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Personal aides: Worth it?

They don't have to cost a fortune, but this writer prefers a simpler life after trying a few

September 30, 2007|Julie M. Makinen | Times Staff Writer

As an experiment, I asked my personal assistant to drive me to work. I could sit back and read the paper or send e-mails and text messages without trying to steer at the same time. Coming home, I could take public transit.

The ride in was a delight. Maria Laguda-Butcher, who runs My Girl Friday Errands with her husband, Ivan Butcher, picked me up on time and deposited me at my office 55 minutes later, for less than I would have paid a taxi.

But my plan unraveled on the journey home. Leaving work around 9 p.m., I walked five minutes to the subway station, waited 20 minutes on the platform, then rode for 30. Then I waited 20 more minutes for a bus and rode for 20. After a 10-minute walk I was finally home. One hour and 45 minutes to go 18 miles.

Clearly, I needed to go back to the drawing board.

Cost efficiency

There were other conundrums. I had $20 worth of stuff to return to the store, but it made no sense to pay my assistant $27 an hour to do that errand. Personal assisting has its own peculiar economic rules, I discovered.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, October 03, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Personal assistants: An article in Sunday's Business section on hiring a personal assistant gave an incorrect price for the service at For $165.95 a month, a subscriber gets 100 requests, not 40.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, October 07, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Personal assistants: An article in the Sept. 30 Business section on hiring a personal assistant gave an incorrect price for the service at For $165.95 a month, a subscriber gets 100 requests, not 40.

Overall, though, I was pleased. Maria, Ivan, and their staff really got things done for me. They had the lenses replaced in my sunglasses. They waited at my house for the cable guy to come and do some rewiring. They dropped my bike off at the shop for a tune-up.

They paid any charges they incurred, then sent me an itemized list and billed my credit card.

I started getting savvy, pairing up the work of my virtual personal assistants with my in-the-flesh assistants. The guys in India looked up the requirements for changing the name on my passport and sent me the forms. My in-the-flesh assistant picked up my passport photos at the drug store, then stood in line at the post office to submit my application.

The more I started to rely on my personal assistants, though, the more I realized that I really couldn't afford to keep this up long term.

Sure, it would make sense to hire an assistant during a few busy periods of the year -- around back-to-school time, for spring cleaning or at the holidays, for instance. In fact, Maria Laguda-Butcher started her business around Christmas 2005; for one client, she shopped for gifts for 14 people, then spent two weeks wrapping them. I guess it's the thought that counts.

I could imagine many other situations in which a temporary assistant would be a godsend, such as planning for a big party or a wedding, dealing with an aging parent who needs help with errands, or if you're going to be out of town for weeks at a time.

But for me, $550 a month wasn't sustainable. What I needed was a simpler life. What I needed was a shorter commute, less stuff to manage, more free time.

I decided to use the remaining hours I had booked with My Girl Friday Errands to help me accomplish that goal. I didn't have the heart to tell them that if they did their jobs well, they'd be working themselves out of my employ.

I put my house up for lease and started looking for an apartment closer to my work. Maria sent an assistant over to help me hold a garage sale. The day before, she bought pricing stickers and picked up small bills at the bank to use as change. On the day of the sale, she helped manage the customers and handle some of the money. When the sale ended, she took digital photos of the larger leftover items and made a "for sale" posting on Craigslist.

When it was time to pack, the assistant fetched some boxes. When I needed a plumbing leak repaired and a light fixture replaced for the new tenant, the assistant waited at my house for the fix-it men to show up. And when a prospective renter called and asked whether she could view the house in the middle of the day, my assistant was there to give her a tour of the property.

I've now found someone to rent my house. And I'm taking up residence in a smaller apartment downtown, four blocks from my office.

In the next few weeks, I plan to call on my assistant to help me pack up my house, forward my mail and get the utilities turned on at my new place. Maybe she can even help me plan a housewarming party.

After that, I hope I won't need her much. After all, with such a short commute, I'll have at least one extra hour each day to do my own errands. And I can pay myself $27 a hour to do them.



Where to go

Here are some places to look for help in taking care of personal tasks.

Virtual assistants

* Sunday offers two membership plans. $29 a month gets you 30 requests. Extra requests are $2. Or for $49 a month, get 50 requests -- plus you can use the service to make free international phone calls. More information: or (310) 499-7179

* Red Butler offers three membership plans, from 15 requests a month for $36.95 to 40 requests a month for $165.95. Red Butler members also get discounts at dozens of local restaurants, bars and stores. Submit requests via phone, online or text message. More information: or (888) 288-5372.

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