Advice

B is for Bonus

Unexpected $100 from Grandma showing up in your mailbox. It’s not your birthday, but last week she got lucky at the craps table.

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Everyone’s Born in the Summer Damn Them So What Do You Do?

Perhaps you’ve noticed by now that fully everyone you’ve ever met in your entire life was born between June and September. Oh, sure, there’s an odd Aries at your office, or a poor sap you know from the gym whose birthday gets drowned out by Christmas, but for the most part, summer birthdays. They are a plague and a menace. Worst of all, they sometimes require presents.

Option 1: Experiences over things! When you give the gift of an experience, you get not merely the experience itself — the trip to the water park, the theater, the spa — but the memories of said experience, which endure, unbreakable, gathering neither dust nor mold, forever, til death do you part, or Alzheimer’s.

Option 2: Things over experiences! When you give the gift of something the individual truly wants and has not yet managed to wrangle for themselves — like, say, a vintage 70′s Swiss wrist-watch that you lovingly picked out for them from a old-school midtown jewelry store, encouraged by an Indian salesman named Moses — you demonstrate that you have listened to them when they have expressed their preferences in the past. You have put in attention and time as well as money. Whenever they look at their wrist they will swell with affection for you.

Option 3: Things that include experiences! Like, say, the Star Wars (TM) LEGO set that, when built, becomes a nearly life-sized R2-D2, for your 30-year-old son to remind him he is still a kid at heart. The thing is great; the experience of building the thing is even greater; and the having of the thing, ideally in your new office in Vegas, that you have the memory of building, is greatest of all.

Winner: My mom, for buying my little brother the R2-D2, which he put together in a grand total of two days. Well played, Mother.

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Books That Are Worth The Money

1) Books you have read already, perhaps via the library, that you know that you will want to reread

2) Books that activate the release of serotonin in your brain simply by the sight of their spines because you love them so much

3) Books with pretty spines

4) Books with pretty titles

5) Books that help define your tastes, opinions, and proclivities to strangers who might be in your apartment and looking at your shelves

6) Children’s books, because you will read each of them ten zillion times until you have them memorized and can rattle them off while walking down the street. “Up! Up! The sun is getting up! The sun gets up, so up with you! Up ear #1, ear #2!”

7) Reference-y books that you can reach out for in times of need, like Bird by Bird

8) Anything by Anne Lamott, really

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Saying “No I Can’t” Because of Money

It is so hard to say no! It is especially hard to say no to our friends, who we love, or who we like well enough but think for whatever reason that it is imperative that they love us. And it especially hard when the “no” is because of money. Or is it easier, money being an inarguable reality like the weather? “It’s raining / I’m broke.” No, it’s harder, because it is hard to acknowledge to our friends that we might be coming up short, that the thought of spending is making us hyperventilate, and that even though we love them maybe we don’t have or can’t afford to part with the $1,000+ their wedding will cost us.

WaPo advice columnist / demigod Carolyn Hax shows us the way:

Q. HOW TO DECLINE WEDDING INVITATIONS I’m getting many wedding invitations these days and unfortunately I just can’t afford to go to all of them. Some friends understand, but how do you explain that to the brides who just don’t seem to get it and keep pushing you on it?

A. CAROLYN HAX You don’t. You’re under no obligation to explain at all, though with a good friend you’ll want to say something, of course: “I would love to go but I can’t afford it.” Done. If pressed, you ask them please to respect you enough to accept that you’d go if you could. Beyond that, the couples’ behavior makes for a good sorting tool. Remember who was gracious and who was pushy, and then, as you continue to be called upon to invest more money and energy in your friends than you have to give, choose to give to the gracious ones.

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WWYD: Should I Be Upset Because a New Hire is Getting Paid the Same Salary as Me?

Am I wrong to be incredibly irate about this? It’s hard to know what others in my position earn as the job is in a very niche industry and its tough to get an accurate range. I’ve already started looking for a new job, but not sure how to square all this so I can still get my job done and not just throw my hands up and completely check out mentally.

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When You Splurge and the Results Are … Unexpected

This past weekend, the absence of my fella and Babygirl left me to my own devices, by which I mean the laptop and the ROKU box. (I finished the edits my agent wanted on my novel! I watched all of “Sherlock” Season 3!) It was glorious.

Most importantly, though, I at last at last enjoyed Birthday Massage #1. Following your sage advice, I went with two rubdowns at the local Brooklyn place I already know and love over three at the Manhattan place that may-or-may-not-be-awesome. The massage therapist at the Brooklyn place was great. She was also what some people might call a Chatty Cathy. I mean, the lady could talk.

There I was, facedown on a table, my modesty protected only by the equivalent of a moist towelette, in a candlelit room echoing with the soothing noises of “Vaguely Buddhist-Sounding Mix #431″ — I didn’t exactly feel empowered to say, “Um, would it be okay if we did this in silence?” Luckily Chatty Cathy was good at her job and her commentary didn’t take me out of the experience. Not like the very first time I splurged on a massage as an adult who badly needed one, having been laid off just before Christmas in the middle of the NYC transit strike, and got $50 worth of free advice from an Eastern European:

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A Father-Daughter Duo Answers Your Questions: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

I’m 24 and I’ve been at my first job for about a year; it’s typically a two-year position. My supervisor has recently quit, and according to several coworkers in our (very small) office, I would be a good fit for it. I know the region of specialization, I just submitted a report to my big boss on long-term strategy that she really liked, and one of the other people in our office who works at the same level as my supervisor mentioned to the big boss that (as far as she’s concerned) I would be a good fit.

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Five Characteristics of Good Mentors

In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg describes an encounter with a woman she works with: the women describes wanting a mentor that is willing to meet with her once a week for an hour to talk about her career. Sandberg responds: “No, that’s a therapist.”

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“Secrets” to Buying a House Without Getting Hosed

Vox presents six secrets to getting a house without getting hosed. It’s an interesting read, but I’m not sure if their tips are actually secrets or even whether I agree with all of them, so YMMV. For instance:

Choose your realtor carefully. … When evaluating real estate agents, it’s important to keep in mind that their incentives aren’t aligned with your own priorities as the buyer. You want the best home at the lowest price — and you may be willing to wait quite a while for the right deal to come along. In contrast, agents make more money when they can close deals as quickly as possible — and they make more money when their clients spend more.

Yeah! Which is a good argument for not using a realtor. Partly because I’m historically anti-broker, we didn’t employ one when we were house-hunting; I had Excel and an obsessive nature and I put both to good use. Honestly though I’m not sure what a broker could have added to the experience? Doing the work myself wasn’t that onerous and saved us a good chunk of cash. We didn’t do a mortgage broker, either, or any other middleman. More relevant to our peace of mind was having a smart, kick-ass real estate attorney. Ours once answered the door in a robe and slippers, but underneath that terrycloth she was a shark. Hers was the only expertise we paid for, and it was well worth it.

I think the best advice in that Vox article is to buy less house than you can afford. It’s tempting to get pre-approved for the biggest loan you can and, once you see that amazing condo / horse farm / converted 1830s mill, go a litttttle over-budget because what’s the harm? But in a couple of years, you and your partner might both decide to DWYL, at least part-time. You might get laid off, or get sick, or develop an itch to learn Spanish in Ecuador. Having low monthly mortgage payments will allow you so much more flexibility and room for experimentation in your lives. The pleasure that room will give you will be more lasting than the rec room with a wet bar in the basement.

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The Ethics of Taking Free Stuff

It’s not the best use of philanthropic funds to give people like me free books. Is it an acceptable use?

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