how to tell a freelancer not to stop by in person, my boss keeps asking how much I paid for things, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My boss keeps asking how much I paid for things

My boss is very friendly with all of us who work under her. Boundaries don’t really get crossed — none of us socialize with her — but we have “water cooler” chit-chats about personal things, like our apartment buildings, travels, shopping, movies, lunch.

She has started this habit of asking me what I paid for, well, just about everything. How much was that salad, how much did your condo cost, how much were those new shoes, what does your dentist charge you for a filling. It really drives me bananas. She stands and waits until I answer something, and she can tell I’m uncomfortable with the question, but that doesn’t stop her. She is just terribly nosy, and very thrifty, too. She frequently tells me I was crazy to spend as much as I spent for the shoes, salad, etc. Any advice?

That’s obnoxious. If you want to decline to answer altogether, you could go with, “Oh, I don’t like talking about money,” followed by a quick subject change. If she returns to the topic and presses you, you could say, “I’m really not comfortable talking about money. Sorry!” Say it cheerfully and then immediately move the conversation along to something else.

2. How to tell a freelancer not to stop by in person

I work at a busy, crowded, no-privacy-ever community newspaper. We sit at desks in one room and there is no time or space for outside visitors. When visitors do drop by, the whole office overhears everything they say and it’s awkward and uncomfortable, as well as distracting. So visitors aren’t encouraged to drop by, and we do just fine interacting by emails and phone with our stringers and freelancers. But one of them keeps bugging me and a coworker about dropping by when he’s in the neighborhood and doesn’t take the hint that we don’t want him to. Sometimes we say I’m off to a meeting, swamped with deadlines, on vacation (all true), and yet he still doesn’t get it. He continues to suggest another time. I wish I could say sorry, but our office is just not conducive to visits, even quickies. Any advice?

Are you me? I would totally want to head off those meetings too.

Anyway, I think you need to stop hinting and come out and tell him that you’re not available to meet. It’s perfectly reasonable to say, “It’s tough for me to set up face-to-face meetings; my schedule is usually packed and our space doesn’t accommodate visitors well. Was there something in particular you wanted to discuss, and would phone or email work instead?”

That said, it might be worth trying to get a better sense of where he’s coming from. Does he feel a strong need for more of a personal connection with people he works with? Want to pitch you on more work? Raise some issue he feels more comfortable raising face-to-face? Believe he’ll get more work from you if you know each other better? You’re not obligated to accommodate any of these with a freelancer, especially if your current system is working just fine with everyone else, but if he’s great at what he does, it could be worth putting in the time for a 15-minute coffee, depending on your sense of what he’s looking for.

3. My boss praises my work but won’t give me projects to lead

I’m hoping you could offer some insight into my manager’s thinking. On one hand, I know that I’m a valued employee based on the fact I always get the highest annual raise in my group plus a bonus every year. My manager has told me on many occasions that I’m the most reliable employee they have.

On the other hand, the last two years it seems every time we have a new project, it always goes to another coworker. I’ve mentioned every time we have a one-on-one that I would like an opportunity to lead from the start. I’ve had to clean up too many times when a project goes off the rails. At this point, if I had not been receiving the compensation that I have, I would think that they were trying to force me out.

I hope for some enlightenment on this. My perception is that even though I’m recognized for my skills through compensation, it seems that the only people getting opportunities are the ones who those who complain or threaten to quit. I’m not that type of person and have no desire to become that way. I’m starting to think about leaving, but would first like to find a way to stay without threats.

Why not ask your manager directly? I’d say this: “As you know, I’m very interested in leading a new project the next time one comes up. But since we’ve talked about this many times and it hasn’t happened, I’m wondering if you can give me feedback on what I can do to make that happen. Do you have concerns about my performance or other things I could address to make you comfortable giving me a project to lead?” If your boss assures you that she doesn’t have any concerns about you, then say, “Could we plan, then, on making sure I have the opportunity to lead something in the next month or so (or insert whatever timeline is reasonable here)?”

If it continues not to happen after that, your choices would be to (a) go back and ask more directly what you’re missing about the situation, or (b) accept that for whatever mysterious reason, your boss isn’t going to give you projects to lead — and decide if you want to stay, knowing that.

4. Applying for jobs when I’m not available for six months

How do I job search when I am six months out from my current contract ending?

Recently I submitted my resume to an awesome company in my area, I was curious if I would get a call back and I wanted to know about their management style and pay. To my delight, I received an interview invitation and went to the interview … and then they asked in the interview when I would be available to start.

I expected to be asked this in a follow-up interview and was prepared to email/call between the two interviews to say, “Thank you for meeting with me and the time you spent interviewing, I love what your company does and when I saw this posting I couldn’t resist applying for it because this sounds like a really awesome opportunity. While I would love work with you at a later date, it is not the right time for me to leave my current position. I am not sure if I was in the running for this position, but I hope you understand. I hope we will have the opportunity to work together in the future. Could I keep in touch with you regarding future openings at your company?”

I feel awkward because it looks like I just wasted their time, which leaves a bad taste rather than building rapport with this company. This experience has me stalling to approach other organizations. There’s got to be a better way to do it?

Yeah, definitely don’t use that plan. They’ll be annoyed that you wasted their time, and rightly so. “I couldn’t resist applying for this job even though I can’t actually start for six months” is not the sort of thing you want to spring on an employer after they’ve already invested time in interviewing you.

The time to raise your availability is when they first contact you to schedule an interview. At that point you say, “I’m really excited about talking to you, but I want to be up-front that I’m not available to start until March. I realize that might be too far out for you, but I’d love to talk with you if it’s not.”

That said, I would also wait a little while longer before you start applying for jobs, because right now for the majority of employers, you’re just not available when they’re likely to need you — and you risk not coming across well for not realizing that. (There are some fields that do hire this far in advance, but they’re in the minority and you’d likely know if you were in one of them.)

5. Update: I’m interviewing for a job where I’d work at a small table in my boss’s office

Remember the letter-writer who was interviewing for a job where she’d temporarily be working from a small table in her boss’s office? Here’s the update.

So, I wanted to give you an update (I really love reading updates!)

I went for a second interview, and asked a lot of questions. The good news is…I got a lot of good answers!

The table thing…totally temporary. She showed me all around the showroom/office, and where my PERMANENT home would be (a regular work area.)

Plus there was a lot of discussion about the company’s finances and stability, personalities, where this position may be in a few years, and more. Overall, I felt much better at the end of the discussion, and the bottom line…I start my new job on October 1.

I so appreciated your input, and your readers’ comments. I know a lot of you saw red flags flying in my original post, and I understand that. Still could go south, though of course that’s a possibility a person faces with every job. For now, I am going to enjoy learning new things…and my short commute!

{ 328 comments… read them below }

  1. Could be anyone*

    #3 – If you were to lead a project would you be able to clean up others’ messes? It may be that your boss likes having someone who can come in and save the day and might be afraid giving you a project of your own would make you unavailable.

    1. Charityb*

      That’s a good thought. If this person has a reputation as a fixer-upper the boss might be using their presence as an opportunity to give other, less experienced team members the opportunity to learn how to lead projects knowing that the OP will be able to fix anything that goes wrong. The boss might even think they’re doing a great job of providing their employees with development opportunities, without even realizing that the OP isn’t getting the kind of experiences that s/he wants.

      In addition to the timeline, it might be a good idea to identify a specific project in the pipeline that the OP is interested in leading so that s/he can pitch that to the boss before the boss has a chance to pick someone else for it.

    2. katamia*

      That was my first thought, too.

      OP3, is there a way for you to be less available to fix these messes without harming the product or relationships? If you’re volunteering to fix them, then hold off a bit to see if anyone else volunteers. If the fixes are being assigned to you, well, I don’t really have any suggestions for that, but someone else probably will.

    3. James M*

      Similar thought here. If your boss has you batting 4th you’re… well… not first up. If it comes to it, being the heavy hitter who can save wayward projects sounds like an excellent bullet point on a resume.

      1. JMegan*

        Actually, the baseball analogy works really well here. The 4th batter is the “cleanup” hitter, the one who is meant to hit it out of the ballpark after everyone else has laid the groundwork by getting on base. So your team members do the setup work and you do the last couple of things and get all the credit!

        I would actually be comfortable with that if I knew for sure that’s what was going on. Definitely worth asking, in any case.

    4. Apollo Warbucks*

      If the OP was leading the project, might they be able to stop them going wrong in the first place?

      I can see the OP wanting to take the lead if they could prevent the need for firefighting later.

    5. Koko*

      I wondered as I read what OP #3’s people skills are like. Perhaps they’re great at fixing messes because they have great technical skills, but management is giving the project lead positions to coworkers who have stronger interpersonal skills. There’s nothing in the letter to suggest this deficiency so this is really just me spitballing ideas, but the situation made me think of a coworker I have.

      He’s one of the smartest people we’ve got, definitely a problem-fixer, the most detail-oriented, catches every mistake, and he’s a great “trafficker” of work (basically doing the logistics – keeps everyone on top of deadlines, receives and reviews Stage A work before sending it to the people responsible for Stage B, makes sure nothing is slipping through the cracks, etc). Yet he’s never once been given a project lead role because he lacks interpersonal skills. He can be overly brusque, isn’t a great listener, and often rubs people the wrong way or steps on people’s toes in his quest for results and efficiency. He just knows what’s best to do and then barrels off and steamrolls over anyone who gets in his way. (For what it’s worth, he’s almost always right–it just rubs people the wrong way to be flattened like that.)

      Our leadership tends to put a less-technically-skilled but very people-smart person in charge of overall project management, who then delegates the logistics work to the technically-skilled but abrasive guy. They like having her in charge of projects because she listens to everyone’s input, explains her decisions, and is skilled at identifying and making the best use of everyone’s strengths. People are happy to work hard for her because she gives them a feeling of ownership in the project, as opposed to the logistics guy who makes everyone feel like he’s barking orders and it’s “my way or the highway.”

      1. Graciosa*

        This is a great description of that specific personality type, and an equally great explanation of why it causes problems in the work place. I have encountered more than one person who thinks this way – one of the difficulties in dealing with them is that if their technical skills are strong enough, they are so “right” most of the time that they don’t see any reason to change their behavior to be more effective dealing with other people.

      2. Mike C.*

        On the other hand, you’ll never develop those soft skill until you’re given the chance along with some guidance.

        Also, these feel like stereotypes.

        1. CrazyCatLady*

          I am that type of coworker I think. I don’t think my personality is overly brusque but it’s definitely less friendly and outgoing and people-oriented than many people in my office because I’m more task-oriented. I can definitely see it sometimes causing problems in the workplace because sometimes other folks want to hash out the details of “Hmmmm well maybe this will work” and contemplate it… and I’ll already know the right (or at least most efficient way to do it) and I sometimes interrupt their train of thought to tell them. But I can definitely see how it would come across as abrasive and how management might prefer to have someone more people-oriented leading projects.

          1. INTP*

            I am the same way sometimes – I haven’t had complaints about my people skills, but I’m definitely more task oriented and that’s where my skills and interests lie. And if I’m being fair, that probably does make me a less desirable choice for project leader. I’m not going to be as skilled at motivating a team as someone else, and I’m not going to be as happy doing it as I would be doing hands-on work.

            I think the issue here is not that every strong performer needs to be given a chance to be leader no matter what their skill profile actually is. It’s just that many companies don’t have room for growth for people whose skills are not in people management (or project management for that matter – many people are better at execution, trouble-shooting, and handling crises than they are at conception and strategy).

        2. AnonAnalyst*

          This exactly. I’ve been in this situation and it’s really frustrating. I’ve also been in the situation outlined above where the manager knows the OP is competent and will be able to salvage the project, and so gives the leadership role to someone else, thinking the OP can come in and clean it up if it goes awry. Knowing I was that person, when I wanted to lead a project but wasn’t getting any opportunities, did not make me less frustrated about not getting any leadership opportunities.

          I think Alison’s advice to talk to the manager and try to see if there’s a reason OP isn’t being considered for these roles is right on. Having said that, I would also say that, based on my own experience, there’s a good chance this won’t change, so the OP will have to decide if she’s happy being in that role or if it makes sense to move on. I’m in this position now and am looking for something else, so I can sympathize.

