First Draft of the Grammar Book is Here!

This past Spring I started and finished a small grammar book for a handful of students. Due to requests from other students I am making it available for download. It has been checked and rechecked, but until my grammar instructor can take a look, I am not making it available on Amazon.

From the download page, click download. It’s that easy. I could request that you sign up so I can show the publishers how interested folks are in the book, but I’d rather have your love than your money . . . at least for now. So show some love. Read the book and come back to make comments. If there’s something you like, let me know – something you think needs to be checked, let me know. You get the idea.

I’m really excited about making this available. Plenty of resources gloss over grammar issues, but few give you reasons for the whys and hows of American-English grammar. That is my objective. Without boring you to tears….

Without further adieu, to download, please go here: Miss Mentor’s Little Black Book of Grammar

Thinking about Retirement Income?

It’s been a rough couple of year, but those of us hanging on to jobs of some form may be looking at our savings and investments and wondering,

What have you done for me lately . . .

If you are someone else’s employee, there isn’t much you can do. But, if you have your own company . . . or you care to create your own company either for the consulting advice you give or for the items you sell on etsy, you have options.

One of those options is a Defined Benefit plan. Nick Paleveda is the kingpin of DB plans and was kind enough to sit down with me for a few questions. In brief, the DB plan is great for those who have profits greater than $49,000 (after salaries). But with less than that . . . stick with your 401k and IRAs.

The reason I was turned on to DB plans? Great way to legally stash $300,000 a year, tax free. Also allows significantly more flexibility in your investment options for the funds. You can invest in private equity positions, your local dry cleaner for example, or regular publicly traded funds – much great range of options than your corporate 401k most likely.

First, a word of warning, you must own your own business to set up a Defined Benefit plan. A defined benefit plan must be set up by the corporation, LLC or sole proprietor who OWNS the business. An employee cannot set up one for themselves.

The main deterrent has been the perceived cost. As it turns out, you can set up a DB for yourself for approximately $600/year. Without further adieu, the interview with Nick:

Hi Nick, let’s dial into the needs of my Miss Mentor crowd. Most are Age 24-35, mostly pre-graduate school, some recently post grad school, many with significant educational debt.  Almost all are employed in relatively high paying positions (large law firms, consulting firms, Investment banks, $125k+), but have received scant knowledge (with entirely too much information) on personal finance. Some also have their own consulting practices or would like to . . . many make the financial decisions of the household – mix of married and unmarried.

1. What exactly is a Defined Benefit (DB) plan? I’ve heard about Keogh plans, but only know enough to be moderately dangerous.

From 1974-1986 the primary retirement plan in the USA was a defined benefit plan. This plan allowed tax deductible contributions, earnings to accumulate tax deferred and lifetime income or lump sums at retirement. In 1986, the Tax Reform Act of 1986 placed severe limitations on funding these plans, and hence, plan sponsors discontinued these plans. In 2001, EGTTRA brought back the tax and retirement benefits for these plans. These plans are NOT for everyone. They are for people who can afford to put away more than $49,000 for retirement. If you plan to put away less, use a profit sharing plan. Defined benefit plans are more expensive to set up and maintain than the profit sharing plan and are more regulated. The DB plan is regulated by the IRS, Department of Labor and PBGC.
2. How will a Keogh give me flexibility to handle life events: going back to school, getting married, buying house, having baby?

It will not help.

3. Does this create conflicts with spousal income, what if my status changes married-to-single or single-to-married?

No conflict with spousal income, but if you create a DB plan and become a participant, the spouse has certain rights to the plan that cannot be alienated using pre and post nuptial agreements.

4.Can this help me retire any portion of student loan obligations faster?


5. If I set up a DB plan for my consulting practice, can my spouse participate even though he has a plan at his place of work?

Only if the spouse also works in your company.

6. Is there a good rule of thumb for when to chose DB over other investment options?

A DB plan is not an investment. It is akin to opening a very huge IRA that must be funded ear year.

7. Are there any other considerations I have over-looked?
Yes- DB plans are very technical and very regulated. Many people in this age group would not be suitable for this plan.

