Updated on 06.12.17

Questions About Skills, Boredom, Coffee, Target Retirement Funds, Overdue Bills and More!

Trent Hamm

Reader Mailbag

What’s inside? Here are the questions answered in today’s reader mailbag, boiled down to summaries of five or fewer words. Click on the number to jump straight down to the question.
1. Picking right target retirement fund
2. Teaching yourself a new skill
3. Giving away money after death
4. Thoughts on Massdrop
5. Overcoming frugality boredom
6. How to negotiate overdue bills
7. Going out of business sales?
8. Cold brew coffee questions
9. Awkward workplace conversations and dynamic
10. Buying long lasting walking shoes
11. Thoughts on Blinkist
12. Concerns with bank and church

There are few things I enjoy more than waking up in the morning mildly sore after exercise. I like the feeling of being just sore enough that moving around a lot reminds you of the exercise without making you feel like you’re in miserable agony.

Unfortunately, that’s sometimes a hard balance to achieve.

Some mornings recently, I’ve woken up expecting to be gently sore and not been sore at all. I think that’s because I spent the day before exercising muscle groups that were already in good shape.

Other mornings, I woke up expecting not to be sore and was sore, or expecting to be gently sore and was really sore. On those days, I exercised muscle groups that I don’t normally exercise (again, that’s my theory on it).

What have I been doing to get sore? Lots and lots and lots of hiking, some days in pretty flat places and other days on steep inclines and declines and some of it with weight on my back. Lots of lifting related to camping and building campfires. Climbing a tree, something I haven’t done in years.

It’s felt great, and I’ve loved it when I’ve awoken with gentle soreness, but mornings like today? I’m pretty sore, more than I’d like to be.

On with some questions!

Q1: Picking right target retirement fund

Followed your advice on signing up for 403(b) to start getting those matching funds from my employer. I am struggling with choosing a target retirement fund though. I am currently looking to retire at age 65 and I will turn 65 in June 2048. Should I put my money into Target Retirement 2045 or 2050? I am right on the line between those two. The retirement guy at work said that it didn’t really matter much but I want to make the right choice. I chose 2045 right now but I can change it and I will do so if 2050 is better.
– Shane

Without seeing the exact funds you’re talking about, I can’t really comment precisely on the funds. However, I can say this: according to every other Target Retirement Fund I’ve seen, the difference between the two is going to be when exactly the fund starts cutting down on risk.

With the 2045 fund, there’s going to be a year where the fund slowly starts shifting the money into something a little safer. What exact year that is depends on the specific fund. The goal with most target retirement funds is to have shifted into pretty stable investments by the target retirement date (or shortly thereafter).

Almost always, a 2050 fund from the same company will follow the exact same pattern, just five years later. Again, I can’t guarantee this without seeing the exact fund, but that’s almost always how it works.

Your choice is this: aggressive or conservative. The 2050 option is the more aggressive one, as it will still be shifting down into less aggressive funds when you retire. The 2045 one is safer, as it will have moved into rather stable investments a few years before you retire.

If I were investing, I’d probably pick the 2050 option. I feel like most Target Retirement funds I’ve seen get really conservative and I wouldn’t mind having it move into that conservative position pretty slowly. You may feel differently. Honestly, this is your gut call, so do what feels right to you. There is no wrong answer (unless you know the state of the world in 2045).

Q2: Teaching yourself a new skill

How do you find resources for learning a new skill? And how do you list them on a resume without sounding like an idiot?
– Alex

You find new resources for learning a skill by finding communities related to that skill and simply looking at their FAQs and basic resources or by asking. For example, if you want to learn a programming language, look for online communities for that language – say, at Stack Overflow or Reddit, and look at their FAQs and other documents for basic materials to study.

On your resume, you can list skills in which you have a certain level of competency and would feel confident using in the workplace. You may be tested on them during the application process and so if you don’t feel good about those skills, don’t list them. You can simply include a skills section on your resume without seeming “like an idiot.”