          1. TootsNYC*

            Also–maybe the OP needs to say to herself, “I don’t want to be the one who threatens to go to a new job, but it that’s the only way to get some development, maybe I should be saying: ‘I want to be honest with you. I love working here. But the time is fast approaching where my frustration with never being able to lead a project from the start is going to be high enough that I’ll start thinking about leaving. If you want me to be happy here for the long term, I need to start getting some growth opportunities, and the chance to lead a project and develop my skills.’ “

            1. INTP*

              This is fair, but I also think it would be beneficial for the OP to consider whether there are other paths of growth she would be willing to pursue. It seems like her manager or company, for whatever reason, do not see her as being most valuable as project leader, but that they do value her role within the team as evidenced by the raises, bonuses, and reviews. I wonder if they would be willing to work with her to develop a plan for how her particular niche in the team can expand and progress. Maybe there are responsibilities on the logistics, quality control, scheduling, etc side that she could take on?

              1. voyager1*

                I disagree with Toots, you tell your boss you will leave if you are not getting leadership roles, they will not give them to you. Why should they, you are leaving anyway!

                But I agree with AAM, have the conversation with your boss about leading. But have that conversation once. If you don’t get the change you want, time to warm up the ole resume.

                OP3 I feel for ya, been in your spot. Ended up leaving that job. Gotta great job now that is even better. Don’t let yourself feel trapped.

      3. Stranger than fiction*

        This is actually a great point. I’ve been wondering the same thing about my own advancement. My one manager thinks my people skills are find, because I don’t mind calling people out and holding them accountable. My other manager that would actually be the one to progress me into more ownership of things, I believe thinks I don’t quite have the soft touch she does. I don’t know for sure, just a feeling I get. My SO is exactly like the problem fixer/logistics guy you describe…almost to a T, and I’m really beginning to think it’s part of why he hasn’t progressed further in his last couple of jobs. Us task-orienters are sometimes underappreciated.

    6. INTP*

      I thought this too. Maybe the boss wants the OP to be available to clean up messes. Or maybe it’s not quite that conniving, but they simply see the OP’s strengths as lying in reliability, details, and being the “fixer,” and others as being stronger in strategy, creativity, and leadership, and are trying to allocate work according to employee strengths.

      It sounds like the employer really value’s the OP’s skills and role within the team based on the raises and reviews. You don’t have to be the most visible member or the leader to be a valuable and valued part of the process and it’s great that the employer recognizes this. If OP really wants to lead projects, I do think she will need to go to a new company – she seems to have been pigeon holed here – but maybe it would help to mentally reframe it and think of it not as being passed over for the higher level project leader positions, but as having a different but equally important niche? I would imagine that good “fixers” are as hard to find (or harder) as project leaders.

      1. INTP*

        Adding: Perhaps it would be valuable for the OP to have a talk with her boss about how her role can grow. If the issue is not that the OP specifically wants to lead projects, but rather that she wants to have room for growth and advancement, maybe both sides can be satisfied by putting together a plan for other responsibilities she can take on and how her role can expand on the execution/fixing/logistics side.

  2. Henrietta Gondorf*

    OP 1: Have you tried the breezy “Oh, I really don’t recall.” + subject change? I’d personally be bothered less by the question than the lecture about overpaying. That would just have me making up answers. “Oh, my shoes? I think I paid 83 cents.”

    1. Hellanon*

      “Oh, I love stores! You give them pieces of paper and they give you things!”
      … a friend’s daughter when he had the temerity to ask the same question.

        1. LaraW*

          My IL’s used to always ask about how much we paid for things. We always said “Oh, about $100”. So, our house, our cars, our daycare bills, our monthly or weekly grocery bill, a bowl of soup were all “about $100”. It did finally work and the knocked it off.

    2. Myrin*

      That’s actually the truth for me. Unless something was exceptionally expensive or cheap I don’t usually recall what something cost, and often not even then.

    3. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

      I have this weird, possibly actually compulsive, habit of saying how much I paid for something when someone compliments it. Only with people I know well and only if the thing was cheap. I was definitely raised to not talk about money! I don’t know where it comes from.

      “Those are pretty earrings”
      “Thanks! One Dollar!” (I found a nice trove at dollar store)

      “Great scarf!”
      “Thanks! Celia has been picking them up for me at Goodwill. They sell by the pound! This cost .14” (true story, I got amazing scarves for like nothing.)

      Ha, this is not cool. I asked the people around me to help me stop and they laugh and say that it’s adorable and I shouldn’t stop. I seriously think it’s some kind of compulsive verbal tic or something.

      Anyway, OP manager may have the weird reverse or just be making conversation. I bet shutting her down with Alison’s suggestions will do fine.

      1. BRR*

        Caroline Rhea has a routine how people feel the need to confess something about an item of clothing after others compliment it.

        “That’s a great dress”
        “Thanks I got it at a garage sales for a dollar, I never even washed it!”

        It’s not you, a ton of people do this. I’m always proud of my bargains. Maybe we’ll do this as part of the weekend open thread where we just talk about our discounts on clothing.

        1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

          OMG, I will have to look for this. I had no idea it was A Thing. And that’s it, it’s a compulsive confession. (Also, I have not washed the Goodwill scarves.) <<< see, I couldn't stop myself.

          That famous Cracked order on growing up poor, or living poor, and how it imprints you, that's real stuff. I grew up poor and was economically unstable until I was 25 or so. I have a lot of empathy for people who have weird money issues (as long as they aren't braggarts), so with the OP's manager my first thought is that she just might have A Thing and not intend to be outright rude.

                1. Jessica (tc)*

                  Oh my gosh, yes! The giving thing and the “what do I have in my account to the exact penny, how do I not know this right away, what if all our money is gone?” thing are so true!

                  Okay, they all are. My husband doesn’t get why I feel guilty when I need or want new underwear or socks or something that most people consider “needs” vs. “wants,” but it still feels like, “Well, I do have a few pair of underwear left, so I should be okay until I absolutely NEED to buy them — because I only have one pair” or something like that. How have I not seen that article before?

                2. BeenThere*

                  I loved this article. I have a group of very successful friends, who can all relate to it too. I suspect we all became friends because of our background but before we knew each others backgrounds.

          1. BRR*

            Those cracked articles about growing up poor are spot on.

            The special was on bravo in like 2007 as part of a three special women in comedy thing along with Joan rivers and Paula poundstone. Used to be on iTunes, not sure if not still is.

          2. Oryx*

            Oh it’s A Thing. I do the compulsive confession with regarding to buying things, too. (Also, I have not washed Goodwill coats.)

          3. PontoonPirate*

            Yes, it’s almost a defensive mechanism. Especially if you were either raised without a good barometer for spending, or you were raised to justify your spending, or both:

            Spoken: “Thanks, I found it at Target on the clearance rack!”

            Unspoken: “She didn’t even ask you that, but I didn’t spend frivolously on this dress don’t judge me, is she judging me, she’s probably not judging me, listen, I really wanted this dress, I know I probably should have used the money elsewhere, who am I to even shop at Target, oh god are you standing in silence and being weird, compliment her … folder?”

            Spoken: “And what a nice folder!”

            Unspoken: “Why am I allowed to interact with people?”

            1. F.*

              Your dialogue made me chuckle! I was raised by cost-conscious, frugal people. My grandparents lost their farm in the Great Depression, never did have much money and lived in poverty (think no indoor plumbing) the rest of their lives. This had a profound impact on my father who, despite making good money as an engineer, always insisted that we live well below our means. I am now very grateful for this training, but it has led to a tendency in me to feel I have to justify spending even the least amount of money on myself. I agree with the other posters who say that the OP should just try to sidestep the questions about money and deflect the conversation. As an aside, why is it that in modern American culture it is acceptable to discuss peoples sex lives openly, but discussions about money (especially how much one earns) are taboo? Not making a judgment here, just an observation.

          4. Elizabeth West*

            That’s a really good article. I grew up middle-class and became poor as an adult. It definitely changes your outlook on certain things, especially if you’ve ever gone hungry.

            I think some people do the bargain reveal because if they’re always showing up with a new scarf or whatever, they don’t want anyone to think they’re some spendthrift showoff or something.

            1. Ad Astra*

              Electronic lunch cards have eliminated the awkwardness of his free lunch situation, but man, this hits home.

            2. michelenyc*

              I almost starting crying at my desk. I didn’t necessarily grow up poor but I had a single mom and there were times where we had breakfast for dinner. We thought it was fun growing up but it we found out when we got older it was because my mom was broke until payday so she could only make pancakes!

        2. the gold digger*

          It’s like bringing home the Big Mastadon that will feed everyone for months. Finding a bargain is no fun if you can’t get some recognition for it! With my close friends, I will share that info.

          Friend: I love that dress!
          Me: Thanks! I got it at consignment for TEN DOLLARS! And I got these Ferragamo shoes for only twelve dollars! Can you believe it?

        3. Clever Name*

          I always say where I got things (usually Target. Sometimes Nordstrom. <– see? I can't even stop myself here!). Glad to hear other people have similar compulsions. :)

          1. Kelly L.*

            I also, and this doesn’t help, have a freakish memory for my own clothes, for some reason. I could probably tell you where I got everything in my closet, and what I was wearing on almost every landmark day in my life plus some mundane ones. I have no idea why this is.

            1. Kairi*

              I’m glad I’m not the only one who has a freakish memory for their own clothes! I think I got into my habit because I had an older sister who would borrow my clothes without asking and I’d get irrationally angry if I couldn’t find what I wanted to wear.

              It helps me in the morning when I plan out what I’m going to wear though!

        4. ThursdaysGeek*

          I sometimes want to tell friends what a great deal we got on the piano, but since most people have no idea what a good concert grand could cost, it would seem instead like I’m bragging on how much money we could afford to throw away on something frivolous like a piano.

          1. Paquita*

            I have been lurking for a while but I have to say this: A piano is not frivolous! I would love to have a concert grand. (Also a big enough place to put it.)

      2. Mallory Janis Ian*

        I do the same thing; I have to consciously restrain myself from blurting out, “Thanks! Got it for a dollar at the Goodwill,” if the complimenter is someone I don’t know well. If they’re my family, friends, or closer coworkers, I blurt away.

      3. Kelly L.*

        Oh God, I totally thrift-brag, and I probably need to stop too. In my family, it’s kind of a competition who can find the best scores, but I sometimes forget the whole world isn’t into that.

      4. KT*

        This is a super normal thing. It’s like trying to deflect compliments.

        “Beautiful dress”

        “This old thing? I’ve had it for years and it’s basically threadbare!”–it’s a way of subconsciously not trying to be proud of your appearance or vain or whatever. I’m guilty of blurting out “It was $3 at Ross” unnecessarily.

        1. Myrin*

          For me it’s not that but actually that I feel like I can’t just say “Thanks!” but need to add something. I’m not totally unable to give one word answers usually but I feel much more comfortable with just one additional sentence. And the price thing might be the first thing that pops into my head although I often go with “Thanks, I’m so glad you like it!/That makes me really happy!”.

          1. TootsNYC*

            I have that same urge, and I have some up with asolution.

            Especially when someone is praising a dress or something, it’s not like they’re praising me, they’re praising the designer of the dress..

            So I metaphorically go stand beside them and look at the dress.

            And I say, “Isn’t it pretty? I just love it” or
            “They pants are nice, aren’t they?? I love the little leather welt on the pockets.”

            Then I’ve satisfied that urge to say something, and I haven’t actually said “thanks” as though I’m accepting a compliment; I’m just joining them in admiring the clothes.

            Not as easy a trick when they’re saying “you did a good job” or “you’re always so supportive,” but those are easier to respond to because of this tactic of “commenting on the compliment as if it were an conversational entry, not a compliment: then I say, “I was so glad it came out right” or “I always want to help you when I can.”

        2. Hellanon*

          My parents do this, only it’s with food – “Great chicken, Mom.” “On sale for a dollar a pound at Ralphs!”

          … did I ask that part?

          1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*


            My family has never eaten a meal I’ve made without having to listen to the cost per pound, and often the total price or price by serving, recited.

            I think I need help.

            (But! Ground beef at 2.99 a pound is not an easy score this last year.)

            1. ExceptionToTheRule*

              I can’t have a conversation with my mother that doesn’t include a detailed breakdown of what she’s eaten since we last talked & how much it cost.

