Reader Mailbag #32

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Each Monday, The Simple Dollar opens up the reader mailbags and answers ten to twenty simple questions offered up by the readers on personal finance topics and many other things. Got a question? Ask it in the comments. You might also enjoy the archive of earlier reader mailbags.

As usual, we’ll start things off with a few links to older articles that directly answer questions I’ve heard recently. A few readers asked for more big collections of money saving tips – here are a few big ones I’ve done before.
100 general starter tips for saving money
100 free things to do during the weekend
50 free things to do by yourself

And now for some great reader questions!

I am 23 years old and 1.5 years out of college with an engineering degree. I landed a great job out of college that pays well ($55K+) which has really allowed me save a bunch of money for retirement. My company is fairly old (age-wise), and there are tons of great opportunities for me to rise up over the next 5-6 years. However, one thing that I really want to do while I am young (26 or so) is take a year off and travel around the world. I have been saving for this as well (I think 20-30K should suffice). What are your thoughts on this? Should I pursue the dream for the year? Would you recommend anything for setting myself up with a new job when I get back? Should I still try to contribute to my Roth while I am away? Thanks!
- Kyle

You need to be very, very sure of your career potential if you choose to do this. Will this year in the wilderness prove to be damaging to your long-term career aspects. You are, after all, taking a year in which you would be working hard to further your career and turning it into a year traveling around the world.

The first question really is whether or not you’re happy with your career path. Are you? I can’t really answer that question for you, but I’ll say that if you’re strongly interested in leaving for a year, it’s not burning a fire within you. You may decide to take this year to figure out if this is what you really want to be doing, and if that’s the case, you probably should go.

If you’re still sure about your career, then talk to some people around you about it. Also, if you’re a very valuable employee, see if you can get a one year sabbatical where you can return to your old job after it’s over. If you discover that you can take that year without sacrificing your career prospects, then make that move.

One of my closest friends likes to play video games quite a bit. He’s going to graduate in December and take a job that will involve a lot of traveling, so I decided to buy him a Nintendo DS with a few games to play. He likes all kinds of games except sports games. I intend to spend about $200 on the gift. What do you suggest?
- Amy

First of all, don’t mess around with a used console. Fork over the money and drop $130 of that money on a new Nintendo DS. I’ve never had a successful experience with a used console, and the console makers usually won’t repair used consoles, either.

However, especially since the DS uses a cartridge-based format (much more sturdy than the scratchable disks of other game systems), I’d head down to my local used game store and pick up three or four great used games with the remaining $70. What’s a great used game? I largely agree with this list of 31 good DS games. The five I’d look for first and foremost, though, would be Mario Kart DS, Final Fantasy IV, Advance Wars: Dual Strike, New Super Mario Bros., and Planet Puzzle League. Those five would be very diverse choices and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them all.

My parents are financially well-off and come round to visit every now and then. They are particularly interested in home/garden stuff and often notice if a bit of work needs doing on the house and ask me why I don’t get it done. The reason is almost always because I am saving for it (being on a tight budget myself). They will then always offer to pay for it, saying what’s the point in them having money and whilst I don’t. I’m not against accepting help but I don’t want to live off other people’s charity (even my parents). On the other hand am I an idiot to turn down help like this?
- Ian

If I were in this situation, I’d accept my parents’ gifts under the premise that they are in fact just gifts – no strings attached. They obviously have money to spare and if they choose to spend it on you, that’s fine.

However, I do understand why it makes you uncomfortable, as it may make you feel reliant on them. So here’s what I’d do.

First, I’d have a genuinely open talk with them about it separate from an incident when they do this. Let them know exactly how you feel, that you often feel as though you’re “living off their money” when they do it. Tell them that you do appreciate it, but also let them know that you have conflicting feelings about it. Talk through it. You’re all adults.

Second, never rely on such gifts for anything. If you begin to rely on regular gifts from someone to sustain your life, you’re not an independent person, and that dependence will strain any healthy and adult relationship.

How is your “get healthier” plan going? I know you mentioned a while back that you were ramping up the excercise. Has it resulted in some weight loss yet? You mention that you eat a lot of fresh, organic foods. This must help as well.
- Mark B.

It’s going all right. My biggest problem honestly is that in the daily crunch of my work, raising two kids, and several other personal things going on, exercise is the thing that often gets dropped. I don’t have much of a problem keeping a relatively healthy diet, but I don’t get as much exercise as I’d like.

What makes it even tougher is that winter is approaching in Iowa, which makes outdoor exercise even more difficult. Quite often around here, people get seasonal gym memberships to keep in shape, ones that last from October 15 to April 15 or so, simply because of inclement weather. While I’ll probably look into it, I may just stick to Wii Fit and the lifetime fitness ladder.

I’ve worked at a place that has a state pension plan for 29 years now. We have something called “30 and out”. Means that when I finish my 30 years there, I can “retire” and begin drawing on my pension, with no penalty for my being only 50-something at the time. I’ll be eligible to get ~80% of my current salary; not an enormous sum, but I could live modestly on it alone. It seems like a no-brainer to leave next year, begin drawing the pension til I die, and get another job. Or *is* that the way to go?
- graybee

First of all, does that pension completely replace your salary? If it doesn’t, are you sure you could get work as fulfilling as what you do now that would add up to your salary? In short, would switching jobs actually net you more money at the same level of fulfillment?

