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Is your job dipping into your own wallet?

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Question: "I don't make a whole lot of money as an admin, and I find myself shelling out a little cash here and there just to keep my job running smoothly—mostly buying office supplies, software and apps I feel I need to do things better, but also pitching in for birthday gifts, supplementing potlucks, and even paying to participate in all our football pools and guess-the-baby's-birthdate contests to show team spirit. Do I have reason to be a little resentful that my job isn't exactly free to do?” — Tammy, Documentation Coordinator

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Mark August 15, 2013 at 4:50 pm

I feel similar to Betsy. Just stop doing it. I, for example, buy Post-it-Notes myself because I like them, but if it was too expensive, the official company practice of paperclips and scrap paper works just as fine. I bought a cordless keyboard because I prefer it, but the company corded keyboard worked just fine. In other words, these things I am spending my cash on are my preferences, they are not requirements to do the job. Therefore it’s on me; it’s not the company’s fault, and the company shouldn’t have to cater to the whims of each employee’s preferences. I do participate in the potlucks, but I don’t participate in any of the pools and contests. We have several people who don’t, for budgetary reasons. Nobody looks down on them because they are financially strapped.


Kristin August 12, 2013 at 4:12 pm

First of all you should not have to pay for supplies necessary to do your job. If they will not get them for you do the best with what you have, if they say something about the quality of your work just say “remember I told you I need this…”. Also stop the madness of birthdays and other stuff. I used to bake for everyone’s birthdays and celebrations but when it came to my birthday I didn’t even get a cupcake and believe it or not they would ask why I didn’t bake a cake for my birthday! So I just stopped cold turkey. If I participate I refused to bake anything, I will bring the paper plates or napkins – a whole lot cheaper than buying ingredients to bake something. When they ask why didn’t I bake something I just tell them I retired and want to give someone else a chance.


Kathy August 12, 2013 at 4:16 pm

Good for you!


Lisa August 15, 2013 at 4:15 pm

I have a similar situation. I didn’t go cold turkey, but am much more discriminating as to when I bake and for whom and what I donate money.


Tara August 12, 2013 at 12:38 pm

The football pools and other betting are easily turned down with a good natured and pleasant “No thank you, I’d rather not.” Sometimes we make it harder to say no than it has to be when we provide explanations that others really aren’t entitled to. My personal budget is not anyone else’s business, so I don’t feel obligated to tell them why I am politely declining to participate. For gifts, I contribute what I can, when I can, again with no explanation and no attitude. As for work related materials, I haven’t had to shell out for anything that is a necessity. I purchase a few items, but I intend to take these items with me when/if I move on to another postion. So I’ve made my peace with it. If I felt obligated by my employer to buy items necessary for my job and they refused to reimburse me, I would look elsewhere.


Lisa P August 11, 2013 at 9:15 pm

They way gift collections are usually taken up at my workplace is that the envelope is passed from one office to the next as opposed to an individual taking the envelope around. This way, no one knows who did or did not contribute or how much anyone else contributed.

As for purchasing office supplies or software, it is never appropriate for an employer to expect an admin to purchase any work related item out of pocket.


Cynthia August 9, 2013 at 1:19 pm

If you feel you must have supplies, software and apps to efficiently perform your job duties, find a new way to acquire these without spending your own money. If you were sent out of town on a business trip, no one would expect you to pay your flight, hotel, meals, etc. Find your spine and be strong! Don’t expect anyone to read your mind – be a professional and speak up. If you don’t speak up, your bitterness and resentment will continue to get the best of you. BTW, being human involves social interaction. Choose to fund the important functions that matter the most to you and politely pass on the rest.


Michele August 9, 2013 at 9:24 am

I too have had many anxious moments on how to cover all the extra expenses that comes with being an assistant . Everyone just assumed that I would buy the card, make the dessert, collect for a gift and coordinate everything for the birthday celebrations. This was becoming too taxing on me. To be fair though, I don’t think many of my co-workers knew it came out of my own personal budget and not the department’s.

In our case, many of the assistants in our area were feeling the same way that I was…over extended. That’s when we chose to stop the madness and change how we celebrated birthdays as a whole.

We now have one day a month that we celebrate all the birthday’s in that month. And each month there is one or two persons assigned, depending how many birthdays we have. The person(s) assigned handles purchasing the birthday dessert, card and coordinate the luncheon. Anyone who wants to eat lunch…well, they pay for their own. Hello, what a great concept huh!?!

Of course, the assistants still coordinate getting the room and helping with setting everything up, but the cost of it all has stopped hitting our own pocketbooks and now everyone is involved…Whew what a relief!


Kathy August 8, 2013 at 5:28 pm

I use to go and buy birthday cakes, cards, small little gift…balloons, etc…Then I would let people know if they wanted to contribute a couple bucks each they could, of course they never did. So after 10 years of doing this, I’ve stopped. I don’t feel bad at all, I make the least amount of money and it’s all coming out of my pocket, no more!