If you take some online classes to learn career skills and take them through a program that allows you to show off a profile of what you’ve learned, you can mention that in your cover letter, though I am unsure how welcome such things are in the actual resume. I’d probably just stick with listing skills in the actual resume. If you’ve taken a lot of online classes and earned some certifications or recognition, you may want to set up a website for yourself that shares all of those things and, again, include that website in your cover letters.

Q3: Giving away money after death

I am 83 years old and although I love my life I know that I don’t have all that many years remaining on this earth. I have a healthy amount of money in savings after 50+ years in government work and I know that I do not want to live in declining health so I won’t rack up many medical bills. I have made that as clear as I can in my medical directives.

I have two children both in their fifties. My wish is to give them their inheritance while I am alive and then give the rest to charity. They understand this plan.

I want to know what I should to do make sure this happens. I want my remaining wealth to go into an endowment to fund some local charities in perpetuity. I plan on discussing these matters with a lawyer but I want to know what to expect first. Thank you for all your help!
– Gene

A properly created will should be able to handle this unless you have a large estate. My guess from your email is that your estate is large enough to give you a comfortable life but not large enough to support a great deal of wealth, so a will should handle it. The only thing that might stand in the way of that is if your children try to contest your will after your passing; you’ll want to make sure you are extremely clear in your will and have an executor that you deeply trust.

However, you may want to consider giving charitable gifts now before you pass away. This avoids issues like contested wills, but it provides a nice tax benefit to boot. If you give a large gift to charity each year, you can claim that gift as a tax deduction and seriously reduce or eliminate your income tax bill that you would otherwise pay. Of course, you do run some risk of running out of money before you pass away, but that’s something you can judge for yourself.

I would talk to a financial planner (preferably a fee-based one) and an estate attorney about these steps. Make sure your will is very clear and that you have a trusted executor, and then consider starting with your charitable giving now rather than later.

Q4: Thoughts on Massdrop

What are your thoughts on Massdrop? Good shopping tool or not?
– Drew

Massdrop is a website that allows people to organize bulk buys of certain kinds of products in order to obtain a discount from the manufacturer or distributor, some of which is passed along to you (obviously, Massdrop takes a cut of it as well). Generally, these “drops” (as they’re called) are negotiated with a manufacturer and distributor based on user request, so the products are usually worthwhile ones.

The problem is that when you go there, you’re generally not going to be looking for a specific product you need. Massdrop generally focuses on hobby supplies and non-essential things, and it’s not a store. It just lists whatever the company happens to have found for a “mass drop” bundle.

So, basically, what the site actually provides is akin to a sale at a hobby store where you don’t really know what items will be on sale. It’s the equivalent of walking down a main street in a nice town where there are a bunch of specialty shops with “40% off!” banners hanging up. If you go in them, you know very well you’re probably opening yourself up to spending money on things you don’t really need.

In other words, unless you’ve decided to spend some amount of dollars on a hobby without any clear cut plan as to what to spend it on, Massdrop isn’t a good idea. If you’ve decided to buy a very specific item, Massdrop very likely isn’t offering it right now. The only area where it really succeeds is if you’ve decided you’re going to buy a particular type of item for a hobby of yours, like maybe you’re a fountain pen buff and you want to buy some new fountain pen inks in certain colors, at which point Massdrop is a good place to look. It’s not really a place that’s conducive to good financial choices if you’re just browsing, though.

Q5: Overcoming frugality boredom

At the start of the year, my husband and I committed to making some changes to our financial life and for the first few months everything was great. We found all kinds of projects to work on and kept watching our debt dropping and it was great.

Over the last couple of months though we have been bored. Most of the stuff we used to do is pretty expensive. We ate out several times a week and went to movies and went on weekend getaways once every two months or so and without all of those things we can really feel it and it doesn’t feel fun.