Another thing to consider – how safe is the pension? Is there any history of people in your line of work eventually losing their pension? If there’s any history at all, I wouldn’t jump on board the pension train immediately.

Alternately, you could use this as an opportunity to follow the career you’ve dreamed about. At first, you might have to deal with lower wages (or no wages) in your new career, but you’d have the pension as a financial backbone as you build up the things you want to do. Perhaps you’d like to get into community politics, for example, where many of the “starter” positions don’t pay well, but build up a resume that helps with bigger positions.

What sports do you follow? Do you have a favorite team?
- Chuck

I follow baseball pretty fanatically, and I’m a life long Chicago Cubs fan, mostly because I love Wrigley Field. I’ve been to tons and tons of baseball parks in my life and none have that atmosphere that Wrigley has on a warm June day.

I enjoy watching other sports on occasion, but in fairly small doses. In the past, I worked with a large contingent of overseas workers and they got me into football (soccer), starting during the 2002 World Cup and later extending into the Premiership and Serie A seasons, among others. I don’t get to see many games, but I follow it online without directly following a specific team.

How long can debt stay on your credit report? For example, I had a car repossessed a little over five years ago. Since then, the debt has been sold back and forth between two companies. Does each new sale result in a new account, or will it come off after seven years? And what can I do if it doesn’t?
- Nicole

Missed payments and defaults stay on a person’s credit report for seven years, with the impact slightly lessening the older the issues are. In your case, the impact of that repossession is now less than it used to be, but it won’t completely vanish for another couple years – it’ll still drag down your credit for the time being.

I was wondering–how did you go about proving your 1/8th Cherokee ancestory? I’m 1/8 Choctaw, but they require a birth certificate, but we can’t locate one. I’m not sure that one even exists.
- Lindsay

Typically, you have to trace your ancestry back to someone who appears on the tribe’s membership rolls. My great grandmother is apparently on a tribe membership roll, so through a sequence of birth certificates and other documentation, I can trace my ancestry back to her. This would enable me to count as a tribal member if I wanted to push it.

You talk all the time about keeping risk in mind while investing. You also encourage people to be entrepreneurs. But like 75% of small businesses fail within a few years and only some of the rest turn a profit. Why waste your time doing that?
- Phil

The big thing that people forget when they look at stats like that is even if a business fails, you still retain a lot of value from the experience. You learn a lot about yourself. You learn basic accounting. You learn how to talk to customers and how to sell what you’re doing.

Perhaps most importantly, though, you build a network of people that you associate with. You build a list of business partners and suppliers. You build a list of clients. You build connections with people as you promote that business. And those connections stay with you after the business fails.

Plus, that 75% failure rate includes many, many people who failed for easily avoidable reasons. They had no plan going in. They didn’t do a bit of advance research to see whether there was a need for the business. They had no relationships to tap for help. They got involved with a business structure (like MLM) that restricts success and from which most people fail. They didn’t start off with sensible capital for what they wanted to do. Or they simply didn’t have the right drive to make it work.

If you have the desire to do it, entrepreneurship is a valuable experience. It teaches you a ton about yourself, builds up tons of relationships with other people, and has a good chance of providing financial strength in your life.

Having a dinner party sounds like a great idea, but I don’t even know where to start! How do you plan them?
- Emma

In my opinion, a great dinner party revolves around an interesting guest list. Pick a diversity of people who have potential overlap in interests and might be able to build useful relationships with each other. Don’t overcrowd it, though – a smaller number usually works better, like 8 to 10 people.

The meal is important, but not vital. Pick something that you can prepare mostly in advance for the party so that you’re not spending all of your time preparing food. Keep it quite simple and have lots of finger foods as those encourage conversation. I’d look for a guide on dinner parties at the library for a good suggestion on how to get started.

The best dinner parties are the ones where everyone enjoys themselves and perhaps begins to build a new connection with someone else. I usually like to have it start an hour or so before the actual meal so you can personally introduce people who might not know each other but you think they might have some possible connection. Introduce them and get them to converse about that topic – get the conversation started, then back away and go start another one. That’s what a good host does.

Good luck! Dinner parties are about the best possible way for people to start building some strong connections with people.

Got any questions? Ask them in the comments and I’ll use them in future mailbags.

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55 thoughts on “Reader Mailbag #32

  1. Kyle: Instead of merely asking for a sabbatical, you could try to spin your international travel as a way to acquire skills (languages, cultures, etc. – think of some examples that particularly suit the line of work you’re in) that make you a valuable player in the globalized business world. You’re offering to acquire those skills entirely at your own expense, and all you’re asking in exchange is to get your old job back when you return. Good deal for your employer, right?

  2. I’ve worked at a place that has a state pension plan for 29 years now. We have something called “30 and out”. Means that when I finish my 30 years there, I can “retire” and begin drawing on my pension, with no penalty for my being only 50-something at the time. I’ll be eligible to get ~80% of my current salary; not an enormous sum, but I could live modestly on it alone. It seems like a no-brainer to leave next year, begin drawing the pension til I die, and get another job. Or *is* that the way to go?

    Graybee – You may have some further options available to you. Does your pension plan offer a delayed retirement plan? This type of option would allow you to work a few more years (generally capped at 5), AND start drawing your pension. The pension is deposited into a savings account bearing some amount of interest specified in the pension plan, the sum of which is available to you when you retire “for real”.

