Sunday, December 04, 2016

I Am the Ocean: A Pleasant Surprise

When Samita Sarkar emailed me to ask if I’d be interested in reviewing her travel memoir, I initially hesitated.

Here is her description of what I Am the Ocean is about:
The memoir covers a backpacking trip along the east coast of the United States that I took during my early twenties. A Canadian traveler on a budget with a thirst for self-discovery, I slept on couches, buses, and in cramped hostels. I saw beautiful things and met many interesting people, but it was also a time of spiritual searching and personal development for me.
I wasn’t sure. Not another backpacking book! I’d kind of had my fill of those after reading Cheryl Strayed’s Wild and Susan Jane Gilman’s Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven, but my intuition kicked in and I said yes. I am so glad I did - I Am the Ocean was a pleasant surprise.

After Sarkar graduated from the university with top grades she surprisingly can’t find a job. To pull herself out of her jobless funk she uses her savings to travel on a budget from Canada to Miami stopping in NYC, Washington D.C., Savannah and Miami along the way. Not to keep comparing her to Strayed, but her trip was well-planned, she trusted her intuition and used common sense. Though if she had asked me for advice, I would have told her to skip the couch surfing at single men’s apartments. 

I enjoyed her observations of traveling in the U.S., thoughts on Americans and our landmarks/tourist destinations. I also liked that she wasn’t afraid to travel off the beaten path. As a travel tip I’ve never considered visiting Miami, but am now sure it is not a place I want to visit; at least not while staying in a hostel.

I found her assessment of (an online community where people who wanted to learn different foreign languages and mark each other’s assignments) interesting: 

Because all good things most come to an end, their competitor, the language giant Rosetta Stone, eventually bought and ran this amazing resource with a thriving community into the ground. (pg. 5)

I recommend this book to any 20-something going through a quarter-life crisis, those who want to learn what it is like to travel on a budget, readers who enjoy travel memoirs or want to read a well-written, light book. I Am the Ocean  would make a great nonfiction beach read.

Personally, I love Samita Sarkar’s writing voice and want to read everything she has written and am heading over to her website to do so now.

Have you read any books lately that were a pleasant surprise?

Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review and am an Amazon affiliate.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Is a Culinary Degree Worth It?

Today’s post was inspired by Chelsea Fagan’s article 3 thoughts I've been having about money. She writes about her uncomfortableness with the personal finance community and middle-class privilege, but the line "why the f*** is a woman in as prosperous a country as America six figures in debt for a Bachelor’s degree in the first place?" resonated with me. She goes on to write:
And what can we do, politically and personally, to ensure that more people do not end up in the same situation, rather than simply explaining the best and most efficient ways to crawl out of it?
I immediately decided to write about Alyssa, a line chef working at Huertas in NYC, who I learned about in my latest read Generation Chef: Risking It All for a New American Dreamwritten by Karen Stabiner.* Alyssa owed close to $80,000 in student loan debt incurred while she attended CIA in Hyde Park, New York. She paid for her entire bachelor’s degree with student loans; at the time she thought the degree was essential because she hadn’t gone to college. She was well-paid for a line cook at $13 an hour – most New York City line cooks earned an hourly rate of between $8 and $12. Making ends meet after her loan repayment’s temporary reduction expired became impossible.

She ended up moving back to her childhood home in Southern California to live with her mom. Her first food job had been at a restaurant on the Disneyland property in Anaheim. She hoped to return to one of the Disneyland restaurants. They paid well and offered sizable benefits. She figured with no rent and no food costs she would be able to make a sizable dent in her debt in two to three years.

Other annual salaries mentioned in Generation Chef:

Sous Chef $36,000-$38,000

Jonah (restaurant owner) $50,000.

Is a culinary degree worth it?

The chefs featured in the article Chefs Weigh In; Is Culinary School Worth It? say it is not. Jonah, Huertas’ owner, describes culinary school as a “parochial” experience and is wary of graduates, although he feels hiring Alyssa was an exception.

Then there are articles like this one: Surprising jobs with $100K salaries -- after only a two-year degree. The #1 career on the list is pastry chef.  I was touting the earning potential of pastry chefs, to a friend when she brought me back to reality. Her niece made $11 an hour as a pastry chef only because she worked for another family member. After that restaurant closed, the niece moved to Denver where she now works at a popular restaurant earning $9 an hour frosting cakes and cupcakes.

Then there is the 14-year old daughter of an acquaintance who dreams of going to culinary school and becoming a pastry chef. Her father’s advice: become a software engineer, work in Silicon Valley earning $200,000 a year for 20 years, then retire and open a bakery as your second career.

*In Generation Chef: Risking It All for a New American Dream, Stabiner follows Jonah for a little more than a year as he fulfills his childhood dream of opening a restaurant. His journey isn’t for the faint of heart; despite all his planning and positive reviews, he faced staffing shortages, $700,000 of debt, failed liquor license approvals and not enough customers. If you have dreams of someday owning your own restaurant I recommend reading Generation Chef for a reality check.

What do you think: is a Culinary Degree worth It? 

Please Note, I am an Amazon Affiliate

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Life of the Party by Bob Kealing

I have to admit I had never heard of Brownie Wise prior to reading about Bob Kealing’s book Life of the Party: The Remarkable Story of How Brownie Wise Built, and Lost, a Tupperware Party Empire on Blogging for Books.

What is this book about?

Long before Martha Stewart, Mary Kay and other celebrated mavens of domesticity, there was Wise, the face and genius behind the iconic Tupperware Party. In “Life of the Party: The Remarkable Story of How Brownie Wise Built, and Lost, a Tupperware Party Empire,” we learn the remarkable story of how she built — and abruptly lost — a Tupperware Party empire.

My Thoughts:

I love a good historical business book and Life of the Party is a good one. It begins a little slow as we learn about Earl Tupper (Tupperware’s inventor), Wise’s early years and her life before she was promoted to sales manager. Once Wise moves to Florida the story becomes more interesting and I found the last half of the book which includes her rapid rise as the face of Tupperware and her eventual demise fascinating.

I also thought it was interesting to learn Tupperware’s home party division made their home in the Kissimmee/Orlando area of Florida long before Disney moved in. Florida was still quite racially-segregated in 1951, but land was cheap and it was thought it would be easier to convince salesman to combine family vacations with business seminars saving the company money.

Brownie Wise was an astute business woman ahead of her time, but if you are looking for a how did she do it type of book you will most likely be disappointed. This book is more of a “what she did” type of book than a “how-to.” Though there are snippets of business and marketing lessons scattered though-out.