8. Would this conflict with existing 401ks/IRAs/pensions?

Today you can have your 401(k) and defined benefit and profit sharing plan and deduct all three. This was result of a change in the Pension Protection Act of 2006.

9. Is there an optimal time to start a DB plan? Is that triggered by an income generation point or something else?

A defined benefit plan you should look at if you have profits after salary of $49,000 or greater.

10. How do you expect the power of the DB plan to play out over the next 5 years?

Defined benefit plans will become more popular in the small plan market as income taxes increase for people making over $200,000. The real popularity will depend on a persons desire to reduce taxes and increase retirement assets.

Learn more about small firm retirement plans from <a href=”″>Nicholas Paleveda</a> in his May 2009 Journal of Accountancy Article.

Give Us Names

When I was in b-school many moons ago, I had the opportunity to do a project with the UN High Commission on Refugees. But, the UN being rather UN-y meant delays, shifting of focus and other shenanigans for which I have zero patience. So . . . our group of 4 did what any group of b-schoolers would do, we brought the project to a for profit company.

Zero pay is zero pay, but if you’re going to work your butt off, you want to make sure you’ll have a finished product.

So we hitched up with Dupont and changed the project from designing lego-like housing for refugees from locally available, sustainable materials to creating culturally and structurally appropriate building blocks for displaced people. The idea was to create pieces folks could take home when it was safe to return home. We provided the product development, research and early brain power and some training for staff members taking over from us. Then we all scattered to our various post b-school worlds.

Fast forward to May 2010. I was in Atlanta teaching. Between my hotel and conference room, I met the most charming cabbie. Turns out he is working with displaced people in Columbia. What a small world.

Over 3,000,000 people have been forced from their homes, their land and their businesses. Zack’s group is doing something about it.

In 2 minutes they can give you a better idea of what’s up. Give us names.

Dating Advice

I recently connected with John McPherson, the creator of Close to Home and he has been kind enough to share a great dating cartoon with Miss Mentor readers. This one displayed in March 2010 and I just about spewed my tea when I saw it – I had that very weekend had a totally obnoxious date and this . . . was  . . . just . . . perfect. If you’ve ever had a rude date . . .

Naturally it would be much better to avoid rude dates, but things happen. 🙂


John McPherson is the cartoonist and creator of Close To Home, a single panel cartoon that appears in over 700 papers worldwide.  Among them are the Washington Post, The NY Daily News, the Miami Herald and the Tokyo Times.

After receiving a BS in Mechanical Engineering and a BA in English from Bucknell University in 1983, John started a job as a design engineer in Albany, NY.  It was during this time that he began toying around with cartoons as a hobby. Engineer by day, artist by night, John developed a thriving career as a freelance artist, working for magazines such as Campus Life magazine, Yankee, and the Saturday Evening Post.  In 1990, he left engineering to work full-time as a cartoonist.  Close To Home debuted in November of 1992 in 50 papers and has since become one of the most popular single panel cartoons in publication.  His work appears in book collections, calendars, an award winning line of greeting cards and many other licensed products. He speaks regularly to groups around the country about cartooning and humor. In 1994 John received a lifetime achievement award from Bucknell. He is living the dream in Saratoga Springs, NY with his two sons.

iPad + Barbie + Career = Awesomely Pink

Barbie digs the iPad too!

Watch out Windows, this Barbie is a Mac.
“That is not an iPad carry case.”
-the fake Steve Jobs

Fueling suspicions of a Barbie and Steve Jobs collaboration, Apple remains decidedly quiet on the question, “Is that an iPad carry case in Barbie’s hand and did she get it before April 2?”

Barbie is pictured here with the secretive carry-case almost 2 months before other users were allowed to carry the device. Do super model good looks get early Apple products? Did Heidi Klum get an early release iPad? Are there scores of Russian and Brazilian models walking around NYC right now with the pre-release iPad?

