Reader Mailbag #38

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 people have asked questions about how to deal with a large set of collectibles. Here are three articles that might help.
Dealing With Those Piles Of Old Baseball Cards In Your Closet
Personal Finance and Nostalgia
An Inheritance of Collectibles

And now for some great reader questions!

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 packing. How and what do I do to keep paying the bills?
- Tanika

It sounds like you’ve made a very tough emotional decision, one that’s resulting in some big financial consequences.

The best move you can make is to make a clean break as soon as possible. If you’ve decided for your own personal reasons that the relationship needs to end, end it. Don’t dance around the issue and get yourself in an even worse situation.

From there, turn to your family and friends for support. Explain the real truth of your situation to them and ask for emotional help and advice. However, do not ask to borrow money – a borrower-lender relationship is an easy way to ruin friendships and family bonds.

You need to spend some time and get a very accurate picture of your financial state, then come up with a debt repayment plan to get out of it.

It won’t be easy, but it can be done. Let your children inspire you to more than you ever thought possible of yourself.

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.
- Mol

It probably has helped somewhat. More people are seeking answers to their financial questions, mostly through searching Google, and have thus stumbled upon articles here.

I’m not really convinced it has helped the site acquire more long-term readers, though. The people that stick around here seem to mostly be those who are genuinely seeking answers to their financial situation, not those who only worry about their money if People tells them to.

So, it’s helping a bit, I think, but not any sort of avalanche. My traffic is going up, but it’s not a tidal wave.

With ING’s recent interest rate drop from 3.00 to 2.75% for their orange Savings account, would you consider switching to other banks with higher interest rates, ie: Dollar Savings Direct (4.00%), or would you keep your money at ING?
- Chris

I generally think that rate chasing is a pretty weak game. No matter what the interest rate is, good customer service from your bank wins out. I stick with ING because of the service, not because of the rate.

As for the rate question itself, most banks, and online banks in particular, tend to change the rates offered on savings accounts quite often. It is a mistake to make a long-term banking decision based solely on a snapshot of compared interest rates.

That being said, if you are looking for an online account just for your savings, it does make sense to use interest rates as a major consideration – above, I’m mostly speaking about using an online bank as one’s primary bank.

What would be a better kitchen investment, a stand mixer or a food processor? I make bread about 2-4 times a month. I cook dinner at home 5 times a week (with leftovers the 6th night and we eat at the in-laws the 7th night). Dinners often have diced chicken breast, chopped veggies, etc. I bake cookies maybe 1-2 times a month. Can food processors make cookie dough or cake batters with the dough blade? Or just bread doughs? How do I determine the size that I need to get (for either appliance)?
- silver

We use the stand mixer substantially more than we use our food processor. For most family uses, the food processor takes about the same amount of time and has substantially more cleanup than a sharpened knife – the only time I use it is for processing large amounts of something, such as shredding zucchini for future loaves of zucchini bread.

The stand mixer will handle pretty much any kind of dough you throw at it with the dough hook or the baffle.

I’m not sure entirely how to determine which size is appropriate for you. For my family of four, I’ve found the KitchenAid Pro 600 Series mixer perfect for our uses. We use it so often that it occupies a permanent spot on our countertop.

I’ve heard that during a recession and the recovery is a good time to buy stocks and commodities, during the upswing is a good time to buy stocks and property, and during the peak and start of the economic decline is a good time to invest in bonds. What do you think about this? If you are investing on a regular monthly basis, is this a good way (in general) to allocate funds if you already have an emergency fund and adequate insurance?
- Oliver

That’s a reasonable approach to follow, excepting that I’d replace “bonds” with “bonds and cash (such as CDs).”

The only problem with that approach is clearly knowing what phase you’re in. Are we at the bottom of the market and just beginning an upswing right now, or is there still room to fall?

That’s the reason most market timing tends to fail. A much better approach is this: determine your desired allocation up front, say 50% stocks, 30% real estate, 10% bonds, and 10% cash (for example). Set up an investment account at Vanguard and buy index funds of each type – a stock index fund, a real estate fund, a bond fund, and a money market fund. Then automatically contribute to each one in that appropriate percentage for the next six months no matter what the market is doing.