I like this one on recruiting that could still be used today:

If she (a potential Tupperware dealer) isn’t eager to devote enough time to her first training, you should not appoint her. Beware of the applicant who thinks she doesn’t need thorough training. The odds against her are huge. (Pg. 76.)

Bottom Line:
I recommend if you are interested in business history, reading about business and career women, the 1950’s, trends in business and of course Tupperware and the home party concept.

Life of the Party: The Remarkable Story of How Brownie Wise Built, and Lost, a Tupperware Party Empire would also make a good selection for a business book club.  Bob Kealing remained unbiased when he described what happened to Brownie Wise, which in my opinion could lead to a great discussion.

Have you heard of Brownie Wise? If you've read this book, what did you think?

"I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review."

Note, some of the links included in this post are affiliate links.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Is It Okay to Quit Without Giving a Two Week Notice?

I recently talked with a 55-year old woman who had been so stressed working as a freight logistics specialist she quit without giving a notice.

When asked why she didn’t give a two-week notice she says she gave a two-year notice:

For the past two years she repeatedly asked her boss for an assistant and complained about her workload. She had told him if her work load didn’t improve she was going to quit. She felt it wasn’t her fault he hadn’t taken her seriously. After a particularly grueling Friday she went home, sent an email to her boss telling him she quit and never went back.

She spent the summer relaxing and spending time with her family. She had recently gotten a part-time retail job for the holiday season and is searching for permanent employment with a placement agency. She wasn’t looking for career advice from me. Instead she wanted to vent about her former employer and receive reassurance she had done the right thing.

My response:

She isn’t the first person I’ve met who has complained about this company. I had talked to another employee around the holidays who had been furious when this company announced a surprise weekly shut down over Christmas. If employees didn’t have PTO time available they had to take four days off without pay. Since they received holiday pay for Christmas day, they would not be eligible for unemployment. So much for a holiday bonus.

This woman confirmed the shut-down story and also told me she had also received a pay-cut.

I told her many companies, including my own, had to institute these types of cost-cutting procedures to stay in business. I also think the business economy is more competitive than ever. Companies that don’t get scrappy don’t survive.

She did not like my answer, so I moved on. If our conversation had continued I would have told her the following:

There were two employees that left my company last year. Both had been with our company for several years. One had worked for me.  This employee had also been stressed for years and had asked repeatedly for an assistant. Her requests were denied because I and the managers above me thought she was inefficient and resistant to more efficient procedures. After a particularly grueling year-end she resigned to work at her son’s company. She gave a three-week notice and agreed to work part-time for several additional weeks to train her replacement. Since leaving, our company has utilized her son’s company a few times giving his business thousands of dollars of revenue. Also, my boss came to the conclusion my former employee was right – her job was too much work for one person and we have hired an additional part-time employee. We talk fondly about this employee and reminisce about her accuracy and knowledge.

Contrast this story with the other employee who quit last year. His wife suffered from a debilitating decease that required him to go home every day at lunch to care for her. He was assigned a new manager who felt these lunch breaks were excessive and told him he had to make other arrangements. This employee came in the next Monday supposedly to give his notice. When he discovered his boss was scheduled to be out of the office the entire week he sent the following email to all employees:

“It has been nice working with everyone. I quit.”

He gave another manager his keys and phone, left and never came back.

To this day when someone talks about being stressed at work they laugh and say, but I’m not going to pull a “Jerry.” This employee whose excessive lunches most likely were protected through FMLA, after 20 years of employment was now a company joke.

In hindsight, when the above woman realized her boss wasn't going to improve her situation she should have started to plan her exit; getting her finances in order, updating her resume, and taking much needed time off.  When the time was right, she could then resign with a two-week notice.

So is it ever okay to quit without giving a two-week notice?

I think unless your employment is severely effecting your mental or physical health it is in your best interest long-term to give a two-week notice. Who knows they might escort you out the door regardless, but at least you are giving them the opportunity to ask you a question or two and are giving your co-workers time to wish you well. As Michelle Obama says, “When they go low, you go high.”

What do you think – is it ever okay to quit without giving a two-week notice?

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Do I Have to Give Presentations?

I received the following email this week from a reader:

I'm writing to get some advice from you and your readers on a small issue I'm having at work. I work at a large university in the enrollment division. I am a content writer, in charge of content marketing for the departments in my division. I update websites, write press releases, create newsy blog posts, write emails to prospective students, and write and review hard copy publications like brochures. I do not actively recruit students for the university. I am behind the scenes. This type of work pretty much exactly suits my personality. I'm an introvert. Shy in some situations, but not all. I like to write. I do not like leading meetings, but will if I have to, and I do a good job of seeming personable. My problem is that some of the people in my department are on call to give presentations to visiting prospective students from time to time (when there are no admission counselors available to give them). My boss has hinted twice (but not outright asked or told me) that she'd like me to give a presentation once in a while. Which terrifies me because I am not a confident public speaker. Especially when I'm essentially pitching the university (like a sales pitch). Should I ask her if she'd like me to start giving presentations and, if so, voice my concerns to her? Or should I continue to do my job per my job description and hope she stops hinting?
Dear Reader:

I too am an introvert. Growing up I was also painfully shy. So much so, that when I ran into an old classmate from high school he said the thing he remembered most about me was how shy I had been. During my entire 12 years of undergraduate education and most likely my entire college education too, I never once spoke voluntarily in a class setting. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to overcome this shyness and reluctance to speak in public. Now I routinely share my ideas in meetings and ask questions during seminars and presentations, but I still am and always will be an introvert. Please see my post Why Can't I Think on My Feet? Also, if you haven’t read Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking read it now.


How did I overcome my reluctance to speak in public?

I became active in my professional organization. For three years, I introduced the speakers at our monthly meetings. The first few times, I dreaded those introductions and had that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach just like I did during my former public speaking classes in high school and college. Then I realized that by practicing – for me five times was key – I felt prepared enough to make it through the introductions without embarrassing myself. Slowly I started asking questions during the presentations and during our meetings. The more successes I had the more confident I became.

Your boss is a weakling:
I actually think your boss is at fault for not being more frank. Hinting or guilting an employee into doing something they could be afraid to do is not a healthy management strategy. Meeting with prospective students should have been part of your job description. Since it was not, she should have formally discussed this with you. Since she did not…

What should you do?
I think you should bring this up with your boss sooner rather than later. Another thing I’ve learned over the years is to not spend a lot of time worrying about things my boss may want me to do. I now come right out and ask him – “do you want me to do X?” You could wait until you have a formal performance review or bring it up during a discussion about your work load or your job duties, but I wouldn’t wait too long or lose too much sleep over this one.