              1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*


                I will only tell you the cost of what we’re eating together (if you’re my child), so see, I’m not that bad. :P

          2. Joline*

            I was recently telling some co-workers about how I was contemplating getting a little luggage type scale (where you can hang something from a hook for weight) so I could go to farmer’s markets here. Most of the things are priced on a per bag basis – and I find it very difficult to buy produce without a kg/lb price.

            The other day I was buying two potatoes and had to remind myself that I could afford white potatoes over russets. My natural inclination is to gravitate towards the cheapest option.

            1. Kairi*

              I’ve been working hard to budget and plan my meals ahead of time, so I had an internal struggle recently over whether or not I could by myself steak tips (9.99/pound ack). I do it every other week to break up the monotony of chicken and pork. (I live with my boyfriend and we split the cost, so we don’t need as much food as say a family of 4). It also helps to remind myself that I am saving a TON of money by making all my own food and only going out to eat on special occasions (I used to go out to eat like 4 times a week).

      5. Allison*

        I do this too! I don’t shop at Goodwill, but I’m a sucker for ModCloth and I managed to buy a really nice dress from them that was marked down to $20 from $70, so when people complimented me on it I couldn’t resist bragging about what an amazing bargain it was, especially since a lot of people I know adore ModCloth but comment on how expensive the clothes are at full price.

        1. Ad Astra*

          Every single time someone has complimented something I’m wearing this year, the item has been from ModCloth. I love that their selection is wide enough that I don’t have to worry about everyone and their ferret having all the cute stuff I picked out.

          1. Allison*

            I went to a huge swing dancing event in Cleveland earlier this year, and there was another woman wearing the same dress as me. I, thinking nothing negative of it, complimented her dress and then asked her to dance! It was awesome! My friends even got a great picture of it.

          2. Broke Law Student*

            Asos is another great online store. Pretty much everything I own is from there, their selection changes all the time, and the clothes are a lot cheaper than modcloth.

      6. la Contessa*

        I do this too. Almost every single suit I own came from a thrift shop, and those that didn’t came from Ross or the clearance rack at an outlet; the only exception is the blazer I’m wearing right now, which is from Motherhood Maternity and I kept it after I had the baby because it’s the most comfortable, best-fitting blazer I’ve ever owned. Every time someone compliments me on my suit, I immediately blurt out that my whole outfit except the shoes* came from a thrift shop. Most of the time people look at me like I’m nuts >_> I had a friend at Old Job who was also a thrifter, though (he’s the one who told me about the Goodwill outlet selling by the pound, which is the BEST THING EVER–no joke, my birthday present to myself this year was a trip to the outlet), and he and I would talk about our finds.

        *I used to buy thrift shop shoes, but I found they only lasted a few months in most cases. I “splurged” on name-brand outlet mall shoes for New Job, but to be honest, they’re not much better . . . or maybe I’m just really hard on the rubber tips of heels.

        1. Allison*

          I wonder if some of these “thanks, I got it a thrift shop” comments are motivated by a desire to remove the stigma of thrift shopping. Sure, Macklemore might’ve helped make it cool again, but I think a lot of people are under the impression that only poor people shop there, the clothes are garbage, there’s never anything worth buying there, etc. and by telling people that dress they’re complimenting came from a thrift shop, they’re trying to make people more aware of the reality that plenty of people shop at thrift stores and you can get awesome stuff there.

          1. fposte*

            I think it’s the opposite–they’re to remove the stigma of having spent money on yourself by assuring people you didn’t really.

            1. Charby*

              I think it’s awful that there is even such a stigma. I mean, how many of us actually have business professional clothing that didn’t cost any money? Theoretically someone could have put together a wardrobe from hand-me-downs and clothes that MacGyvered at home using curtains and garden shears, but most people have to buy clothes from *somewhere*.

              1. fposte*

                Yup. I don’t mind the taboo about straight out yammering uninvited about how much stuff costs, because that gets really dull, but if you ask me how much my shoes cost the answer should be acceptable no matter what the number is.

          2. Kelly L.*

            For me, I think it’s the equivalent of painting the mastodon I killed on the cave wall. I’m bragging about my mad hunting skillz! :D

            1. Hellanon*

              Hunting & gathering for the 21st century! (says the woman whose designer wardrobe is all from eBay. What can I say? I’d rather spend $25 on a vintage Armani than new H&M.)

              1. Elizabeth West*

                I got a vintage Italian silk scarf at Greenwich Market for £5 (about $7.75 USD). People think I’m made of money because I went to London and came back with stuff like that. No, you can get the most amazing things super cheap at markets. Everything else in that shop was pricey, but a £5 box of scarves? I’m not too proud to kneel on the floor and go through it!

          3. Shan*

            I think I blurt out the price/thrift store factor when I get a compliment because it makes the item even more impressive. It’s way easier – and almost expected – to find cute, fashionable clothing at the mall. When people realize the cute thing I’m wearing cost pennies and used to be someone else’s junk or just a scrap of fabric, they are impressed!

            I get embarrassed too when I blurt out stuff like, “Thanks, I made it for $5!” or “Thanks! It was $1 at the thrift store!” but usually I get a “No way! Really!?” which justifies my behavior a little. ;) Sometimes it starts a whole conversation about that stuff, and since I’m a brand ambassador for a retro/pinup clothing company and sewist in my spare time, it’s not surprising that I get passionate about it.

        2. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

          Mine appears to be rooted in justifying deserving whatever it is (see side effects of growing up poor). I have really, truly tried to stop and I can’t, which tells me something big. I think it’s tacky for the boss, who makes a good living, to tell you she’s wearing dollar earrings.

          Point being, that gives me enough empathy for other people saying tacky things about money to want to deal with them kindly at first. Even Invasive Question OP’s Boss.

        3. Hlyssande*

          The Goodwill outlet thing by the pound is the BEST. I got a pair of new-with-tags Tommy Hilfiger jeans there. I have no idea what they were exactly but we paid something like $20 for the entire lot of things and it was glorious.

        4. Cathy*

          I am well known at work as the Goodwill Queen ! Everyone knows I will have new stuff after the first weekend of the month (all the Goodwill stores in my area are 50% off everything in the store that weekend). I’ve been impressed with the number of items I find that are brand new with the tags still on them!

          1. Winter is Coming*

            I just went through a bag that my 18 yo daughter put together for me to drop off at Goodwill, and I found some dresses in there with tags still on them. I think I started to twitch.

            1. LeighTX*

              Put those on Poshmark! My teen daughters have made quite a bit of money selling their barely-used clothes and accessories on Poshmark. And I make a habit of going through my teen daughters’ give-away bags because I’ve found things I can wear, things they can trade with each other, even stuff with the tags on that I can still return!

        5. Witty Nickname*

          My cheap Payless shoes have heel tips that will last forever. One day, archaeologists will be wondering what all these little rubber pieces are, and will eventually realize that they are the heel tips of shoes that have long since turned to dust.

          But if I buy expensive shoes, the shoe may last a lot longer, but I’m going to pay to have those heels retipped at least every six months.

        6. ThursdaysGeek*

          If it’s just the heels, go to a shoe repair and get them replaced. They’re designed to be replaced and for decent shoes, it’s a bargain. And then you can brag how little you paid to get the heel tips replaced. :)

      7. Ad Astra*

        I do the same thing! The dress pants I’m wearing cost only $20 and I’ve already told way too many people about it. I’m not shy about money, but I want people to think I was raised with some manners, so it’s always a little embarrassing when I blurt things like this out.

      8. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Oh god, I do the same thing. It’s like an apology. “Oh, this? I know it looks fancy but I promise I’m not someone who spends hundreds of dollars on a bag!”

        1. Allison*

          That’s sometimes my mindset as well. I have these classy-looking bags, same style but in 3 different colors, and sometimes I feel the need to assure someone the bag was only $40, to assure them I’m not overspending.

          This tends to happen around my mom. “That’s a cute dress, Allison . . .” my mom will say in a semi-concerned tone, like she’s worried I’m throwing my whole paycheck at new clothes, so I either need to assure her it’s from H&M or I got it on sale.

      9. Stranger than fiction*

        I’ve got this compulsion too! I think it’s partly because I DO get great bargains and shop at all the discount places, and don’t want people to think I’m the type that spends tons of money on clothing. (Also, I make more then a lot of my coworkers that sit around me, so a little bit of guilt maybe?)

      10. Arjay*

        I subscribe to Gwynnie Bee (rental clothes) and at first I was really quiet about it because it did seem like a weird concept. But then as people started seeing me in new dresses two or three times a week, I started “confessing” they were rentals, lest they think I c0uld afford to buy 10 new dresses a month.

        1. Arjay*

          I’ve also been tempted to corner my mail carrier and randomly over-explain that I’m not a compulsive shopper even though the big white boxes show up a couple times a week. So far, I’ve managed to avoid doing that, but it’s still in the back of my mind.

      11. LeighTX*

        I do this ALL the time, and it drives my husband nuts. “They didn’t ask what you paid for it!” But I’m so proud of the great deal I got, I just want everyone to know!

      12. Jessica (tc)*

        I do this, too, but with where I got it. For some reason, instead of accepting the compliment, I say, “Thanks! I got it at [store]!” or “Thanks! My mother-in-law bought it for me!” If it was a great deal, I’ll throw in the amount: “Thanks! I got them at 6pm for just $12!”

        I think I do it to take attention from the compliment, so if I can’t remember where I got it I will say, “Thanks! I don’t remember where I got it…” and kind of trail off. It’s a weird thing, but BRR’s comment makes a lot of sense for why I do it.

      13. pony tailed wonder*

        My mother used to do this until she got a bra at the Dollar Store for $4.00. Now that her family nick name is Two Buck Tits, she has cut down on how much she does this. I need to keep her example in mind because I tend to do this too.

      14. Al Lo*

        For me, it’s not so much about the money as it is about the story. It feels so weird to just accept a compliment with just a “thanks” — instead it’s, “Thanks! I found this at this really funky underground mall in China this summer!” or “Thanks! This was a craft project that I just got into my head and wanted to try,” or “Thanks! I just had a sudden urge to dye my hair pink, and you should see my bathroom right now!” or “Thanks! You know, I have 5 pairs of sparkly silver shoes, and I just can never resist another one!” Everything has a one-sentence story — it makes life so much more interesting.

    4. Anonicorn*

      Not remembering is going to be true for me most of the time. I’m also a fan of, “These were a gift.” Or, “Don’t these shoes look great? I got them at Store Mart.”

    5. AnotherHRPro*

      OP – Is this new behavior? If so, I would ask your manager why she is asking and then pause for her response. I’m guessing her response will be, “just curious” whey will cause her to possibly think about why she is asking and that she is be nosy. I’m a big believer in not assuming why people do what they do and just ask them. It may not get her to stop, but then once she acknowledges that she has no real reason for asking you can easily say that you don’t know or aren’t comfortable talking about money.

    6. Ad Astra*

      I don’t mind questions about how much something cost (though a lot of people do, and the boss should know that), but nobody wants unsolicited opinions about the way they spend their money. A common deflecting response to “How much did you pay for that?” is “Enough.” If it works with your employee-boss dynamic, you could also respond to her lectures with “Good thing it’s my money and not yours!”

      Even people who don’t mind discussing money know that it’s a touchy subject for a lot of people, so if the boss has any sense at all, she’ll back off as soon as she realizes she’s making OP uncomfortable.

    7. Long Time Reader First Time Poster*

      Re#2 and in defense of freelancers —

      As a freelancer and remote worker in general, I find that I build 100% better rapport with people once I’ve had a face-to-face meeting with them.

      Naturally, I want to have the best possible rapport with my clients, and I want to get more work from them. So, it’s something I make an effort to do — get together face-to-face at least once.

      I say that if OP2 is interested in continuing to work with the freelancer in question, s/he should find some time for a brief coffee meetup, at least once. It’s good business.

      1. Long Time Reader First Time Poster*

        Is there something wrong with me that I can NEVER reply to the right thread? OMG.

      2. CatLady*

        I confess I’m a little confused here, but tell me if I’ve misunderstood you. Are you saying a freelancer won’t want to work for me/us unless we meet with them?? My understanding, as a former freelancer and now a hirer of freelancers, is that it’s the client who hires the freelancer, not vice versa. And of course we strive to treat the freelancers with respect regarding work, but I don’t think we owe the freelancer a stop by to chat visit (it’s not a “meeting”) “or else.”

