Could It Be More Than A Hobby?

Setting up the table…Last Saturday, I had my first paid catering gig. I spent weeks getting ready and even did two full days of prep leading up to it. It was so much fun and I learned so much from the experience.

We had about 20% more people show up than expected and that made keeping the plates full a bit tricky, especially with the variety we offered.

We served 12 savory hors d’Oeuvres and 3 desserts. It was all sized to be single bites so no utensils were needed. Hors d’Oeuvres parties are my favorite kind of parties to cook for.

I had a friend join me as my assistant for the event and she turned out to be indispensable. She was more of a partner than an assistant, really. She ran the front of house (replenishing the dishes and drinks, final garnishes and serving) while I ran the back of house (cooking and preparing the food). With her catering management experience and my cooking ability we made a fantastic team.

During the party we got several requests for our business cards and were offered 3 more possible gigs. People kept telling us we should go into business together. It was exciting to have such a wonderful response and to see all of our little bites being gobbled up by the guests so quickly. I love seeing people hover around the buffet – it’s a sign the food is a hit.

To my surprise, the next morning I woke up feeling depressed. The party was over and I no longer had an event to organize. I expected to feel relieved afterwards, not sad.

Antipasto SkewersEric thinks that I should consider turning this hobby into a small business. After all, nothing gets me more excited than cooking and I already have some word of mouth advertising going on. The alternative income would be nice, too.

After a strong dose of encouragement from family and friends, I’ve decided to do some research into home-grown catering to see if it’s a possibility for me. I love the idea of it, but I also don’t want to potentially ruin my love affair with cooking. Sometimes hobbies are best left at that.

Unfortunately, my friend wouldn’t want to be a partner in a possible endeavor. She agreed to help with this past event mainly as favor. She will still help me out sometimes but she doesn’t want to find herself working another “job”. I completely understand where she is coming from and although I’m bummed because we worked so well together, it’s okay.

Earlier this week the client called to express her gratitude and surprise over the final bill. I decided to charge just a small fee for our labor on top of the reimbursement for costs. It was an incredible bargain for her; the service we provided was easily triple what she paid for it. The best part was that she recognized it and said she would have had no problem paying “thousands” for it.

I know I could have charged a lot more but I’m honored that she took a risk on a newcomer. While I’m learning it’s not so much about the money as it is for the experience. She shouldn’t pay “pro” prices for someone who doesn’t even know if she has what it takes to be a “pro” yet.

Have you turned a hobby you love into a business? Did it end up being your dream job or a nightmare?

Don’t Save The Worst For Your Family

No crusty end pieces for me!This is a little off topic but I thought it was still worth posting. 

I was feeling crabby after a particularly stressful day last week and I noticed that I was being a little short with Eric.  We were doing our normal routine of chatting while I prepare dinner.  It was a subtle change and he didn’t mention it but I knew I wasn’t being as nice as I could have been.  He had done nothing wrong – I was simply allowing my frustration from earlier to affect my attitude that evening. 

Whatever ticked me off that day was distracting me and stealing my time with my husband.  I just had to let it go so we could enjoy our evening.  I look forward to our conversations in the kitchen every night (it’s our time to connect and bond as a couple) and it would have been sad to let something trivial interfere with that.  Now that I write this I don’t even remember what even irritated me that day.  I guess that shows how important it was in the scheme of things, right?

Are you striving to give your very best at work only to end up giving your family the worst of you afterwards?

Do you exceed at your job only to come home and sit on the couch at night, too exhausted to interact meaningfully with your kids?  Maybe you work so hard to keep the household and kids in order that you find yourself missing out on bonding time with your family?  Are you known as “the nice one” in the office yet you rarely remember to say nice things to your spouse?

Pardon the horrible example, but it’s like giving your work the best part of the prime rib and giving your family the crusty little end pieces.

Sometimes we can get so caught up in our work and our problems that we forget what’s most important.  Isn’t our family the reason we work so hard for in the first place?  Shouldn’t we try to save a little of the best of us for the people that matter most in our lives? 

I’m not trying to imply that you should do a less than stellar job at work.  It’s only to remind you to show the ones at home some stellar treatment, too.  The people who love you deserve it and the effort you put into those relationships will be worth more than anything you can achieve at work.

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Work Those OTHER Benefits: Discounts And Freebies

I’ll take that!Employer benefits like freebies and discounts can help keep your household spending down.  These little perks can add up to big savings or can even amount to an “upgrade” in lifestyle depending on what you are offered.

