Posts filed under 'Q&As'

A Valentine gift for your cooking-impaired freelance friend or sweetie

hands-off-cooking.jpgI admit it. I hate to cook. I eat out of boxes and cans and to-go containers more than I should, even though I prefer a healthy, homemade meal 10 to 1. That’s why I was excited when Ann Martin Rolke sent me a copy of her book, Hands-Off Cooking: Low Supervision, High-Flavor Meals for Busy People, which clearly was written for lazy and/or no-time-in-the-kitchen sorts like me. Yummy, healthy recipes (Tandoorish Chicken! Fridge Cleaning Frittata! Nutty Pumpkin Lasagna!) that I can’t burn if I have to dash off to my computer and get down one more sentence? What could be better!

As an extra treat, Ann answered a few questions for the blog. Read, drool, buy.

Q. What prompted you to write the book?chickpea-potato-curry.jpg

A. I was actually approached by an agent who I had spoken to previously about ghostwriting a book with a chef. She used to be a cookbook editor and thought this idea hadn’t been really explored yet in a cookbook.

Q. What 5 to 10 staple ingredients should busy self-employed people always have on hand in their cabinets and fridge so they can easily whip up dinner in 15 minutes or less?

A. Canned tomatoes, canned beans, rice, skinless chicken or fish, garlic.

Q. Any unexpected kitchen equipment hands-off cooks need to stock their cabinets with?

A. I don’t know if it’s unexpected, but a heavy-duty pot is a must for braising and soups (like Le Creuset) and I use my 9 x 13-inch casserole several times a week. I do think an oven thermometer and kitchen timer with multiple settings (so you can time more than one thing at once) are great to make sure everything goes well!

Q. What’s your favorite “I’m on a crunch deadline and need to burn the midnight oil” dinner or late-night snack recipe?

A. Baked pita chips and hummus.

Ann Martin RolkeQ. What’s your favorite comfort food recipe?

A. Indian food lately — something easy like my Aloo Cholay from the book or some naan that I buy frozen and reheat, smeared with some simple yellow split peas cooked with spices until they’re like refried beans. So comforting!

Q. How much cash do you think busy working women stand to save by making hands-off recipes instead of ordering take-out or buying a to-go meal at the local market?

A. Well, depending on where you grocery shop, you can really eat well for not much money. We don’t eat meat every night, for example, and that keeps the costs down and the vegetable intake up! So say you normally would spend $7 to 10 a person for to-go (not fast food); you can easily feed four people for $10 and make a great lasagna, soup, or vegetarian curry.

Q. Anything else you’d like to add?

A. The whole idea of this book was to make cooking flavorful, healthy meals less time-consuming and more accessible. We’re all so used to eating lots of different ethnic cuisines and constantly trying to balance health with convenience. So I really tried to make my recipes easy to put together but full of flavor, color, and texture, so that they’re really satisfying.

Want a taste? Order this fine cookbook now. Or visit Ann’s blog for recipes and other quick-cooking tips.

3 comments February 14th, 2008

How not to date (at work)

hntd_cover.gifIn honor of Valentine’s Day, I bring you this interview I did with Judy McGuire (Seattle Weekly Dategirl columnist) on love in the workplace for nine-to-fivers, freelancers, and temps alike. Judy’s hot-of-the-presses book, How Not to Date, which features more women and men behaving badly than a Jerry Springer show, had me guffawing out loud. Whether you’re looking for the perfect antidote to this incredibly meaningless holiday, need a few tips on how not to behave around potential paramours, or are happily shacked up but could use a good laugh, I highly recommend it. And if you’re in New York or like getting your giggles by web radio, check out Judy’s east coast events and weekly broadcast.

judy_sofa_sm.gif Q. I can see how screwing your boss, your underlings, or anyone else on your immediate team could come back to bite you in the pants. But what if you hold lust in your heart for someone you don’t interact with on a daily basis, like Darcy in Accounting or Dirk in Marketing? Should you go for it? Any tips as to how?