    8. manybellsdown*

      Yes, that’s what I usually try: “Oh, gosh, I don’t remember.” or “Thanks, it was on sale!” The second one doesn’t actually answer the question but it sometimes works as a deflection anyway. And, I sew, so sometimes I get to answer the question with “I made it!” which usually derails the topic into sewing and away from cost. Plus people who don’t sew assume a home-made item is super cheap (which is usually not the case at all!)

    9. pnw*

      I almost always lie about how much I pay for things unless it’s my sister or daughter. I do my research before I buy big ticket items but that doesn’t stop people from lecturing me on paying too much – so I lie.

    10. MissDisplaced*

      Yeah. I can maybe see this once and awhile if the talk goes to “great bargains” types of things, but how annoying to be asked about everything. Though she probably doesn’t mean anything by it. Maybe she just likes your style!

  3. Engineer Girl*

    #1 I’m going to disagree with Alison’s answer. I can just hear the boss throwing it back the next time you ask for a pay raise: “But I thought you didn’t like to talk about money!”.
    I think the best way to answer her questions is with another question – “May I ask why you want to know?” Say it kindly so it doesn’t sound insubordinate. Her curiosity may be a misdirected way of helping you to save money. You don’t know until you ask her why she wants to know. If she persists, then say that you’re uncomfortable talking about your private finances.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think “May I ask why you want to know?” is reasonable too. But I wouldn’t worry about the boss resorting to ““I thought you didn’t like to talk about money!” if the OP asks for a raise — that would be incredibly unreasonable/unprofessional/out of line with all known sensible behavior. If it happened, the OP could simply say, “Obviously that doesn’t extend to talking about the terms of a business arrangement that we’re engaged in together.”

      1. Engineer Girl*

        You’re right, it doesn’t happen with reasonable people. I’m just thinking of one of my former bosses that tried a similar trick. When I asked for a very justified pay raise he countered with – “You’re a Christian and the Bible says that money is the root of all evil!” (I’m not making this up!).
        You can’t stop crazy.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think I’ve told this story here before, but I have a friend who, upon being offered his first job out of school, asked about the salary. The manager (who I’m sorry to say later became my manager as well) muttered “vulgar” under his breath and didn’t answer him. My friend, being 23 at the time, accepted the job anyway and didn’t find out his salary until he received his first paycheck.

          1. The Daily Blow-Off: Your Community Newspaper*

            Ouch. Not sure how to recover from that… I guess if I were in that situation, I would tell them that I understood their reaction, didn’t like it any more than they did, but talking about it was a necessary evil in a world where most people, including myself, don’t own where we sleep; rent can be quite steep in a large city, and people must make sure before they take any job that it will cover rent and living expenses, despite the “vulgarness” of talking about it. Basically direct the conversation towards the vulgarness of a world that forces people to ask those questions, and away from my own personal vulgarity. :-)

          2. SevenSixOne*

            My first boss* told me during the job interview that he didn’t know what any of his employees made because it was illegal for him to know. I accepted that without question until I mentioned it at my next job interview and my interviewer was appropriately horrified.

            *I later learned that the store owner (Boss’ boss) was a major slimeball who played fast and loose with labor laws and professional boundaries because his very young/inexperienced workforce wouldn’t know any better. I also learned that Boss was only 23 and not a US citizen. I’m 100% convinced that Boss truly believed it was illegal to share salary info because Owner deliberately kept him in the dark about US laws and business norms.

        2. the gold digger*

          Not only ridiculous, but he got the verse wrong!

          For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

        3. Allison*

          Wait, so the boss wasn’t saying that they believed money was the root of all evil, but that *you* were a Christian and therefore *you* shouldn’t care about money?

          1. Engineer Girl*

            Because all Christians are supposed to take vows of poverty, don’t you know?
            After he made that statement on multiple occasions I lost my temper and quoted James 5:4. Not my best shining moment. He was removed a few months after that and I received a 12% raise from the next boss (normal raises were 3%).

              1. Steve G*

                I just did too, and it struck a chord, it is kind of a sign of the times we are in (though I am sure many generations could say the same thing).

            1. Heather*

              I would definitely call that a shining moment – using his own (misquoted) weapon against him is pretty awesome!

        4. catsAreCool*

          The Bible says that “love of money”, not “money” is the root of evil. Just explain that you like money, but you don’t have a love relationship with it :)

        1. fposte*

          That’s nice because it’s a casual brush-off and it also puts the onus back on the asker to justify their behavior.

      1. Technical Editor*

        This doesn’t work in my experience because the person just responds with some version “Just curious.” For me, it’s easier saying “I don’t remember” and leaving it at that.

        1. Meg Murry*

          Yes, I think “I don’t remember” is the best way to go. I would probably add “but I love them, aren’t they great/they’re so comfy/aren’t they cute?” if it was about the shoes or other item of clothing.

          I might be more inclined to tell about the salad, if I suspected the boss was asking as a way to determine if that was a good place to go for lunch in the area – although you could also just ask “is it good?” and then look up the menu online yourself.

          Same with the dentist, if I suspected boss might be asking because she feels like her dentist is ripping her off. Although chances are I wouldn’t remember exactly, so I’d be more likely to say “I don’t know, but I can give you the number to the office and you can check yourself.” I know I’ve had conversations about money with some of my coworkers when it comes to medical stuff, because our insurance is so vague and opaque, so it seriously might cost 3 times as much to go to dentist X as dentist Y, even though they are both on our same plan.

          But I think you are in your right to just keep deflecting it, and maybe eventually she’ll get the hint.

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            The combo of the salad, the fillings, and the clothing, though, make me feel like the boss is trying to gauge how much expendable income the Op has, and is maybe even jealous. So maybe the whole thing about the raise isn’t as off-base as we think. Hopefully she’s not that catty and unreasonable, but you never know.

      2. CatLady*

        I have tried the “I don’t remember what I paid” because I often don’t remember “exactly.” The boss responded with another question–“Really? You don’t?”–and then a pause while waiting for an answer.

        Just FYI to all the responders: It’s my boss, not a friend, neighbor, in-law, acquitance, coworker. It’s my boss who asks me the price of everything. Also, the boss isn’t asking the cost after paying a compliment–as in, ‘hey, great dress … how much was it?’ And not ‘I want to change cell phone providers, do you mind telling me how much yours charges?’ I don’t know that being flippant or cute in my answer is really a smart idea. Right now I’m leaning toward “I don’t remember” and doing that nicely, simply, and every single time she asks.

        What really irks me is that she can do this because she simply can: She’s the boss. I fantasize about the day I no longer work under her and when running into her on the street I can tell her what I really think about a few things. Including this one.

  4. Three Thousand*

    #1 This is another time where I would love to hear the tone of voice you would use for the boundary-enforcing statement. I can’t make myself say “I’m really not comfortable talking about money” without sounding much more snide than I would like.

    1. ArtsNerd*

      Say it breezily and then change the subject quickly. “Oh I’m not comfortable talking about money, but I do love how comfortable they are. Say, did you watch the sportball last night?”

      Since I’ve started reading AAM and Carolyn Hax, I’m getting SO MUCH better at speaking up about things I don’t feel comfortable with.

    2. AnotherHRPro*

      The key is to say it like it is no big deal, very light. Maybe even with a slight sense of self-deprivation. You don’t want to make a a big deal out of as it isn’t a big deal. You are just acknowledging something and then brushing it off to discuss something else.

  5. Dan*


    I’m going to ask they obvious: why *can’t* you just say, “sorry, the office isn’t conducive to impromptu meetings or quickies”? What you said I’d direct, but not offensive. There’s nothing wrong with that.

    1. misspiggy*

      Yes, as long as you’re not from the UK, there’s definitely nothing wrong with saying quickies in a business context

      1. ExceptionToTheRule*

        It has the same context in most parts of the US. Thanks Dan. Now there’s coffee on my keyboard.

      2. Felicia*

        I’m from Canada and have never heard of quickies in a business context. I’ve only heard it in a sexual context. I think it primarily has the same sexual connotations in the US too, though who knows maybe some people say it in a business context.
        Offices definitely aren’t conductive to the kind of quickies my mind immediately went to.

        1. Alston*

          Our random job board in college ws called Quickie Jobs. I never thought anything of it until I was telling my parents I was going to do a Quickie Job for cash. That was followed by the loudest silence ever. I thought that was weird, but started explaining about the job (1 day of data entry or something), and then my mom was like”thank god, we thought you were going to be giving handjobs for cash!” And then they laughed a lot.

        2. Vanishing Girl*

          I’m from the US and I’ve never heard it in a business context. If I ever did, I’d probably just start laughing.

        3. Ad Astra*

          I’ve never heard this in a business context in the U.S., but I don’t think of it in a sexual context if it’s used as a modifier: A quickie brainstorm session, a quickie meal, a quickie errand. It only sounds sexual to me when you use it as a noun: “Oh, we just stopped in for a quickie.”

      3. fposte*

        I’m in the U.S., and I’ve never heard this phrase. I’m glad I learned about it from here rather than face to face, as boy, did my jaw drop.

        1. LBK*

          I first heard it in the context of a joke about Dubya (although I’m sure it’s an older joke that’s been repurposed for many targets). The story goes that Dubya walks into a cafe one morning with his secret service in tow. He goes up to the counter and says to the cashier “Hey sweetheart, can I get a quickie?” Offended, the cashier runs red-faced into the back room. A secret service agent leans over and says “Sir, I believe it’s pronounced ‘quiche’.”

          (Even better, I first read this joke when I was fairly young, so naturally I asked my mom to explain it to me. Boy was that an awkward conversation.)

          1. Heather*

            I still think of that one whenever someone mentions quiche.

            I also love the one where he hears “A Brazilian soldier was killed” and asks, “How many are in a Brazilian?”

            1. ancolie*

              I still use “brazillion” for non-specific large numbers (like how “skillion” is often used).

              And his mangling of a saying has now replaced the actual saying for me. Y’know, “fool me once — shame on — shame on you. You fool me, you can’t get fooled again.”

    2. AnotherHRPro*

      I would actually be even more blunt and say that as the office is hectic we don’t encourage visitors. I would offer to meet up for coffee off-site ONCE if the person really wants to meet.

    3. TootsNYC*

      I was going to say this very thing–why *can’t* you say, “I’m sorry–please don’t
      stop by, because the office is really crowded and we try not to have visitors. It’s too disruptive.”

      There’s nothing in the least that’s objectionable about that. And it’s totally clear, and it’ll solve the problem.

      It’ s not like you’re saying, “We hate you and can’t stand to look at you, so please don’t come in the office, we’ll do it all by phone”!!

      I’m wonderinfg f the reason you think you can’t say this is because you can’t imgine yourself saing it without some verbal shading of annoyance or something (d you think he should have figured this out, since he’s vaguely familiar with your operation? Or do you resent his attempts bcs you don’t want to be chummy with him, and this feels like that?).

      In which case, practice a mildly apologetic tone. And try to remind yourself that whatever else might be going on is really not required to be part of the conversation.

    4. TootsNYC*

      Oh, and…

      Blaming it on the physical reality of workplace is FAR less offensive than all the other reasons like, “I don’t need personal contact with you.” or “We don’t have time for our stringers; just send in your copy.”

      You also sound annoyed that he’s not “getting the hint,” but I totally agree, you need to stop hinting. And you need to stop being annoyed that he’s not getting the hint. I sure wouldn’t take any of those to be “leave me alone and go away” hints, the way I might in a social situation.

      1. CatLady*

        Of course I’m annoyed. That’s not unusual. Why do I need to “stop being annoyed”? A person feels what a person feels. Besides, isn’t the nature of a site like this that people who feel annoyed about work situations write in with questions?

        I don’t believe I said I had “given hints.” I said my colleague and I’d given reasons (out on vacation, at a meeting, super busy with a deadline) why the freelancer’s earlier attempts to drop by to say hi wouldn’t work. I didn’t add “And I don’t want you to come by anyway.”

        It never occurred to me to say “we don’t have time for our freelancers.”

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Your comments here are seeming kind of annoyed with fellow commenters, who are strangers who are trying to help you — please don’t be adversarial with them. Thank you.