If your boss insists this is something she would like you to do, I would provide your reservations and tell her you don’t think quick on your feet. Ask to practice first. See if you can observe the admissions department give a tour, have them observe you during a presentation and interject if you struggle. At the very least she should be providing you with a sample script you could read through ahead of time. She can’t just spring this on you and expect you to do a good job and not be flustered.

It is also possible once she hears your reservations she may say you don’t have to do give these presentations. There have been board members in my organization who never give a speech at a major event. They are not comfortable speaking in public and since we want to give a good impression we have a more seasoned speaker fill in for them. There is also a manager at my company who had a panic attack a few days before a presentation that resulted in a visit to the emergency room. His presentation ended up going very well and he and our company received industry recognition for it. Afterwards when our President heard about the emergency room incident he said despite the good results he would never “insist” my co-worker give a presentation again.

Readers – what do you think? Should our reader talk to her boss or continue to hope she stops hinting?

Please note I am an Amazon affiliate.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Born for This by Chris Guillebeau

Motivation for Reading:

I'd been following Chris Guillebeau's blog for a few years, but hadn’t read any of his books. I even signed up to attend one of his events held in Milwaukee, but didn’t attend due to his flight being delayed. When I saw his book Born for This: How to Find the Work You Were Meant to Dowas available for review on Blogging for Books I decided to give it a try.

What is Born for This: How to Find the Work You Were Meant to Do about?

It is basically a career guide to help readers find the work they are meant to do.

My Thoughts:

Before attending the first seminar of my working life, a colleague told me if I take one thing away from the seminar it was worth my time. I finished reading Born for This several weeks ago and I can’t stop thinking about the 24-hour project. The project is exactly what the title suggests:
Call it your personal “hackathon,” a type of event popular in tech circles where small teams compete to launch start-ups or solve a specific problem in a limited period of time, typically fueled by caffeine and the occasional break to play ping-pong. You too can use this model to make a quick-and dirty product in a short period of time. All you need is 24 hours and, to be fair, a bit of advance preparation so you know what you’re getting into.” (Pg. 167)
Perhaps this is how I finally get my eBook written.

So for me, reading Born for This was not a waste of my time. Overall, I thought Guillibeau’s writing was engaging and I enjoyed the career stories he included to reinforce his ideas. As to the career suggestions themselves: identify what we really want, make better decisions and to take more risks. There really isn’t anything new. The benefit of Born for This is Guillibeau’s ability to motivate. His own story – setting a goal to visit every country in the world and actually achieving it is motivating in itself.

Bottom Line: 
If you are looking for a book with engaging stories to motivate you to make a career change you may enjoy this book. If you are looking for a step-by-step guide to make that change you will probably be disappointed with Born for This: How to Find the Work You Were Meant to Do..
Have you read this book?  If so what were your thoughts?

"I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review."

Note, some of the links included in this post are affiliate links.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Want to Motivate Your Employees? Appreciate Them

After last week’s episode with my company's HR Manager, I was taken by surprise to hear she had told another employee he needed to buck-up and be more like Savvy.* She told him, "She’s been doing both her job and the CFO’s since he’s been out and you don’t hear her complaining.” She even said something to the effect that I was doing a good job. I couldn’t believe it. My body immediately relaxed, I became calmer, more energized and more motivated. I was surprised after all these weeks of feeling stressed and as if I wasn’t measuring up my company’s management felt otherwise and by how much I needed to hear it.
Thursday our CFO returned. When he walked in the door I started cheering and our entire staff clapped. He said he hadn’t received this big of a welcome from his family when he returned home the previous day. I told him the old saying “Everyone is replaceable” did not apply to him.
Then on Friday, my big 50th birthday, I arrived to an office decorated in black and a little party that included a cake. The employees who work for me and one of our owners were laughing (something I haven’t seen in a long time) and making jokes. They posted neon green post-its with the number 50 on them all over the office (so I wouldn’t forget how old I am). We haven’t celebrated anyone’s birthday in the office in years.
In the midst of all this I accomplished more work than I had in a long time. When I left Friday night I was almost caught up. This was quite an accomplishment considering the previous week I had left the office fearing I may never be caught up again. I honestly think feeling appreciated made all the difference.
I try to make an effort to publicly thank or show appreciation for employees when the opportunity arises. It is easy to do if you are paying attention. Recently I have done the following:
  • I publicly gave credit to an employee for providing new information on a manufacturer’s policy change to all employees via email. (As opposed to our HR Manager who recently touted this same employee’s idea as her own)
  • Via email, I thanked an employee in another department for assisting me with an audit when I was in a bind. I cc’d her boss who later told me how much my email had meant to this employee.
*This comment which was so helpful to me was deflating to the employee who is supposed to buck-up. He was absent the next day, isn’t as sharp as he usually is and seems depressed. Telling someone to buck-up and be like someone else is probably some of the worst advice you can give an employee.
Speaking of advice, the comments I received on I'm 50 Years Old and Still Can't Think On My Feet may be the most helpful comments I’ve ever received on this blog. I sincerely thank and appreciate every one of my commenters.
How about you? Does your employer let you know they appreciate you?

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Stop Talking About Sex at Work

Recently I received the following comment on my post: My Co-Worker Won't Stop Talking About Sex:

I'm having an issue at the moment. I work in a very small workplace with only women where I am the manager. Our oldest employee (29) has been describing her sex life in GRAPHIC detail to my youngest employee (15). I have NO idea how to handle this. I've already rang my area manager and he's getting onto HR about it. Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,

You are the manager. Pull this employee aside immediately and tell her she needs to stop talking about her sex life at work, her conversations are inappropriate and unprofessional and that HR has been contacted. HR will most likely perform an investigation and will at the very least place a note in her file and send her to harassment training. They also may give her a written warning. HR departments do not mess around with sexual harassment complaints.

A few weeks ago I had a question from a different anonymous commenter describing sadistic sexual activities a co-worker wanted to perform with her. (Her comment was too graphic to post). Her question for me was if she reported this harassment to HR, would they think she was a co-conspirator if she had initially played along.

My answer:

No. No. No. They will not. It sounds to me like you initially didn’t want to be mean, but your co-worker has now become bolder, you want him to stop and are afraid to tell him so yourself. Plus, the things he is saying (putting you in a cage, etc.) are scary and need to be taken seriously.  