Eric gets unlimited sodas and bottled water at work free while he is in the office.  He also gets free popcorn.  That has come in handy.  If he gets hungry he has the option to get popcorn instead of paying for vending machine candy.  Those savings can add up.

You might be surprised at how much of an impact you can make on your bottom line by taking advantage of these “fringe” benefits.  Make sure to ask if you have any of these programs or perks offered to you; it could help out your budget.

Family Care – Some companies offer adoption assistance, substance abuse referrals, and marriage counseling.  All of these benefits can help save you money if you take advantage of them.

Personal Development – Has your company been holding any free seminars lately?  Do you have access to free legal assistance or free sessions with a financial planner?  Those services aren’t cheap so take advantage of any help you might be able to get.

Wellness Care – Do you have wellness care available to you?  Sometimes employers will provide wellness care such as free health screening, flu shots, and healthy living seminars.  Free health screening can help save money in co-pays down the line.

Casual Dress Days – Dress down if you can.  This helps you save on the costs of cleaning your most high maintenance and costly clothing.  Take advantage of casual days.  I think dress code flexibility is an important cost saving benefit.

Telecommuting – Do you have the option to work from home occasionally?  This can save on your commuting costs, especially if you have a long commute.  Along the same lines – if you have flexible hours try to use them to avoid traffic.  That will save on frustration and gas costs.

On-Site Amenities – If you are lucky enough to have cheap (or discounted) on-site amenities consider yourself fortunate.  Maybe you have access to a gym, pool, cafeteria, showers, or laundry facilities.  If these services are free or offered at a nice discount this could save a lot of cash or could even allow you to enjoy luxuries you wouldn’t otherwise pay for.  One of my old employers had an onsite gym, pool, cafeteria, dry cleaner, and daycare all at discount rates.  Too bad I was a traveling consultant and didn’t live near campus.

Free Stuff – Is there free stuff for you at the office?  I’m not talking office supplies; I mean legitimately free stuff actually provided for you to take.  Free sodas, gourmet coffee, or snacks?  How about a Beer Friday?  Use these freebies instead of buying similar items.  Do they give out shirts with their logo?  Take them!  Half of Eric’s wardrobe is employer-branded and it helps us save on clothing costs.

Discounts – Discounts on items you already use can really help, especially if they are substantial.  Can you get the product or service your company provides or works with cheaply?  For instance, if you work at a coffee shop can you get your coffee at a deep discount?  Do you get discounts with major retailers?  Many employers have special rates set up for car rentals, gyms, cell phone providers, hotels, apartments, even for purchasing cars or getting a mortgage.  Look into it!

Miscellaneous Benefits – Some employers offer other benefits like credit score monitoring programs and access to credit unions. 

Think it can’t get much better?  Check out the benefits Google gives its employees.  Caution: be prepared to become immediately dissatisfied with your benefits.  See Google’s awesome perks here.

Do you get any unusual or especially helpful benefits for your job?  If so, comment and let us know!

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Work Those OTHER Benefits: Reimbursements

You better take it!When looking for ways to cut back on your household spending don’t forget to think about how your employer can help.  Many major employers offer more benefits than just health/life insurance, retirement plans, stock, and paid vacation.  Have you checked into all the other ways you can get help with through your company?

We are able to get our cable modem reimbursed through Eric’s employer because he sometimes works at home after hours.  That alone is saving us $46 a month.  That’s not chump change, folks.  He didn’t even know reimbursement for this existed until he asked about it.  Sometimes you need to just ask.  What kind of reimbursements could be available to you?

Regular Reimbursements
Could you get full or partial reimbursement on equipment or services that you use for your job?  Do you take phone calls or have to respond to email at home?  Are you “on-call” outside of the office?  Ask if your employer offers reimbursement to help cover the costs associated with those after-hours duties (cell phone, computer equipment, internet access, etc).  How about uniforms or special clothing you need for the job?

Education and Training
This is a very valuable benefit that can help your career even if you eventually change employers.  Will your employer help you get the certifications or training you need to advance in your field?  Will they cover the books and educational materials you will need? Will they help you get your degree with tuition reimbursement?  Will they help you pay your current student loans?  I know this may sound unlikely, but you might be surprised to find out that many large employers will help with these costs.  That can save you a lot of money and help your career.

Relocation Assistance
Are you going to be moving for your job?  Maybe your company will help with the costs of moving.  Some companies will even help with selling your home and finding a new one.