A. I had a long-term relationship with someone I started off sharing an office with, so I don’t really go in for that whole “don’t poop where you eat” way of thinking. Sure, it might get uncomfortable if things don’t work out, but if you look at the bright side, the resulting drama could entertain your coworkers for months.

Sadly office party season has ended so you can’t do the tried and true drunken lurch under the mistletoe, but there’s always happy hour. Invite your intended out, ostensibly for a group happy hour, but “forget” to ask anyone else. This works best if you can catch him or her while they’re on their way out the door (thus assuring no pesky tagalongs).

Q. Any departments you should never, ever, ever touch, not even with your Mother’s vajayjay? (I’m thinking HR might be a no-no.)

A. Mining the Human Resource department for tail is definitely a bad idea, but I think fooling around with anyone in the IT department is far worse. Those techie types can hack into your email, which is a no-win for any dater. In the beginning, he can read all the mushy crap you’re telling your girlfriends about him — thus costing you any pretense of game — and then after you break up… well, that can be even worse.

Q. What if you’re a temp or contractor who’s going to be out of there in three months? Do the same rules of office chastity apply?

A. But being a temp is like being bisexual — it simply widens your dating pool. Who cares if you’re banging the boss if you’re onto the next job in two weeks? What is it my Nike sneaks are always telling me — “Just do it!”

Q. Many a nine-to-fiver meets their romantic match not at work, but through it — a coworker fixes you up, or your eyes lock across the color copier with that sweet young bike messenger. We work-from-home types miss out on all these potential cubicle hookups. Any suggestions as to how we, too, can exploit our jobs to get laid?

A. Even if we’re lucky enough to work at home in our PJs, most of us still have to either talk or email with other humans. I’ve found that married people are almost always anxious to fix a sister up. They’ll try to fool you into thinking that they feel sorry for your sad single self, but really, your uncomplicated, uncommitted sex life is utterly fascinating to them, so let them have at it. The only problem being is that they’re going to want details. “Wait, you didn’t meet him until ten! At night?!? Did he kiss you? Did you guys, you know, do it?!?!”

That can get kind of annoying, but if you’re the indiscrete type anyway, it’s a small price to pay. Plus, spilling dirty details will inevitably spice up your tragically married friend’s sex life, so you’re really just repaying the favor.

Q. You’re a freelancer who’s lucked into an invite to her star client’s annual holiday party. Do you teetotal, or is it okay to have a glass of wine or three and hit the dance floor?

A. Um, you’re asking a woman named McGuire whether or not you should drink? I’m afraid I don’t understand the question.

Want more McGuire? See her live in NY next week. Listen to her on the radio every Friday. Read her hilarious blog. And by all means, get her book!

2 comments February 6th, 2008

Ask the Harvard MBAs: I’m 23 — how aggressively should I invest my retirement funds?

onmyowntwofeet.jpgOver the past week plus, personal finance gurus Manisha Thakor and Sharon Kedar, authors of On My Own Two Feet: A Modern Girl’s Guide to Personal Finance, have kindly answered a bunch of questions on this blog, including the one that follows. You can read the previous Q&As here (part 1), here (part 2), and here (part 3). I want to thank Manisha and Sharon for generously sharing so much of their financial know-how on this blog. This concludes the question-and-answer part of the program, girls and boys, but if you want to learn more about Manisha and Sharon’s book, visit their website, OnMyOwnTwoFeet.com.

Annie asks: How aggressive should I be about investing my retirement funds in the current economy? I’m 23 with a brand new 401(k). I know I shouldn’t be afraid to choose riskier options at my age, but I’m worried this option might backfire pretty badly in the short run. I hate to sound like an alarmist, but what do you recommend as far as how to invest during uncertain times? Thanks!

The MBAs answer: Great question! The conflicting economic news these days is enough to make any sane person’s head spin. You are wise to raise this question. The key to answering it is two-fold: (1) This is your RETIREMENT money, and (2) You are VERY YOUNG.