While reading her question about playing along I couldn’t help but be reminded of the new male manager my company hired. In a casual conversation about getting his company vehicle repaired he asked me if I’d come along and sit on his lap. I don’t remember exactly what how I responded, I think I made up an excuse why I couldn’t. I didn’t play along, but I didn’t tell him he was out of line either. Unfortunately, these type of comments continued. I’m not sure what his motives are other than a boast to his ego, but I am offended. It bothers me that he thinks of me as a female, rather than the professional I worked so hard to be. No wonder women feel the need to dress in drab colors and not draw attention to their femininity. I now don’t acknowledge his flirtatious comments and stick to business when talking to him. As I write this post, I can’t remember the last time he made a suggestive comment.

As a follow up to my previous post, the co-worker I talked about has not talked about sex since I told him he was being inappropriate. As to the female who shared her favorite sexual positions with her co-worker was finally promoted – twenty years after the incident and with reservations from HR. 

Talking about sex at work is a major career blunder – knock it off.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Farm on the Roof by Anastasia Cole Plakias

Why I wanted to read Anastasia Cole Plakias’s book The Farm on the Roof: What Brooklyn Grange Taught Us About Entrepreneurship, Community, and Growing a Sustainable Business:
Since "good" business books is one of my favorite reading genres I immediately added Plakias’s book to my reading list after receiving the following email from a marketing coordinator at Penguin Random House:

I met Anastasia Cole Plakias and the other founders of Brooklyn Grange on their rooftop in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Of course, there was “the wow factor” of standing on a farm in the middle of the concrete jungle. That night I enjoyed the aroma of fresh basil and listened to Anastasia jokingly lament keeping their adorable but expensive chickens. But mostly, I was impressed with the team. The group spoke so eloquently about how they’d come from backgrounds as diverse as food writing, finance, and hospitality, but had been drawn to this project—building the world’s largest commercial rooftop farm.

In The Farm on the Roof, Anastasia describes how she and her cofounders quit their jobs in the middle of a recession to turn their passion for food and farming into a functioning business. What they discovered was a world rich in opportunity, challenges, and hard-won losses. Today, Brooklyn Grange has established itself as a self-sustaining business that harvests more than 50,000 pounds of organically cultivated produce per year and partners with numerous nonprofits to promote healthy and strong communities.

But their story is about more than just farming. It serves as an instructional guide for anyone looking to start a project that is successful while making a positive impact. Anastasia writes with a wit and flair that transforms anecdotes about partnering with investors (some of whom supported the farm for reasons that had nothing to do with farming) and lease negotiation into scintillating, edge-of-your seat tales from the front lines of entrepreneurship.

As a creator of original content who writes with purpose, I believe you’ll be blown away by the Brooklyn Grange model. They’ve figured out a beautiful intersection of commerce and community. And at its core, The Farm on the Roof is an incredible story about utilizing whatever resources you have to turn your backyard idea into a sky-high success.

My thoughts on the book:

If you are looking for a book on how to create a rooftop garden or an agricultural book you will be disappointed in this book. The Farm on the Roof: What Brooklyn Grange Taught Us About Entrepreneurship, Community, and Growing a Sustainable Businessis Plakias’s account of how Brooklyn Grange, a company she co-founded in 2010,went from a dream to a viable socially conscious business over the course of five years.

I enjoyed Plakias’s writing style which is never academic and the entrepreneurial insight she provides:

Plakias and her partners quickly learn that in order for their business to be sustainable they needed to be profitable and in order to be profitable they needed alternative income streams. To do this they added events and began hosting classes. They also slowed down their growth plan and concentrated on the two gardens they already had. They discovered a good site with a landlord whose values complemented their own is more important that expansion.

I came away with a few tips for my own garden:

Kale, herbs and tomatoes are their most profitable crops. Summer squash needs a lot of space and carrots take 80 days to reach maturity. And I think of them every time I try to harvest lettuce in my husband’s newly created garden – the rows are too wide. A lesson they learned after the first couple of harvests and ended up changing ed their row’s depth during a redesign.

Bottom line:
The Farm on the Roof by Anastasia Cole Plakias is a valuable read for start-ups looking to create a socially conscious business or for those who enjoy reading about business or are looking for  entrepreneurial advice. To learn more about Brooklyn Grange visit their website. I would love to attend one of their butcher paper dinner events.

Do you enjoy reading about business? What business books do your recommend? 

Thank you to Penguin Random House for providing me with a review copy of this book.

If you enjoyed this post you may also like:

The E-Myth Revisited: A Book Every Entrepreneur Should Read

Please Note, I am an Amazon Affiliate

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Evicted by Matthew Desmond

Why I read Matthew Desmond’s book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City:

I was a renter in the City of Milwaukee for five years before moving to the suburbs. During that time I spent a few months living in a not-so-nice neighborhood on the north side to save money. I ended up breaking my lease early, moving and losing my security deposit after my landlord refused to make necessary repairs. Fortunately, I had options,  the money to pay another security deposit and a new landlord that didn’t bother to call my previous landlord for a reference. When I heard Matthew Desmond had written a book about Milwaukee’s rent scene I had to read it.

What is Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American Cityabout?

Wanting to understand the role housing played in poverty Matthew Desmond, a sociologist, moved to Milwaukee. He lived in a trailer park on the south side and in a rooming house located in the black north side. Both allowed him to befriend two landlords and interview numerous renters. His book is an investigative account of the lives of these landlords and eight renters who he followed for over a year.

What I learned:

The details of this book are heartbreaking and hard to read. It took me two months to get through the entire book. I had no idea how Milwaukee (and cities like Milwaukee) are set up to fail our poor residents and families. The renters are far from perfect, but once their lives take a turn for the worst it is easy to fall into a cycle of poverty that is difficult to escape.

For the most part poor renters are trapped:

Financial guides recommend spending no more than 30 percent of your income on housing while many of the renters Desmond met spent up to 80 percent of their income on rent in substandard housing often with plumbing problems, no refrigerator or stove, and broken windows. (Apparently it is okay to rent out a unit in need of repairs as long as you disclose the defects up front). High rents don’t leave much to pay utilities, child expenses or to be able to purchase a reliable automobile to drive to work. Once tenants fall behind in their rent it is only a matter of time until they face eviction.

Most landlords won’t rent to those who have incarcerations or evictions on their record, so the system is designed to keep them out of good neighborhoods, good schools and decent housing.

