Friday, December 11, 2020

Money Life Lately: Year-End Holiday Tips and Office Gifts


Here are a few small things happening with my money and spending recently, in areas outside of shopping and fashion. I can't believe it's already December! It's difficult to get fully into the holiday spirit this year because it's logistically impossible for my mom, sister, and I to safely travel and see each other. But the show must go on with regards to certain holiday-related expenditures of mine, namely: (1) year-end holiday tips for the staff at my apartment building and (2) year-end holiday gifts for the receptionists and assistants!

I don't often discuss these year-end gifting expenses. I think the only time I've ever mentioned them was a few months ago when talking about how I calculated my total savings from staying home and socially distancing. Even if I don't discuss them, however, these particular costs have been a regular part of my life - and reasonably so, in recognition of the recipients' hard work all year long!- since I graduated law school. (Except that there weren't any year-end holiday gifts at work when I was clerking.) 

Health Insurance and Prescription Co-Pays

Longtime readers may know I like to complain - at excruciating length - about my experiences with the cost of healthcare here in the US. That's despite being fortunate to not actually have much to fuss about, relatively speaking. Generally, with the exception of when I had that accident requiring a bunch of urgent dental work, what I'm complaining about is just a few dozen extra dollars here and there. Even the very small unexpected medical expenses aren't fun, of course. But compared to all the possible problems with medical bills here in the US, my issues are small potatoes. 

My biggest perennial problem with my medical expenses is that I've often been charged co-pays on my birth control under most of my workplace health insurance plans, even though that really shouldn't happen under the Affordable Care Act. (The insurers' general rationale seems to be that they fully cover plenty of other types of birth control - including other pills and IUDs - just not yours.) It's an on-again, off-again problem that comes and goes depending on the workplace, but I've had this issue more often than not.

For my first few months at my current job, things were good, my co-pay for my birth control pill was $0/month. Sometimes I got the generic, sometimes the brand name, but I didn't really care about that. Then all of a sudden, things got weird. Suddenly, I was paying $35 to $45/month in co-pays for the same pill. To add insult to injury, my insurer covered the brand name at that level, but didn't cover the generic at all. The co-pay also seemed to change every time I got a refill. It wasn't my first rodeo with having a co-pay for birth control, but previously, I only ever had a $10/month co-pay. 

After a certain point, I started using GoodRx coupons to keep costs down, because the ~$25/month or so GoodRx cash price was always cheaper than getting my birth control through my insurance. And even then, the price I paid was rarely exactly what was listed on GoodRx, it was often a bit less, sometimes more like ~$15/month.

All of a sudden this month, however, my co-pay for my birth control pill on my insurance was back to $0/month. And for the brand name, no less! I swear, I don't understand the logic of how this works. But I suppose we can consider this a happy ending, for now. (The co-pays for this particular prescription have constantly changed on me practically every time I picked up a refill in the past two years or so, so I'm not sure I believe my recent good fortune will last...) 

Year-End Holiday Tips at Large, Fully-Staffed NYC Apartment Buildings 

Certain types of apartment buildings in NYC - including most "luxury rental" buildings - have a significant number of staff, generally including doormen, porters, the superintendent, and maybe additional repairpeople. K and I have lived in our larger apartment building for several years now, and there are generally 10 to 12 people working here. 

Around the end of the year, there's generally an expectation that residents - both renters and owners - in these buildings provide holiday tips in cash to the building staff. At least in larger buildings like ours, the landlord will probably make this task easier by providing a list of everyone who works for the building and their job titles by sometime in early December. K and I have always put our holiday tips in cards in labeled envelopes for everyone on that year's list - each year, I wait until after Christmas to buy discounted boxed holiday cards for next year's round of tips - and dropped them off with the doorman currently on duty. 

Exact amounts for building residents to give to each employee can vary greatly. I understand from reading various articles that owners might often give more than renters, and that people necessarily give less per employee when their building has a very large staff. Because our building has a relatively small team, we've historically given $40 to $60 per employee, depending on their role, and then $80 to the building super. This year, we've given $60 to $80 per employee (our building seems to be between supers right now, but we'd probably have given $100). K and I split this expense right down the middle, and it's generally cost each of us ~$250 to ~$300/year in total, depending on the exact number of staff at the building at the time. 

Year-End Workplace Holiday Gifts from Associates at Law Firms 

As for year-end holiday gifts - often in cash - from law firm associate attorneys to non-attorney support staff - particularly their assigned administrative assistants - that's a somewhat complicated topic. Expectations and practices may differ dramatically by firm, or even between offices at the same firm. These days, because of certain larger industry trends in biglaw, many associates might not even have an assigned assistant that they should provide a holiday gift too. 

I can only really speak to how year-end gifts were done at my first NYC biglaw workplace, and at K's biglaw office. I also have a vague awareness about how things are done at my close friends' biglaw offices. (Most of my colleagues at my much smaller biglaw-ish workplace are people with past biglaw experience, so we take our gifting cues from our time in biglaw.) But I'm not sure how things are done at other types of law firms or other legal workplaces. 

Before getting into specifics about my year-end gifting at work, a note about relevant biglaw industry trends: In general, since I started law school in 2012, many biglaw firms have gotten extremely aggressive about cutting costs. Many firms have downsized their non-attorney support staff significantly, including administrative assistants. (These trends may have accelerated this year due to COVID eliminating certain work that used to be done at the office.) 

Whereas there may have been a time most biglaw attorneys would an assigned assistant - generally shared with a handful of other attorneys - these days it's probably not uncommon for an associate not to have a specific assistant or two they regularly work with. I've heard of some biglaw firms assigning "pools" of administrative assistants to large groups of associates, but it seems like those arrangements are often not very clear or transparent to the associates, and are subject to frequent changes. Furthermore, most people my age or younger are not accustomed to working with administrative assistants. We might not have much work for them anyway, particularly if the firm is also sending mixed and unclear signals about how much we should delegate. In other words, I wouldn't be shocked if many biglaw associates out there really... don't have anyone they clearly should give a year-end holiday gift to. 

K and I have generally worked in places where gifting expectations and practices were relatively clear. At my first firm, I had an assigned administrative assistant, so that was obvious, I was going to give an individual gift. Over the years, K has gone from having a discrete "pool" of assistants assigned to his large group of associates to having one assigned assistant. Under both arrangements, it was pretty clear what he should do, either all the associates should pool together gifts for each assistant on their team under the former arrangement, or he should give an individual gift under the latter. 

For both K and I, whenever we've had one assigned assistant - mine was shared with a group of maybe four or five other associates and a partner or two - we gave them cash directly. I was only in biglaw for one holiday season, and I gifted $100 because of the $100 x years of seniority "rule". At my current workplace, things are less structured and formal, the other junior attorneys and I all work with the entire team of non-attorney staff, so we pool together a gift as a group, each of us contributing ~$270 to $300/year

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