As featured in The Wall Street Journal, Money Magazine, and more!

November 2007

If your office is like mine, you celebrate the holidays (but primarily Christmas) with a gift exchange of some sort as well as a party. I’ve found the office holiday experience to be hit or miss. Now, with the help of NBC’s The Office, here are some pointers for making December in the workplace awkward, upsetting, and unfortunate.

If you’re the boss, take these thoughts into account, and you’ll be remembered as the guy (or girl) who inadvertently created the human resource regulation banning further holiday parties throughout the company.

Michael gets a Christmas tree

1. Destroy company property. In a characteristic case of poor planning, Michael Scott erects a Christmas tree taller than the height of the ceiling. The team later decides to saw off the top of the tree. You don’t own objects around the office, the company does. Don’t worry about any damage you might cause.

Ryan's iPod

2. Disobey gift exchange rules. When planning a “Secret Santa” gift exchange, it’s common to set spending limits such as $20 or $25 to ensure a little bit of equity among coworkers. As this is a “common” rule, it only applies to common coworkers. As the boss you are encouraged, even expected, to spend more than your underlings by a factor of 20. Michael presents his favorite employee, Ryan the intern, with an iPod, while others received handmade or inexpensive gifts from each other.

Michael's oven mitt

3. Be ungrateful. Effort means nothing if your Secret Santa presents you with a crappy gift. Like Michael, don’t attempt to hide your disdain. In fact, use your disappointment as an excuse to change the type of gift exchange from Secret Santa to “Yankee Swap” (also known as “Nasty Christmas” or “white elephant”), in which everyone has a chance to steal presents from the others. Optionally, use “reverse psychology” to convince your coworkers to take the crappy gift from you.

Swapping the iPod

The good news is that you’ll feel special when everyone wants your $400 gift rather than the gifts worth $20 or less. Don’t worry about upsetting the Party Planning Committee.


4. Brag about your bonus. You can afford purchasing the iPod because as the boss, you were the only one to receive a holiday bonus. Make sure you mention the amount of your bonus loud enough for everyone in the office to hear. After all, you deserve the extra $3,000, and they don’t.

Doing shots

5. Provide copious amounts of alcohol. Nothing can get a party going like vodka, and more so in an office environment. With alcohol as a social lubricant, there will always be stories to tell. Alcohol will also help you win back favor from your employees.

When I started my current position last spring, everyone was still talking about incidents from the previous year’s holiday party involving an excessively drunk coworker. That party was off-site, but as the boss, bringing alcohol against HR’s warnings will allow you to provide this kind of opportunity for someone else.

The jerk

6. Invite a jerk. Perhaps he’s your friend from your pre-managerial days, or maybe he’s just the actor who frequently plays jerks in movies and television shows. He’s always inappropriate, even before he is drunk. There’s no reason for his presence at the party, but as the boss, you can invite whomever you like.

Making out in the office

7. Designate the break room as the make-out area. We all spend so much of our waking lives with the same people, cooped up in the same office, so sexual relationships are healthy and should be encouraged. Make sure you are vigilant; as the boss, it is your responsibility to know who is hooking up with whom. This information will come in handy for blackmail later. Also, award bonus points for inter-species relationships, such as this human/elf combination…

Angela crying

… particularly if it makes another human jealous.


8. Encourage promiscuity. As the boss, it is natural for your employees to be sexually attracted to you. Most of the time the people who are the most forward are not the ones you’d like to see without clothes. Nevertheless, it is important to take a photograph for posterity or for “art for the sake of art.”

Follow these guidelines, and you’ll be the producer of an unforgettable and unrepeatable holiday event.

Thanks to NBC/Universal and Universal Studios Home Entertainment for the images.


The stock market has certainly been all over the place lately. A few people have told me that the constant chatter about impending doom is pushing them towards pulling out or re-allocating their investments to expose themselves less to stocks. If I can stomach short-term losses like I think I can, I intend on using any upcoming doom as an opportunity to buy. In the long term, I don’t think the stock market will let me down.

Walter Updegrave fielded a question from a “fraidy cat” today:

Is it time to move our 401(k) out of stock funds and into bond funds? I did this back in 2000 and saved my 401(k) from huge losses. I’m getting nervous about the current market and wondering whether it’s time to make another switch.

The Money Magazine expert (in “Ask the Expert”) chided the investor and attributed her move in 2000 to luck. Selective memory attributes good results to skill and bad results to bad luck. Updegrave asked this question:

When exactly did you get back into stocks?… Ideally, you would have wanted to move back into stocks just as they hit a bottom in October 2002. Had you done that and stayed in stocks until now, you would have gained about 85 percent… But if you had waited until mid-2003 to re-enter the market — waiting until it felt safe — your gain would have been cut nearly in half to 46 percent.

Alternatively, if you had stayed in the market between August 28, 2000 and now, without purchasing while the market was down, you would have just barely recovered your losses. Dips are great opportunities for the long-term investor, but I wouldn’t suggest selling when the media is full of negative outlooks and all your friends are thinking about exiting the stock market.