In other words, the money you put in your 401(k) is money you should not plan on touching until you are at least 59 1/2 years old. (Yes, there are certain circumstances where the government will allow you to access that money penalty-free before then. But heck, the point of that money is to fund your retirement, so best to stay away from that cookie jar in the interim.)

As such, you very well may see your balance go up and down — in fact, up and down quite a bit at times. However, until you close in on retirement, until you hit age 50, we think it’s best to keep that investment gas peddle to the floor and stick with those more aggressive investment options. Remember, you won’t be SPENDING that money between age 23 and age 59 1/2, so it’s ok if its upward trajectory is a little wild.

The reason is that no one can predict where the market will go — but when when it does move up, history has shown us that it tends to do so very quickly and with no advance warning. For instance, if you look back over the last 10 years, studies show that 90% of the return you made in stocks came from less than 10% of the trading days. But alas, no one knows for sure which 10% of the days those big moves will come on. That’s why for years smart investors have said investment success is about “time IN the market,” not trying to “time the market.”

Our favorite keep-it-simple option if your 401(k) plan offers it is a target-date retirement fund, which is a mutual fund that will adjust to “right” level of aggressiveness based on your age. But the most important thing is that you are participating in your 401(k). At your age, that puts you solidly in the drivers seat on the path to financial nirvana. Go you!

Add comment January 14th, 2008

Ask the Harvard MBAs: Should I save for retirement while paying down credit card debt?

onmyowntwofeet.jpgLast week, personal finance rockstars Manisha Thakor and Sharon Kedar, authors of On My Own Two Feet: A Modern Girl’s Guide to Personal Finance, kindly answered a bunch of questions on this blog. You can read the Q&As here (part 1) and here (part 2). Manisha and Sharon also agreed to answer five questions from you. So far, we’ve only received one (answer below), which means we get four more freebies. If you have a personal finance question for these two Harvard MBAs, post it in the comments by Monday.

Rachel asks: I’d love to hear some advice on how all these savings and retirement ideals fit into credit card debt. My income has stabilized but I’ve got a little debt from starting my business — should I be stashing money anywhere else besides into paying this off?

M & S answer: Ahhh, your question warms our heart. It’s such an important question that we actually devoted a whole chapter of our book (Chapter 10) to it! The short answer is that your goal is to balance the two rather than take an all or nothing approach. Our argument is that while focusing solely on paying down your credit card debt is mathematically the hands-down answer, practically, if you wait to start saving until all your debts are paid off, odds are high you won’t get there. (It’s like saying you’ll start dieting AFTER your local grocery store stops selling premium ice cream in your favorite flavor!) We go into much more detail in our book, but our favorite plan of action is the following:

  1. First and foremost, make the minimum required payment ON TIME, EVERY MONTH on all outstanding debts.
  2. Save $2,000 as a “starter” emergency fund.
  3. If your employer has a 401(k) type plan that offers a “match,” contribute as much as you need to get the full match.
  4. Continue to build up your emergency fund to at least 3 months (ideally working up to 6 months) of your essential living expenses.
  5. Now pay more than the monthly payment on any credit card debt. (If your debt is $5,000 or less, pay at least an extra $50 a month EVERY month; if your debt is between $5,000 and $10,000, pay an extra $100 EVERY month; and if it’s over $10,000, pay an extra $150 EVERY month until all that debt is wiped out.)
  6. Now if you want to buy a home, you can start saving for a down payment.
  7. If you don’t want to buy a home (or already have one), keep saving for retirement.

One important caveat: These are rules of thumb. The final choice is always up to you. If your credit card debt is making you dry heave every time you think of it, well, by all means swap steps (4) and (5) and accelerate the debt pay-down first. Our primary point is that getting in the habit of saving is like starting to floss your teeth. Once you get going, you wonder how you ever did without. This is why we think it’s so important to do at least a little saving while you are working off your debt. Finally, go you for being interested enough in your personal finances to ask us a question — that speak volumes about your mojo!

Have a personal finance question for Manisha and Sharon? Post it in the comments by Monday.