Desecration of neighborhoods:

When a long-term resident of a neighborhood is evicted the block they lived on suffers.
The key link in a perpetual slum is that too many people move out of it too fast – and in the meantime dream of getting out. With Doreen’s eviction, 32nd Street lost a steadying presence – someone who loved and invested in the neighborhood, who contributed to making the block safer, but Wright Street didn’t gain one. (Pg. 70)
Shocking accounts:

When a landlord learns she isn’t liable for a house fire in which a tenant’s baby died (she did not have enough operating smoke detectors) she asks if she is obligated to return their rent money. The fire occurred just after the 1st of the month. She was not.

The nuisance property ordinance:

This ordinance allows police departments to penalize landlords for the behavior of their tenants. Most properties were designated “nuisances” because an excessive number of 911 calls were made within a certain timeframe. In Milwaukee the threshold was three or more calls within a thirty-day period. (Pg. 190)

Each time this happens the landlord receives a nuisance citation. In almost all cases, the only course of action accepted by the Milwaukee PD is eviction.

Why is this a problem?

A battered woman either has to keep quiet and face abuse or call the police and face eviction. This ordinance also prevents neighbors who should call 911 when they hear sounds of abuse to stay quiet and mind their own business.

How much money these landlord’s make?

Granted most people are not up to the task of renting to those living in the inner city, but those who do are making money. This is achieved despite tenants not always making rent payments on time or not full.  Landlords make money by not making necessary repairs, purchasing cheap properties and charging high rents. 

Final Thoughts:
Matthew Desmond only included the stories in Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City he was able to verify as accurate and backed up all of his findings with extensive research. I enjoyed that despite having been present for many of the events included in the book Desmond kept himself out of the story until the final chapter. Evicted is written in a conversational tone and would be a great choice for a social justice book club. I guarantee you will have a lot to talk about.

I highly recommend this book.

To learn more about Matthew Desmond and his project go to this website.

"I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review."

Note, some of the links included in this post are affiliate links.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

The Year of the Counter Offer

When I meet a recruiter, I always ask how business is. This week at a local networking event I was surprised to learn 2016 is the year of the counter offer.

This recruiter, who works for a national placement agency, told me recruits are receiving and accepting the counter offer so often (more frequently this year than ever before) her firm has named 2016, “The year of the counter offer.” Seeking new employment as a way to force an employer to give you a raise is so popular this agency is calling it a trend.

She stated despite the great recession having ended a few years ago, many companies continue to be apprehensive about the economy, are reluctant to convert temporary employees to permanent and have not given employees a decent raise in years. Millennials who accepted jobs below normal starting salaries are tired of waiting for a fair wage and are using the counter offer as a salary negotiation tool. 

Companies are well aware of how much it costs to hire and train a new employee:

According to Zane Benefits:
Some studies (such as SHMR) predict that every time a business replaces a salaried employee, it costs 6 to 9 months’ salary on average. For a manager making $40,000 a year, that's $20,000 to $30,000 in recruiting and training expenses.

But others predict the cost is even more - that losing a salaried employee can cost as much as 2x their annual salary, especially for a high-earner or executive level employee.
I learned this the hard-way after one of my employees left last year. I now realize it is cheaper in the long run to figure out how to keep employees rather than having to endure the time and cost of recruiting and training someone new.

If you do threaten to leave your job be aware of the potential risks:
You may not receive a counter offer:
You or your position may not be as valuable to your employer as you think it is. Also, some employers think everyone is replaceable and have a policy to never give a counter-offer. 

Accepting the counter offer could hurt your reputation:
Most employers have good memories; from this day forward you may be known as the employee who resigned to get a raise.

My company has this employee – he actually accepted a counter offer on two separate occasions. When he was seeking a promotion last year he came very close to not getting it because of reservations as to whether he was management material. Similar to my friend who is known as the 4:00 and she's out of here employee, he is known as the counter offer employee. As he struggles to adapt to his new management role, several managers site his counter offer history as an ignored warning sign.

You are burning bridges:
I accepted the counter-offer when I was in my 20’s. Very similar to the scenario above both a co-worker and I accepted counter-offers after finding new jobs with the same placement firm I referenced above. We had both been warned of the disadvantages of accepting the counter-offer (if we are unhappy now, we will most likely be unhappy six months from now just better paid). We both had liked our jobs, but needed and thought we deserved more money. In both cases, our employer matched our new salary as an incentive to keep us. Unfortunately, a year later we were both out of a job when our entire department was relocated to Chicago. My co-worker regretted her counter-offer decision as she struggled to find another new job. I never regretted mine because I easily found a job on my own, but the agency I had worked with never worked with me again. I am sure there was a "don't work with" note attached to my file.

You may be fired in the future:
If our entire department had not been downsized, I wonder if our jobs would not have been in jeopardy in the future. Assistants were hired for both of us shortly after our counter-offers were put in place without our permission or request. My co-worker’s assistant didn’t work out and left a few months after she was hired. I struggled to keep mine busy (would you train an unwanted assistant to do your job). He was the first person to leave when the department lay-off was announced.

My recommendation:
My company’s economist projects 2016 as a year of slow but steady growth, but 2017 to be a year of contraction. My recommendation is instead of 2016 being the year of the counter-offer make it the year your find a great new job especially if you have a few years of experience. If you wait and are underpaid, underemployed or your company still hasn’t hired you permanently you may be stuck in an undesirable work situation for several years to come.

Have you ever accepted a counter offer? Was it a good decision?

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Does Everyone Over 40 Long For a New Career?

One of the first things I noticed upon meeting my new physical therapist was how unhappy he was in his job.  He began his career as a self-employed physical therapist specializing in workman’s comp injuries. His primary client had been a large factory in the Milwaukee area.  His days had been long since he had to cover all three shifts, but the pay was excellent.  Then in the early 2000's the factory was sold. The new owners had stringent business insurance requirements he was unable to meet. His contract was terminated and he was replaced by a large company.  He was offered a job with this company, but declined.  He questioned the educational background of their therapists and the salary he was offered was insulting.

He spent the next year working with his two small remaining accounts and trying to secure new business, but Milwaukee had lost numerous manufacturing facilities since 1986 and the ones who remained were not looking for a physical therapist.  Eventually he closed his business and accepted a position as a staff therapist with a company affiliated with one of the local medical providers. That was where he was working when I met him.

A lot has changed since my therapist graduated in 1986:

Around the end of the 1990's, a bachelor's degree in physical therapy was slowly replaced by master's and doctorate physical therapy degrees. My therapist who holds only an undergraduate degree was grandfathered in. He tells me his company recently hired a new graduate with a master’s degree.  He points to her and tells me she doesn’t know any more than he does.  She earns an annual salary of $55,000 while he currently makes $75,000. He also has a 401(k), is eligible for state unemployment if he finds himself downsized and has medical insurance. He had had none of these while self-employed.

