Recently, while brainstorming with a reader who needed to supplement her regular full-time job, I made a quick list of the ways I’ve done that in my life. I wanted to help her discover what she does well that others might pay her to do for them.
PROCESS SERVER. I worked as an independent process server for a company that attorneys hire to have subpoenas delivered in their civil cases. Whenever I had a couple of hours to spare, I’d pop into the office, pick up a stack of subpoenas and head out to attempt to “serve” unsuspecting defendants in civil law suits.
My mission was to locate the defendant then address said person by name (Laura … Laura Smith?). By law, I was required to make sure I had eye contact, wait for that look of “knowing” and then hand off the document. Even if the person refused it, turning to walk (run?), I could legally assert that I had completed the mission.
The best part? I got paid $35 per attempt to serve. That means if I knocked on the door and no one was home, attempt complete and back into the stack that document would go for a future attempt. I could easily “attempt to serve” two or three subpoena’s per hour. The attorney service company I worked for loved me because I was available at odd times, like late at night or early on a Saturday.
Process servers are legally required to serve papers in the correct manner laid out by their state. Process serving laws differ by state. But basically, if you are an adult, have not been convicted of a crime and can engage strangers in a warm and friendly way, you too could be a process server in your spare time.
PIANO TEACHER. I got started young at age 15 as a student teacher in a music academy. I loved it—not so much the teaching, but the $5 per lesson. My little students did well and soon I was teaching on my own, at home after school. Teaching private piano lessons was the way I paid my way through college. At one point I had 72 students, giving each one a 30-minute lesson per week.
Considering the huge reader response on a past article on how to know which cheap shampoos are actually good for your hair, it seemed only right to follow with a similar piece on conditioners. Unfortunately, conditioners are not quite as simple as shampoos.
First, we need to demystify the term “conditioner.” It is a vague term that refers to a wide range of hair products designed to make hair more manageable and also treat common hair problems.
Conditioners fall into general categories according to what they do and the problems they solve.
Using the wrong product for the specific condition of your hair will produce disappointing results. For example, if your hair is thin and fine you are not going to be happy with my industrial-strength conditioner for thick, coarse, frizzy, color-treated hair.
What do Pat Benatar, George Foreman and I, your humble columnist, have in common? We share the same birthday.
I only know this because someone gave me a 797-page book titled simply, The Portable Book of Birthdays. Good thing too, or I’d never have known that Pat, George and I have socially savvy personalities and a keen ability to promote our ideas and to get what we want. We are intelligent, easily irritable and need constant emotional stimulation, too.
While the book doesn’t mention our favorite birthday cake, I feel confident in speaking for the three of us when I say that without a doubt it is coconut cake. But not just any coconut cake. It has to be 3-Day Coconut Cake that is so delicious it will knock your socks off no matter when you were born. But first a small explanation.
The recipe that follows calls for “frozen coconut.” As many times as I have made this cake (I wonder if Pat and George make their own birthday cakes) I have yet to find such a thing where I live in California. I’ve looked everywhere, asked store managers and anyone else who might be handy. No where to be found. I do understand, however, that frozen coconut is readily available in other parts of the country in the grocery frozen food case. Someone suggested recently that I try an Indian market and I will do that as soon as I, well, locate an Indian market. In the past I have tried fresh coconut with excellent results, but it was a real pain to crack, pry, smash, break, drain, peel and grate. So, I will continue to use Angel’s grated sweetened coconut that comes in a bag and can be found in the baking aisle of any food market.
I used to get so much mail, it would arrive in long plastic trays. Some days I’d get more than 10 trays, each one holding hundreds of individual pieces of mail.
Twenty years later, that kind of mail has dwindled to only a few pieces each day, but don’t assume that means my mail has slowed. It has changed from physical letters to email. You should see my inbox!