Karen Tynes August 8, 2013 at 5:06 pm

Absolutely!! All that adds up!! As for office supplies make your case for your needs to the person you support the most. Show your manager HOW these supplies will increase your efficiency and help manage projects. Example: I use the file sorter A to Z and 1 to 31….and they cost about $50 a piece!! I was denied to buy one of each so I did purchase on my own. I put copies of the next two weeks of things my boss needed and explained to him how it worked. As for the alpha I convinced him if I was out or in a meeting and he needed a pending piece of info right now just flip to “J” for Jones. Yes, you and I know a bit elementary, but prove once and you should not have to make a case again. I have never been denied approval for a request. it is all in how you present your case. Don’t be timid or act like you are intruding on the company budget… be professional and make your case. As for all the monetary contributions, just politely explain you can’t!! Frankly, most people can’t afford either and once one starts dropping out of the money contributions many follow. Moral money should not come out of support staff pockets. Potluck: just do something cheap and you don’t have to make enough to serve everyone. Baked beans is my go to. Being a “high level” EA I often have been in a position to get the managers to contribute in lieu of support staff. Most of the managers just don’t think about it! Again, its all in how you make your case!


Lisa August 8, 2013 at 4:33 pm

Don’t feel resentful. You are in a tough spot shared by many. A wise woman once told me that there is no shame in sticking to a budget when it comes to extras at work. Her solution to save embarrassment was to offer be in charge of running the pools or collecting the $ for bday presents etc. That way she didn’t have to give an excuse for not participating or for putting in only what she could really afford.


Len August 8, 2013 at 1:12 pm

I work for a very formal office and they expect everyone to have rather nice clothes–I have to replace these when they get frayed or stained. And then we have to pay to participate in Casual Fridays! (The money goes to charity.) So I’ve always been a little resentful that I’m expected so nice that it actually puts a dent into my budget.


Worry Free August 8, 2013 at 4:17 pm

I understand where you’re coming from, but to cut the cost of new clothing I shop at the Thrift, Estate Sales, Garage sale in the richer parts of town. You be surprise the deals you can get. Your casual Fridays can look as if you stepped off the New York runway. Be careful, because if you ware to richest cloths they think they’re paying you too much.


Jon August 8, 2013 at 1:07 pm

Hi Tammy, I know what you mean–I’m always covering little costs that I feel awkward about being reimbursed for–better keyboard, better chair, nicer paper for presentations that I’m responsible for–heck, I’m here 45 hours a week, and even though my boss won’t pay for a lot of ‘comfort’ things, I really want them anyway. As for all the extras like chipping in for birthday presents and such, I was irritated my first year but now I’ve learned that they’re coming along and so I budget for them. It’s still kind of aggravating to chip in for things I wouldn’t ever spend money on if I didn’t have to work with these people! I don’t feel that simply no longer participating in potlucks and lunches and gifts is much of an option–you get kind of a reputation if you do.


Sacha August 8, 2013 at 5:55 pm

You are correct, Jon. My husband has been unemployed for 3 years and I am the sole support of our household, so I simply do not have the extra cash to pay for my own travel -even if they reimburse me…eventually- so I simply refuse to travel and my career is at a dead end because of it.
What is hilarious to me is that managers and VP’s who are paid several times my salary, get corporate credit cards and seldom have to spend their own money for company travel.
I suggested that I be given a corporate card and HR came up with several ‘regulations’ against it.
I no longer go out to happy hour or lunches with the other admins,and do not contribute to baby shower gifts, or holiday gifts… and you are right, I do have kind of a reputation as a stuck-up anti-social type.
No help for it.


Connor August 9, 2013 at 10:42 am

@ Sacha: No money for travel?! Unless you work from home, people do have to leave their house to go to work. I’m sure you can scrounge up your nickels for the green limousine. Obviously you have enough money to have a computer/phone with internet service.


Sacha August 13, 2013 at 12:25 pm

“Green limousine?”
If you mean, public transportation, that is how I get to and from work. When I say “travel”, I mean out of town travel.


Betsy August 9, 2013 at 2:52 pm

No respectable company would ever ask an employee to travel for a business trip and have to pay up front, out of their own pocket, and “eventually” be reimbursed; especially a company that is big enough to have multiple managers and VPs who have credit cards, and an HR department. If you have been specifically asked to travel for work: either you mis-understood that you would have to pay and said “no” without all of the facts (sabotaging your own career), or else you work for a company that does not deserve to be in business.


Sacha August 13, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Geez! What’s with all the hostility? No, I did not misunderstand what I would have to pay and say “no” without all of the facts. When I was in a better financial position, I did travel -using my own funds and waiting for reimbursement.
As for whether the company I work for is respectable or not, it is a rather high profile lobbying firm and I will not judge its respectability.


Betsy August 20, 2013 at 5:14 pm

I apologize – that did come off more hostile than I intended. Part of that is that I have seen, and worked with individuals who have said “No”, assuming things that were incorrect, and then blaming others when someone else takes the opportunity and sees the benefits. The other part is that it blows me away that a company would expect employees to pay for business travel expenses, and “eventually” reimburse the employees. I do not know you, or your situation, so I am sorry for jumping to that conclusion; but I do stick by my opinion that it is a crappy way to do business, and a crappy way to treat employees.

Betsy August 8, 2013 at 10:02 am

No, you don’t have a reason to feel resentful because all of these things are done with free will. If you don’t want to spend so much money on work, STOP.

If there are office supplies, software or apps that will make you more effective at your job, ask your boss to provide them. If the boss says no, then you need to accept that it may not really be needed to do your job.
If you don’t want to bet on football pools or guess the birthdate, stop betting. Don’t supplement potlucks, instead just tell coworkers you won’t be participating because you have other lunch plans (other plans being eating a home packed lunch, just don’t do it where coworkers can see you).
For pooling money for gifts, that one gets a little trickier, but if it is really a big deal once you take away the other spending, there are ways that you can respectfully address that as well.


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