No one knows for sure. When asked what was in her bag, Barbie replied that it was just a hot pink laptop. She proceeded to pull the hot pink plastic laptop out of her bag only to forget that it won’t turn on because it is plastic. She concealed the rest of the contents of the bag….

One thing is for sure, Barbie is now digging the geeks. If she were wearing a black turtleneck the Real Steve Jobs would’ve sued for trademark infringement.

But this is no joke. Barbie is now a Computer Scientist. The Wall Street Journal reports that the popular vote for Barbie’s next career is that of Computer Scientist. And none too soon,

“In 2008, women received only 18% of computer science degrees, down from 37% in 1985, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology.”

As a former little girl with career aspirations, Barbie left a lot to be desired as a kid. Then again, I wasn’t really into dolls. I was a tree house and book kid. But I’m totally buying this one. She’s the new office Mascot once I put some proper heels on her. No one who looks that good should be in shoes that bad. Pink jellies, I don’t think so. But I digress, back to the issue at hand.

What about that iPad? Check out the carry case. That’s no Targus bag, that’s a case built for an Apple Product. It’s pretty, it’s streamlined, it’s silver. That’s mass produced high fashion. You don’t get that with a windows product.What more do you need to know?

Given Computer Scientist Barbie’s launch just after the Jobs iPad announcement . . . I’m betting on a behind the scenes collaboration between Barbie and Jobs.

Kate McKeon writes about basic economics and education at and teaches math for fun. She fully admits that she flirted with the TAs to get her Fortran programs written quickly in college. She is not a computer scientist.

Ask Miss Mentor

It’s here! Miss Mentor is back to answer your questions. After a “brief” vacation (work-over-whlem with her consulting practice) Miss Mentor is available again to help you sort through career and personal finance questions.

How should you ask your boss for a raise?

How should you tell your boyfriend to pick up his socks?

To 401k or not to 401k? What might be better for your situation….

Need some help with cocktail conversation – brush up on topics you know the dinner party will be discussing, look like the belle of the ball!

When you ask a question you can request to remain anonymous, but please consider keeping your name public. We like for you guys to know that it’s real people asking real questions. This ain’t no corporate beast cranking behind the scenes.

Send your questions to

Kate (at) MissMentor (dot) com

If we use your question, you’ll get a copy of our new book (e-book that is) due out June 1.

Get what you want!

Passive? Aggressively Not!

Employees tend to wait for some catalyst before expressing the need for a pay raise. Unfortunately that ends up looking more like passive aggressive behavior (not attractive) than “logical” though the hope is that explaining to the boss you need a pay raise because – choose any: baby is coming, getting married, buying house –  will appear logical.

It’s never logic.

You have needs – social, emotional, physical, mental, spiritual . . .

So trying to fit your need for more pay into the “logic” mode just doesn’t really cut it.

Instead of waiting, why not build the case on actual logic – like the value you provide to the company.

This is far more effective and if done well can’t be turned down. There is however one major potential problem. What if you are not actually generating value for the company . . . well, the following exercise will bring that to light so, don’t go there. Seriously.

First determine the key metrics for your company. How does your company make money? Who are the key customers? What are the most profitable products?

Are you facilitating these relationships? Are you supporting those who do? Are you making it easier for your company to generate more revenue? Are you the one generating more revenue? Get clear about your role and how directly you impact the bottom line. It is always easier to make a case when you directly generate the profit, but even a person in accounting (for non-accounting firms) can make a good case by observing how much contribution she adds to the process.

Let’s take the case of an accounting person at a construction firm – definitely not a “core” competency for a construction firm. So how does an accountant justify higher pay?

As an Accountant she will have access to the billings most like both those to vendors and those from clients. Doing her job of accounting is important and primary, but beyond that, she can extend herself to making suggestions about cost savings, ways to streamline vendor billing, (more importantly) client collections (nothing like getting cash in on time!), automated job site work-flow or wherever her imagination takes her. Any one of these ideas can drive additional profit to the bottom line.

But wait, those activities are already happening – how does that generate more profit?

