on paying someone else to buy your groceries
March 27, 2010, 7:55 am
Filed under: advice, financial | Tags: , , , , ,

Hello Ask Spoonah,

My question has to do with personal grocery shopping services. Our local grocery store is now offering this service, for either a $5 fee or free if you spend a certain amount. With crazy schedules and what feels like no time, this seems like a great deal. If you don’t meet the minimum though is it really worth spending the $5 to save the time?

Thought this might be something you might have thoughts about.

-curious in western mass

dear curious,

I often think about things like this. generally my answer comes down to when I am about to do something I could pay someone else to do (i.e. grocery shopping, laundry, etc.), I ask myself, “would I pay $5 to not have to do this right now?” if the answer is yes, well then, there you go.

these services are helpful for two groups of people: the busy, and the lazy. I guess for a third as well: the lazy busy people. I usually fall somewhere between the busy and the lazy busy. I also am generally way busier than most people, and at other times in my life I would not use services like this (because doing so would be simply assuaging my lazy self and I actually have time to do it). currently, however, I use them whenever possible. I have a friend do my laundry for me (it’s cheaper than doing it myself and it takes no time) and I like to do online grocery shopping/delivery (if only whole foods did this, I’d really be in trouble).

if you’re still not sure, I’d ask yourself this. figure out the total of your order, and figure out what percent of it $5 is. then ask yourself if you’d be willing to pay that percentage more for the same products. another way to think of it is think about what else you could do with $5. if that is going to make a difference for you in another area, then don’t spend it here. personally I’m at a point in my life where $5 is generally worth the convenience and time savings (I’m much more strapped for time than money), but there was definitely a point in my not-too-distant-past where $5 was enough money that I wouldn’t dream of spending it on something so frivolous. but that’s a question only you can answer. think about how much money your time is worth. personally, mine is usually worth the fee.

happy shopping!


on how to quit your stupid job
March 22, 2010, 6:39 pm
Filed under: advice, career | Tags: , , , , , ,

Dear Spoonah,

I have never had to quit a job before and want to know the proper etiquette. I have tried everything to make it work and have reached my last wit. I have started losing sleep, and praying for an illness just not to go in! I have had problems with my boss for a while and when I confront her it’s like talking to a brick wall and I’m told “I never said that or you’re just being over dramatic…” I no longer want to go there and I feel that the only way to keep my sanity is to leave. I don’t want to burn any bridges (even though I never will return) and want to leave on good terms if possible. Any advice would be excellent!


Sick & Tired In Maine!

dear sick & tired,

first allow me to say that you have the right attitude about this. leaving on good terms, while really difficult to do when you’re so fed up, is really important. if you leave on good terms you can use that person for references in the future, and just generally it will feel better to be nice, if you can.

the other thing that is really important in leaving a position (that you didn’t mention here) is to have something else lined up before you leave. I don’t know if that’s something you’re working on as well, but (especially in today’s economy) I can’t really stress it enough. if you’re not sure what you want to do, check out my previous post, on what you should be, now that you’re all grown up. even if you hate it there, quitting without another job lined up is almost without question a terrible idea. it will take probably a good several months to a year to find another one (no joke) and unless you quit because of a really good reason (i.e. you have filed a claim with the Department of Labor that it is a hostile work environment) you will not be eligible for unemployment. line up that new job first. I can’t stress that enough.

but to get to your question—how do you keep yourself from blowing up and just quitting when your job is terrible? how do you stay nice when you are leaving due to real problems in the job?

the first issue here is that while you’re looking for a new job, you may have to stay at this job for a while. so in the meantime, how do you keep your cool? I’d suggest trying to find things about the job that make it somewhat bearable. perhaps things used to be better and you can remember those things. or maybe you have great co-workers that you can enjoy this time with before you’re done. this might be a good time to think about the aspects of your job that you do enjoy (and what you don’t) so that you can be sure to find a job next time that works better for you. if there isn’t anything about your current job that puts even a little smile on your face, I’d suggest daydreaming about what it’s going to be like when you don’t work there anymore.