4 comments January 10th, 2008

On My Own Two Feet: More financial rockstar advice from Manisha and Sharon

onmyowntwofeet.jpgYesterday I posted part 1 of my Q&A with personal finance goddesses Manisha Thakor and Sharon Kedar, authors of On My Own Two Feet: A Modern Girl’s Guide to Personal Finance, a book which I cannot recommend highly enough. If I had my way, it would be required reading in every high school, college, and workplace in America. (Who knows how much financial heartache and credit card debt I might have avoided had this book been around when I was in my twenties?)

In today’s post, Manisha and Sharon answer my questions about whether to use cash or credit, managing that blasted quarterly-tax stash, and buying a home as a single, self-employed gal. (You can read part 1 of my interview with Manisha and Sharon here, where we discuss savings and investments.) And if any of you have a personal finance question you’d like Manisha and Sharon to answer, feel free to post it in the comments. They’ll pick five questions to answer on this blog next week.

Q. When it comes to making business purchases for which you have the cash in hand, are you a fan of using ATM cards and checks, or credit cards all the way? I know a lot of freelancers and small business owners try to put all expenses on one credit card to make for cleaner expense records (myself included). Any pitfalls to watch out for?

A. It’s a personal choice — and personally, we prefer using one credit card for all business related expenses provided you always pay off the card on time and in full. Using the credit card can provide an extra layer of protection in case a vendor doesn’t come through with a service (because you can lodge a complaint with the credit card company and stop payment). It also makes for easy record keeping. If the thought of using plastic, however, makes you stay up at night, the world won’t fall apart if you use debit cards or checks.

Q. As a freelance writer, my business overhead is low low low. In the past I’ve had a separate business checking account, but eventually I decided it was a waste of hidden fees and closed it. Is there any reason I should have a business checking account that I’m not thinking of?

A. The main reason to have a separate business checking account if you are self-employed is to help reduce the temptation to spend money you need for work and to keep your record keeping simple. If you’ve got the willpower not to touch money set aside for your work expenses and your record keeping is straightforward, by all means reduce those fees and have just one account.

Q. For years I’ve used a savings account to store the portion of my freelance (1099) income that I need to send to Uncle Sam four times a year for my quarterly estimated tax payments. But I’m starting to think I should be keeping this cash in a money market that has check-writing privileges, where I can earn about 3 percent higher interest. Are there any pitfalls to doing this?

A. So long as the money market is at a reputable financial institution (that means FDIC insured if it’s a bank) or a nationwide presence if it’s a discount brokerage house (like a Vanguard, Fidelity, or Charles Schwab), you’re in good hands!

Q. When I bought a house a couple years back, I had to show the bank three years’ worth of federal tax returns because I was single and self-employed and my income was unpredictable. I remember sitting across the desk from my mortgage broker, wondering if I should have claimed less business expenses on my annual tax returns and maybe taken a little extra work for a year or two before buying the house, just to beef up my business profit margin (and in turn, annual income). Is this a wise strategy for small business owners, especially now that mortgages aren’t as easy to get?

A. It’s a strategy, but we wouldn’t call it wise — we’d call it aggressive. Mortgages that you can’t afford are hard to get these days. But if you are looking to buy a house the “old-fashioned way” — with a 20% down payment, and a 15- or 30-year fixed-rate mortgage — and if you have good credit, you’ll be fine.

Said slightly differently, if you have to contort your finances to get a mortgage, that’s a sign that what needs work is your finances. When you strip away all the media buzz, the truth of the matter is that what’s hard now is to get a mortgage for a house with less than 20% down and/or if you have bad credit. And if that’s your situation, we’d say you’re not ready to buy a house yet. Tough love, but meant to protect the self-employed gal over the long run!

Want more? You can read part 1 of my interview with Manisha and Sharon here. You can buy their fabulous book here. And if you have a personal finance question you’d like Manisha and Sharon to answer next week, post it in the comments. They’ll pick five of the best questions to answer on this site next week.