Using the case of client collections, did you know thtat the faster you collect, the more likely your client is to pay in full? In tough economic climates, giving an incentive for a client to pay your bill first may mean you are the one who gets cash whereas the other folks your client owes get paid next or never. If you are totally on top of client billings you can make sure that your company receives the cash when it is needed, now.

And cash is always needed now.

Collecting quickly also means that even if your client will pay eventually, any short term loans you have on your books to complete the project must be carried as you wait for your client to pay. In other words, every day you wait for your client to pay is an interest payment out of your pocket.

It is also the case that every day you wait for a client to pay the less likely the client is to pay and the less the client will actually pay. And this isn’t just for delinquent clients. That’s true of good clients as well. You want to be the one they think of when they are cutting checks. You as the accountant can be that link.

So gather your data.

How many more clients paid on time because of a billing incentive you initiated? How much more did they pay on average? How much did you save in interest fees on your line of credit at the bank?

Make sense?

It all adds up to your ability to create additional profit dollars for your company.

So don’t wait for a personal event to determine what you want out of the company, build your value proposition from day 1. What are you giving that benefits the company. Then you will make your own market and may be able to get around the stratification that comes at many companies (level 1 accountant, level 2 accountant…), you might even get yourself your own title so you can set your pay independently. Nice!

Work hard!

Office Party Etiquette: Cinderella Situation

So given the title you may be thinking there will be a magical prince popping out of the woodwork to take you dancing through the night.

My apologies, no.

This little tale is about how to arrive at the Office Holiday Party.

The concept of Fashionably Late . . .

So the party starts at 7p and ends at 10p. In some circles this means you show up at 9p.


More specifically he** no. Your company has either rented the space or your boss, boss’s boss or boss’s boss’s boss’s cousin’s best friend is hosting the party at his home, so when they say the party ends at 10p, they mean 10p.

When you arrive at 9p, you may unintentionally cause the party to kick right back up a notch. You are after all a bad ass. The revelers will be delighted to see you, but the host and hostess will not.

Remember your teacher threatening the boy who was always shouting out in class and not turning in his homework, “This will go on your permanent record,” as though that meant something serious? Yeah, showing up unfashionably late works the same way.

So for the love of your boss, please arrive 15-30 minutes after start time. Anything later gets into rude territory.

What about the other extreme . . . being very, very precisely on time?

Oh how boring!

If the party is at a home, they may not be ready for you. You really don’t want to be the one who arrives first.

So play it safe 15-30 minutes after start time is perfect. No one is uber sloshed yet so you can have a polite conversation about totally mundane topics. AND, you can scoot out of there after 60-90 minutes – after all – you, Miss Hotty Totty, have places to go and parties to kick start.

Is Miss Mentor’s advice consistent? Check out our Office Party Etiquette series from 2 years ago.

Office Party Etiquette: Drinking Like a Fish

Today we continue advising you poor souls still walking the corporate halls on how to nail office party etiquette. Sad, but true, you must get along with your co-workers and you must wear more than a bathrobe to work. I feel for you, I really do….

So . . . you’re known to enjoy a beverage or two from time-to-time. Okay….

You’re known to enjoy a beverage or ten . . .


What you do at your holiday office party is strangely treated as “typical” behavior. And unfortunately for many careers, much of this behavior is somehow caught on film. It used to be that people used cameras. Now everyone and their monkey thinks it’s clever to video . . . everything.

You can’t stop the YouTube monkeys.

The consequence of all that footage is a surprising glut of material. The unintended consequence is that a future employer can google you, which he/she WILL DO, and he/she will find the ONE time you were a total jack-a** at your company’s holiday party. You will be forever labeled as a drunk/idiot/out-of-control wreck, etc.

Don’t believe me? Read the Financial Times Career column, this question comes up all the time from potential employers. It goes something like this:

I googled our best candidate for the new position and found a picture of her in a leather outfit. Everyone in the office saw her photo and they now call her the S&M girl. Now everyone is talking about her. I’m afraid if I do hire her that she won’t be taken seriously. What do you recommend….