the other side of this is the actual quitting. depending on how much and how often you’ve talked to your boss about problems you’ve had before, it may not be much of a surprise to her that you are leaving. important: wait until you have a new job lined up before you tell her you’re quitting. you want to be able to give her a firm date that will be your last, and to have strong ground to stand on if she tries to get you to stay. when you do get to that point, I’d suggest writing down what you want to say ahead of time. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time remembering my points when I get flustered (such as when, say, I’m quitting a job that I hate and that makes me upset to think about). write down the date you’re leaving, and be prepared for her to ask why you are leaving. she may not ask–again it may not come as much of a surprise–but be prepared if she does. I would not advise telling her “this place makes me crazy”, which is something I’ve told bosses before when quitting places I hated. it didn’t go that well. you might say something like “I have been offered a position that I think better suits where I am in my life right now”, or “I no longer feel that [insert name of your company] is the right fit for me.” if you can muster it, I’d let her know too that you have enjoyed working there (whether true or not). you probably already know this, but it is appropriate to give at least two weeks notice (or whatever is specified in your company’s HR policies, if any). when you’re ready, make an appointment to speak with her in person, and tell her (simply, firmly) that you have decided to leave the company to pursue other opportunities.

the next thing you will probably have to do is submit a formal resignation letter. this is usually for HR purposes, and should include your name, the date of your last day, and the fact that you intend to stop work on that date. this letter should be professional and polished, but generally contain no more information than the fact that you are leaving and when. here are some guidelines for writing a resignation letter and some sample ones.

finally, the most important things to remember are to be polite and firm. keep your real feelings about the job and your boss to yourself. do not brag about your great new job. thank her for the time with the company. say goodbye to everyone when you leave. and hopefully, if you find a great new job, you’ll never have to quit a job again!

on how to cook some damn tasty bread in a crock pot
March 18, 2010, 2:10 pm
Filed under: advice, cooking | Tags: , , , , ,

dear spoonah,

can you tell me how to cook bread in a crock pot?

-broken ticker

dear broken ticker,

why, of course I can. spoonah is an international expert on all things ever (and an excellent googler), remember?

the first thing you need in order to cook bread in a crock pot is: a crock pot. in fact, the results of my investigations indicated that crock pot baking is pretty simple. you make dough as per usual, using whatever recipe you usually do. for a mold while the dough is rising, use a round, similar sized pan (such as a spring-form cake pan) that you can get it out of to put in the pot.

there are just a few tricks that are different from regular baking. the main thing is you want to lift the dough off the bottom of the pot while baking, and put a little water underneath so it acts like a steam-injection oven (!). put dough in a deep glass or metal bowl, or a big coffee can. put a trivet, baking rack, or even some crunched up tin foil in the bottom of the pot, and then about a half-cup of water. cover the bowl/can with a few layers of paper towels or a dishcloth, and then you’ll want to keep the lid on the crockpot as much as possible to avoid letting too much steam out while it cooks. only open up to check for done-ness. other than that, just use normal baking tips (don’t fill too high or you’ll end up with no room for expansion, etc.). cook on high until done (approx 3 hours)

If you want to use a recipe designed just for the crock pot, there are lots out there. here is the one that looked the best.

Couldn’t Be Easier Slow Cooker Bread

happy baking!

on what you should be, now that you’re all grown up
February 14, 2010, 9:12 pm
Filed under: advice, career | Tags: , , , , , ,

Dear Spoonah,

I’m a 32 year old college graduate. I got my degree in electives (general studies) but I’ve never known what I “wanted to do when I grew up”. I really want a career path, or direction or something, because I just don’t feel like I’m doing the work that I was destined to do in life.

I’ve thought about seeing a career counselor, or maybe even a psychic? I seem to be terrified of going back to school ie: I keep signing up and then backing out.

Do you have any advice for someone who has been in the work force for 10 years but needs a drastic change?

Thinking Rearranging Aspirations Viciously In Situationo

dear thinking,

I think there are a lot of ways you can approach it, but all of them start with some serious self reflection. there are a lot of resources out there, as well, that can help make this a little easier. a great book (if a little cheesy) is What Color Is My Parachute by Dick Bolles (can we just talk for a second about how this man’s name is Dick Bolles?). this is a book you can get at any library and the really great part about it is the practical exercises it suggests. I’ve seen these exact same exercises as the basis for semester-long “focus your career” workshops offered at universities that are well known for their career prep skills. in fact, I just participated in one, and it helped a lot! but you don’t need a workshop to do the exercises. they’re easy, not embarrassing, straightforward, and really helpful. basically they ask you to think about things you’ve liked doing, and see what they have in common, with a little more discipline. I definitely recommend that as part of your game-plan. don’t overlook non-work things too (like volunteer things, hobbies, etc.)

