on what to do with your tax return
January 18, 2010, 4:22 pm
Filed under: advice, financial | Tags: , , , , , , ,

dear spoonah,

it’s tax season. i’m getting scores of w-2s and other letter/number combinations of forms that i don’t understand. it would normally be frustrating, but i manage to stay un-stressed based on the possibility of getting a large return. so let’s just theoretically say that happens, and i end up with a pretty reasonable check from the government. do i:

a) buy those boots i’ve been wanting for oh-so-long?
b) finally purchase that sex toy i’ve been eyeing since aught seven?
c) follow my thrifty instincts, put it all into savings, and try to forget about it until an emergency comes up?
d) spoonah’s choice

please guide me. i am lost, bewildered, and need to be spoon(ah)ed.

in christ,

broke but eager, in portland.

dear broke but eager,

the answer to this is going to vary based on a few factors. namely, how much you get back and how much these things cost. according to the IRS website, the average personal tax refund was $2,345. however, the average American filing tax returns is (and I am just guessing here) married, with children, and has a family income of $50,233.00 (in 2007, via wikipedia). since you have not indicated that you are either (and since I know for a fact that you are neither) your tax refund is probably going to be pretty different (read: lower). I couldn’t find a lot about average tax refunds for single people with lower incomes and no children, but an article from 2005 by Intuit states that the average refund for people between the ages of 18-24 is $900. so let’s assume we’re working with somewhere around $1000, shall we?

I would like to think (but do not know) that neither the boots you want or the sex toy you want cost anywhere near $1000. if that is true, and you’ve been pining after them for years, then by all means, go at it. another thing I know about you (not included in your letter) is that you are an exceptionally hard worker, so you should learn to treat yourself. let’s say that between the two of them you spend, say, $300. that leaves you with $700 left to put in savings, pay off debt, or shred and bathe in. up to you.

but spoonah, you say. how do I know whether to pay off debt or put it in savings?

a good rule of thumb is this. if you have no savings and some (or a lot) of debt: take the first $500 you have beyond daily expenses and put it into an emergency fund. use the rest on debt. $500 is the smallest emergency fund I am comfortable recommending, though I feel a lot better about $1000 or more. However, since interest rates are such shit right now for deposit accounts, you’re undoubtedly better off clearing out some debt that you’re paying more interest on. especially if they are credit cards that you can then have available in case of a serious emergency.

happy spending!



on traumatizing your tween
January 6, 2010, 9:14 pm
Filed under: advice, parenting | Tags: , , , , , ,

Dear Spoonah,

I’m a mom of a 12 year old girl, and I want her to grow up feeling empowered and in control of her sexuality.  So I have been planning to buy her a vibrator so she doesn’t feel like she has to have risky (or pregnancy-inducing) behavior to feel sexual.  My question is: at what age do you think I should get her one?  And is there a way that I can give it to her without it being totally traumatizing?

Sign me,

Preteen Progenitor in Portland

dear progenitor,

I have a few things to suggest concerning this question but if you hear only one of them, let it be this.  do not give your daughter a vibrator.  do not do it now or then, do not do it here nor there.  do not do it in a house, do not do it in the shape of a mouse. do not give it in a box, do not give it like a fox.  you will absolutely traumatize her if you give her a sex toy no matter how old she is or how cool and hip you are or how close you are with her.

that being said, I think there are ways that you can help her feel comfortable, empowered, and in control of her sexuality.  the key here is that if you want her to feel empowered and in control, then she needs to be the one making the moves.  if she feels like you are acknowledging her budding sexuality, then all she is going to think about is that you have sexuality and that is just going to gross her out and make her withdraw.  if, however, she feels like she is discovering these things on her own in an environment where discovery and learning and growth are encouraged, then she will naturally feel empowered and in control.

here is what I suggest:  if you haven’t already, or even if you have, talk to her about sexuality.  I’d say try not to make it super formal because that will just make it look like you’re not comfortable with it either (as she certainly isn’t).  talk to her about sex and masturbation and maybe give her a book that has some information on exploring her new sexual feelings.  I would say don’t give her a book that is all “here’s how to have a lot of fun touching yourself” but more as a part of a whole “changing body” kind of thing.  I’d also keep having that conversation every time there is an opportunity.  when sex is on TV or movies, when her friends talk about it, that kind of thing.  she is at an age where she is still looking to you for what to do and how to act, so if you are empowered, comfortable, and in control of your sexuality, then she will be too.  just don’t tell her about how much play you’re getting or she’s going to puke.

the main thing is that right now, you’re probably more nervous about having this talk than she is.   she probably has a lot of questions and you’re who she knows as the best answer-giver.  if you give her a vibrator, though, she is going to think of you as a weirdo mom and talk to her friends big sister or something who is like 15 and is not going to give her the advice you would.

if you’re totally set on getting her a vibrator…I’d spend the next two years or so talking to her about sex and healthy sexuality and then maybe talk to her about if she is interested in exploring it any further in a non-partner-sex kind of way.  maybe she has a cool young aunt who can take her to Nomia.  Maybe you can just get her a $20 visa gift card and unlock the NetNanny for a weekend and tell her to “see what comes to her.”  perhaps you can drop hints that when you buy sex toys online they come in unmarked packages so no one would ever know what she bought.  you get the idea.

the key to empowering other people is to create a safe space where empowered people (i.e. you) are seen as cool and in control and like role models.  I suspect you’re already doing that.  keep it up, and good luck!