    Additionally, even if you are eligible to retire after 30 years service, your payable benefit may increase with further service. Is this the case? Additional service sometimes ceases to increase benefits after 25 to 30 years of service, so this may not be the case for you either.

    My advice to you would be to make sure you know all of your options concerning delayed retirement, increasing your benefit, any possible limits on your benefit. Is there someone involved with your pension plan you can talk to about these issues?

    Good luck! No matter what, 80% of your current pay on top of another job would be a great setup!

  3. The easiest way to be a successful host is to host regularly and invite 1-2 new people to each one. This does require some money and an acceptable personality.

  4. The first question is interesting because I been thinking about the same thing, however, I’m not fresh out of school and have been working for about 10 years with, what i think, is a solid resume. I was wondering if your advice changes for someone with more experience? I would like to do something like this before I get married and really settle down, but I didn’t get a chance when I was younger.

  5. Ian – You should take your parents up on their offer. It doesn’t sound like charity and parents really, really want to help you out. The only strings attached would probably be that you maintain what they paid to improve. In other words if they help you with a flower bed, keep it alive. If they reseed your yard – water it.

    To give you a personal example my husband and I make more than my parents. But my parents are quite comfortable as everything they own is paid for. Last week my parents came to visit and knowing that we are getting ready to sell our house they came and worked for several days – power washing, yardwork, hard work! And they would take anything in return. In fact they paid for all our meals. That’s just what parents do. My in-laws are the same way. They always offer to help us and won’t take a dime in return.

    It isn’t like they are giving you money to buy a Mercedes or pay off your credit card after a buying spree. They are just trying to help you out with small things in life that do make it more pleasant. If your home looks nicer it increases its value. It also makes you happier and more willing to take better care of it. I don’t see this as charity at all – in fact its the kind of support parents should offer.

  6. I have to disagree with the implication of your answer to taking a year off to travel–that it shouldn’t be done if you like your job or if you’re concerned about getting a job when you return. There is nothing about travel, particularly extended travel in interesting or up-and-coming places, that makes you less desirable in today’s world. In fact, if you learn new languages or spend significant time in one place, it can make you even more desirable. Or if you spend the year doing 1 or 2 month volunteer positions in various countries, then you continue to build a network, learn new things, and come back much more well-rounded and attractive to employers who are looking for people who adapt well and quickly to new situations, learn new skills easily, work well across cultural barriers, etc. I would recommend a year out for travel or volunteer work to anyone. The experience is invaluable. One year out of the job market in your mid-twenties is not going to wreck a career (and if it will, then god help the people who need time off to care for new children…or who get sick…or who need to care for a parent….or who move…or who go back to school full time…etc etc).

    (this from someone who took a year off and lived in a foreign country not once but twice during her twenties and is perfectly well on the same career track as before…with more desirable skills and relationships than ever)

  7. Planning a dinner party does take a bit of work but really is worth it. I agree that no larger a group than 10 is ideal.

    Plan out a meal that you have prepared before. This is not the time to try something new. You want to know exactly how long it will take and feel very confident in the meal you are presenting.

    Make sure you have enough dishes and silverware! This may seem obvious but I have been to a party where this was an issue.

    Put all sauces and dressings on the side. That way people can customize their plate to their preference.

    The same can be done with dessert, offer pie and ice cream; that way someone can have one or both.

    One last thing, for any party, try to either keep the television off; or put music-only on it. This is to deter the habit people have of grouping around and watching the television. If you keep it off, there is a better chance people will talk amongst themselves.


    Trent! I have a question! Where do you draw the line when it comes to your private life and this blog? How do you decide what is too personal to share? Especially with such a personal topic. Has your wife ever felt you shared too much?

  8. @Phil – That stat that 75% of small businesses fail is very misleading. There are alot of similar statistics around with HUGE variences on that number. It depends on what your definition of failure is. Alot of those businesses are sold or folded into other businesses. I wouldn’t call that failure. Also, most of us small business owners are not in it to make huge profits. We’re in it because we’re passionate about something that we can’t persue by being a regular “employee”. We want to have something we can call ours and have the freedom to do whatever we want with it. I think time is wasted more often by people who follow the safe path doing something they’re not happy doing just to earn a “paycheck”.

  9. If you’ve never really had people over for dinner before, I’d say 8 – 10 people is too many. If you’re single, start with 4 – 5 people, and if you’re part of a couple, start with 5 – 6. Cooking for a large group can be daunting if you’re not used to it, and it’s better to start smaller and less formal. Also, it’s fine to start by inviting a group of friends who all know each other already.

    In addition to plates and silverware, keep in mind how many chairs you have and how big your table is.

  10. “That 75% of small business fail” statistic is also misleading in another way. Many entrepreneurs fail several times before they find the one business that “works”. Most entrepreneurs don’t just “give up” after one failure.

  11. Graybee, one thing to consider is where you’ll get health insurance if you retire. If you have to buy insurance off the private market, it could be phenomenally expensive — and they could cancel it, or raise rates, leaving you high and dry. Unfortunately, one of the down sides of our current healthcare system is that affordable insurance is usually employer-based. And the situation gets worse as you get older. My husband could NOT find an insurance company that would even take him, at age 53, because he is on a regular prescription drug. If you can rely on a spouse’s health insurance, that might be an out. You’ll want to find out what other people who’ve taken early retirement from your company have done about health insurance.