as far as tools go, there are a lot of good ones out there. one that I’ve used and been really happy with (particularly as far as depth goes) is CareerLeader. now, on it’s own this costs $95 to get a report done and have access to it for 60 days (you can print it, as well). however, a lot of college/university career centers license access to it so that their students (and alumni!) can use it for free. I’d contact your alma mater and see if they have this (or something like it) available for you to try out. there are also thousands of free online career tests (but much much less in depth).

other things to try out are general diagnostic tools for figuring out your work style, personality, skills, etc. myers-briggs tests are strewn all over the internet and are generally pretty good at giving you an idea of the types of environments you like and the way you operate, which often can point you in a direction career-wise. skills-inventories are usually helpful, as well (google has a million). I personally have a whole inventory of these things that I’ve done, and found them pretty helpful, but I’m just that kind of gal. one great one (that is free and doesn’t require any googling) is to just make a list of 10, or 20, or 30 job titles you think you’d like, regardless of what you think you’re good at or are qualified for. when I did this, it made me realize I would never be happy as an accountant (goodbye, admission to a world-renowned accounting master’s program! goodbye, six figure salary! hello, nonprofits!).

yet another great way to figure this out is to do some talking to people that know you well, i.e. your friends and family, or co-workers. they are in a unique position to tell you how they see you operating, and what they remember you enjoying (maybe as a child, for instance, or a work setting), and what they think you’re particularly great at. often we are too close to our own experiences and selves to really see clearly what we are like and what we are skilled at. keep a list going of things they say, and things you think of. then maybe ask some people (possibly some of the same ones, plus some professional contacts you may have, or a career counselor) to look at what you’ve come up with and see if they come up with anything you hadn’t thought of.

you might also take some classes without enrolling somewhere, officially. you can do this by taking adult ed classes, auditing courses, or simply signing up for one or two classes at a local college. if matriculating (officially enrolling and stating your intentions to pursue a degree program) is what is scaring you, this can be a good way to get your feet wet and try out some “crazy ideas” for what you might want to do and see if you actually like it. take a guitar lesson, a basketweaving class, or a grant writing seminar.

one more! if you have friends (or friends of friends, or friends of friends of friends, use that network!) who have a job that you think you might like (or that has aspects of it), see if you can do a job-shadow for a day or two. most places are totally open to this unless the job is dangerous, very technical in nature, or interacts with confidential information. chances are, there is someone (or several someones) in your network that has a job that is like one you might love. can’t hurt to ask, right?

the basic rule is this: explore things you already know you like, figure out what they have in common, find something you love, and then get gung-ho on it. worst case scenario, you’ll keep doing what you’re already doing now.

happy learning!


on how to look professional but also really, really cool

my dear spoonah,

i come to you in a time of need. like many of my queer comrades, i have the constant issue of having my age drastically underestimated. it has not, to this point, been necessarily a problem so much as an inconvenience. however, i am approaching a point in my career where it is important that i am taken seriously. luckily, most of that depends on community perspective on and ideas about my work, and will not be as affected by my physical appearance as by my ability to propel myself forward into what i am doing.

here’s the problem: i love body modification. i am pretty covered in tattoos, have a facial piercing, and often sport some funky hairdos. my last position required me to remove all facial piercings, but my new job has no such rules. spoonah, i want my lip re-pierced. i want to dye my hair again. i want to wear short sleeves. i, in fact, would like to continue doing these things for presumably a long time. but when is the point in life when i need to stop being creative with my physical appearance and sigh as i don another pair of khakis and adjust my comb-over? are mainstream perspectives on body modification shifting enough that i could potentially enjoy all of these accoutrement and still be taken seriously in my professional life?

please, show me the way, oh spoonah.

yours til the kitchen sinks and niagara falls,
benjamin unbuttoned

dear benjamin unbuttoned,

this is an issue I struggle with myself. personally, my response has been largely to just dress pretty professional all the time (though less so now that I am in school and jeans are par for the course). I have my nose pierced but it’s tiny and most people don’t notice and no one has ever cared. my hair is a normal color again, gone are the studs and patches from my jacket, and the cleavage line has risen dramatically as I’ve gotten into higher echelons of work-life.