2 comments January 4th, 2008

On My Own Two Feet: Money management made simple

onmyowntwofeet.jpgSeventy percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. Sound like anyone you know? Not to worry. My personal finance heroes, Manisha Thakor and Sharon Kedar, authors of On My Own Two Feet: A Modern Girl’s Guide to Personal Finance, are here to answer a few questions about how we can all get our financial rears in gear in the new year, especially those of us who work for ourselves (or aspire to do so).

This is part 1 of my interview with Manisha and Sharon; I’ll post part 2 tomorrow. And if any of you have a personal finance question for Manisha and Sharon, feel free to post it in the comments. They’ll pick five questions to answer on this blog next week.

Q. Many people reading this are likely smarting from their holiday shopping bills. Do you have any suggestions for avoiding a holiday financial hangover in 2008?

A. When you are trying to lose weight, the basic recipe is “eat less, exercise more.” When it comes to staying financially fit in the new year, the same formula applies: spend less, earn more. The best way to avoid a holiday financial hangover in 2008 is to attack both sides of this equation.

In terms of spending less, the obvious place to start is to look through your daily expenses and see where you can cut back. Some not-so-obvious ways to spend less include going shopping in your closet. See if there’s anything you aren’t using that you could sell on eBay. Another idea to spend less is to make sure you actually use those frequent flyer miles or reward points you accumulate; if you don’t have enough for a flight, you can trade them in for merchandise ranging from fluffy bath towels to gardening supplies.

As for earning more, as next year’s holiday season approaches, consider taking on some temporary extra work — retailers, delivery companies (FedEx, UPS, etc.), and catering companies are frequently looking for a little extra help. The combination of the one-two punch of spending less and earning more can have an incredible impact on your overall financial state of mind.

Q. Let’s talk small business. What are your top three personal finance tips for self-employed women?

A. Make sure you have health insurance. One slip on an icy sidewalk and a broken bone could easily set you back $5,000 or more. If money is tight, shop for a high-deductible catastrophic health insurance plan. You can start your search on your own using an aggregator like eHealthInsurance or you can work with a local health insurance broker in your area (you can find one at NAHU.org).

Make sure you have at least a starter $2,000 emergency fund. According to the Consumer Federation of America, the average woman in her twenties and thirties has about $2,000 a year of unexpected expenses yet only $500 in savings. That’s a recipe for stress like you wouldn’t believe. Being self-employed involves enough uncertainty; you don’t also need to be worrying about how you’d pay for a last minute ticket to see a sick relative or a midnight call to the plumber. Our favorite place to stash that fund — savings accounts at online banks like HSBC.com and INGDirect.com.

Know that Money Is the Pink Elephant in the Room. According to the American Payroll Association, 70% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. Shockingly, this statistic cuts across income spectrums. As financial guru Dave Ramsey famously says: Act Your Wage! Don’t succumb to peer pressure to live beyond your means. If you feel like money is tight, as often it is when you are starting up a new venture, be honest with your friends and ask them to support your decision to live within your means.

Q. What are the biggest mistakes you see self-employed women making with their personal stash of cash?

A. The biggest mistake we see self-employed women making is not knowing when they should “protect” their cash and when they should “invest” their cash. Our rough rule of thumb is that money you know you need to spend in the next 1 to 5 years should be “protected,” by parking it in an account that generates sufficient interest to offset inflation but doesn’t put your savings at risk. Examples include online savings accounts, money market funds/accounts, and certificates of deposits (CDs).

For money you don’t need to touch for at least 5 years — which for most of us means our retirement money — this is the money you are free to “invest” in riskier options like stocks and bonds. A great keep-it-simple option for this longer term money is target date retirement funds. These are the financial version of the chicken rotisserie “set it and forget it” machine. They have names like “target date 2040″ and “target date 2045,” and the dates correspond to the year in which you will turn 65. The way they work is that a mutual fund company will shift your money between stocks (most aggressive), bonds (moderate risk), and cash (conservative) as you get closer to retirement — so you literally only have to make one decision, to invest your money in the funds. You can get these funds at all the major discount brokerage firms — Vanguard, Fidelity, and Charles Schwab.