How do you overcome the boredom of being frugal?
– Terri

As I’ve described before, my personality is such that I can’t conceive of being bored. I don’t believe I’ve been bored in many, many years. The list of things I want to do in my life is far longer than the things I’ll ever achieve. My list of books I want to read, projects I want to try, trails I want to hike, places I want to visit… it’s such a long list. I’d be happy doing any of those things and the only constraint is the limited amount of time available to me in a given day.

I reached this point by just trying lots and lots and lots of different things. I spent several years basically dabbling in every low cost hobby and activity I could discover. I went to practically everything on Meetup in a fifty mile radius. I did almost everything listed on my city’s website in terms of activities and programs and facility uses in my town – and did the same for many adjacent towns. I looked up how to get started on a bunch of free hobbies and tried them all (and, honestly, I could now list many more than the ones listed in that article, and I probably should).

A lot of those things didn’t click with me, but it was interesting to try them and see what they were all about. However, some of those things resonated deeply. I rediscovered my love for reading books, something that waned for a while in my 20s. I discovered geocaching. I discovered how much I enjoy hiking on trails in state and national parks. I rekindled a deep love for camping. I discovered an abiding love for tabletop games of many varieties – board games, card games, roleplaying games, and so on. I rediscovered my love for journaling. I learned that I loved to cook and make interesting homemade food items, like homemade sauerkraut and kimchi and beer and kombucha and things like that. I discovered many other things that I’ve dabbled in here and there, like playing the guitar or knitting – I do that in waves and then I put it aside for a while.

Those things provide almost infinite entertainment and joy to me at very little cost and they also provide me with so many things that I want to do that I don’t have time for it all. Your list of things that clicks with you is probably much different than mine, and it should be. My suggestion to you is to just try different things. Try everything you can find on your community’s website and on Meetup. Volunteer. Find lists of cheap or free hobbies and try them all. Be sincere about it, too. You may be shocked at the things that click with you that you never expected.

Q6: How to negotiate overdue bills

My husband and I are finally cracking down and fixing our finances. It is silly that we make in the six figures and can’t keep our bills paid. We are two months late on our electric bill and many other bills because we spend so much money in just completely useless ways. It stops now.

What is our first step in stopping the bleeding with late bills? Can we negotiate late fees if we pay immediately? What do you do? Do you have a script for this?
– Kelly

The exact policy that each company has for waiving late fees is different. Some companies absolutely won’t do it. Others will with some prodding. Some are very friendly in terms of waiving late fees. It really depends on that company’s approach to customer service.

Your basic strategy is to call the customer service line and offer to pay your bill in full if they’ll waive some of the fees. If the person on the end can’t or won’t do that, ask to speak to their supervisor and reiterate the request.

There aren’t really any magic words to say that will push some magic button and get your fees waived. Just be friendly and polite, even if they say no. Most of the time, the people you’re talking to – even the supervisors – are just people working in a call center who deal with angry customers all the time. Being kind and friendly is going to make them much more prone to help you and it’ll leave you feeling better after the call, too.

Q7: Going out of business sales?

A friend of mine has something of a hobby of going to stores that are going out of business and looking for either huge bargains on things he might want or looking for things to flip. He recently went to the last couple of days of a Family Christian store that was going out of business and bought some stuff at 90% off which he has already flipped on eBay for like 4x what he paid for it.

Seems to me like this is a good moneymaking side gig if you can get into it and know how to price check stuff. Have you done this? Any hidden pitfalls or drawbacks?
– Neal

This can work fairly well, but there are some really big caveats. I’m speaking from experience here.

First of all, there is often this threshold point at which going out of business sales are completely emptied out of everything that’s flippable. Your friend is far from the only person to think of this. Quite often, going out of business sales are hit hard by people scraping for a bargain, either for themselves or to flip for a profit, and by the time things hit 90% off, there’s not much left in the store but utter junk.