in making these kinds of decisions, one of the most important factors is the area you work in. that includes your industry as well as your actual chosen (or desired) profession. there is a rule of thumb that you should dress for the job you want, and not for the one you have. therefore, if you desire to wind up as a director of something, or in some traditionally Business with a capital B job, then I’d say you are probably better off forgoing the visible piercings and wacky hairdos. If your hopes, however, lean more towards something like “director of fun!” or as a camp leader of queermos, or perhaps something that you would be working largely from home at, then by all means. bodymod away.

the other really important factor here is how much you care about bodymod and odd hairstyles and whatnot. is it hard for you to maintain your identity without them (and if so, perhaps that’s an issue to bring up to your therapist)? typically bodymod is an effort to express one’s self to others in a way that is immediate and gratifying and often radical. you might do some thinking about why your expression of self has to come written on the body. are there perhaps other ways you can satisfy that inherent human need of identity expression while still fitting into conforming norms? in bodymod there is also, obviously, a major component of attempting to achieve what we see as the most beautiful/hott/smokin’ self we can be. fashion can often do this, and can be taken off during the week in a way that bodymod cannot. if it’s crucial to you, however, to present yourself as a radical who looks like a radical, then you should consider changing your career plans to fit that.

there are certainly some industries or positions which allow greater flexibility, and I’d say that society as a whole is becoming more accustomed to “alternative realities” of what a professional can look like. and no matter what you do or no matter what age we live in, there will always be someone who doesn’t like your look. that’s a given. the fashion industry, many non-profits, and careers that are more casual in nature (for instance, many home-service jobs) do not have the same level of conformity. currently, however, the higher you go up in any industry, company, or career path…the more likely you’re going to be required to put on a three piece suit.

do not, however, let that totally discourage you. I love wearing suits. I feel great in them, and nothing looks better than feeling great.

farewell & dress well,


on how much money uncle sam owes you
January 30, 2010, 4:11 pm
Filed under: advice, parenting | Tags: , , ,

Dear Spoonah,

I know that you are a money wise person, one who may be able to help me with a tax question, plus I trust you implicitly. I am filing as an employee this year. TONS of money was with held from my checks for tax purposes, its kind of exciting at this point. Is there a way I can calculate my refund based on those numbers and how many I claimed this year? Also is there a web site or other references I can use for deducting my truck and computer. Basically I want to know if I can see, even if its just a ball park, what my return might look like without actually filing.


taxation without representation

dear taxation without representation,

to answer your question in a word, yes! there are ways to calculate your refund without actually filing. Any of the major online tax filing sites (like TurboTax, or H&R Block) usually have some kind of estimator on them for free, with no obligation. One that seems really user-friendly is available here. It includes a section, also, for unreimbursed business expenses (such as your computer and truck).

this should be a good way to get an idea of your refund, but when you go to file, I highly suggest at least talking to a tax pro (there are lots of low-cost or free tax helpers for lower-income folks, check out this link for some in your area), since your taxes are getting a wee bit complicated (what with business expenses but filing as an employee, for instance). They can also suggest some ways that you can maximize future tax benefits given your unique situation of being an employee who has business expenses.

happy happy filing (I love tax season)! and when you get that refund, check this out!

sweet tax dreams,


on giving discounts to friends
January 22, 2010, 2:44 pm
Filed under: advice, career | Tags: , , , , , ,

Dear Spoonah,

I’m a freelance artist who does both personal and commercial work. I often have friends approach me asking if I’m interested in doing some work for them. As much as I love my friends, I dread getting these requests because a lot of people who aren’t familiar with my skills/industry assume I charge much less than I’m worth, and seem surprised at my costs. Of course I love doing what I do, but I’m trying to make a living here! I also have costs for my equipment, transportation, marketing, etc, and that doesn’t even include the actual labor. When I give friends discounts, I eat a lot of those costs.

When a friend is interested in hiring me, I always give a discount, but also explain what my usual rate is and what it covers, so they understand the deal they’re getting. My problem is that very rarely do people ever follow through once I quote them a rate. I’ve had a few great gigs working for friends, but mostly I find myself in one of these scenarios:
a) spending large amounts of time quoting and explaining rates to friends who never end up hiring me
b) working for almost nothing just to avoid awkwardness with someone who doesn’t really understand what my skills are worth
c) not doing my best quality work, because I’m rushing or cutting corners so I don’t lose money one the job

I know I charge a fair rate compared to colleagues, and the discounts I offer friends are HUGE (I probably overcompensate). I don’t want to undersell myself, but I would love the additional work or just an easier way to deal with the potential awkwardness of financial negotiation between friends.