What he doesn’t like about his job:

He always has to be on.  He has to meet and talk to patients all day while his ex-wife who works as a financial analyst can just sit and stare at her computer when she doesn’t feel like working.

He is now billable and has to track his time hourly. He works with 24 different patients at all times.  He has to have vacation time approved in advance. He can’t just take an afternoon off on a nice day or not go in the day after a holiday if he doesn’t feel like it.

He can’t drink a soda while working with a patient. His new company told him this is rude.  To do so he would have to offer them a beverage as well and they are not in the beverage serving business.

His job is boring.

Every day is the same.  Of his 24 patients three of them usually have elbow tendinitis – my affliction. The treatment for tennis elbow is always the same. 

I suggested working with people in their homes; thinking he might enjoy that more.

He said that would be much worse and more boring than his current job.  You then work with the elderly and your job consists of, “See you again on Wednesday Betty be sure to squeeze the bag of beans when I’m gone.” At least in his current job his patients usually get better.

I asked if he had to maintain continuing education. 

He does and he likes doing that, he enjoys learning something new and his employer pays him for his time while he is out of the office.   He then got up and left.  When he returned he said he had just signed up for a day of CPE.

If he could have a do-over what would he do?

He’d be a TV reporter, but at 45 he thinks he is too old for TV.

At our last appointment he said he thinks everyone longs for a career change after age 40. It is hard to know at age 18 what you will make you happy when you are 40. 

As for me, I kind of think I would have preferred a career as a physical therapist rather than as an accounting manager, but I choose accounting, so I am making the best of it. As to everyone, I am sure many people do long for a new career.  I heard my company's President make two comments in the last week about not being happy with his career choice - running the family business.  He is 47 and at one point wanted to be a lawyer or a politician. 

Do you think everyone over 40 longs for a new career?

Sunday, April 10, 2016

How Not to Feel Trapped? Advice from Andre Agassi

One of my coworkers, I will call him Frank, is trapped in his job.  He is approaching 70 and forced to continue working to pay for his wife’s medical expenses. His wife has been bedridden for several years due to M.S. Frank is loud, abrasive and intimidating.  His constant complaining brings his entire department down.  Frank is also at the top of the list of employees my company hopes to force into retirement with our software conversion.

I read Andre Agassi’s book Open: An Autobiography earlier this year for my savvy reading challenge.  While thinking about my new series staying relevant over 50 I couldn’t help, but think of Andre Agassi.

The surprising thing you learn early in Agassi’s book is he hated playing tennis.  From an early age when his dad bought a fire breathing dragon contraption that shot tennis balls out of its mouth he hated tennis.  Tennis was his dad’s dream not his own.

Andre thinks a lot about what he can control in tennis and in life:

I tell Perry that I having no choice, having no say about what I do or who I am, makes me crazy.  That is why I put more thought, obsessive thought, into the few choices I do have – what I wear, what I eat, who I call my friends. (Pg. 66)

I obsess about the few things I can control and racket tension is one of them.  (Pg. 13)

The time has come.  I need to take control of my money.  I need to take control of my F***ing Life. (Pg. 114)

I find peace in his claim that perfectionism is voluntary.  Perfectionism is something I choose, and its ruining me, I can choose something else. (Pg. 189)

And lastly, his life and his tennis (he was losing a lot) didn’t improve until he chose tennis:

I play and keep playing because I choose to play. Even if it’s not your ideal life, you can always choose it. No matter what your life is choosing it is everything. (pg. 359)

Agassi also began using the money he made from tennis to make a difference. In 2001, Agassi opened the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy in Las Vegas, a tuition-free charter school for at-risk children in the area. According to Wikipedia, he personally donated $35 million to the school.

Do you feel trapped in your job?  According to Forbes, 52.3% of Americans are unhappy with their work.

From time-to-time I too feel trapped in my job.  My husband retired last year and ever since we’ve been bombarded with unexpected bills; ranging from helping a family member, to dental and medical expenses to a new vehicle for me. Plans of early retirement continue to get pushed further into the future.  

What can I do?
I can change my attitude and choose my job. I can remember why I decided to become an accountant – I thought it would be a reliable and lucrative career.  And be grateful that for the most part my career has been both.  I can try to stay present at work instead of writing blog posts in my head all day and I can help others.

From time to time I ask Frank how he is managing and he breaks down and tells me not good. That he never lets his wife see his anger or his fear.  I listen and suggest he look into signing his wife up for Medicare (she is 68) and a supplemental plan – and don’t judge why he hasn’t done this already or why our HR manager hasn’t suggested this.

I also find it helpful to leave work at a reasonable time, go to the gym and use my vacation days.

Frank has to choose his job too.  He has made the decision to continue working until his finances are under control and in the process has become difficult to work with.  Management will only put up with a difficult employee so long. If he truly wants to meet his goal he will have to change his attitude.   

Do you feel trapped in your job? How do you cope?

Please Note, I am an Amazon Affiliate

Sunday, April 03, 2016

New Series: Staying Relevant over 50

It is official – my company will be converting our client-server business software to a new cloud based system later this year. The contract was signed this week. My boss and I knew our company’s owners would decide to make the conversion someday, but we thought (were hoping) it wouldn’t be quite so soon.

After the announcement was made, one of our company owners told me both my boss and I spend too much time entering and manipulating data.  There are more important things we should be working on. He also mentioned that 50% of our employees would not embrace this change and was hoping some of the curmudgeon’s would retire. (I wrote more about this in my post Do software conversions force older employees into retirement?)

My immediate reaction was skepticism and a fear of the unknown.  How will my job change?  Will I have enough work to do if the reports I spend hours creating are automatically produced?

Fortunately, I was comforted by Peter Thiel’s book Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future. He writes:

Americans fear technology in the near future because they see it as a replay of the globalization of the near past.  But the situations are very different: people compete for jobs and for resources; computers compete for neither. (pg. 141)


Computers are far more different from people than any two people are different from each other: men and machines are good at fundamentally different things.  People have intentionality – we form plans and make decisions in complicated situations.  We’re less good at making sense of enormous amounts of data.  Computers are exactly the opposite they excel at efficient data processing, but they struggle to make basic judgments that would be simple for any human. (pg. 143)

I wish my company’s owners would read this quote:

The most valuable businesses of coming decades will be built by entrepreneurs who seek to empower people rather than try to make them obsolete. (pg. 141)

It appears my job’s focus in the future will be on interpreting data which I do enjoy, rather than creating spreadsheets which I must admit at times can be mind-numbingly boring. I need to remember
Worry and regret never solves tomorrow’s problems and only drains away energy from today. James Altucher
This post is the first in a new series I am implementing called, “Staying relevant over 50.” A few years ago, I read a statement claiming advertisers don’t market to the over 54 age group because this group is no longer relevant.  My ultimate goal of this series, other than providing relevancy suggestions and tips, is to prove these advertisers are wrong.