No kidding, that was a real one from 2008, maybe 2007. The responses form other employers made it so memorable to me that I share it here. The reality is, that candidate just got the smack down because of a Halloween photo. THAT IS TOTALLY UNFAIR, but that’s the way it goes. Everyone recommended that she not be hired. Even though she was the top candidate prior to the photo discovery.

We are human beings, not logical creatures. If we were based on logic, we wouldn’t watch sports and we wouldn’t buy 99% of the junk that gets sold to us. Men and Women alike.

So, acknowledge that you share this planet with other human beings and all of our glorious frailties. When you are tempted to have another drink at your holiday party . . .


Stop at 2 for the ladies, 3 for the gentlemen. You’re being watched by your bosses and your bosses spouses. Remember, the losers have nothing better to do than to talk about your transgressions later and if one of them is feeling left behind (usually a corporate wifey), watch your back.

See the ridiculous tattoos that your mother warned you against….

Office Party Etiquette Gem from the Past

Put on those party shoes, but leave the drinking liver at home. Remember you’ll be judged not just by your behavior at the party, but by your behavior leaving the party. If you are wobbly, call a friend or CALL A CAB. Seriously. Please. To save your precious tush and your career.

-Miss Mentor

Office Party Etiquette: Holidays

Is your company one of the few holding a Holiday Party this year? Seems like many have cut back drastically, but based on a few questions from readers, I’ll throw this into the mix for those of you celebrating with co-workers this holiday season.

There are two main flavors of the Office Party – during work hours, and after work hours.

During Work Hours:
These Office Parties are meant to be tame. Appropriate attire seems to include cute santa hats on the cute secretaries, ugly sweaters on the not cute secretaries. The accountants will show up with the reindeer parade – don’t make eye contact.

A Director may try to spice things up with sexy red sweaterdress . . . she is single . . . even if she’s married. She probably hasn’t enjoyed her emasculated husband in a decade. Speculation about the intern from last summer…. How is it she manages to find super hot male interns trying to break into the biz each summer? Exactly. Go Cougars.

For you as a climber, stick to the basics. Sure you can do cute tights or put a holiday hat on for the day, but fashioning mistletoe to that hat is verboten.

No – No – No.

Besides, it’s that funky dude in payroll who’d try to kiss you. Do you really want that?

Drinking at daytime holiday party?
Oh . . . tempting, but no. Face it ladies, you are being watched like a hawk. It ain’t fair, but thems the breaks. You want to be taken seriously, work seriously. You won’t win popularity points for this and you won’t be invited to the after hours lush fest . . . but then again, you won’t end up shacked-up with your co-worker. That’s good.

If you want to write your own ticket, stay out of the booze during the day.

After Hours:
Office Party etiquette still applies. No joke. Your party may call for cocktail attire and it may call for “casual.” You get to figure out what that one means.

If it is at your office, be careful. Follow proper booze + copier etiquette. No pushing, no shoving, wait your turn.

Office Party Etiquette . . . What you CAN do with a copy machine.

If it is at an off-site location, even better. When you arrive you can scout exits so you can disappear quickly if necessary. Just a recommendation.

When you arrive be aware of the total space, are there nooks in which you could get trapped with that freaky payroll dude? Avoid.

Do grab a drink, but do stop at 2. Go meet your friends to get your drink on later if you must, but at the holiday party, no-go. Now you’re being watched like a hawk by twice as many eyes.

Think of it this way. When you have a single parent, she can only do so much disciplining. She gets tired, has her own distractions and is generally juggling things. When you have Mom + Step Dad, now they have reserve firepower. And they talk to each other about you and they make decisions for each other about you.


No joke. If your boss thinks you’re mostly okay, but his wife decides that you’re rude, you’re getting stunted the next promotion go-around. She’ll keep reminding him how rude you are and he’ll start to see what he hadn’t seen before . . . even if it does not exist. The context has changed and now you’re labeled rude.

It is your duty to be unfailingly diplomatic at the office party . . . even with that vendor, despite wanting to stuff him in a trash can for the way he wrecked the project time line….

Another gem from the past:

Office Party Advice