The trick is finding the right point to strike, and it’s never the same from store to store. Your best bet is to go in early in the sale before prices are too low and start pricing things out. Anything that you can buy at 30-50% off and still flip for any kind of decent profit should be bought right then because it honestly won’t last too much longer.

I guess my point is this – whenever you go into a going out of business sale where everything is on discount, there are probably some things in there that can be flipped for a profit on eBay or Amazon pretty easily. The thing is, it’s rare to find things that you can flip for a huge return until the prices are really low, and when the prices are really low every flipper and their dog will be in there scouring the shelves looking for stuff to flip, meaning that if you don’t get in there the second the doors open when the prices drop, you’re probably not getting anything you can flip at an extreme discount.

Your friend either was waiting at the door on the day stuff dropped to 90% or he was pretty lucky, in other words.

Q8: Cold brew coffee questions

You talked before about how you make cold brew coffee at home because you like the mellow flavor and that it doesn’t require a coffee pot and it’s always ready to go in the fridge. Would you mind walking me through how to do this? I read some stuff online but it started talking about things that were over my head. I drink coffee each morning but I just use a Keurig and I’m looking for better (cheaper) ways.
– Samuel

This could probably be a full post on its own, but I’ll start simple here.

The only equipment you need for making cold brew coffee is a gallon pitcher and some kind of filter to get the coffee grounds out. I recommend something like these reusable cotton bags.

Take a pitcher of water and fill it up to 32 ounces of water (a quart). You can double it if you wish and put in two quarts of water. Take out your cotton bag and put one cup of coffee grounds in there for every quart of water you’re using, so you’ll want two cups of grounds if you’re using two quarts of water. Unless you’re using really expensive coffee, the cost of one cup of grounds is measured in pennies.

Tie the bag super tightly so that no grounds can escape, then chuck that bag into the water and put the pitcher in the fridge, covered, for 36 to 48 hours. Then pull out the pitcher, remove the bag, and then add as much water to the pitcher as you originally had in there – if you had one quart, add another quart, and if you had two quarts, fill up the pitcher. Boom – you have cold brew coffee. If you don’t add more water to it, the coffee is really strong, as it’s basically a concentrate at that point. Cutting it with water makes it good and not incredibly overpowering in my book. Your taste may vary, of course.

You can actually get a reuse out of that bag full of coffee grounds, but only one reuse and you don’t want to cut it with additional water. So, if you have grounds you’ve used already, you can make one single second batch with those grounds, but it won’t be concentrated (meaning you don’t want to cut it with water) and will have a somewhat different flavor profile.

So, for a cup of coffee grounds, you can make three quarts of cold brew coffee without any equipment other than a pitcher and a little cloth bag. I find that cold brew coffee has a pretty mellow flavor and I enjoy drinking it much more than coffee that’s brewed hot. You can, of course, heat it up if you prefer hot coffee.

There are pitchers with built-in infusers that make this process a little easier, as you won’t need the cloth bag any more and just wash out the infuser when you’re done, but they’re fairly pricy compared to a cheap pitcher and a cloth bag. These kinds of pitchers make for a good gift idea once you’re on board with cold brew coffee.

Q9: Awkward workplace conversations and dynamic

I started work at a new company in February. At first, everything was cool and my coworkers seemed cool. But after a week or so, the break room conversation switched into conversations about sexual conquest and homophobic insults. I really have no interest in this and it actually makes me very uncomfortable. The office is full of guys in their twenties and thirties and there are no women at all in our group so some of them seem to think it’s a guy’s club where you can just say the raunchiest thing that comes to mind.

I really don’t want to be the “stick in the mud” here but I am really uncomfortable in this environment. Is this worth quitting over or is there a better way to tackle this?
– Geoff

You are absolutely well within your rights to speak up here, but you’re correct that there will be some social ramifications within the workplace if you do so. The question is really whether it’s worth it for you.