How do you recommend staying relevant over 50?

Please note I am an Amazon Affiliate

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Requesting “Doggie Bag” at a Business Lunch

Amy writes:

When I graduated from college my mentor gave me a list of business rules* to follow.  One of her recommendations was to never take anything home from a business lunch in a doggie bag because it makes you look cheap.  Recently at an interview lunch, I was nervous and unable to eat more than a few bites of my entrée.  While I would have appreciated the leftovers, when the waitress asked if I needed a take-out box I said no.  My interviewer appeared annoyed and asked why I wasn’t taking my leftovers home.  I blurted out I was told you should never request a doggie bag at a business lunch.  He said that was ridiculous and I walked out with a doggie bag.  Was I wrong?

Dear Amy,

In this instance I think you were not wrong to refuse the doggie bag, you were wrong to not attempt to eat more.  When you didn’t accept the take-out box the interviewer must have thought you were being wasteful. I once attended a business lunch where a guest ate only a few bites of her salmon entrée.  She too refused the take-out bag.  I didn’t say anything, but surmised she had not liked the food.   

In choosing what to order at a business lunch, I always select the easiest item to eat in the mid-priced category.  Usually for a lunch this is a sandwich.  I then focus on eating the main entrée leaving the sides especially fries or chips for last.  If I can’t finish all my food, it still looks like I’ve eaten the majority of my plate.  I also sometimes stop eating if everyone else has long since finished.

On a side note, the person requesting the lunch should always pay the bill.  I’ve had a couple of business meetings at coffee shops where the party requesting the meeting was late.   I usually give them a few minutes, then go ahead and buy my own coffee.  This too is probably a mistake, but it just feels weird to me to sit there with nothing and wait.

Do you request a doggie bag at a business lunch?  What about coffee shops, if you are the first to arrive do you buy your own coffee?

*Other items on her list were to never hang your sweater over your chair, never let them so you cry and to always go alone to networking events – you are forced to meet other people.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Rethinking My Decision to Prepare My Own Tax Return

I have always considered my ability to prepare my own taxes a side benefit of my CPA license. I work in industry, so I don’t prepare anyone’s taxes other than my own, but felt I was proficient enough to prepare my own return. This year was different than prior years in that my husband had pension and social security income for the first time, we sold investments and I was hoping to use the personal energy credit for the water heater and gas furnace we had purchased in 2015. I spent three weekends preparing our returns and in hindsight think perhaps I should have used a professional preparer. Here are a few things I learned:

Only 85% of social security benefits are included in taxable income.

My husband started receiving social security last year, since I work full-time I knew we would pay tax on this income, but was surprised TurboTax included only 85% of this benefit as taxable income. According to the SSA website
No one pays federal income tax on more than 85 percent of his or her Social Security benefits based on Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules.
Pensions are taxable, but not according to my husband’s 1099-R.

On the form 1099-R my husband received for his pension, the taxable amount box was blank and the taxable amount not determined box was checked. When I entered the 1099-R exactly as provided, TurboTax concluded the pension wasn’t taxable. After reading TurboTax guidelines concerning pension income, I decided the pension income had to be taxable and entered it accordingly.

Remember the personal energy credit I was so excited to take advantage of:

From my post Appliances Don't Qualify for Energy Credit:
The $500 lifetime credit (10% of cost up to $500) for energy efficient improvements has been extended until 12/31/16. I am excited about this one since we installed a new furnace and water heater in 2015 – although $500 doesn’t come anywhere close to covering 10% of what we spent.
It turns out:

The energy credit for natural gas, propane, or oil furnace or hot water boiler with an annual fuel utilization rate of 95 or greater is capped at $150.

TurboTax did not ask for any information on water heaters, so we did not receive a credit for the new heater. Today I found the following on the website:
Natural gas, propane, or oil water heater which has either an energy factor of at least 0.82 or a thermal efficiency of at least 90 percent: $300.
Perhaps I missed something for the water heater, but at the time I determined we were only eligible for the $150 credit. 

Establishing cash basis for our sold investments was kind of nightmarish:

The 1099-B I received for our sold securities included basis for only a portion of our sold investments – there was a section for transactions for which basis is reported to the IRS and another section titled transactions for which basis is not reported to the IRS.

My boss, who prepares taxes on the side, informed me there was a law change about four years ago requiring brokerage firms to provide basis information for mutual funds purchased after January 1st, 2012. Since the assets we sold included mutual funds purchased both before and after January 1st 2012, the 1099-B provided basis only for the assets purchased after this date.

I called our brokerage firm who was able to provide the original cash basis for all our sold investments. I then had to reconcile the basis by each individual asset by date (there were several pages of these). The final cash loss I calculated did not equal what was on the 1099-R. In the end, my husband pushed me to file with the information I had. The loss wasn’t off by a lot only about a hundred dollars and I did use the lessor loss. If we are ever audited and I was wrong at least the IRS will owe us money.

Taxable losses can be deducted up to $3000 and the excess can be carried over to future returns:

According to the IRS website:
Generally, realized capital losses are first offset against realized capital gains. Any excess losses can be deducted against ordinary income up to $3,000 ($1,500 if married filing separately) on line 13 of Form 1040.

Losses in excess of this limit can be carried forward to later years to reduce capital gains or ordinary income until the balance of these losses is used up.
Okay I am sure I knew this when I took the CPA exam, but didn’t make the correlation when we sold the assets. I deducted the loss and am not questioning this one further.

Our taxes are filed – I paid $92 for the federal and state TurboTax Premier. I know of a tax preparer who sets her fee based on the number of forms she prepares, so I imagine I would have paid $250 or more if I’d have hired someone to prepare this return. My co-workers tell me my boss’s fees are reasonable, but I didn't want him to know my entire financial situation. I think I will be okay preparing my return next year, but if we ever sell securities again I will strongly consider seeking professional help.

Do you prepare your own tax return? Are you sure you took advantage of all the incentives available?

Disease Called Debt

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Why Your Spouse Hides Money?

In a previous post I mentioned I’ve had a few requests over the years from employees who wanted to hide money (commissions, bonuses and pay increases) from their soon to be ex-spouse during a divorce. Divorce, though, is not the only situation where I’ve received requests from employees wishing to hide money.