          1. CatLady*

            You’re right: I am annoyed with some of the comments. I agree with you that some commenters are trying to help, but I don’t think others are. Just because someone jumps in and opines here doesn’t mean they are trying to help.

            I will not come back. There are too many annoying commenters here. Sorry I didn’t anticipate that before I posted. I do appreciate your thoughtful suggestions to my questions, though–so thank you.

  6. Cody's Dad*

    Re #4. I agree with Allison- you are still too many months out to be applying for jobs. If I interviewed you, and even really liked your interview, I would be aggravated thinking you actually thought I’d wait six months for you to be available or if you sent your proposed email, I’d think you wasted my time. In either case rather than making a connection, this would make me a lot less interested in any furure applications which hurts your objective of making connections and ultimately a job!

    And yes, as discussed in some previous threads, I’m one of those people who keep a personal data base on everyone I interview so I can look for people that may have been good but just weren’t hired the last time and to avoid interviewing people who are not the right match. Not available for six months and “couldn’t resist applying” makes you look like this is one big game and you’d end up on my “don’t bother” list even if you had the skills I was looking for so don’t blow interviews now that will sabotage later when you need a job!

    1. JGray*

      I agree. Isn’t there another way to make a connection like going to networking events rather than applying for a job and then saying sorry I’m not available for 6 months. To me making a connection is the best way to let the company know you think what they are doing is great but not enter the hiring territory if you aren’t ready to be hired. Hiring can be frustrating enough without having to deal with something like this. I also wonder why is the LW applying for a job if the intention isn’t to leave for at least 6 months. I can understand if this is related to a restructuring or a merger or outsourcing but if it is just that the LW doesn’t like the job but doesn’t want to leave until a project it done than wait. To be clear if this is a restructuring or merger or outsourcing than if you explain that to a hiring manager they would understand but that still might not work for them.

    2. Lily in NYC*

      I wouldn’t be happy if someone wasted my time and interviewed on a whim, while knowing they aren’t available for HALF A YEAR. I agree that I would put this person on my “do not hire” list after that.

  7. Uyulala*

    Couldn’t you just put something about it in your cover letter. Include the month you will be free and let them know that you would be interested in that job or a similar job if it would be available at that time.

    1. Colette*

      That seems off to me – like you want the interviewer to remember you and keep you in mind for a job instead of applying closer to when you’re available.

  8. fond of jam*

    Re #1, my first thought was, “Well, that’s kind of how it works if you want to get reimbursed…or if you’re traveling on the company’s dime…”
    Then I continued reading, and was properly horrified. I’d be tempted to make a joke out of it: “Oh, are you going to reimburse me?” But that probably wouldn’t make the inappropriate questions stop.

  9. The Daily Blow-Off: Your Community Newspaper*

    #2: Given the never-ending newsroom budget cuts, I wouldn’t be surprised if eventually the office was just a few haggard-looking staff huddled around a drum-fire in the parking lot while the landlords leased out the building to a Walmart, but doesn’t it seem a little strange for a supposedly community newspaper to have what is essentially a closed-door policy? Is there any way to meet in the middle? Are there any nearby businesses that would allow you to use their back room occasionally? Maybe a restaurant that is usually dead except during the lunch and dinner rushes? In the movies the meeting place is always the local bar, but maybe that’s not so practical in reality — a lot of dedicated bars don’t stay open during the daytime, anyway — it just seems like it defeats the point of having an physical location at all if it can’t be used for in-person meetings…

    1. MK*

      I don’t see what being a community newspaper has to do with this. I mean, yes, they should probably be expected to be more accessible, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they must offer personal meetings. And the point of having a physical location isn’t to have in-person meetings with freelancers, it’s to have a place where the employees can do their work.

      1. The Daily Blow-Off: Your Community Newspaper*

        Having a physical location seems more to be a by-product of a lot of newspapers being over 100 years old — I doubt it is strictly necessary for the work today, as has been proven by newer “digital only” start-up papers.

        The manufacture of the physical newspaper itself seems like something that could be contracted out; as long as there’s another press somewhere in the county, I doubt there would be any delays sharing it with the other county newspapers. If an office isn’t strictly necessary for the actual writing of the news, and the printing of the news can be done at a common printer, having a meeting space where you can do interviews or brainstorm with freelancers without an annoyed business owner telling you to buy something or get out seems like one of the primary advantages of having an office. :-)

        1. Anonymous for this*

          It’s likely that printing is already done at another location. It’s also likely that the community newspaper is owned by a larger company that really makes all of these decisions, or at least not owned by OP, and OP can’t make that call.

        2. Ad Astra*

          Most papers, especially smaller ones, have already outsourced their printing. The central location is important for planning, collaboration, and listening to the police scanner. It’s not strictly necessary to function as a publication, but it’s a much better work environment.

    2. Anonymous for this*

      I work for a newspaper. The office is for work, not meetings. We do have meeting places in our own building and nearby, but stopping in to a newspaper’s office itself is as disruptive as it would be in another office.

    3. TootsNYC*

      well, an open door to readers is one thing; having stringers stop by apparently just to chat is another.

      I would want to meet my freelancers face-to-face at least once, and maybe twice a year, but I get the impression our OP feels this freelancer is wanting to be in the office so he can feel like part of the team, or that there’s an aura of socializing that’s floating along–and that’s not the same as being welcoming to sources or readers.

      Also, your readers or “the public” isn’t going to be welcomed onto the newsroom floor at any newspaper; they’ll go to the publisher office or the editor’s office. (there may not be such an office in our OP’s case, but my point remains: a part-time staffer, or stringer, visiting the newsroom floor is not the same as the public coming by.

    4. Ad Astra*

      Most community newspapers don’t have the facilities they need for private meetings, and it’s frustrating. At my last job, our editor had an office with a big window into the newsroom, and I remember clearly hearing the editor and my manager talking about me through the glass. Not cool.

      It’s important to be open to the general public, even if it’s inconvenient to have the local crazy conspiracy theorist popping in to give you a news tip when you have no suitable place to meet him. But when it comes to stringers and people you do business with, asking to meet somewhere more appropriate, or asking them to schedule a time, is completely reasonable. I think being upfront is the best way to go.

    5. ExceptionToTheRule*

      Be glad you don’t have to keep a Public File. As regulated entity under the FCC, broadcasters have to have such a thing and allow the public access to it during business hours. During political season it’s a revolving door of people wanting to see the Public File and a colossal pain in the rear to keep updated.

      If you’ve never heard of Public Files, there’s information about them here:

      1. CatLady*

        Oh lord, I’m sorry I mentioned it was a newspaper. That’s irrelevant. I’m not talking about “the public.” It’s a damned freelancer who wants to drop in to say hi and chit chat. And he gives advance notice, too. We don’t want or need any freelancer or anyone, really, to come by the office for a howdy-do. In all the years I’ve worked at this place I have never heard or seen any person from “the public” drop in, make an appointment to come in, or otherwise be on the premises to have “public access.” Pretend I said it was a manufacturer of widgets. And some vendor or freelancer wanted to drop in–with or without an appointment, it doesn’t matter; we still don’t have the time or space for that.

        1. The Daily Blow-Off: Your Community Newspaper*

          Doesn’t that make original reporting more difficult? Even with the funding and infrastructure in place to be a “full time creeper” as a friend once put it, there are some spaces that a reporter just can’t get to without someone willing to metaphorically leave a window open. Things being as they are, though, a news organization can never really know when or where a reporter will need an open window; shouldn’t cultivating window-openers be part of the standard procedure?

          I mean, look at how Glenn Greenwald from the Guardian came very close to losing the biggest scoop of his life when he decided that installing fussy email encryption software to chat with some crank named ‘Cincinnatus’ who had started pestering him uninvited was an annoying distraction and a waste of time. Fortunately for Mr. Greenwald, Edward Snowden tried again after being brushed off the first time. :-)

          1. CatLady*

            I am really so very sorry that I ever mentioned that this is a newspaper where I work because that has nothing to do at all with the situation I posted about. No, this does not make “original reporting more difficult.” I’m not talking about reporters. I’m talking about a damned freelancer who just wants to stop by and chit chat. The freelancer in question is not Glenn Greenwald and we are not talking about “the biggest scoop.” It’s a damned freelancer who has nothing to do with writing and reporting. Forget that I said it was a newspaper. That has nothing to do with this “drop in and chat” pest I wrote about. Jiminy cricket.

    6. Allison*

      It’s not that in-person meetings are impossible, obviously they need to happen, it’s that the physical location is not conducive to drop-in visitors. They’d rather people call ahead so whomever they want to meet with can carve out some time in their schedule and they can arrange a meeting place.

      Yes, it’s a community newspaper, and they should be accessible to a degree, but that doesn’t mean they have an obligation to allow everyone in the community to drop in without a heads-up. There’s nothing wrong with saying “if you’d like to talk to us, use this number or this e-mail and we’ll arrange a meeting.”

    7. CatLady*

      I believe you misunderstood me. This isn’t a “meeting”; it’s a freelancer who keeps asking to drop in “to say hi.” We are very busy and it isn’t like the movies where we run out to a bar or cafe to chat and socialize with freelancers. And the paper doesn’t have “a closed-door policy.” The situation is that we don’t have the time or space for visitors, and we don’t need visitors to get the job done.

  10. Merry and Bright*

    On #4 I agree with the advice given here. It’s a balancing act though, because some employers take a few months to work through the recruitment process. I agree it’s better to wait until nearer the time to apply but it is a juggling act because you aim to have more work lined up if possible and this sounds like somewhere the OP really wants to work.

    As I said though, I agree with the advice already given.

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      I was wondering about the optimal time to start a job hunt, I’ve seen it said here before that job hunts can take longer than expected, six months seems to long to ask an employer to wait but then depending on the industry there might not be many openings to apply for and I assume the OP doesn’t want to be out of work for long.

      I think the OP should start sending out CVs and applying for jobs and like Alison says, they need to be up front about their availability during the first conversation.

      1. CrazyCatLady*

        Different situation but similar. When I was moving across the country, I started applying 3-4 months out because I had no way of knowing their timeline. I included a line in my cover letter saying that I would be moving on X date and if that worked with their timeline, I’d love to be considered.

      2. Koko*

        Definitely a know-your-industry thing, and also can vary by job level (entry level offers tend to get made faster than senior ones, and with senior positions they’re often willing to wait longer between the offer and the start date).

        As a general rule, for most mid-level positions, I’d allow 2-3 months to get from “resume submitted” to “offer accepted.” But as AAM says, I’d ask about timeline early in the process. A nimble employer currently in a lurch might be able to move through all those steps in as little as one month.

      3. AnotherHRPro*

        It will totally depend on industry and level. For higher level positions, 3 to 4 (at the outside) might be ok. For lower level positions I would think 2 months out.

    2. L Veen*

      I agree. For my current job, I got the offer 4 months after interviewing (and the interview was several weeks after I’d applied). The timing worked out well and I ended up starting just a week after my previous contract ended, but if I had waited until closer to the end date to start looking for another job, I would have been out of work for who knows how long. I once had an interview that took place 5 months after the application deadline, and another org invited me to interview 8 months after. You just never know how long the process can take.

  11. African Sun*

    #1 I’m not a fan of the breezy approach. It can come across flippant. Just tell her that you prefer not discussing your finances at work.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      See, I think that makes it a weirder thing, since she’s probably not going to consider the price of a salad to be the OP’s “finances.” (On the other hand, I’d also just tell her what the salad cost — it’s the other stuff, and it all taken as a whole, that’s so off.)

      I think breezy often works really well. Depends on the relationship, of course, but in one where the manager is so freely asking this stuff, I’d bet it’s a relationship where breezy won’t feel tone-deaf.

      1. Not Today Satan*

        But even the salad-type questions could be frustrating if she spent a lot of money on the salad and would be opening herself up for a lecture.

        1. SevenSixOne*

          Seriously– I’ve known plenty of people who would respond with something like, “You paid $X for $Y worth of ingredients? Why not just make it yourself the night before like I do smug smuggity frugal smug”

          1. Kelly L.*

            There was a meme on Facebook a few months ago:

            “Why buy it for $10 when you can make it with $90 worth of craft supplies?”

            I have totally experienced that, both with crafts and cookies. Sometimes making it yourself isn’t even cheaper, if it involves stuff you don’t normally keep around and have to overbuy for a one-shot.