  12. Regarding sports–Trent, as an Iowan, the only real question is whether your cheer for the Hawkeyes or for that other school, the one in Ames.

    Neutrality and answers like “oh, I don’t really care about that” are unacceptable.

    Choose wisely ;-)

  13. 75% of new businesses are not in business within the first year. This is a more accurate statement. Using the terminology “failed” leaves too much room for variance. Some businesses are opened for a short term success. If I opened a business for the summer of 2009 and closed shop soon after, that may not be considered failure in my terms, considering that was my goal, while others may argue otherwise. I think that it is really all a matter of opinion.

  14. 75% of new businesses are not in business within the first year. This is a more accurate statement. Using the terminology “failed” leaves too much room for variance. Some businesses are opened for a short term success. If I opened a business for the summer of 2009 and closed shop soon after, that may not be considered failure in my terms, considering that was my goal, while others may argue otherwise. I think that it is really all a matter of opinion.

    Caleb
    http://www.mefinanciallyfree.blogspot.com

  15. Kyle, I think Johanna’s on the right track. If you’re not devoted to your particular company, then a year of travel can be both personally and professionally rewarding. You might want to think of it as a personally-funded sabbatical, where you make a point to make a professional contact or give a couple of days to a local volunteer project at every stop.

    In addition to helping you answer the “why did you take a year off?” question when you return, it can also expand both your long-term career opportunities and the short-term quality of your trip (because this is a great way to meet locals, and connecting with locals is a terrific way to get more out of every place you visit.

    I don’t know what you mean by “around the world,” but if you’re mostly going to developed nations, that could give you the opportunity to speak with engineers whose work is particularly important to the local scene (Dubai, for example, has a wealth of engineering talent; I don’t know but can imagine that spending some time in Venice with a structural engineer would be fascinating, too).

    In less wealthy countries, your short-term help with a project could be invaluable. Consider calling groups like Engineers Without Borders or Engineering Ministries International (a Christian ministry) to get some ideas.

  16. The response to Kyle seems a bit negative. I mean, you want to put some thought and planning into it, but it’s not that high risk, in my opinion, if you’re a model employee beforehand (which a $55k entry level salary would seem to indicate he is).

    I know several people who’ve done round the world trips, including a couple of current colleagues. Admittedly they’re all originally from Ireland or the UK, where we have much more of a gap-year and year-off culture than over here, but all describe it as one of the best experiences they’ve ever had. And one they’re glad they got done before spouses and kids.

    Unless you really really want to I don’t think you need to spend your time visiting job sites abroad. Apart from the fact that it would probably take away from the enjoyment of the trip, frankly I would never buy it as anything but spin from an interviewee. But it is a great conversation starter in interviews, as long as you can emphasize that your wild oats are sown, and won’t be dying to head off again next year. People who’ve taken years off aren’t uncommon even in the US, after all, for maternity leave or education.

  17. Trent-

    I hereby challenge you do get into good enough shape to ride RAGBRAI (the full week event) in 2009. I, personally, need to lose weight and get into better shape.

    So, are you up to riding RAGBRAI with me (or other friends who will be riding in 2009)?

    RAGBRAI recommends getting 600 miles under your belt prior to the event. I am trying to bike 40 miles a week (which you can also do on a stationary bike if weather doesn’t permit), to prepare.

    If you’re up to it, let me know, and I’ll e-mail you.

  18. Good mailbag Trent…lots of variety.

    Ian, one caution I would add to the other posters is that if your folks want to give you money, make sure that any siblings are getting the same “shake”. From experience…my youngest brother and I would almost rather die than ask for or accept money from my folks, at this juncture. However, my middle brother has no such compunctions and would suck up every nickel that they would give him.

    This situation leaves us feeling a little like the recent bailout here in the US…why should those of us who are hard working and responsible be penalized? Anyway, just my two cents…

    Hope everyone has a great Monday.

  19. Kyle-

    As a graduate not too far ahead of you (3 years out of school), I say DO NOT leave for a year. Sorry to say that is a career limiting move at this point. Your first 5 years are spent establishing your work repuation and your “portfolio” or your accomplishments. A year long gap in that time will put you well behind many of the other people looking to advance as fast as you.

    That being said, there is nothing wrong with saving up vacation and traveling for 2-4 weeks at a time. Not only will you get to see a lot in a month, you will be getting PAID for it.

    The world will always be there. Don’t rush to see it, you have a lifetime. Just make the commitment to yourself to see it.

  20. Kyle, you’re 23, you’re reasonably well-off for 23, you have a degree in engineering, and you love travel–I promise that you will never be this young and unencumbered again. Go, go!

    There are always other jobs, especially for engineers, and very especially if you’re flexible about where you’re going to live when you get back. If you go three years from now, that’s almost five years you’ll have been with your current company, which is entirely respectable for a first job out of college.

    You might even discover some new place to call home on your travels. I know a number of people who took a year to go traveling when they were in their 20s and ended up moving to a new country afterwards. A cousin of mine did the same thing, only she ended up moving to Maui. (Still lives there, even!)

    Yes, quitting your job, traveling for a year, and then coming back to find a new one might set you back a bit career-wise, temporarily. But when you’re 55, you’re probably not going to be looking back at your life and going, “man, I wish I hadn’t taken the time to travel the world when I was 26.”

