How Much Should I Pay for a Star Chart? and Other Key Questions Answered

Rule No. 1: Don’t be afraid to haggle. These are psychics, fortune tellers and palm readers. Believe me, you won’t be the first person to haggle. Rule No. 2: Don’t do any of this “over the phone” or “online.” Did you learn nothing from Miss Cleo’s fall from grace?

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How To: Barter! Featuring Chickens

Remember that Nevada Republican running for Senate who suggested we pay doctors with chickens? She was great. Or at least great for the headlines, and for her opponent Harry Reid, who went on to get reelected:

Phoebe Sweet, communications director for the Nevada State Democratic Party, and a few of her barnyard friends who shall remain nameless stopped by Lowden’s campaign headquarters. “I tried to trade this goat for some health care, and my doctor looked at me like I’m crazy,” Sweet told a receptionist as she carried the 25-pound goat into the headquarters with a local TV crew tracking her. “So I was just curious if you had any information on her barter plan.” “No, thank you,” the unidentified receptionist said politely.

Well, Chicken Lady Sue Lowden (R) may have gone away, but, as Esther Schindler details in this article, the idea of incorporating some bartering into our economy is still with us:

An accountant might do the tax-filing for a company that can redesign its website. Farmers can (and do) exchange tractors for cattle. A landscaping business can work out a maintenance services agreement with the lawyer who’ll do its incorporation papers.

What a fantastic plan! I’ll write you a limerick if you change my lightbulbs. Except, as Schindler goes on to note, assigning value to disparate tasks can present some challenges. Is an hour of legal advice equivalent to an hour of house painting? What if I need my lightbulbs changed immediately but you’re happy to wait a week for a perfect limerick? Who is the ultimate arbiter of what’s fair and what is worth what? I don’t want you dragging me into small claims court because you hate my rhymes and demand a do-over. You know Judge Judy would ultimately take my side, anyway.

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Live Like Marie Antoinette on a Marie Callender Budget

I have a Marie Antoinette appetite for decadence, but my wallet can’t keep up. And so, from babysitting days to college days to first-big-girl job days, my budget has learned to adapt in small ways, to make room for small luxuries. So I can eat my cake and have it, too.

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Survey Says: The Type of College You Go To Doesn’t Matter

I do love when a Gallup poll confirms my assumptions! When it comes to how engaged you are at work, and whether or not you’re “thriving in all areas of our well-being”, the type of college you went to — public or private, big or small, competitive or not — doesn’t matter nearly as much as the type of experience you had there. And what type of experience is that? you might ask.

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Cities That Are Not New York: Tucson, Ariz.

Cord Jefferson has written a lyrical, lovely, and charged essay about growing up black in mostly white and Latino Tucson, Ariz., and also about Tucson itself, where his childhood was defined first by and then against its specific idiosyncrasies:

The sun beat down on us relentlessly in Tucson. The flora was thorny and the fauna was unsociable. And yet there we lived and thrived, going about our days in the hard-baked rocky desert, laughing about the triple-digit heat. In a scene in Lawrence of Arabia, Mr. Dryden tells Lawrence, “Only two kinds of creature get fun in the desert: Bedouins and gods.” We were not Bedouins in Tucson, and so we must have been the latter.

I remember getting my first fake ID, which said I was 18 so I could go to bars in Mexico. We found a check-cashing store south of the Tucson Mall that issued its own ID cards for customers who couldn’t obtain anything else. “We don’t verify any of the information you put on these,” a woman said from behind bulletproof glass as she pushed the paperwork through a slot. “Write whatever you want.” That’s how my friends and I ended up with slips of laminated paper that listed our addresses as “420 Weed Ave.” and “666 Satan St.” In my photo I had a wispy mustache that curled upward with my nervous smile. My name was “Tony Montana,” like Scarface.

Especially if you have ever felt ambivalent about where you come from, and then guilty about that ambivalence, go ahead and read the whole thing. It’s pretty marvelous.

P.S. — Wanna about your hometown for us and how you feel now looking back on your childhood there? Email me! Ester AT thebillfold DOT com

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What’s ENTAILED In Making a Will? (Get it? “Entailed”?)

All right, kiddos! It’s time for Part II of the conversation begun last week about estate planning for millennials, wherein we find a lighthearted way to talk about money and death. There should be a Schoolhouse Rock! cartoon on the subject. Unfortunately the show went off the air before it could find a catchy way to address the importance of bequeathing your earthly possessions and making provision for your dependents and heirs, so we’ll have to make do the best we can. Let’s start at the top.

WHERE THERE’S A WILL, THERE’S A WAY: What is a will exactly? Is it different from a Living Will? Is there such a thing as an Unliving, Unleavened, or Zombie Will? Do we still “entail” things, like they do on “Downton Abbey“? What if we’ve got nothing to leave but debt and a questionable browser history?

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Here’s A Surefire Tax Estimating Process for Freelancers (Rebooted and Updated)

A year and a half ago, I wrote about my surefire tax estimation system for freelancers for the Billfold, in the hopes that a system that has worked for me would help the many Billfold readers who live partly or entirely on freelance income avoid quarterly or annual financial panic when it came to dealing with their taxes. “This system is incredibly useful!” some said. “This system is insanely complex, how can you expect anyone to actually do this,” said many others. “Please help me,” said an unsettling number of emails I’ve received.

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How to Negotiate That Job Offer

By my count, in the last five years, I have negotiated around three dozen job offers.

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When It Comes to Your 401(k), Don’t Just ‘Set It and Forget It’

A few years ago, my 401(k) started to exhibit strange behavior. I check my statement about once a week, and at the time, I noticed that my balance was dipping and rising, and I had no idea why.

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Calling All Literary Agents, Via Your Blog

Miles Klee took to his Tumblr today to announce that he’s looking for a new literary agent:

“Representation for literary fiction is not typically secured through one’s blog, and I’ll be sending official query letters to several agencies that have expressed interest in my work; nevertheless, I feel it couldn’t hurt to have this pitch out there, on the open market, in case it strikes someone else’s fancy.”

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What To Do When The Floor Caves In

Rebecca and Nate replace some floorboards.

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