Do you have advice on explaining costs and offering discounts to friends of yours when they hire you? And on the flip side, what you should do or expect for a discount if you’re hiring a friend? Also, do you have to offer discounts to EVERYONE you know? Does a mere acquaintance or a friend-of-a-friend count as discount-worthy? Thanks!


Rich in Friends But Broke in Business

dear rich in friends,

this is quite the conundrum, and one I’m sure a lot of people run into. I know I run into it sometimes when hiring friends and when doing things for or selling things to friends (or even just really friendly acquaintances). I do a lot of crafting and frequently get “hey can you make me one of those? I’ll pay you!” requests. the hard part, of course, is telling them that if they really want to pay me to make them X, it’s going to cost probably two or three times what they could buy it for at Target. I also do petsitting and dogwalking for work (and have for 10+ years) and sometimes get requests to do labor-intensive pet care for free because I’m a pal. it’s one thing if it’s a good friend, or you just need someone to look in on your cat a few times. it’s quite another to watch your aging dog with IBS for a week while you’re away and walk him every four hours–that’s a service a client of mine would pay upwards of $400-500 for.

being hired by friends

I think there are a few ways to combat this. the first and possibly most useful is to make a concerted effort to have your friends see you as a professional artist, and not just as someone who is good at it and who sometimes gets paid for it. invite them to your professional shows, maybe talk up how expensive your equipment is, give them business cards, etc. I know that I’m a lot more likely to approach hiring a friend who I think of as “just starting out” or doing that thing casually than I am friends who I think of as making a living doing something. personally, I make a point of referring to the people whose dogs I walk or whose pets I care for as “clients”, for instance, and to the actual work as a job. I used to get a lot more long-term petsitting gigs from friends and family before I did that, but I also used to get paid about 1/10th what I do now, doing the same work.

I think it’s also helpful to hire your friends for professional work and pay a fair price for it. that has the added bonus of getting you potential clients (who will likely pay fairly) as well as letting your friend circle know that you believe in supporting your friends with actual real money, not just emotional support.

a third option might be to have some kind of documentation (on your website, or a brochure, or something along those lines) that show your actual non-discounted rates and let them know if you’re able to give them a discount but don’t initially tell them what that will be. if they start with your regular rates, perhaps they will offer you a higher rate than you would have given them. I’d suggest if someone says “hey I’m looking to hire someone for this project/event/whatever” say “that sounds great, I’d be interested in talking to you more about it. my rate is $X, though I’m willing to give a 10% discount to selected friends. If that sounds like it fits in your budget we can talk further about what you’re looking for.” that way you don’t spend a lot of time talking about things that won’t pan out, and they know what’s up right away.

hiring your friends

I also have a number of super talented wonderful friends whose professional services sometimes I want to hire. this is a problem since even if I wanted to pay them a lot I often can’t, and they often know that. as a result I end up not hiring friends as often as I’d like, out of a respect for the fact that I don’t want them undercutting their prices just because they like me. when I do hire friends what I try to do is ask them what their actual costs are, and making sure I am paying them at least enough to cover those plus at least some labor expense. it also helps to tip. other things I do are to recommend them to other people (including people that aren’t friends of theirs and would therefore pay full price), use them frequently (if it’s the kind of service that it would be helpful to raise their profit margin on me to do it a lot), and generally treat this person like they are doing me a big favor to give me that discount. on a fairly regular basis, I hire a friend to cut my hair, another friend to do my laundry (someone who loves doing laundry), and occasionally I hire friends to do things like give me massages, run errands for me, or do whatever it is that they do for work or pleasure. I love so much to hire my friends that sometimes I pay friends to hang out with me while I run errands or clean my house. I hope to someday have all of my products and services provided by friends–the super-local economy. but as you know, the only way for that to be sustainable is for it to be done fairly.

oh–and NO you don’t need to give a discount to everyone! give discounts to close friends, or to whomever you please. there is no sign on your door that says “if we’ve met you get 20% off”. good friends won’t expect a big discount anyway, or will understand whatever you’re able to offer them.

ok, sorry that was such a long response. here’s hopin it helps!