  21. Another way to prove ancestry for Native American status is by census. During relocation the government did different census rolls and if you prove that a member of your family is on one of those census you can obtain tribe status through them. Unfortunately, if you are a decendent of people that fought the relocation and stayed in the mountains or otherwise hid. It is very hard to prove your heritage.

  22. Kyle — Take the year off. You said it was your dream, so I take it you really want to go — if you don’t, you will always wonder. I took a year off to travel around Africa and it was the absolute best thing I have ever done (except marry my husband, whom I met on my travels).

    I am in HR, so a completely different area, but it did not at all effect my career. In fact, I found a job so quickly afterwards (after turning down the one my old employer offered me after finding out I was back)that I didn’t have as much time to readjust to the US as I would have liked. My current employer is international and appreciates my travels. I wouldn’t want to work anywhere different.

    Do keep in touch with work colleagues while you are away — an occasional email works fine. They will be happy to hear from you and most likely happy to help you find a new job. You might also be able to arrange to return to your own job. (Go ahead and ask for a year long sabbatical if you like your workplace. The worst they can do is say no.)

    For travel tips and inspiration, check out http://www.bootsnall.com.

    Also, consider converting any 401(k)/IRA’s you may have into a Roth IRA while you are traveling and your income is low.

    Safari njema (happy travels),
    Jill

  23. Hey Trent Great job with these mailbags.
    Here’s my question:

    I started a Roth IRA with the financial adviser my entire family uses. The thing is that he charges a 100$ fee every year to maintain the account no matter what. Is this the standard or am I just paying for the convenience? What are my options here? Can I move my account? Is it difficult?
    Thanks

  24. The Simple Dollar always has good, thoughtful advice. I enjoy reading Trent’s blogs and reader’s comments.

    Several posts have been about getting in shape and being healthier, including a question from today’s mailbag. Therefore, I thought I would share a blog about health/fitness if anyone is interested in checking it out:

    http://asfitclub.blogspot.com/

    Hopefully, you will be able to get some useful ideas and motivation from this blog. Exercise is a small investment to make for such a big return.

  25. Graybee – I also have a pension and will be able to leave in 6 years (if the rules don’t change). We even are allowed to retire, wait at least 30 days, and then work again half-time and still collect our full pension! I’m leaving as soon as I can and not working half time, but that’s because I enjoy my free time much more than my work time. If you really like your job, you should definitely consider staying.

    It also makes sense to look for another job and see if you can get something you like just as well or more. You could also look into what would happen if you retired and then wanted to come back. And look into how working another year would increase your pension (assuming it does). And Faculties already brought up health insurance—could you get it on your own or at your new job?

    You might want to talk to your appropriate personnel representative for ideas, too.

    Many people find that just knowing they can leave at any time (as with this pension) makes them worry a lot less about what other people think which makes it easier to do what they consider to be a good job and which makes work a lot more fun.

    Certainly keep paying attention to news about your pension.

  26. I should clarify that I was not trying to suggest that Kyle arrange formal meetings in different countries with people in his line of work (although if that’s something he wants to do, more power to him). But he won’t just be lying on the beach for a year either – he’ll be interacting with different people, with different cultures, with different systems of doing things.

    If Kyle works for a company that does any business internationally, familiarity with different places and different customs can help him make a good impression with international clients or collaborators. If he works in civil engineering, he might benefit from seeing roads, buildings, and neighborhoods that don’t look like ones in the US, and getting a real feel for how they affect the appearance and function of the area.

    Those are just a couple of examples. The specific skills relevant to Kyle will depend on what exactly his job is. Maybe a good thing for Kyle to do, before he presents his travel plans to his employer, would be to talk to other people in positions similar to his who have substantial international travel experience to see how they think their travels have helped them build work-related skills.

    Of course, it’s possible that Kyle’s employer might not buy into the spin. But it’s worth a shot. And saying “I want to travel the world, which will make me a more valuable employee for the following reasons” probably stands a better chance of succeeding than saying “I want to go on vacation for a year.”

  27. Re: Dinner Party

    If your budget does not allow for frequent dinner parties you can also have friends over for a brunch. The food is much less expensive – eggs, muffins, etc. and can be a fun twist for the weekend. Good luck and have fun!

  28. Kyle, I say go for it, but make sure you save enough money for a year plus additional money for emergencies and for when you get back.

    I’m 21 and got my degree in engineering a little over a year ago. I saved at my job and will be backpacking through Europe in November. It’s only for a month, but I think the timing is perfect.

    I think comment #15 has it right. You’re not going to look back and regret traveling the world while you’re young.

  29. I’m saying that Kyle will have an opportunity to reach out to interesting experts with diverse experience and invite them to a meal. As long as he’s traveling, it could be both interesting and good for his career future (both in terms of credibility, networking and future job possibilities overseas, plus it might be fun).

    There was a great piece over at Get Rich Slowly, called “The Best $20 You’ll Ever Spend” about this very thing, and it absolutely struck a chord with me. I’ve ended up hiring young writers who came in just looking for information, and if I couldn’t hire them, I’ve given them the best information I could and tried to introduce them to other people in the field.

    Here’s the piece: http://www.getrichslowly.org/blog/2008/10/12/the-best-20-youll-ever-spend/

  30. Kyle – I agree that if traveling is really important to you now then you should do it. But I don’t think you need a year. I think that 2-3 weeks each for Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, and North America should be plenty. Your options as I see them, in the order I would put them in:

    1) Take one major trip every year or 2. If you get 2 weeks of vacation, try to negotiate with your boss to take a 0-1 week vacation one year and 3-4 week the next. This will have the benefit of not derailing your career and you will have more time in between to plan and appreciate each trip more.