Honestly, if your supervisor seems to be okay with this kind of behavior, you’re probably better off moving on. There’s an office culture there that doesn’t mesh well with you and that’s perfectly okay. Just start hunting for jobs. If you work for a very large business, see if there’s somewhere you can move within your company, as it seems that you like other aspects of your job. If not, start applying for a new job.

Yes, you certainly can take a stand against this behavior, but it takes change from above to make that happen and cultures like this don’t grow unless there’s tacit approval from at least the immediate supervisor. Going further up the chain can change the culture, but it’s probably going to hurt you.

If you do find another job and have an exit interview, that’s a great time to clearly explain why you’re leaving. It will have very little impact on your career but can potentially bring about change in your former department. You might also consider sending a note to some people after you leave outlining the reasons you left, and make it clear that you’re not throwing individual people under the bus but that a general culture caused you to move on and that efforts to change that culture might be worthwhile for them.

In the end, I just don’t think it’s worth the risk to your career to directly fight the good fight against some guys acting like frat boys in the office when they’re not actively harassing anyone. Yes, they’re acting like jerks, but the battle you’d take on in directly fighting it almost assuredly will have more drawbacks than benefits. Choose your battles to fight. Is this really the battle for you? If it’s not, move on.

Q10: Buying long lasting walking shoes

What is the best strategy for buying long lasting walking shoes? I like to go on long walks with my headphones on through a variety of environments like city sidewalks, parks, and low intensity trails in nature areas. I want comfortable shoes that will last for a very long time without paying a mint for them. I’m mostly interested in “bang for the buck” as in what shoes will comfortably last the longest for every dollar I spend on them. Suggestions?
– Zeta

Buying shoes, especially for exercise, is tricky. The big challenge is that factors like “comfort” vary a lot from person to person because everyone has different feet. We have different arch shapes. We have different sensitivity. We have different skin toughness. We have different injury histories. It’s not surprising that a shoe that’s really comfortable for one person is miserable for another person. I have a toe on my right foot that’s bent at an odd angle due to it breaking when I was young and that makes some shoes really uncomfortable for me, for example, when they might be really comfortable for others.

Your best bet, then, is to go to a shoe store and try on a bunch of pairs of shoes so that you learn some models that work well for you and some manufacturers that consistently fit your feet well. You don’t necessarily have to buy there, but you should be paying attention to what you like and don’t like.

Shoe reviews are useful for things that are at least somewhat objective, like the construction quality of the shoe and the ankle support that they offer. As I said, comfort is subjective. So, when you look at shoe reviews, look for notes on how well the shoe is constructed and how long it will last.

What you’ll find is that over time you’ll gravitate to certain manufacturers and models that really click with your feet and are well made. Once you find a few shoes that really work well for you, bargain hunt those shoes hard. I have a few models and makers that work well for me – Keen for hiking and New Balance for walking.

That’s my strategy for buying shoes for walking and hiking. I spent some time identifying makers and models that work well for my feet and are well made so that they’ll last, then once I have a set of models that I trust, I stick with those models and manufacturers and bargain hunt them like crazy.

Q11: Thoughts on Blinkist

Do you have any thoughts on Blinkist? It’s an app that provides very brief summaries like 15 minutes to read or listen to of personal growth and business books It seems like a good way to get the highlights of books I’m mildly interested in but is it worthwhile if you don’t get depth? Also unsure of cost/benefit.
– Marcus

I’ve used Blinkist on a trial basis just to see what it was like. They do a really good job at what they offer. I listened to summaries of books I’ve read and their 15-20 minute summaries really nail the core ideas of books.

The problem is that when you compress a book that much, you miss out on a lot of the detail, and detail is very important for a lot of books. It’s the details of books like Getting Things Done and Your Money or Your Life that really had a huge positive impact on my life. The big ideas are worthwhile, but the details really set them apart and you simply can’t include that nuance in a quick summary like this. They do a great job with their summaries at Blinkist, but you simply can’t get all of the nuance in that format.