I can’t say that I miss all the trays, the trips back and forth to the post office and all of that paper. I still get just enough of your lovely handwritten letters each week, which I enjoy so much—letters like this one that just showed up on my desk:
Dear Mary: My homemade vanilla gifts for Christmas 2015 are all ready to go—they just need precious time to steep and age. Thank you for the recipe, instructions and links to the bottles and beans. Feels so good to be done this far in advance. Now I have another situation. Today our coffee maker went to the land of dead coffee makers, which means we’re in the market for a new one. What do you recommend? Carolyn
I blame my suspicious nature on my neighborhood grocery store. The store used to be a logically arranged market with bright lights and clean floors—a basic, friendly, functional place to shop. Then the bulldozers morphed it into a big fancy supermarket complete with mood lighting and cushy chairs.
I have nothing against beautiful spaces and modern conveniences, but I’m no fool. I knew all of this effort was to one end: to get me to spend more of my hard-earned money. Take the “Three for $6!” special of the week. Why not just say $2 each and drop the exclamation mark? I muttered to myself as I placed one jar of spaghetti sauce in the cart. Before I could wheel away I had my answer: I saw several customers dutifully place three jars in their carts. Not two, not four, but three jars.
That response was no accident. In fact, that’s a simple example of how retailers use tricks to persuade consumers to buy more. Retailers hire experts like Paco Underhill, author of Why We Buy, and his company, Envirosell, to follow thousands of shoppers a year in person and on video, observing their every move. Using this information, the stores find ways to get people to shop longer, spend more and return often. Underhill and his crew are so good at what they do, they can tell retailers what will entice people to enter the store, which way they’ll look once they’re inside, and more.
I am embarrassed to admit how many personal items I’ve left behind in hotel rooms over the years. I’m talking about phone chargers, flash drives, hair products, power toothbrushes—and even clothes left hanging in the closet. What’s wrong with me? I left my must-have travel pillow—not once, but twice.
My recovery rate is lousy, too. I got my pillow back the first time, but then managed a repeat and alas, it was never to be seen again.
Several months ago I put today’s first tip into action on my travels. This simple routine has made all the difference for me. It keeps all of my things organized and easily accounted for. And I’m happy to report, I’ve now arrived home with all of my possessions intact for six trips in a row—a new personal best.
I discovered money was a great antidepressant years ago I spent to change my mood, to reward myself and to make myself feel better after a stressful week.
I spent money when I felt sad and when I felt glad. I spent to get approval, to make my kids more popular, to impress people I didn’t even know. The list goes on and on.
Who hasn’t indulged in retail therapy? Case in point: the 48 pairs of shoes in your closet, of which only three pairs are comfortable enough to actually wear. But emotional spending is nearly always a mistake. The adrenaline rush lasts about as long as it takes to walk to the car. The feelings of guilt and remorse set in soon, sending your emotions on yet another wild ride. “Retail therapy” isn’t too soothing in the long run.
Making money decisions based on how you’re feeling at any given moment is a financially dangerous way to live. It took me a long time to understand how to manage money in ways that didn’t change with the wind. Once I got this through my head, I stopped assigning money the job of making me happy.
I want to thank all of you who’ve taken up writing to me. I love to hear from you and I get a real charge out of the tips, questions and other fun stuff you send. Even though I cannot respond personally, believe me when I tell you that nothing goes unread.
In an effort to respond to so many of you who’ve written asking for alternatives to high-priced protein bars and infant formula, I’ve come up with some cheaper alternatives for your frugal consideration.
First the infant formula. Without a doubt you will never find a more nutritional or economical formula for a newborn than mother’s milk. When that is not an option, commercial formulas should be your second choice, because they are highly regulated as to nutritional value for a baby’s developmental needs. Having said that, here is a recipe that goes back many years that may be appropriate as a replacement for commercial formula once Junior graduates to solid food.
(as a supplement to solid food)
Place all ingredients in a very clean glass or stainless steel container and mix well. Pour into bottles that have been thoroughly sterilized. Store in the refrigerator. Yield: 9 six-ounce bottles.