    2) Ask around your company to see if there are work abroad opportunities. Many large companies have office locations in other parts of the world and this is a great way to really experience the culture. Plus, they usually pay you your salary plus a living allowance.

    3) Do your best work for the next 2-3 years and really establish yourself as a good, reliable employee, and establish an expertise in a certain area. After a couple good reviews, your boss will be more likely to consider a sabbatical or leave of absense with a guaranteed job when you return. (Also check with HR to see if these are offered). If you want to do a lot of traveling at once, I would think that 3-4 months would be enough.

  31. Kyle-

    Don’t listen to all this “damage to your career” stuff. Go grab Tim Ferris’ “4-Hour Work Week” and Rolf Potts’ “Vagabonding,” take a mini-retirement, and go see the world once you’ve saved some cash.

    Want to make it a resume builder? Find some place to volunteer help build a school/church/health clinic in a developing country by using your engineering skills.

  32. @K: Two to three weeks to see a whole continent? That’s not even long enough to see a whole country. Can you imagine if someone came to the United States for two weeks (say, 2-3 days each in New York, Washington DC, Disney World, the Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone) – would you think that they’d seen and experienced the entire country, and that they therefore understood America as well as any American?

    Don’t get me wrong. 2-3 weeks – or even 2-3 days – can, if properly planned, be a very satisfying and memorable vacation. If a limited amount of time is all you really, truly have, that shouldn’t stop you from traveling. But don’t think you’ve experienced all there is to experience, or that there’s nothing to be gained from a longer trip.

    Your idea to ask about opportunities to work abroad is excellent, however.

  33. I find the replies to Kyle’s question intriguing. Almost every New Zealander of his age has done the round-the-world trip thing. Over here it’s called an OE (Overseas Experience) and it’s pretty much expected. No employer would question someone’s commitment to their career just for getting a bit of travel under their belt.

    Of course, that’s probably because the country’s so small and isolated people just go stir-crazy if they don’t leave…

  34. Kyle,
    I am a 30 year old software engineer and I have done just what you’re proposing to do. Twice. I’m confident that it has not damaged my career in any measurable way. Go for it. If you’re hard-working and good at what you do, then demand for your skills won’t be be significantly reduced by taking a year off to travel. I agree with Johanna – traveling and vacationing are two totally different things. However, I wouldn’t bother working – your salary prospects are likely better here (unless you’ll be in Luxembourg). Instead, consider volunteering. When you come back, I recommend you give yourself plenty of time to re-adjust – if possible, stay with friends or family while you search for a new job. If you have questions, you can contact me at this address: nospam.mokusei@spamgourmet.com.

  35. For Kyle, I agree with the take shorter amounts of time to travel and keep the job, especially if it is a job you enjoy and you’re not sure you could get it back. I wouldn’t worry so much about not saving for retirement for a year, but what to do about health/medical insurance, since I’m assuming you wouldn’t have any (or maybe just a bare bones plan) if you’re not working. If you were to get sick or hospitalized it could be a major set back. I’d also make sure to have another 6 months+ of savings in the bank in case you can’t find a job when you come back. But other than that, hey, go for it.

  36. Everyone has advice for Kyle!

    I don’t have particular advice, except I think his career can handle it. I too have an engineering degree, and while those who are fast tracking to management might get hurt by a year off, most people won’t. And what are you going to regret?

    Advice for others still in college: DO STUDY ABROAD, even if you think you can’t afford it (you can!). You will never have such a perfect opportunity to travel and really experience another country.

  37. Graybee–At some places, you can retire, take your pension and then come back as a consultant working part or full time, especially if they cannot easily replace you. That might assist you with finding health insurance.

  38. Hey everybody!

    Thanks for all of the great insights and comments. I understand why Trent says the comment forum is what makes his website special.

    @Johanna/Betsy – I would definitely use this trip to learn and not just lay on the beach. The things I want to learn would not be ‘professional’ related per se. I want to spend 6 weeks in spanish speaking nations to learn Spanish. I want to volunteer in less-developed countries for 2-3 day projects. But, I really just want to learn what makes different cultures tick.

    @tom – Thanks for your advice. Do you think traveling will hurt my ‘work reputation’? Perhaps I can apply for grad school (MBA) and then defer for a year to travel. Would this be a better idea in your opinion?

    @Kris – That is pretty much my current mindset in a nutshell.

    @K – I like the work abroad idea quite a bit. I’ll look into that. I do, however, agree with Johanna later that I need a lot more time that 2-3 weeks per continent.

    @Jared – I might have to pick your brain about your travels…what worked, what didn’t, etc. Want to grab lunch? Haha.

    @Jessica – Health and Medical is a good point. I didn’t really think about that. Do you have any suggestions? Also, I’m not really concerned about getting ‘my old job’ back. I am flexible about where I live when I return and who I work for. I don’t ‘have’ to work at the same company. I know that my current position is not ‘my passion’, and hopefully I can find out what that is on part of this sojourn.