            1. Arjay*

              Ha, I don’t cook a lot, but over the past few years, I’ve become responsible for our small Thanksgiving dinner. The first year, I had to buy so many ingredients that actual cooks consider staples. My spice line-up of salt, pepper, and garlic powder just wasn’t going to cut it.

              1. A Bug!*

                It’s a little counter-intuitive, but in situations like this, fancy-pants spice shops can be great (or any bulk-food store, if the quality’s there). For one thing, they sell their spices by weight, so you don’t have to end up two years later throwing out a whole pile of musty, dusty spices. They’ll also usually have a wide selection of seasoning blends, which are really handy if you don’t want to go to the trouble of picking up all the component ingredients and mixing them yourself.

      2. Katie the Fed*

        I like to make sure all of my new hires (especially the young ones) make sure they understand TSP (our version of 401(k)). It’s not really my job to do so, but I like to make sure they understand our benefits and the value of compound interest, and why it’s silly to leave government matching funds (5%!!!) on the table.

        I had one guy who said he couldn’t put the minimum in to get matching funds. I did show him the numbers to show what $5 a day (a cheapish lunch) would add up to in 40 years. And then I had to REALLY bite my tongue from then on, when he bought pricey lunches every day. I never brought it up again but it hurts to see people leaving money on the table!

        1. Technical Editor*

          If it’s not your job, then why do you do it? I was forced into one of these personal finance lectures by my boss’s boss because he wanted to “educate” us. I’m a college graduate with a personal financial adviser, so I found it insulting. Not to mention the information he was giving out was plain wrong. He also encouraged us to stop paying for insurance altogether (!).

          Of course you can tell your new hires about your benefits, but it’s not your place to insert yourself into their financial education.

          1. Katie the Fed*

            Well, I approach it like this:

            “Are you aware of the benefits you have here? I’m happy to explain some things if you want.”

            If they already have things in order and don’t want me to, I stop. But a large number of them really don’t know anything, and are grateful.

            As for why – because nobody else is doing it and I’d rather they think back in 40 years “wow, I’m glad my first boss told me about compounded interest”

            1. LQ*

              I’d be really grateful for something like this. There is no one we can reasonably talk to about what all of the benefits are and how to use them or sign up for them without having it be a ton of work. So if my supervisor wanted to sit down and say, hey, did you know you are eligible for X I’d be very happy.

              (If my supervisor said, hey you need to stop eating lunch and invest in Acme I’d be much less happy!)

              1. Stranger than fiction*

                I would be too. I still don’t really understand how our 401k works, and the HR person who’s in charge, well, if asked any questions, she just give your the link to log on and figure it out. :\

          2. RG*

            Well you, as a college grad with a personal financial advisor, are the exception. Not to mention that they use a system that’s different from a 401(K), so I can see the harm in having little to no advice out there, especially if it’s vague and/or bad.

            1. Katie the Fed*

              And to be clear – I don’t tell them what they should do. I just tell them “so you know, the government matches for a total of 5%, so if you don’t contribute that much you’re essentially giving up free money”

              That’s about as deep into it as I go.

            2. Technical Editor*

              You don’t need a financial adviser to get a financial education. There are plenty of free online resources, books, and courses to educate yourself, which is what college professors and parents (not bosses) should be helping with.

              It’s not your boss’s job to teach you how a 401k works. I’m glad Katie isn’t telling them what to do, and pointing someone in the right direction to learn about investing is never a bad thing.

              1. Katie the Fed*

                Oh, I also tell them to check where their contributions are invested, because the default is the G fund which is the bond fund. So I tell them to look at whether they want the default, but they should research it.

        2. LBK*

          I worked in a department for a few years whose essential function was explaining to people why they should always be contributing as much as possible to their retirement accounts. It was really disheartening to see how short-sighted people could be – the amount of 30-40 somethings who cashed out tens of thousands of dollars just to pay down debts or buy new things that weren’t urgent needs was astounding. I always wanted to keep a log of their phone numbers and call them up in 30 years and say “told you so!”

          1. Katie the Fed*

            It IS disheartening, and I don’t think a lot of new college graduates are getting even a basic education on personal finance. That’s the reason I try to have the conversation – nobody else is.

            1. LBK*

              I would say the one good thing is that younger people tend to have a healthy skepticism about the reliability of Social Security and other programs that are supposedly intended to support them after retirement, so they’re more apt to believe they’ll need their own savings, they just don’t have any idea how to save correctly. The people who were closer to retirement age tended to believe that they’d be fine on SS and that their 401(k) was just a bonus on top of that if they wanted it, so it didn’t matter if they took it out early.

              1. Katie the Fed*

                Yes! My thinking is that SS may or may not be there, so I’m not planning for it. If I do end up with it, that’s just gravy and I’ll use it to buy a trophy male-order husband.

                1. Dan*

                  My bet is that SS is going to be there, and in greater proportions than most of us in “our 30’s” believe. The thing is, for SS to change, Congress is actually going to have to *do something.* And a structural change to SS is so far beyond anything the last few congresses have been able to tackle, that I don’t see that happening any time soon. By the time it does happen, I’ll be so old that I’ll be in the untouchables.

                  Worst case? I’ll have to wait 2 additional years to draw full benefits. That’s my bet.

                2. LBK*

                  The thing is, even if SS still exists in its entirety as it does now, it’s still not usually enough to survive on, at least if you actually want to live the lifestyle most people want in retirement (ie being able to go on trips, buy vacation properties, etc. without having to worry about your budget).

        3. Dan*

          My non profit will match up to 10% of our salary in a 403b. The matching structure is a bit weird, but to get the full match, I have to put in 12%. I know it’s free money and all, but it’s more than my budget can handle at the moment.

          The fun question is, if I have credit card debt on a 0% BT rate, do I go for the full match and drag out my repayment, or do I just pay it down and be done with it, at the expense of my 403b match?

          1. LBK*

            I’d think that would be an exception since that’s an abnormally generous match – the average 2-4% most people get wouldn’t be as much of a burden on your budget.

        4. Winter is Coming*

          We have an employee that just I can’t convince to sign up for our Health Savings Account (HSA). We have ridiculously high deductibles ($7500!!) so it just makes sense to put some money aside in the HSA to help pay the inevitable medical bills. I guess I ought to give up…but every time he mentions how much he has in medical bills I say, “but wouldn’t you rather pay for it with pre-tax money??” This is the same guy who complains that the health care providers keep “harassing” him to pay his bills. When I mention that they are all very helpful with setting up payment plans, he just kind of glazes over. Frustrating!

          1. Amandine*

            I’ll bet he’s pretty frustrated that you keep lecturing him on what he should be doing when he just wants to vent, too.

        5. Of course we'll keep our pension program going!*

          I think a lot of younger folks don’t really believe that any benefit plan that is here today won’t be gone tomorrow, as that is sort of how the private-sector seems to want to operate now. I would guess the big difference here would be convincing them that the feds don’t operate like the private-sector does.

    2. MK*

      Honestly, that comes across as pompous; the manager isn’t asking for information about her loans.

      Another approach might be to just tell her what the items cost and deflect the comments about how expensive they were. “I think buying good quality shoes is more economical in the long run”, “Well, I don’t think the couple of extra euors this salad cost will bankrupt me! And I really like their menu” “I arrange my budget so that I can indulge myself on things I really want/like”. I have found that if you are dealing with someone who trying to manage your finances for you, projecting a strong “I have actually thought this through and I am doing it as a choice, not because I don’t know any better” works wonders. Since the OP says their manager seems like a friendly perosn, she may be trying to “mentor” in spending money. Which is inappropriate, of course.

      1. Not Today Satan*

        Constantly justifying your budget to your boss (or even a coworker, but with a boss it’d be worse) must be SO exhausting though.

        1. MK*

          I didn’t find it so; I actually enjoyed demonstrating to someone trying to lecture me about how to handle my money how thoughtful and responsible I was. But what I meant by “works wonders” is that it made the behavior go away. Regardless of whether the person was genuinely worried, simply an interfering busybody or trying to make me feel bad, basically saying that I knew what I was doing, thank you very much, like a broken record again and again, having the conversation made it obvious that what they were doing was pointless and intrusive. And trying to lecture someone who won’t be lectured (or lectures you back on how buying good quality shoes is more economical than cheap ones that will need replacing sooner or on how important it is for your happiness to enjoy little luxuries like a good lunch) is not as much fun as going at it with someone who is embarassed and uncomfortable and trying to dodge the question.

    3. Kelly L.*

      There was someone on another forum who totally overused the word “breezy” (and in such a dismissive way) to the point that I started bristling at the very word, so I hear you, but I think it might still be the best strategy here.

    1. Soharaz*

      I wonder this too. I’m relocating for my partner’s job at the end of November and I’m going into one of those high turnover industries that’s always hiring. I’m having trouble judging whether I should apply now or wait until I’ve moved in 2 months so I am available for interviews and things.
      But then I also get really anxious when I move with my partner (military) and I don’t have things lined up before I go!

      1. Apollo Warbucks*

        Two months is a relatively short time so I can’t imagine there would be a problem applying now.

      2. AnotherHRPro*

        For a high turn over industry that is always hiring I would hold off until no sooner than 2 months prior. In those types of organizations they tend to move more quickly in the hiring process.

    2. CrazyCatLady*

      I think if there’s a specific reason that would not raise red flags (things like relocating, contact ending), you could include it in your cover letter. When I was moving I did this and included a line explaining when I would be available and if that fit with their timeline, I’d love to be considered. I started around 3 months before.

    3. Ad Astra*

      It’s going to depend a lot on the industry and the specific jobs in question, but I think 3 months is a good time to start looking. Many job postings will tell you how long the listing will be up, which can sometimes be a helpful way to gauge. If the ad expires next week and you won’t be available for 3 months, that’s probably not going to work. If it expires 3 months from now, it might make sense to apply. Definitely not foolproof, but at least this way you don’t look like you’re trying to waste these people’s time.

      1. Kyrielle*

        Enh, some places have long hiring cycles anyway. If the ad expires a week from now, I’d apply – but I’d include availability in the cover letter saying that I’d love to be considered if my timeline could work for them. (Really, for any app where you wouldn’t be available until X date, I’d do that. Yes, it’ll get you dropped from consideration, and probably at least one place that drops you won’t have their actual new hire start until after X date, but it’ll avoid irritating an employer by having them set on you and then realizing they have to wait two more months than they expected.)

        1. Ad Astra*

          Yeah, that’s great advice, especially if it’s a job you really want. If I felt only so-so about that particular opening, the expiration date might make me decide not to bother.

    4. Jaydee*

      I wouldn’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all cutoff. I think it depends on the industry, the type of job, the hiring practices, and the frequency of turnover. Basically count back from when you would want to start. Factor in any time off you need (for a break between jobs or to move), how quickly most employers in your field want someone to start in that type of position, and how long the job search is likely to take. If you’re applying for high level executive or professional jobs, there’s probably more transition time expected and more flexibility on the part of the employer to wait for the “right” candidate. Applying 4-6 months before your contract ends might be fine. If you’re applying for entry level jobs, they are probably looking for people who are ready start within 2-3 weeks of the offer. So you might wait to apply until maybe two months before your contract ends.

  12. De (Germany)*

    I have three months’ notice in my contract and even though that is perfectly normal in my country & industry, I would always mention my earliest start date in the cover letter. Now, I realize professional norms are different in other countries, but would including a sentence like “Due to my current working contract, my earliest possible start date would be…” at the end of a cover letter be weird?

    (disregarding that my English is not very good today because I am sick)

    1. katamia*

      Ooh, I’m curious about this too. I’m American so I’m used to two weeks’ notice, but I’m working in another country for a non-American company that requires a significantly longer notice period. My gut instinct would be to leave it out of the original cover letter, especially if it’s normal in your country and industry, but while I’m not job hunting right now, I’m very interested in what other people will say.

      Although any (American) company that expected me to be able to start in two weeks when I’m currently across an ocean would be fooling themselves, honestly, because I’d have to move to wherever the job was anyway (resume clearly states I’m not in the US right now) and long-distance moves, even within a single country, take time.