Q. Roth, SEP, WTF? Do you have a favorite type of retirement account that you recommend self-employed women open?

A. For the disciplined self-employed woman, our favorite retirement account is the SEP IRA as it enables you to contribute more money than in a simple ROTH. While you don’t get the tax-free status on withdrawals that you would with a ROTH, the ability to set aside a significantly larger chunk of change makes it a classic. However, when it comes to retirement savings, the most important thing is to do it early and often — no matter what type of account you choose!

Q. If a newly self-employed gal isn’t yet bringing home enough bacon to open a retirement fund (let alone pay herself her target salary), should she maybe eat a bit more Ramen and open the fund anyway? Or wait a year or so till she’s more solvent?

A. Eat the Ramen. The money you save early on is the most valuable. Quick quiz: Who has more money at age 65 — the woman who invests $500 a year starting at age 25, or the woman who invest $1,000 a year starting at age 35? Assuming both women’s investments go up 10% a year, the woman who started at age 25 will have $221,000 at age 65 while the woman who started at age 35 (even though she saved more!) will only have $165,000. It’s so important, we’ll say it again: START SAVING NOW are the three most powerful words in personal finance!

Come back tomorrow for part 2 of the Q&A with Manisha and Sharon. And if you have a personal finance question you’d like Manisha and Sharon to answer next week, post it in the comments.

7 comments January 3rd, 2008

Singled Out: Why should we stay late at work just because we didn’t get hitched?

Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever AfterIf you’ve spent any amount of time on this blog, you know that I’m a champion of unmarried singles and couples being treated the same as their married counterparts. Sometimes I even publish some writing on the topic. That’s why I was thrilled when Bella DePaulo wrote an entire book on the subject: Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After, which is essentially a myth-busting, consciousness-raising, totally unapologetic take on singlehood. In honor of the book’s recent paperback release, I asked Bella a few questions about the unbalanced treatment of single people in the workforce. Here’s what she had to say.

Q. Can you give us some stats on how single workers are treated differently by their employers and colleagues?

A. The most important differences are in salary and benefits. Single men are paid less than married men — probably about 26 percent less — even when the single and married men have done the same job at the same level of competence for the same number of years. Now consider health care plans. In many workplaces, a married worker can put a spouse on a health care plan at a discounted rate. That can amount to a very substantial financial benefit. But the single worker cannot add someone important in their life, such as a parent, sibling, or friend, and no other worker can add the single person to their plan.

Readers of Singled Out e-mail me all the time with their workplace woes. What singles complain about most often are the expectations that they should be able to cover the holidays and the travel that no one else wants and to stay late when others go home — the assumption is that since they are single, they don’t have a life, so why shouldn’t they cover for everyone else? The other part of that issue is that when single people explain why they need to take time off, their reasons are dismissed as not good enough. So, for example, a single person can get “the look” for wanting to take some time to help an ailing friend, but their married colleague gets a pass to leave early to meet their spouse for dinner.

Q. What do you think are the biggest myths about single women in the workplace, both childfree and moms?

A. I think that childfree single women are seen as having nothing important in their lives — no important people and no important pursuits. Single mothers are seen as “at risk” for leaving the workplace on short notice to tend to their child, or not showing up on days when their child is sick. In some workplaces, colleagues and bosses look askance at single mothers, and maybe even their children. Fortunately, though, not all workplaces are like that.

Q. Do you see a difference in how single men vs. single women are treated at work by management and their co-workers?

A. In terms of salary, the data show that single men have it worse — most studies show they are paid less than comparable married male colleagues. For women, there is not much consistency from study to study.

In the culture at large, single women seem to be targets of what I call “matrimania” more than men are. Matrimania is the over-the-top hype about marriage and weddings and brides that saturates our culture. You can see it coming down especially forcefully on women by the number of bridal magazines on the shelves, unmatched by an equal number of guides for grooms. You can see it on the “reality” TV shows, in which dozens of bachelorettes vie for the attention of just one bachelor far more often that a truckload of bachelors all compete for the one bachelorette.