If you’re really interested in a book, then, you’re much better off actually reading the thing yourself or listening to the unabridged audiobook.

For me, Blinkist works best if it’s all about books that you have a minor interest in but probably wouldn’t read in full. It can summarize the book as well as possible in the short format, but by the nature of that format, some nuance and some key details will be missed. Again, that’s not Blinkist’s fault, that’s just the nature of summaries.

What I realized is that if I’m spending twenty minutes reading, I’d rather read a chapter or a section of a full book I really care about than a summary of a book that’s very secondary to me, and I’d rather listen to a podcast than listen to a book summary. Again, it’s not that they do a bad job with their summaries, it’s that the inherent content of a book summary just isn’t for me.

You may feel differently and if you do, Blinkist does a really good job with book summaries. It’s just that the product isn’t for me.

Q12: Concerns with bank and church

I have a really weird situation at my local bank and I’m not sure what exactly to do about it. I have loved your down to earth advice in the past as it’s always sensible so I hope you can help me here.

I use [a small bank chain with about ten locations in the Midwest]. I know a couple of the employees of the bank through my church.

I recently found out that one or the other of those employees has mentioned my account balances in some fashion to my church’s financial secretary. I learned this because completely out of the blue a person on the giving committee at our church asked me whether I was being honest on my pledge card and when I pressed for why I was told it was because I had a lot of money in the bank and was not representing that honestly. I have never mentioned my banking to anyone in the church. This person felt incredibly guilty about having this knowledge when I pushed back and thought that the information about my bank account balance was self-reported.

I am completely at a loss as to what to do here. I feel like I should say something to the manager at my bank, but if I get them fired that is going to cause some serious issues in my community at church, which I value greatly. I also do not like being in a church with people who would invade my privacy like this and I obviously feel really uncomfortable around those two.

Please help me.
– Gwen

I obscured the name of Gwen’s bank chain in her question because it wasn’t relevant to the question and actually naming the bank might actually cause legal issues that are completely unnecessary here.

So, what should you do, Gwen? Whoever told the financial secretary about your personal banking information that you weren’t sharing with the church is extremely unethical, not only in their career, but in the fact that they felt the need to share this with others in the community. It shows a lack of career ethics and a lack of personal ethics and I would not want people like that anywhere near my life.

Having been through this kind of privacy violation in a community group before, I’ll say that you’re not likely to feel fully comfortable again in that church unless the person who violated your privacy leaves. As long as that person is there, it’s not going to be comfortable, sad as that is. That person has violated your privacy in a very intense fashion, an ethical lapse that’s really hard to recover from.

Here’s what I would do if I were you. First, I would ask the church’s financial secretary about who provided that information. Which person told her about your banking state? Make it very clear to the financial secretary that your privacy has been violated by this person essentially stealing and then publicizing your banking information.

Second, I would go to the bank and spell out the situation. Even if you don’t know for sure who did it, you do know for sure that one of their employees is spreading your banking information around in the community without your permission. If your bank is FDIC insured, and it probably is, your bank is legally obligated to respect the privacy of your information and they absolutely need to know when one of their employees is violating that rule.

After that, honestly, if that person continues to be a member of your church, I’d find a new church, and if that person continues to work at your bank, I’d find a new bank. Any person that would do that to you is a person you want entirely out of your life. A person who would commit that kind of personal violation is very likely to “play dirty” in your shared communities and make things extremely uncomfortable.

You could of course orchestrate some kind of “social campaign” against this person at your church, but that’s likely to end up reflecting poorly on you as well. If you decide to leave, tell the people you’re close with why you’re leaving and leave it at that.

Got any questions? The best way to ask is to follow me on Facebook and ask questions directly there. I’ll attempt to answer them in a future mailbag (which, by way of full disclosure, may also get re-posted on other websites that pick up my blog). However, I do receive many, many questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.

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