    2. The Daily Blow-Off: Your Community Newspaper*

      Hopefully someone with more experience on the hiring end will chime in, but I would imagine that unless the business is in emergency mode they would appreciate it, as it implies that you would give them the same courtesy. Nothing seems to annoy business-owners more in the States than the employee who exercises their “right to work” by quitting in the middle of their shift, and in return, nothing sets an employee off like working for a business that claims to give and expect two weeks notice until they receive their termination notice and are escorted off the premises that instant. :-)

    3. Daisy*

      I’m in the UK, which also often has long notice times, and have always included a sentence about earliest possible start date. Though thinking about it now I can’t remember where I got that from, I don’t actually know if other people do it.

    4. Ad Astra*

      At least in the U.S., where most of us are at-will employees, it would be helpful to mention any specific timeline restrictions you have due to contracts expiring, college graduation, or whatever it is. It will likely disqualify you from any job where that timeline would be a problem, but that really just saves everyone the trouble. That’s if it’s a hard date, though. If your job requires more than two weeks notice but doesn’t have an official end date, I’d wait to share that until they ask about your availability.

    5. Rat Racer*

      I would not share if it’s within the norms. I work in HR and we expect every candidate will have a standard 3 month notice and build that into recruiting timelines. If they can start earlier, great, but most managers/recruiters expect the country or industry standard. I would only say something if you are looking in another country (like US that would expect immediate start) or if you personally have a longer notice period than the norm (eg: you are a c-level exec with 6 or 9 month notice).

  13. Sandy*

    Oh OP4, you have my sympathies. This problem has been the basis of many a rant of mine, especially on AAM!

    A few strategies that I’m working with right now:

    -know your industry. As Alison said, some industries are like this, and you’ll know if you’re in one.

    -in line with the above, I’ve effectively mapped out my search based on the organizations/companies that I know have a long hiring process vs the ones that don’t. I apply for the long ones in advance, and keep a file of the cool jobs at the short ones for future reference.

    -when in doubt, email the hiring manager beforehand. I’ve gotten some great info by emailing the contact person for the position, introducing myself and asking what the timeline is for hiring. I’ve gotten everything from “the incumbent just went off on sick leave, we need someone yesterday” to “we’re in the process of rethinking the scope of the position, so we don’t expect to interview until January” and everything in between.

    -I’ve grown to deeply love job ads that say *in the ad* what timeline they are looking at. “Interviews expected second week of October”, “anticipated start date September 15”, etc. are great.

    1. Ellen*

      I think your third suggestion sounds excellent, particularly as it might prompt a bit of thought from a hiring manager about what the timeline *really* will be. I think companies sometimes fail to think through, at the beginning, how long it will really take to collect resumes, pick favorites, do whatever interviews need to be done, and make an offer. I think a hiring manager might throw out a cover letter mentioning that the applicant couldn’t start for X months (“That sounds so far away! We want someone to start ASAP.”) but could, in response to a direct e-mail inquiry, actually spend some time thinking seriously about the hiring process and how long it will take.

  14. Legalchef*

    Re #1 – My boss does something similar – she and I have been working together for many years, so we can often tell when the other is wearing something new. And whenever I do, she will say something like, “don’t you have something just like this?” Or she will make comments about how I have sooo many black and white striped dresses (when I don’t, and even if I did, who cares). I do most of my shopping online and shipped to the office (everyone gets things shipped to the office), and, without fail, she makes comments about just the existence of a package.

  15. techfool*

    Funny, I’m chinese and I find we are very happy to talk about how much everything cost. Esp if it was cheap.

    1. LBK*

      I don’t think it’s taboo in the US to volunteer how much something cost you (especially if you got a good deal on it, as you say). It’s being asked by someone else rather than just giving up the info on your own that’s the invasive part.

      1. fposte*

        I think it’s weirder than that. It has long been vulgar to outright tell people how much something cost, but we’ve noodled in a bit of an exemption for really good deals (even though they are, as Miss Manners notes, still bragging). But we still don’t want to hear “I bought a new car! It cost $24,000!”

    2. Katie the Fed*

      Ha, my first thought when I read this was that the boss is Chinese. I lived in China and had to get used to questions I considered SO intrusive! Love cultural differences :)

      1. Agnes*

        I was going to ask if your boss was from another culture. I’ve lived places (not China) where how much something costs is no weirder for small talk then “That looks nice! Where did you get it?” Money is a taboo subject for Americans – not the case everywhere.

  16. nofelix*

    #1 – “I don’t like talking about money” seems unnecessarily broad to tackle such a small issue. It’s inventing a personality quirk to get out of an uncomfortable situation, and sends a weird message that I’m the type of person that refuses to answer trivial questions with no explanation, just referring to some personal principle I’ve decided on. If someone said that to me I’d wonder what other areas they’d be similarly difficult in. Are they going to be able to handle talking to clients or suppliers if money upsets them? It’s nice to work with people who are reasonably accommodating, or at least explain why if they can’t be.

    Why not say “I don’t quite remember, a couple of bucks I think?”: doing what’s reasonable to answer the question without going into an uncomfortable level of detail achieves the same as above, but without inventing any phobias.

    1. Persephone Mulberry*

      I think the goal of the broader “I don’t talk about money” statement is to head off future inquiries. The OP probably doesn’t care talking about how much her salad costs, but when it comes up over and over and over again, it gets old.

    2. LBK*

      I don’t really agree here – not talking about money is a pretty normal societal standard in the US, so I don’t think it’s going to come across as a weird personal quirk. I also think it’s understood to mean your personal money, not that you’d somehow have issues talking about the cost of a service with a client. The context is completely different.

      1. Koko*

        Also, it’s true. OP genuinely doesn’t like talking about money – she’s not inventing that out of thin air about herself.

  17. AdAgencyChick*

    #1, it’s good to have some answers ready when you know the question is going to be coming. There are some good ones other posters have proposed, and I also like “I’ll forgive you for asking if you’ll forgive me for not answering” (said with a smile and a sincere tone).

  18. NickelandDime*

    And all the posts on OP#1 confirmed…People don’t really like to be asked how much they paid for things, and then judged on it. I wish people would realize this really isn’t polite conversation. I also notice it’s the exceptionally thrifty that insist on doing it.

    When I was a little girl, I remember a family friend coming to the house and asking my dad several times how much he paid for it. Ever since, I’ve hated these types of conversations.

    1. Allison*

      Agreed! I don’t know what my parents ever said about money, although my mom would often brag about getting good deals on stuff to at least the immediate family. But I remember reading in this American Girl book about manners that asking how much something cost was a nosy, rude question you shouldn’t ask. Some other “nosy” questions is “how old is your cat?” and “why does your brother take those pills?”

      I didn’t totally agree with everything in the book, some of it was a little ridiculous and didn’t feel in line with modern standards, but for the most part it was an excellent guide.

      I guess one exception, which probably wouldn’t have been in a book for kids, would be if you wanted to buy the same thing, but in that case you’d probably say “I’m thinking of getting something similar; if you don’t mind me asking, how much was it?” But even that could be intrusive depending on how well you know the person.

      1. NickelandDime*

        I just remember something my grandfather used to say about nosy questions. “Well, now that you know…now what?” In other words, why did you need this information? If you can’t answer that appropriately, you had no business asking.

        I agree with your exception about inquiring because the person was looking for something similar, like a suit or a pair of shoes. And yes, it depends on the relationship. In this case, OP#1’s manager is not only being nosy, but “judgy.” Double yuck.

        1. Cat*

          The problem with this is that nosy questions about money really are useful for the asker – now I have a better sense of the real estate market! Now I know whether to go to that salad place! I think this is more just a “social conventions” and making people feel comfortable thing.

          1. TootsNYC*

            You can get that same info without prying.

            “How much are salads that that restaurant?”

            “How much are condos like yours going for yin your neighborhood?”

            What is it you really want to know? What is the question you are -really- asking?

            (I try to do this mental trick w/ even my kids; instead of saying, “it’s 10o’clock,” which sounds naggy, say, “I’m worried about you getting enough sleep; I want to remind you that you went to bed really late last night, and I’m reminding you to look at the clock and not get sucked in to Xbox.”

            1. Cat*

              I’m not saying it’s polite to ask or that you should; I’m just saying the “what will you do with the information” test doesn’t always get you to the right answer.

            2. MommaTRex*

              Does your bedtime reminder actually work? It sounds like a nice attempt to make them more responsible, civilized beings, but I can’t imagine that getting through to my kids. The only thing that seems to work for me is “In five minutes, I am turning off the power.” And then five minutes later, I really need to turn off the power. That usually only needs to happen once. The next time, I only need to give the warning and show that my power-off index finger is doing warm-up exercises. They get to save a point real fast.

              1. MommaTRex*

                I did just realize that my method doesn’t involve any nagging. Simple factual statement followed up with potential consequence. I need to use that more often for other stuff, but things like getting ready for school don’t have such an easy “power-off button” consequence.

        1. Windchime*

          Yeah, I never thought of this as a nosy question. I frequently ask people the age of their pets, especially if they seem to be really young or really old. I was proud to tell people that my old kitty was 19 years old before he died and I didn’t feel that it was personal if they asked.

      2. Ad Astra*

        People are always asking me how old my adult dog is, and I think it’s weird. It’s not a secret that he’s 4, but why do you need that information? Do they see my 55-pound dog and think he’s still a puppy? Not to brag, but my dog is the cutest dog in the world and quite popular around our apartment complex, so I get a lot of these questions.

        1. LQ*

          I feel like this is super common. It’s small talk. What kind of dog is it. How old is it. Oh so cute. What’s the name. Why did you name it that.

          These are people engaging in a conversation. I would personally rather not talk to people but that’s what they are doing, they are being friendly and engaging. (I’m sure some of them aren’t but most of them are being friendly and outgoing, they assume since you have a dog you are as well.)

    2. AnotherHRPro*

      This reminds me of when I moved to NYC for the first time. EVERYONE talks about how much they pay for their apartments. It was very shocking to me. But it totally desensitized me to these types of questions. To this day (many, many years later) I am totally fine telling people who much my house is. My shoes though – no! haha

      1. Judy*

        Well, one difference between buying a house and buying shoes is that in the places I’ve lived, what you paid for your house is public record. Although it used to be that you had to go down to the county offices to get it, so few people did. Now you can just log in to the county website and search.

        1. Meg Murry*

          Yes, if someone were nosy enough to ask me how much we paid for our house, I would tell them – because it’s a public record, so not only can they find it on the county auditor’s site, but it’s also there for anyone to see on Zillow. Not going to lie, I’ve look up acquaintances houses on the county site or Zillow, out of curiosity’s sake. But I also just like to browse that kind of thing for fun.

          In our area, it’s also printed in the newspaper, for all the nosy people to see.

    3. Mike C.*

      I think there’s a polite way to do this – car price tends to come up since they’re so variable. I think it’s easy to lightly ask, “Can I ask how much it cost out the door” and then let them demure and change the subject or go into it further.

      This of course assumes you know the audience well and so on.

      1. Ad Astra*

        “Can I ask…” is such a helpful way to preface any potentially nosy question, so long as you have a decent reason for asking.

        1. TootsNYC*

          Oh, I don’t know–it feels little bit like “I don’t mean to pry but…[inset prying question here].”

          Or, “I don’t mean to be rude, but…”
          Or “Bless your heart, …”

          The thing is, if you truly want to buy a new car, you should do that research somewhere other than a casual conversation. You can go to dealerships, online, etc. And of course, you can go to your colleague and say, “I’m going to be buying a car, and I really liked yours. What dealer did you use? Did they negotiate well, and would you be willing to tell me your final price?” Later. Not in the casual conversation.

          1. Ad Astra*

            When I was fresh out of college at my first job and living with a coworker who was several years older, I did sometimes ask her things like “How much is your car payment?” because I honestly had no idea what people pay monthly for a financed car. I might ask some people what their mortgage payment is or how much they spend on insurance because I’m new to Being An Adult and I’m trying to understand what things cost. But of course that’s all dependent on relationships, and my questions usually come after that person has brought up the topic candidly. And I will totally accept “I’d rather not say” as an answer.

          2. Kyrielle*

            I don’t find it the same as “I don’t mean to pry” because you’re not disclaiming – you’re acknowledging they may not want to, and you’re giving them a chance to say they wouldn’t want to say and know it’ll be accepted. But you are being up front that you want to ask.