When the company where I work was in the process of transitioning payroll processing to an outside provider our owners decided to make direct deposit mandatory.  Check distribution had become a nightmare for our in-house payroll staff.  One week an employee would want their check mailed to their work location, the next to their home, sometimes they changed their request more than once for the same paycheck. If a payroll clerk made a mistake or didn’t get the latest message she was verbally abused and complaints were made to the owners.

Not everyone was in favor of direct deposit:

When the mandatory direct deposit announcement was made, several employees at one of our locations threatened to contact the department of labor.  They felt their rights were being violated. These employees were paid via commission and were using a portion of their check, unbeknownst to their spouse, to fund their weekly poker game. Since commissions fluctuated, their spouse didn’t miss what she wasn’t aware of.  Mandatory direct deposit is not legal in all states, but is in the state of Wisconsin, so our owners went with their mandatory direct deposit plan. Pay-stubs were mailed to the employee’s home.

After the transition to direct deposit, complaints stopped and conflict over paycheck whereabouts subsided.  That is until we announced we were issuing separate bonus checks this year. The same group of employees from above requested these checks be mailed to their work location rather than their home. They didn’t want their spouse to know they had earned a bonus. They actually made the comment, “If we screw this up heads will roll.”

The above employees were all male, but I also know a wife who hid money.  When my male co-worker’s spouse changed jobs a few years ago she failed to tell him she had neglected to roll over her 401(k) distribution money into another qualified plan.  He discovered this upon receiving an unusual 1099 the following year.  When he asked where the money had gone, she confided she used it to pay down credit card debt. Debt that currently had a balance of over $20,000. This debt also came as a surprise.  Her credit card statements had been mailed to her sister’s house. What had the credit cards been used for? Nothing in particular; clothes, shoes, purses, and expensive beauty products.

This marriage survived, but just barely. My co-worker took over the management of their finances, he cut up her credit cards, she took a side job cleaning offices to help pay down her debt, he opened a checking account in his name and gives her a monthly allowance.   He has tried to teach her about money, but thinks she’s not listening.  She spends her entire allowance each month without saving a single penny. He confided he has a hard time trusting her and occasionally checks her vehicle’s trunk for hidden purchases. 

I suggested perhaps he is not the best person to teach her about money:

I am sure it is hard for him to not let his anger surface during these money lessons making it easy for her to shut him out.  I’ve heard good things about NFCC and Dave Ramsey’s classes which are commonly held at local churches.  I recommended they attend a class or financial counseling session together. He vehemently disagreed. She needs financial training not him and refuses to go with her.

I had a conversation with her recently when she stopped by our office, she tells me they don’t have cable or internet at home and she finds this burdensome.  She was also on her way to buy some Aveda shampoo because it made her hair smell so nice.

They need help setting joint goals:

He wants to move to a bigger home, to save for their son’s education and to save for their retirement.  I’d be surprised if she doesn’t want these things too. A counselor could help them prepare a budget they both could live with. She also needs to learn how to spend less than she earns and the importance of an emergency fund.

Why do spouses hide money?

A spouse may feel since they are the one who earned the money they get to determine how it is spent, their goals aren’t in alignment, they are covering up a bad habit or they are competitive with each other.

Why do you think spouses hide money?

  *Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich, Disease Called Debt and DIY Jahn*

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Financial Considerations in a Collaborative Divorce

Last week I ran into an acquaintance who is in the process of getting a divorce. She tells me things are going smoothly; it is a collaborative divorce with no attorneys involved.  Both she and her spouse are going out of their way to be civil towards each other for their children – a 12 and 14 year old.  They are also amicably splitting their assets and will have joint custody.

The accountant in me had to say, “Don’t forget to discuss which parent gets to deduct the children on future income tax returns.”

She responded with “I never thought of that.” and “How do you know that?”

I’ve worked in some aspect of accounting for almost 30 years and have my CPA license, but to be honest, most of what I’ve learned about the financial pitfalls of divorce comes from co-workers and friends complaining after things have gone badly.

Here are a few tips:

Claiming your children as dependents:

Usually the parent who has custody of the children for the greater part of the year will claim them as dependent exemptions on their income tax return. This is an important designation because most often the parent who can claim their children as deductions is also the parent who receives other tax related benefits and credits.

Head of Household

This filing status is only available to the custodial parent. It provides a bigger standard deduction and looser tax tables than single taxpayer status.

Higher education costs:

The spouse that claims the children as a dependent is the parent allowed to claim the American Opportunity Lifetime Learning Credit (this can be worth up to $2,400 during the first four years of a child’s education). If you do not claim your children as dependents you can’t claim this credit even if you were the parent paying their college bills.

Get it in writing:

In joint custody situations parents can take turns claiming the children, but this has to be in writing. Make sure it is part of the divorce agreement.  If the non-custodial parent wishes to claim the child, the custodial parent must waive their right to claim the child on IRS form 8332.

Don’t assume you are entitled to the exemption because you pay child-support:

A newly married co-worker filed a joint tax return with her new husband claiming his daughter from a previous relationship as a dependent. (She thought the first parent to file gets the exemption).  The child’s mother also claimed the child despite being told my-coworker had claimed her.  His return was audited, the IRS deemed the mother as the custodial parent and eligible for the deduction.  My co-worker and her new husband had to pay back taxes were fined and required to pay interest on their return.


Alimony is considered taxable income for the recipient.  If you receive alimony make sure you make estimated payments or set aside a portion of each check so you are prepared for your tax bill the following year.

Alimony payments are deductible by the person paying them, but only if made on account of a divorce decree or written agreement. An oral agreement will not suffice and payment must be in the form of check, cash or money order.   

Retirement savings:

401(k) distributions are taxable.  If you want your spouse to be responsible for taxes on distributions they receive from your retirement account make sure your divorce papers include a (QDRO) qualified domestic relations order. Without a QDRO, you may end up paying the tax bill.

Spouses do hide money:

This is probably the biggest lesson I can give you.  During my 30 years of working in accounting departments I have been asked more than once to not pay a commission, bonus or to withhold a raise until after an employee’s divorce is final.  I’ve seen this at more than one company and the request is always granted – it is the employee’s money.

I’m not familiar with how collaborative divorces work, if lawyers are not involved I recommend consulting with one anyway to make sure all interests are covered.  Consulting with a tax accountant can’t hurt either.

Are you aware of financial pitfalls in a collaborative divorce?

Disease Called Debt