Travel Expenses
Do you get paid a flat rate per diem when traveling for work?  If so, you can eat cheap and pocket that excess.  Are you submitting all your eligible expenses when you travel for business?  Did you buy that coffee with cash when you were on the road?  If it’s eligible, file it!  Are you getting reimbursement for your mileage to the airport?  How about parking?  Make sure to file ALL those eligible expenses no matter how small – every little bit helps.

Keep in mind that the list of potential benefits is endless; every employer is different and some offer more perks than others.  The point is that you should check with your employer to see what they do offer and take advantage of the benefits that help you save money.

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I’m Responsible For One Of The Worst Interviews Ever

He only looked good on paper I guessShortly after leaving my consulting job I got a position within the same industry that required much less travel.  After a few months at my new job an old work acquaintance (let’s call him David) contacted me to see how I was doing.  I explained that I liked the new position with this smaller company and he asked if I could get him an interview.

David said he was a newlywed now and had a baby on the way.  He needed to slow or eliminate his traveling.  He said that he really needed a new job as soon as possible because he would have to quit the consulting lifestyle when the baby came in just a few months.  He sounded like he really needed help.  His resume looked good so I agreed to pass along it along to my new boss. 

Mistake #1 – Passing along a resume for a guy I barely knew to my brand new employer. 

I told my manager that I hadn’t worked with David much but the experience I did have working with him was positive.  My manager reviewed the resume, noticed he had the same job title as me from the old company, and set up an interview for the end of that week.  He thanked me for the referral.  I felt good.  Maybe I had just helped out my new company and an ex-coworker at the same time. 

I knew he was interviewing on Friday but I didn’t know what time.  That afternoon I was surprised to hear some managers laughing as I approached.  They asked me if I was the one who referred David.  I said, “Yes, he was a fellow consultant from XYZ.”  They laughed and said I should speak to my boss.  Thoroughly confused, I went to my manager and asked him what had happened.  I was shocked and mortified by what I heard.

  1. David showed up to the interview in casual attire (shorts, of all things) with his pregnant wife in tow.  When they brought him back to the interview room he proceeded to bring his wife along.  They had to ask that she remain in the reception area for the formal interview.  David was surprised by this and seemed to expect that she could join them. 
  2. During the interview his replies were very informal and framed with “My wife and I” and “we”.  It appeared that he wasn’t answering for himself but on behalf of him and his wife.  This continued even when questioned about his skills and work history.  Weird.  Even my boss said it was creepy.
  3. David said that if he did have to travel, his wife would likely be joining him.  He mentioned that his wife was already coming along on many of his consulting trips.  When you are on-site for only 4 days a week you are still expected to get 40 billable hours.  I’m sure my boss wondered if he was really putting in long hours if his wife was coming along.
  4. The interview was held during work hours so my manager asked David what he had been up to that day to get a feel for his current job duties.  David casually explained that they had done a little shopping and caught some lunch before coming to the interview.  When asked if he took the day off he replied that he rarely worked on Fridays and that it was “no big deal”.  (Note: With my old company Fridays were often spent traveling or working on administrative tasks.  We were at home but if we weren’t doing billable work for a client we were still on company time).  Great.  So he admitted in the interview that he has no problem running errands, going to restaurants, and interviewing while on paid time.  That’s a rock solid work ethic right there, folks.

After the interview my boss told upper management about this being the most bizarre interview he had ever done.  It became a running joke in the company and my name was attached as the new girl who “referred him”.

How does this relate to personal finance?  Well, I think it does in many ways.  This horrible interview could have affected MY job.  I was lucky that it didn’t (thank goodness I was producing decent work by that time) but it certainly could have, especially as the “new girl”.  I hadn’t even met many of the managers that heard about this so how is that for a first impression?  After that incident I had to wonder what the company thought of me for referring this guy.  Would they question my work ethic and overall judgment?  After all, it appeared as if I endorsed him by passing along the resume.  The last thing I wanted was to be associated with that kind of unprofessional behavior.

Needless to say, David didn’t receive a call back.  I was upset with him for embarrassing me after I did him a favor when he needed help.  The interview was so bad that someone actually asked me if he had something against me, implying that he might have done it on purpose.  I guess nobody could believe that he didn’t know better, either. 

Looking back on it, I realize that I probably should have just told David to apply on his own through the regular channels.  Or if I still wanted to help him by giving my boss his resume, I should have emphasized that I didn’t have much experience working with him and avoided giving any feedback.  I shouldn’t have said that my experience with him was good because that experience was obviously too limited.  

I sure learned my lesson with that one.  At least it’s good for a laugh now.