            Your questions are still better, though, because finding out how much they paid might not, by itself, tell you that much. (My husband’s last car was bought, used, on Black Friday from a dealership running a sale. I once bought a car and negotiated hard with the dealership but let them know I’d need financing through them…the *only* thing I asked about on the financing was whether there’d be a penalty for early payment. Then I paid it off, completely, the first month. So…would knowing just how much we each paid for those two cars *really* give someone an idea of the prices? Although knowing my negotiating strategy, back when there were still more dealerships that weren’t alert for it and that benefitted from financing with ridiculous interest rates, might have been helpful to someone.)

            1. TootsNYC*

              A friend of mine bought a Mercedes two-seater convertible, the Kompressor. Everybody asked her how much she paid. Her answer was: “I won’t tell you–but I’ll tell you think: you can get a pretty good deal when you’re buying a convertible during a snowstorm in January on the last weekend of the month, when their numbers are due.”

              1. Steve G*

                Ha! I like that. And as another NYC-er, that is basically what I am getting at when I inquire about prices (and I suppose the subject of the OP is as well – especially because prices can be so different between places here). I am not wholly concerned with how much you spent on parking in Times Square, I want you to tell me “oh there is this little garage no one goes to and is 1/2 the price of the others if you get there before 8.” Maybe the boss is after that type of info too? Who knows. But as per the comment rules, I won’t play DA:-).

    4. JGray*

      On the subject of houses I had a somewhat odd situation with an old neighbor of mine. He bought the house next door to where I was renting after the house had been on the market for almost three years. It wasn’t the best house in the neighborhood so it was no surprise that it took so long to sell but we were all thankful that the person who previously lived in the house was gone. We didn’t really care who bought or how much they paid just as long as the other guy was gone. Well the new owner actually volunteered how much he paid for the house to multiple people (including his tenants) but he would actually tell everyone a different price. We didn’t care and in Montana how much you pay for your property is private. We just all thought it was odd that he would tell each person a different price. The owner was nice but it was just weird the way he was so open but yet would like about it.

    5. LQ*

      While I agree that a lot of these conversations feel ishy, I think they are important to have. Oh, your apartment in the same building of the same size cost 25% less, hm, that’s odd. Oh look all the people who are black are paying 25% more, hm. That seems like A Thing. Or oh look this company has really great prices AND good services we should buy there instead of the other place. Etc etc.

  19. Tiffy the Fed.... Contractor*


    Hm. I’m not sure I love part of the advice given.

    I agree about raising the issue before the interview, however I don’t agree about delaying your job search. My job search took MUCH longer than expected. I thought it would only take a two months or so, when in reality it took about seven.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        Just because you don’t agree doesn’t make it objectively wrong. A search could take months – or it could take weeks. The first place she applies might make her an offer and then what?

        When I started online dating people told me it was a numbers game, plan to be in it for the long haul, etc. I bought a 6-month match membership – and fell in love with the first guy I met after two weeks. It happens.

        1. some1*

          Right, and I am sure you would have been annoyed to go on a date and have the guy tell you that he’s still married and living with his wife until he can move out due to finances, but he joined the dating site in case it took a few months to meet the right person.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          That burns. I bought the same one and there was NOTHING. >:(

          But you make an excellent point–what if the perfect job pops up right away and OP is still four or five months out?

        3. Dan*

          I didn’t get offers from the first place I applied to, but of the three interviews I ended up getting after I was laid off, I got two offers. My butt was in my new office chair 10 weeks from getting laid off.

          You know, when I started online dating, I did *not* want to fall in love with the first couple of people I met. I kept thinking to myself, “crap, what happens if I go head over heels for this one…”

      2. fposte*

        Can you clarify what it is you’re missing here? If you’ve been hiring people with greater lead time, that would be useful information–can you talk about that?

    1. LBK*

      But that’s 7 months from your perspective; your overall process may have taken that long, but presumably that was across several potential employers and the individual hiring process for the company that eventually hired you only took 1-2 months, right? If the OP starts hunting now and the first company she applies for wants her, it’s going to be a waste of time because there’s no way she can start yet.

      1. some1*

        Agreed. Job searching already takes so much time and energy; why start it now when you are going to be an automatic deal-breaker for most employers?

        And yes, it’s not unheard of to interview and get passed over by an employer and have them contact you as few months down the road for another role (I got a job this way), but that’s not common enough that anyone should use that as a strategy by applying to jobs months before they’d be available to start.

        1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

          Right. But she could start looking around at potential employers, learning about the companies, networking, etc. – that might help OP feel like she’s making progress, and it is, after all, part of job searching. Then she would be ready to go when the date is closer.

          1. LBK*

            Eh, I suppose, but I would consider the official start of a job hunt to be when you start applying – that’s what I would assume it means to delay your job hunt.

        2. MsM*

          Especially where you’re in a field that only posts when they’re ready to hire, as AAM points out. Sure, sometimes stuff comes up and it takes months before someone is brought on board, but that’s generally not because the organization didn’t need someone doing the work sooner.

          And that’s also not to say that you can’t start doing the leg work 6-7 months out by identifying target companies and seeing what they are hiring for, or figuring out what your cover letter and resume for those positions should look like. It’s just that unless they have a listing that requires your totally unique skillset, they’re probably not going to hold out for you when they have other qualified candidates who can start now, and they’re going to expect you to recognize that.

          1. LBK*

            Sure, sometimes stuff comes up and it takes months before someone is brought on board, but that’s generally not because the organization didn’t need someone doing the work sooner.

            Indeed – and 99.9% of companies are going to underestimate how long their hiring process will take, so there’s even less reason to start now. Even if realistically there is a company that could take 6 months to go from application to offer, they’re rarely going to think it will take them that long, so they’re not going to bother with someone who’s not available sooner than that.

    2. Koko*

      But that wasn’t because one company’s process took seven months, right? It was because the first round of applications didn’t yield any offers and it took you multiple rounds of applications before getting an offer. And the fact that it took multiple rounds of applications doesn’t mean you have to have unsuccessful rounds of applications before getting a successful one.

      So the answer to “how many months will it take to find a job?” is different from the answer to “how long will it take to go from resume to offer?”

  20. Anonicorn*

    #3 – I went through the same thing a few years ago. While I did all the daily grunt work, a coworker kept getting all the big and best projects because she was louder and pushier about it than I was, and I only started getting better projects after she left. Though I fully believe my manager should have dealt with this better, I also should have spoken up for myself.

    You don’t have to threaten to quit, but you could mention the tedium and burn-out of doing the same old thing all the time and never being challenged.

    1. MommaTRex*

      I agree that mentioning tedium and burnout could be helpful. It has worked for me in the past. (Note: I’ve mostly had fantastic bosses.)

  21. Guera*

    1) Just start saying “I don’t remember” and leave it at that. Or start giving the same answer each time.
    How much was that salad? $87. How much were those shoes? $87. How much was that piece of gum in your mouth? $87.

    1. Charby*

      When I started the Eighty-Seven Dollar store (Slogan: “All You Can Haul For Eighty-Seven Dollaz”) I had no idea how much interest I’d gather. Sure, I lost money on the big ticket items like cars, Rolexes, and jet skis, but I more than made up for it in terms of gum, hair scrunchies, and pencil erasers.

    2. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

      And now you’re making me wonder if you frequented The Sugar Quill back in the day, because we were all about the number 87.

  22. MsChanandlerBong*

    Re: #5

    I’m glad things worked out. If it’s any consolation, the best job I ever had was one where I had some concerns during the interview process (interviewer was late, office seemed chaotic, etc.), and the worst job I ever had was for an employer with a smooth, quick hiring process that lulled me into thinking everything would be wonderful when I started. I only lasted five months there, and I spent almost every day feeling sick to my stomach because of the constant nonsense.

  23. Minister of Snark*

    Re: #2

    Having worked for a newspaper, you have my sympathy with overzealous stringers. Maybe he thinks that putting in “face time” with the boss and the staff will help him get more assignments or maybe help him get a full-time position at the paper? Maybe he’s got money concerns and hoping to catch a story assignment on the fly? Maybe he just gets lonely at home and wants some human interaction. BUT that doesn’t mean he gets to come into your office and disrupt your day.

    I don’t know why you just can’t tell this person, “Hey, freelancer, I’m happy with your work, but unfortunately, my schedule and our office are not set up for in-person visits. You know how it goes when you’re in the middle of a story, interruptions can derail your train of thought and you might not get that back again. And there’s really no need for you to drop by. If you have questions or want to check in, you can reach me by email.”

  24. Mike C.*

    1. I think you should use it as an opportunity to start asking things about the finances of your workplace.

    “Oh, how much are you budgeting for bonuses and pay raises this year?”
    “How do salaries within my job code compare between men and women of similar experience and productivity?”
    “Why am I paying such high prices for the funds in our 401k program?”
    “Do you think N is a good price to pay for union dues?”

    See how much fun talking about money can be?

  25. Bostonian*

    It’s interesting to see all the responses to OP#4. I’m due to graduate from grad school sometime between December and February, depending on how on top of things I am with respect to my thesis, and I really haven’t been sure when to start looking. Some of the jobs I’d want are government, some are private sector, and timelines just vary a lot. I figure I should start soon and be up front with people – have my expected graduation date on my resume and mention it in the phone screen – but timing a job search is still really tough.

    One piece of advice that isn’t exactly what you asked: do what you can now to make it possible to manage if there’s a gap between your contract ending and a new job starting. Save whatever money you can, scope out possible living arrangements for different circumstances, etc. Having some flexibility takes some of the pressure off of making the timing work out perfectly. Or at least it does for me – despite being a student my spouse and I can swing me being out of work for a bit, and that massively reduces how stressed I am about the job hunt.

    1. LBK*

      Great point about reducing the stress of trying to get the timing right. FWIW, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with throwing out a few applications now for positions you really want, being up front about the fact that you can’t start immediately and then happily moving on if they say it won’t work out (assuming you’re able to do the last piece well). There’s no sense missing a great opportunity if they would’ve been willing to wait and you don’t know if you don’t try.

      But I think from a sanity perspective, it’s not worth your energy to go full-on with your search at a point when you know you won’t even get interviewed 99% of the time – that level of rejection is going to dig away at the motivation of all but the most resolute people, and you want to make sure you’re not already feeling dragged down a few months down the line when you’re ready to really go for it.

    2. AnonAcademic*

      I started job searching about 10 months before my thesis defense. I got a few no’s, one that was basically “call us closer to when you finish,” and ended up taking a job that had been looking for a January hire (job ad went out in Sept./Oct.) but was willing to push the start date back to June. Academia is weird. I’d just list your availability in your cover letter and let the chips fall how they may. You may get some rejections due to timing, but it might also put you on their radar for later if they think you’re a good fit.

  26. WorkingFromCafeInCA*

    #1 – You could also start giving outlandish, unsatisfying answers. How much was that salad? On sale for $45. How about those shoes? $10,000 bitcoin. What about your car? I don’t recall, somewhere in the ballpark of 1 billion dollars… As you say these answers, you’re smiling non-snarkily and walking away/trailing off. After a few times, hopefully she will become deterred by the futility of asking.
    (I realize that’s definitely more passive aggressive than just saying you don’t want to talk about money. I can’t imagine ever saying that. But the “I don’t remember, why do you ask?” approach and the joking about crazy numbers, I could pull those off without creating tension.)

  27. SherryD*

    The OP’s boss is just being a busybody. Apparently, her personal busybody speciality is personal finances. (For my office busybody, it’s dating.)

    The questions in of themselves aren’t horrific, but the pattern of nosiness and potential judginess is annoying. Skirt these questions however you can. “I don’t know.” “I don’t remember.” “Oh, we don’t have to talk about me, let’s change the subject.” “What makes you ask?” Be polite, but don’t give the busybody the satisfaction.

  28. MommaTRex*

    Question: How much did it cost?
    Answer: Yes, it was about that much.
    The answer is too confusing to invite a follow-up question.

  29. WLE*

    OP #1 I can see why that would make you uncomfortable. I also bet that your boss doesn’t realize it. As you mentioned, she’s very thrifty. Drawing my own conclusions here, but sometimes thrifty people can get almost competitive with saving and finances. I would take Allison’s advice and say something like “Jane, I know you don’t mean anything by it, but I have to tell you that I really don’t like discussing my finances. I like to keep that private. I hope you understand.” Then immediately change the subject and ask her about something else.

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