Fraidy cat wants out of this stock market [Money Magazine]


Ben Stein has been making the rounds through the media in support of National Retirement Planning Week, a celebration of preparedness. He recently met with Terri Cullen from the Wall Street Journal and sat down for a quick interview.

Ben shared his opinion regarding the three biggest mistakes people often make in regards to the topic of the day.

Ben SteinMistake #1: Not Starting Early Enough. Ben says the government should require auto-enrollment in 401(k) or 403(b) retirement plans, with an optional opt-out clause. He also suggests that teens with part-time jobs while going to school should have the self-discipline to save a small portion of their earnings ($10, $20, or $25 a week or month) into a retirement plan such as an IRA. The small savings will not dent today’s enjoyment of life, but the magic of compounding will do wonders for your quality of life by the time you’re 65. Start saving later, and it’s much more difficult to catch up.

Mistake #2. Not Being Diversified. Ben Stein’s advice is to diversify your investments among a number of different spectra: company size (large cap vs. small cap), company objective (value vs. growth), location (domestic vs. international), and level of market development (emerging markets vs. developed). I haven’t focused too deeply on some of these dimensions. He’s not a fan of target date funds because of the inclusion of bonds. He feels bonds are basically useless investments, especially if money markets are providing similar returns without the risk. Ben’s worried about terrorism or hyper-inflation, which would mean bad news for bonds.

Mistake #3. Not Curbing Your Spending. Lao Tsu said, “There is no catastrophe worse than lavish desires.” Ben admits this is his main mistake — it required constant effort to keep up with his lavish lifestyle. He has eight houses. Even he admits that is too much for one person. Is excessive spending overlooked as a threat to solid retirement? When it comes to spending in the present time, it comes down to a matter of personal choice. As long as one is educated so he understands that spending $x now will mean he will have $x · 1.08n where n is the number of years until retirement (assuming an 8% annual growth rate), he should be allowed to make that decision and not criticized. However, if expenses are accelerating at a higher rate then income, there will be danger ahead.

View Terri Cullen’s interview with Ben Stein here, after sitting through a commercial.


‘Tis the season to think about charitable giving, and there are some wonderful opportunities to do this while giving to your friends and loved ones. Whether it’s one of your favorite causes or one which aligns with the interests of the recipient, there are three simple ways to make a doubly-impactful gift this holiday season.

1. Buy Christmas/holiday cards which support your charity of choice

If you’re going to buy cards this year anyway, why not see if your favorite charity has anything to offer? Not only do you show your support, but you may find interesting, unique cards which stand out to their recipients.

* The Audubon Society has a stunning array, and 10% of each box goes to serve their cause.

* The Make-A-Wish Foundation will actually personalize and mail your cards for you if you wish to make a gift on someone else’s behalf. Or you can order blank cards and send them yourself.

* The American Diabetes Association offers cards which you can personalize regardless of whether you are making a gift donation as well.

* Defenders of Wildlife offers free personalization of up to 4 lines when you order 3 or more boxes of cards, plus the cards are really wonderful for animal lovers.

* Sierra Club has an array of cards ranging from adorable polar bears frolicking in the snow to stunning National Park landscapes.

sweatshirt2. Buy gifts which provide a percentage to charity

* Know someone who loves the water? Oceana has some really cool t-shirts and apparel, and as much as 25% of the proceeds benefit their charity.

* Sierra Club offers two gorgeous gift-boxed calendars, note card sets (the owl set is my favorite) and even books for the nature/scenery lover in your life.

* The American Red Cross Store offers a number of smart gifts for the practical people in your life who always like to be prepared. Start with the $5 emergency kit as a stocking stuffer or spring for an emergency radio or more extensive kit. They’ve even got a line of vintage-style and baby clothing and some cute wrapping paper to package it all up.

* UNICEF has a store full of interesting, international gifts, including candles, journals, and books.

* A cancer survivor or supporter might enjoy jewelry, clothing or a tote bag from the American Cancer Society Gift Shop.

oceana3. Donate to charity as a gift

* Oceana is offering a holiday adopt-a-creature program. For $35, you can adopt a dolphin, seahorse, or one of 16 other sea creatures and receive a cookie cutter in the shape of that creature and a special sugar cookie recipe. For $75, you can choose a set of 4 creatures, or for more, you can get the full set with an oven mitt or two included. It’s a nice way to donate while still having a fun gift for the recipient to open and enjoy.

* Oxfam America offers you the unique opportunity to present your friends and family with a sheep, a can of worms, or other amusing gift. You are donating your funds to purchase items needed by growing communities worldwide, but you get a very charming personalized card announcing your gift in any of a number of categories relevant to the recipient, from gardener to student. How else could you possibly gift wrap a camel?

* Heifer International also donates livestock to countries in need. You can choose from a variety of animals, including a llama for $150.

* American Forests lets you plant trees in the name of a loved one for $1 a tree.

* Alternative Gifts International offers truly impactful gifts of of food, shelter, trees, gardens and medicines around the world.

* Not sure what charity would be most fitting? JustGive.org sells gift certificates which can be redeemed for any of 1,000,000 charities and nonprofit organizations.

There are so many more charities out there offering personal, interesting and impactful holiday gifts. What are your favorites?


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