  39. For your first dinner party, do a simple Italian (spaghetti and meatballs, or sausage) or Mexican (burritos or taco bars are fun, particularly if you fry your own corn tortillas, not that hard and much better). And then when people ask you what they should bring (and people usually love to bring things), tell them to bring a simple dessert – cookies, bars, etc. Then you have a nice dessert bar. I don’t mind making desserts, but they always take up so much room either in the frige or on my limited counter space. This solves this problem and people love having a variety of sweets to choose from.

  40. Kyle,

    Down the road, which would you regret more? Not following the opportunity of a lifetime or not being able to work for a year?

    Some of the answers here are so entrenched in the American ‘live to work’ mindset – it’s depressing.

  41. Johanna – Kyle couldn’t experience EVERYTHING even with a year. It depends on why he wants to do it. If he wants to visit every country then sure, he would need more time. But if he just wanted to get a taste of different cultures he could pick 2 locations on each continent and stay for a week or 2 in each. I spent a month in Europe and spent a week each in Britain, France, Italy, and Germany and then also saw a few other countrues in between. That was plenty of time for me. I guess another suggestion would be to think about what you want to see/do. You don’t have to plan out every second but get a general idea of what you want to experience and how much time you would need.

  42. @K: True, you can’t see everything in a year, or even in a lifetime. But you can see more things – and at a deeper level – in a year than you can in a few weeks. I guess I would be more inclined to believe your claim (that you only “need” 2-3 weeks per continent) if someone were to pipe up and say, “I went abroad for a year, and I wish I hadn’t – I should have spent only 2-3 weeks per continent.”

    And even then, psychological differences between people mean that no one travel style is optimal for everyone. Some people find long trips exhausting and prefer shorter ones. Some people prefer to minimize the disruption to their day to day lives, whereas other people don’t mind it. Kyle says his dream is to travel for a year – shouldn’t he know what he wants better than we do?

  43. Regarding the reposessed car question – I find it important to point out that you’re not necessarily free-and-clear after 7 years. Creditors and debt-collections companies can re-post items on your credit report after the 7 years is up. If the debt is outstanding, many companies will repost. The good news is that you can often bargain with them and clear up the debt for a big discount (after 7+ years, it’s long since off their books). You can usually clear up for at least 50 cents on the dollar, sometimes way more.

  44. As for the Indian thing. Your ancestor HAS to be on a document (well, set of documents really) called the Dawes Rolls. It was a census done between 1893 and 1907 where people had to register as Indians. Keep in mind that only about 20-30% of those eligible to sign the Dawes Rolls did for various reasons, including stigma, residency requirements, etc. There are two different things that have to happen in order to claim membership in a tribe and both are based on your ancestor being on the Dawes Rolls. If your ancestor is not on the Dawes Rolls then you are NOT eligible for tribal membership or recognition as a Native American. If your ancestor is on the Rolls, then you have to prove, through documentation that you are related to that person directly. It can’t be your great-aunt who is on the Rolls, it has to be your great-grandmother.

    Once you’ve proven that you are a direct desecendant of someone on the Rolls, you have to apply with the Bureau of Indian Affairs for a Certiticate of Degree of Indian Blood (CDIB). That will have your blood degree, which you will need to give your tribe in order to gain membership. Some tribes have strict rules as to how much Indian blood you need to be a member.

    I think you should try and get tribal membership if you can. You can recieve free health care, and some tribes even distribute gaming revenue among the membership (I mean, you get a check from the tribe). It just takes some time to fill out the paperwork, and the benefits are great. I’m a member of the Chickasaw tribe, and I take a great deal of comfort knowing that even if my husband lost his job and all his benefits, that the tribe would take care of us.

  45. When I was 30, I quit my job and took a year off by getting married and calling it a honeymoon. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. There’s something about the experience of having open-ended possibilities that no 2- or 4-week vacation can come close to.

    Some thoughts:
    I had no problem getting a job when I came back, and my husband started his own business rather than looking for a job. This was possible because both of us had built up stellar credentials and lots of contacts before leaving. Something to ask people in your field: what could I achieve in the next couple years that would make everyone want to hire me when I come back?

    We also made sure that we saved up enough ahead of time not only to fund the trip but also a very large cushion when we came back in case the job hunt hadn’t gone so well — I think we had enough saved to cover more than a year’s worth of expenses. That was the level we needed to really make us comfortable completely quitting our jobs and doing this thing that is considered so crazy in US culture.

    I have to say that after months of traveling I was feeling rootless and ready to be home. Two things in our travels fought against this phenomenon: 1) schedule big blocks of open time, but also have some anchor points — e.g., we had to be in Oaxaca on a certain date to meet my father-in-law, we had to be in Austin on a certain data for a reunion, etc. 2) schedule some times that you will spend an extended amount of time in a single town, getting to know people and either learning something (a language, a skill, a spiritual practice) or volunteering. Others have noted that this makes your travels more explainable to future employers, but for me (and even more for my husband), being ONLY on vacation for a year straight actually has the potential to be soul-sucking and lonely. In contrast, the month we spent living with a family and going to language school was one of the highlights of our whole year off.

    In summary — get really ready, then go for it!

  46. I have a question. I am a 32 year old mother of 2. Stable employment w/ the same company for 12 years, in school, own my 1st home, been working on paying off charge cards, braces and an auto loan. I am getting ready to go kick my partner out of my home and my life, which will leave me w/ just my income. I can’t make ends meet w/ all of the bills alone. My partner started using heroin a year ago and I have been doing my best to keep on her w/ her methadone treatment program and have spent all of my savings and am now in debt trying to save her. She wrecked my brand new car. I lost $17,000.00 in equity w/ that accident. She keeps getting fired and now I have simply had it. I can’t stay afloat. I put my home on the market. I am going to take a huge loss of close to $50,000.00 w/ this sale. I have to move as soon as I send her packin… How and what do I do to keep paying the bills?

