posted..5 Reasons To Consider Paying Off Your Mortgage

    1. Emily says:

      Do you expect that you will have periodic income loss? Or is your husband’s employer/industry/job very stable and in demand? I admit we are not planning for the possibility of Kyle losing his job, just maybe 1-2 paychecks missed in the process of moving to his next postdoc.

  3. I have a decently-compensated postdoc in a low COL city for the next 18 months, so yeah, I’m trying to make some hay here. I have one no-compromise area — I’m going to keep traveling to see my family and closest friends — but other than that, I’m avoiding things that I’d like to do but that are money-sucks, like seeing movies and buying sandwiches and going to yoga and dance classes and re-stocking my sadly depleted wardrobe. I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing come July 2016, so I feel like I have to ramp my savings rate up to protect against the future.

    By the way, during your funemployment are you collecting unemployment? If my job ends in July 2016 and I have no firm plans as of that time, I definitely intend to do that. I’ve paid in my whole life and never had a chance to collect even though I’ve been through periods of unemployment, so I feel no qualms about the possibility and it would certainly be helpful financially.
    Cecilia@thesingledollar recently posted..Wanting more

    1. Emily says:

      I love how you’ve worked out your priorities so precisely for this period! Of course you will have a chance to re-evaluate when you get to your next position so you know the sacrifices are not indefinite.

      I am not currently collecting unemployment. Hmm, I should probably list the sources of our income under the Money Puddle section in the monthly updates.

      I actually don’t know if I could collect unemployment even if I wanted to. I don’t have one big solid reason, but my three sort-of reasons are:
      1) I have virtually never paid FICA taxes so I don’t think the system owes me anything (morally or technically).
      2) Since I’ve been a full-time student for so long, I don’t think I would be eligible. My last year of grad school I didn’t even get W-2 pay.
      3) I have this idea that when you’re on unemployment you’re supposed to actually look for work – I think I got this from “Mrs. Doubtfire” – which I had/have no intention to (even though I did get a job-ish).

      I should research the eligibility and write a post on it, though! Just so that others know. It’s been on my “blog post ideas” document for about 2.5 years now!

      1. Yeah, if you didn’t get a W-2 you’re most likely not eligible.

        Technically, it’s true that you’re supposed to be actively looking for a job. But not just any job, only stuff in your actual field — they’re not supposed to pressure you to take a job bagging at Wal-Mart if you’ve been fired from your job as a marketing executive.

        I’d look forward to seeing that post though! Especially useful for students and adjuncts. (There have been a number of cases lately of adjuncts filing for unemployment when the semester ends, which I personally think is perfectly fair; unemployment offices don’t always like it though.)
        Cecilia@thesingledollar recently posted..Wanting more

        1. Emily says:

          I will work on it! Maybe for January. You are right, I should try to include postdocs/adjuncts in my research.

  4. Julia says:

    I like the metaphor 🙂 I feel like my SO and I “made hay” by pushing ourselves to save hard, but are now living in the sun of traveling! (We’ll ignore the fact that by switching continents I experienced a 50 degree F drop in temperature and got snowed on today!)
    Julia recently posted..Picture of the Day: Days 123 – 129

    1. Emily says:

      Yep, you guys definitely took advantage while you were both working! I think if I were doing what you are I would not put up with low temperatures!!

      1. Julia says:

        Haha… I agree with you, but European winter is one of those compromise things.. 🙂

  5. Between my freelance work and my acting gig things are really good for me right now, better than they’ve ever been. It’s totally tempting to spend it all, but come January, I know I’m back to just freelancing, so I’m working to make sure I’m still saving up and hopefully growing my freelance income to be more sufficient moving forward.
    Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life recently posted..Rejection Isn’t Failure

    1. I remember being in the arts (I was in wardrobe for a few years.) I had a total boom and bust cycle — when I got work, especially union work, I would pay off all the credit card debt I’d racked up during my most recent period of unemployment! It would’ve been nice if I’d ever gotten ahead enough to pre-fund the inevitable financial crash after the show closed or the movie ended. Good for you for growing such a nice freelance income stream too…but yeah, save all that $$ like crazy. (esp since you’re on tour, right? So hopefully you have a subletter back in NY and are just banking everything.)
      Cecilia@thesingledollar recently posted..Wanting more

    2. Emily says:

      It’s so good to hear that the sun is blazing for you right now! I hope your trajectory becomes more and more sunny days and less cloudy/rainy. Do you want to get to the point where your freelance income provides for your basics entirely and your acting income can be for lifestyle upgrades?

  6. Alicia says:

    I’m trying to make hay as well… I have a good-length contract with a decent salary (better than an average postdoc, but my title can sometimes reflect a postdoc even though it’s not – long story). So I’ll take advantage of it as best as possible.

    Regarding your comments with Cecilia up above: in my experience, adjunct positions didn’t count towards EI here in Canada because you are paid by the course credits you taught, rather than hours you worked per week. So here in Canada, you need 600 hrs to collect EI (don’t quote me on that), but my 4 month adjunct contracts were say “3 hrs” – which obviously is BS because I was a lab instructor running 4, 4-hr labs per week plus all the extra stuff like marking, office hours, lab prep, etc. But my ROE said 3 hrs. It didn’t matter because I had another job lined up, but the way they recorded it was quite misleading in my mind. Also, grad stipends didn’t count, because we were getting an education first and foremost, not working.
    Alicia recently posted..Joining In On Savings Challenges

    1. Emily says:

      You definitely are making hay with your aggressive debt repayment!

  7. We’re definitely making hay with the amount we’re saving right now. Since we’re coming up on the final few years of traditional employment, we want to save every last penny we can. Taking advantage of opportunities has always been our MO and we see our jobs right now as opportunities to save money.
    Mrs. Frugalwoods recently posted..Weekly Woot & Grumble: Deck Those Frugal Halls

    1. Emily says:

      Yes, you are killing it with the savings rate. 🙂 It’s nice that you know this period of frantic hay-making is fairly short.

  8. “Make hay while the sun shines…” This reminds me of the story of Joseph and the Egyptian famine from the Bible. He gathered everything possible from the plentiful harvest for 7 years so when the 7 years of famine came they could eat. The bountiful times don’t always last so I agree…take advantage of them while you can.
    Brian @ Luke1428 recently posted..Insurance: The Black Sheep of Our Personal Finance Family

    1. Emily says:

      Great example!

  9. I remember the time when I was having my thesis. It’s really an advantage when I worked slowly but surely. It let me organize my thoughts and gave me attention to details. When I rush things, I tend to forget to see the minor details and clutter my thoughts.
    Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank recently posted..The great housing ripoff

    1. Emily says:

      Great points and ITA. I like having a project completely drafted a week or more in advance so there is ample time for proofreading.

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