Dear Nicole: How do I beat the competition?

Dear Nicole:

For a while I lived in Bali and grew to absolutely love the culture. I decided to start a “fair trade” business I called Bali Karma to buy from local artists who were struggling on the nearby island of Lombok, and to bring their crafts to the United States to sell.

To get sales going I posted items on Amazon. One person bought all of our inventory of one item. They took the photograph of our item, the description we used, everything, and listed it on their site at a much higher price. This doesn’t seem legal.

Really what I want to do is develop our website,, as the place people can find things from the artists, but this company kind of “stole” our thunder with this. If I make money, I return more to the artists and help people pay their children’s school fees and things like that. This other company doesn’t do that I’m sure.

— Confused Karma


This is so… American.

Honestly, this sounds very legal. I see drop-shipping companies and other retailers take pictures, descriptions, even product ID numbers from wholesale websites to use for their own purposes. It’s really hard to go after someone who writes a few sentences kind of like yours.

But it sounds like you can take two ideas from this experience: 1) raise your prices and 2) Start hitting social media and your website hard with how buying from YOU makes a difference. Going to your site, this isn’t clear. Where are the pictures of the smiling children holding ‘Thanks’ signs?

In all seriousness, we have the right to buy things and sell it at a higher price to someone willing to pay a higher price. But I am betting if you start sharing your story and good intentions, that karma will come to you much easier than it has been. Consider this event to be a lesson learned, giving you a way to make more money for you and the people you are helping.


Dear Nicole:

I’m dating someone who doesn’t earn much as I do. While our income disparity doesn’t present problems during the day-to-day, I really like to travel and plan on taking one or two vacations a year. I’m OK with covering all of the lodging expenses, and my own air fare, but don’t necessarily want to have to pay for his flight too. I want us to be able to go together, and he really wants to go, but he doesn’t have the $500. I don’t want to feel resentment that I had to cover the entire expense of the vacation. Suggestions?

— High Earner Helen


It can be difficult to date someone at a different end of the economic spectrum, whether that’s higher or lower. I’m a firm proponent of Suze Orman’s view on sharing expenses, which is that each person pays into a shared expense with a portion of their income. Let’s make this easy and say Person A makes $30,000/year and Person B makes $70,000/year for a total income of $100,000/year. If they had monthly expenses of $10,000, Person A would contribute $3,000 and Person B $7,000. This not only ensures that each person contributes but does so at a fair level.

You could do up a vacation budget with this similar math. This of course means you are 1) both honest about what you make and 2) can feel that the percentage contribute is enough. If neither of these is the case, it’s OK to find love that computes better… because if you can’t agree on a vacation budget, how are you going to work out bigger numbers and higher stakes scenarios that come up in a long term relationship?


An observation from Dear Sugar

A friend of mine recently turned me on to the podcast Dear Sugar (if you like advice shows, add this one to your list). This morning while listening to it, she said that basically every question she gets can be summarized as: “Is it OK to be myself?” The short answer is yes. The longer answer is more complicated, which is why we have advice columns in the first place.

If “being ourselves” means picking between hurting other people or hurting ourselves, sometimes we have to make choices. In the long run, making sure we are happy is our first responsibility. Being happy means we can be the best versions of ourselves for those around us. It also means we are not relying on people or things for our own happiness. So if you are picking between your happiness and someone else’s, pick yours. Theirs is up to them.

Being yourself, however, doesn’t mean you get to hurt other people on purpose. Sometimes, we all want to punch someone in the face (that would feel like being your authentic self in that moment, right?) but we don’t. Being an adult with common sense is part of life.

If you are in a situation where you can’t or won’t ask for advice (mine or otherwise), I ask you to simply ask yourself which direction of a decision is being yourself… and so long as it doesn’t give anyone a bloody nose (or worse), do that. Being yourself is your life’s mission and those who love you love you for it.

Is it OK to be yourself? From my desk, absolutely.

Nicole Ouellette

Nicole Ouellette

When Nicole isn't giving advice she's completely unqualified to give, she runs an Internet marketing company in Bar Harbor, where she lives with her husband Derrick and their short dog Gidget. She loves young adult novels, cooking and talking French to anyone who'll talk back. [email protected]
Nicole Ouellette

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