  47. Here is my question. My wife is pregnant and our first kid is due in April. It really is a miracle but obvious money is always on the mind. Would it be better to:
    1.) Buy life insurance in case something happens
    2.) Start saving for their college
    3.) Pay down our house payment to rid ourselves of the devil called PMI
    4.) Pay down our very low (less than 2%) interest student loans that my wife and I have (25 g or so)

  48. I don’t believe that Scotty’s response (#28) is correct…like in the sense that he must be a collection agent. 50 cents on the dollar is CRAZY high after so many years. Anyway, I think it’s deplorable to buy something and not pay for it, but as the saying goes, stuff happens. After your state’s debt limit has passed you are free and clear from that debt (at least legally), and it must be removed from your credit report. It makes no difference if it was bought and sold a million times, you are only responsible for the first debt. Yes, the debt collectors will hound you for it, but as long as you never promised payment during the time, you’d be done with it. It also must be removed from your credit report in a timely fashion, but they’ll try to convince you that you still owe it to get you to agree to send some form of payment, which will restart the time clock on the debt limit back to zero. To the OP, be sure to get advice from someone who understands the laws in your area on this matter, and don’t talk to the debt collectors at all.

  49. Regarding exercise: I live at 9000 ft in the Colorado mountains and I’m committed to staying fit this winter. About 6 months ago, I invested in an excellent child backpack (Deuter kid comfort III) and I bought a very nice Columbia down snowsuit off ebay. I will be able to sell both of these down the road for a good price. My daughter is a couple months younger than yours. We were rained on on Saturday and had freezing rain/snow on Sunday and we had a great time. I also have a baby jogger brand stroller from a garage sale ($25) with a plastic rain shield. I’ve taken her out in horizontal snow and she loves it. We’re all completely invigorated when we get back home and I think it helps their immune systems. Go on Trent, get out there! Winter is not an excuse. :-)

    Paula

  50. Kyle – you got us all started now! 10 years ago I took off for 6 months to hike the Appalachian Trail. The only reason it was a problem is that it was, and still is, one of the best experiences of my life, and I’m always wishing I could do it again. Clearly I have not let it go and even started a series the other day about it on my blog:
    http://nomadneedles.wordpress.com/2008/10/11/the-appalachian-trail-part-1-of-3/

    I made lifelong friends, gained incredible skills and experienced the Appalachian Mtns hiking from Georgia to Maine. You are obviously in good shape career-wise and sharp enough to figure out the next step once you return. Anyone who can travel extensively has the creativity to figure out how find work when they get back. And if a potential employeer doesn’t like it that you took off to travel for so long, would you want to work for them anyway? Doesn’t matter. You will be a changed person when you return. New goals, ambitions, experiences.
    Please do it. We need more people in the world who don’t let fear of the “what-ifs” hold them back.

  51. Kyle -
    Just do it. I took time off after finishing up college before getting a “real” job. I now live in New Zealand. I am now considering more travel and am saving up to do so. I do not think traveling will affect my job choices/prospects in any way(I plan on returning to NZ and am a chemist). I am not surprised by the “American” mentality that your job is everything, but do not let them fool you. The job is just that, a job. Live your life to the fullest and realize that it is very common all over the world to travel for extended periods of time. Good luck and enjoy!

  52. Do you think the horrible economy has made an impact on the success of the Simple Dollar? We have all had to think outside of the box to make ends meet in this recession.

  53. Re: quitting job to travel.

    With my first (and last) engineering job out of school, I worked for a company that sold engineering equipment to Asia. I got to travel 12 times in 5 years, including several 3 week trips to Asia. Some of these countries were too expensive to visit as a tourist (Japan, Hong Kong) but I got employer to pay for it all, and plenty of time to see the sites. Had I been available, I could have had long term expat employment in Singapore, China, or Philippines.

    In the current scary economy, don’t quit a day job! Instead, check out opportunities to work overseas for your existing your company, or others in your field. You might even get a raise for taking on unpopular assignments. If one year overseas is fun, 5 years is even better, right?

  54. Kyle
    Dude, You have to travel. I was in much the same position as you and threw it all in and went traveling for a year. It cost me about 12k all up, as I did lots of backpacking, camping and roughing it. But I couldn’t recommend it higher. Now I’m getting closer to 30, my career and finances are getting more important, but if I was in my early 20′s again, I’d do it over. Money can be lost or gained quickly, and I’d hate to think I spent my youth worry about money and missed such a great opportunity. Plus, now my career is in full swing, I would find it incredibly difficult to take an entire year off. So do it while you can!

    Matt

  55. Hey Kyle- I wasn’t in a position to do what you were doing when I was 20, but I’ve taken a few month long trips. . .I’m now planning on doing a 6 month to 1 year long trip. . .maybe picking up some language skills but really just expanding my horizons.

    I’ve got confidence that my skills are in need and will continue to be in need when I get back. I’m sure yours are too.

    I like this guys blog about travel http://chrisguillebeau.com/3×5/ but there are plenty of others. You shouldn’t need as much money as you’ve stated unless you spend all of your time in europe. . .

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