My Year in Money: It’s Okay to Get a Housecleaner and Buy Cheese


This year, I took my first fundraising job. Asking for money is like dating: You hope you never do it enough to get good at it. Then suddenly you’re walking into a room full of strangers and telling them why you are more entitled to their money than they are, and you realize that that you have done this umpteen times, this is literally your umpteenth time, and you don’t even sweat a little bit the first time you say a number out loud.

This year I learned that chasing money in this way is both more and less unseemly than you’d think. More unseemly because you and your coworkers sit around and speculate on which people, governments and corporations are swimming in Scrooge McDuck coin-vaults, and you call them greedy when they don’t invite you to join them in the deep end.

Less unseemly because you hella do need their money more than they do, dammit, your organization is genuinely trying, and occasionally achieving, a slight uptick in non-shittiness for people who deserve to learn how to read and drink unfilthy water and not get diseases, or at least they deserve it more than the strangers in the room deserve another trip to the Maldives.

Sometimes I remember that, and sometimes I forget it, and I don’t know which one makes me worse at my job.



My contract on this fundraising adventure expires in May, and I’ve been doing some preliminary LinkedInery to scope my options before I decide whether to renew. I’m genuinely surprised at how large a role money is playing in my decision-making so far.

I don’t have a husband or kids, I don’t eat fancy cheese or drink alcohol (OK I do eat fancy cheese), I don’t drive a car, I don’t need lots of living space. I like to think of myself as the kind of person for whom money isn’t a major concern. I work at an NGO, I wanna save the world and shit, I should be looking at these job ads for impact, responsibility, command over armies of interns, instead I’m skimming straight to the end for the numerics.

Maybe this means I’m anxious about my financial future. Maybe this means I’m becoming old and greedy. Maybe it means my passion has become a job. Maybe it means all three. The only thing I’m sure of is that somewhere in my late 20s, changing the world became a priority in competition with an ongoing supply of cheese, and I fear it won’t win forever.



The best money decision I made this year was hiring someone to clean my apartment. I know this sounds imperial and one-percentish, but I genuinely loathe cleaning, and every time I have to, I do it sloppily as a kind of self-directed spite: “See, I told you it was pointless.”

The going rate for a cleaner in Berlin is about €10 ($13) an hour, but I pay €15 ($19) out of sheer oligarchical guilt. Two months ago, I calculated that, after taxes, I only make €13.60 ($17.50) an hour myself. This helps.

My cleaner is from Lithuania and, like everyone in Berlin, is biding time working until she happens in her real profession, which is sculpture. This fall, my apartment fell into a campsite state of disrepair because she was exhibiting in Milan for eight weeks.

Which brings me to the best money advice I got this year, from my friend Brandon, who works at a bank and votes for Ron Paul and has a sneering tattoo of Ayn Rand across his torso (OK only the first one is true, but still): He told me, “You pay $40 a month to never stress out about cleaning your apartment. She gets a living wage, you get a clean apartment. This is how the economy works. So shut the fuck up already.”



Every single year, I lobby my family to stop giving each other Christmas presents, and every single year I am denied. This year, instead of spending 15 minutes picking out perfunctory DVDs on Amazon, I got everyone $100 gift certificates to their respective cities’ best restaurants, or at least the ones topping the “Best of 2012″ lists in their local newspapers.

I did this in the hope that these gifts would be so thoughtful and delightful that next year I can do the equivalent of a mic-drop and announce that they will be the last.

Not only did I get all the restaurants wrong (“It costs at least $200 to eat there. You just gave me the gift of spending $100″), but some of my relatives couldn’t figure out the gift certificate websites, and won’t bother redeeming them. My brother, in condolence, wrote, “Looking forward to next year’s DVD, sucker.”



I’ve spent basically my whole adulthood moving from small apartment to small apartment, and I’ve gotten good at not filling them up with tangibles. I give away all my books, I’m immune to home appliances, I wear clothes til they’re fishnets.

This doesn’t mean I’m good with money, just that I end up spending it on frivolous experiences rather than frivolous things. And this year I discovered the frivolousest money-hole imaginable: Brunch.

I stole the idea from a friend who, like me, had just moved to Berlin and didn’t know very many people.

“Write to all your Facebook friends in Berlin,” he said. “Invite them all to your house for brunch, and tell them to invite two or three people they know.”

“It gives the impression of intimacy because they’ve seen you in your living space,” he said, sounding like one of those top-hatted dating gurus from The Game. “And these people are sure to reciprocate the invitation, since they feel they owe you for all the free food.”

Three weeks later, I spent $150 on ingredients (OK mostly cheese), spent a day cooking, and ended up feeding 10 friends and 20 strangers in my living room. We started at noon, and the last didn’t leave ’til 8 p.m.

It may have been a calculated idea and a lot of prep work, but in execution, it was a relaxed and enjoyable way to spend a Sunday, and I met a lot of people I still know now. It was also a way for me, a career introvert, to meet a lot of new people in a slow, comfortable trickle rather than a networking-event deluge.

It might not have been my most prudent financial decision this year, but it’s the investment I’m the happiest I made. Now if only I could stop feeling bad about paying someone to help me clean up after it.


Michael Hobbes lives in Berlin. He blogs at


7 Comments / Post A Comment

NoReally (#45)

I have zero guilt over my housecleaner, and if I told her it would make me feel virtuous to fire her, clean my own toilet, and spend her income on some other luxury like pedicures or hardcover books, I don’t think she would appreciate the gesture.

For extra credit, do your payroll taxes, so that they get their social security, and the US gets their income tax.

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@NoReally He lives in Berlin and she’s Lithuanian, so she won’t be getting any SSI. And if you make less than $600 a year, you don’t report that income. If he is paying her $40 a month to clean his place, that’s not $600.

lizard (#2,615)

@josefinastrummer im sure she cleans other houses too

I plan to hire a cleaner when we buy a house of our own. I don’t feel I can currently justify it though given what we earn, the size of our house and the relative lack of busy-ness in our lives.

My family isn’t big on Christmas either. I think I went too far this year, however, by entirely neglecting to get something for my BF. Will make it up next year (we’ll be married then so I really need to make an effort I think!)

ThatJenn (#916)

I hired someone to do my lawn once or twice a month and am SO very happy with the decision. I’ve been wanting to do it for years, avoiding it because I didn’t want to be the kind of person who can’t take care of her own lawn, and in delaying, demonstrating quite clearly and repeatedly to neighbors and code enforcement that I am very definitely the kind of person who can’t take care of her own lawn.

Now, my lawn is in great shape all the time and it makes me want to take care of other parts of my house, and I only pay $35-70/month (depending on time of year) for that privilege. It is 100% worth it to me to cut $35-70 out of other budgets to pay for it (and to support a local business, let’s not forget!).

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@lizard it doesn’t matter, since they live in Germany, but if she was a freelance cleaning woman in the U.S. she would need to make more than $600 per year from each customer before she had to report each of those incomes. It sounds like she is actually an artist who just cleans on the side anyway.

mishaps (#65)

I will eat packaged ramen three times a day to save money before I give up having a cleaning person again.

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