I think some of that special pressure on single women seeps into the workplace. I have been taken, though, by the number of single men who have told me their stories of being belittled and dismissed by colleagues. Some of the teasing they describe sounds especially nasty. One man told me about his colleagues who would bring in stories about social science findings showing that married people live longer or are happier (all grossly exaggerated or just plain wrong, as I show in Singled Out), and taunt him with them.

Q. What can singles do about those “lost” workplace rights or benefits?

A. I do think that singles should do what they can to get their issues on the table. Laws and policies can be changed, and awareness can be raised about insensitive and inappropriate workplace behaviors. I have to add a warning about this, though: Colleagues and bosses often react very badly to these topics and the people who raise them. That’s true even (or maybe especially) when the single person is clearly on the side of the angels. Lots of people in today’s society like to think of themselves as open-minded, fair, and non-prejudicial. When a single colleague points out a way in which the workplace has been unfair to singles, the people perpetrating that unfairness can suddenly feel very defensive. Their first reaction can be to lash out at the single person, rather than standing back and saying, “Wow, I never thought of that. I’m sorry. I won’t do that again.”

So another way singles can get these issues addressed is by supporting relevant advocacy groups. For example, the Alternatives to Marriage Project is very good at taking on issues involving all unmarried people (coupled and single).

When singles contact me with their workplace stories of cloddish colleagues or bosses, I often offer to send those clods a copy of Singled Out from Amazon, with no note attached. I think the insensitive ones would reconsider their behavior if they would read it. But I also warn the single worker that this is risky, because if the recipient of the book suspects that the single worker was involved, it will only make the colleagues or bosses even harder to deal with.

There are some small things that should be a bit easier to do. I actually have no problem covering for a colleague, whether married or single, as long as it is reciprocal. So when someone asks you, say something like: “Sure, I’d be happy to. I know there are times when I’ll need to leave early, and I’m sure you will do the same for me.” Then ask, when that time comes.

I also think that workplace policies should be fair for all workers. So, for example, all workers should have to cover holidays an equal number of times. And when workers have a certain number of days off, they should not have to account for what they are doing with their days off, or justify the days they want to take. That doesn’t mean that company needs are unimportant — of course they’re important — but the personal lives of single workers are also just as important as the personal lives of married workers and should be subject to no greater scrutiny.

Q. Do you see the rift of understanding about lifestyle choices and workplace inequities between singles and marrieds becoming greater or closing up the more these issues get discussed in the media and public eye?

A. I think that at first, the issue will be very hot. People on both sides will feel offended and misunderstood. It is funny that you raise this question, because just recently, I got a fascinating e-mail from a reader of Singled Out. He told me that he put together a carefully prepared audiovisual presentation on the ways in which family-friendly workplaces can be unfair to single people. One of the people in the audience stormed up to the podium, unplugged the equipment, grabbed his papers and threw them up in the air, then marched out of the room! So I think there is going to be some of that sort of thing happening, though perhaps not always so dramatically. Eventually, though, as the topic gets discussed more often online and in the mainstream media, we’ll probably be able to have more thoughtful and calmer discussions. The thing is, I’ve never heard single people say that they want more than what married colleagues get; they just want to be treated fairly. If other people can stop and hear that message, it should be hard to object to. In theory.

Q. In addition to your book, are there are organizations working for policy/workplace change and other resources you recommend singles check out?

A. My current favorite is the Alternatives to Marriage Project. There’s another group that works under the title, Beyond Same-Sex Marriage: A New Strategic Vision For All Our Families and Relationships. Their point is that even if same-sex marriage were made legal everywhere, there would still be many uncoupled people shut out of the 1,138 federal benefits and protections given to people who are legally married. As the subtitle indicates, this is a group that believes in the significance of all of our close relationships, not just our conjugal ones.

3 comments November 4th, 2007

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Hi, my name's Michelle Goodman and I've been freelancing since 1992. I'm author of My So-Called Freelance Life and The Anti 9-to-5 Guide. Read my full bio here.

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