After those six months, look at your balances and see how close they match your desired percentages. If one segment is bigger than you’d like and another is smaller, don’t buy or sell your investments – just change your allocations for the next six months. Lower the allocation to the “big” piece and raise it to the “small” piece. Then check again in six months.

If you want to change your allocation, change it by altering your contributions. Let’s say you want to go down to 40% stocks and up to 20% in cash. For a six month period, contribute 60% of all of your contributions to your cash fund and none to the stock fund, then see where you’re at and adjust accordingly.

This way, no matter what happens, you can ride through the changes with a secure, steadily-growing portfolio.

Granted, party affiliation matters less on a local level, but do you see yourself always running as an independent, even though that will inevitably limit your potential to gain office? Or are you just leaving off partisan politics until such time as your political career is developed enough to warrant it?
- JonFrance

The problem is that parties tend to function very differently on a local level as compared to a national level. What the Democratic Party stands for in my county has seemingly little relationship to what it stands for nationally.

Having said that, I’d probably sign up with the party that represents my views in a national sense and just follow my own judgment when it comes to local issues. If that meant I was a Democrat who acted like a Republican locally or vice versa, so be it.

Due to a company-wide reorganization, I will be losing my job at the beginning of February. I am only 24 (with no dependents) so this isn’t absolutely devastating. As part of my severance package, I will receive 4 weeks of pay and a lump sum of about $7000 (after tax). My goal is have another job lined up come February so I can save my severance package and eventually put it towards a down-payment on a house or a new(er) car in 2-3 years. Given the lackluster job market, this may or may not be realistic.

Currently, I have around $10,000 in my savings/ emergency fund and no outstanding debt. I take home around $2275 (after tax and insurance deductions) per month and automatically put $500 in savings. I have around $850 in fixed monthly expenses which include rent, utilities, cell phone, etc. and have already take action to reduce my spending and expenses. However, I feel like I am not doing enough.

What else would you be doing in this situation?
- Cara

The only other thing I’d be doing is honing my skills and making professional connections. Right now is when you should be polishing up what you know and reaching out to people in your field for openings or other opportunities.

If you have any chance to hit up conferences or other events in your field, right now is the best possible time for you to be doing so. Learn what you can, build relationships with your peers, and continue to build those relationships in whatever you find yourself doing early next year.

Would you prefer to raise children in the city or in a rural area?
- Morgan

I’d vastly prefer a rural area, but not one too isolated. I’d prefer to have some access to an urban area within an hour’s drive.

There are valuable growth opportunities both in cities and in the country, and I’d ideally like to have my children experience both worlds. I actually tend to believe it’s easier for children in rural environments to adapt to and enjoy the city in small chunks than it is for city children to adapt to and enjoy the country in small chunks.

I just moved to a small town far, far away from anyone that I know. The only people I’ve met so far are my coworkers and the elderly couple in the apartment next door. I’d like to find a circle of friends who don’t spend money, but I don’t know where to look. Any advice?
- Yancey

Look to your own personal interests. What do you enjoy doing? If you enjoy reading, hit the library and see if there are any book clubs. Take a peek at the community calendar and see if there are any events in the community that might interest you.

If there’s a university nearby, look for cultural events there that appeal to you, particularly ones that include a discussion opportunity and some room to meet others. If you’re of a religious stripe, join a church and get involved in a Bible study.

All of these activities tend to be havens of people who don’t actively spend money and can provide a good source of social enjoyment without a high financial price.

What’s your biggest regret when it comes to The Simple Dollar?
- Angie

My biggest regret is that I didn’t go full time with it sooner than I did. I wish I had gone full time with it earlier on.

Why? There are many, many big projects related to The Simple Dollar that I’m in the midst of. Most of these projects had their original ideas planted before I made my career choice.

If I had quit earlier than I did, more of these ideas would have come to fruition by now instead of just dwelling on the back burner for months and months, slowly coming together.

I guess what I really regret is that I don’t have more time for my ideas.

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

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  1. leslie says:

    I just wanted to say thank you for question on the Food Processor vs. Stand Mixer! I’ve been wanting both of them for quite sometime and your point of view was very useful! I hadn’t thought about the clean up aspect of the food processor. I assume that you do use the Stand Mixer enough to get the $300 worth; the price tag is the only reason why I don’t have one yet.

  2. KC says:

    I grew up in a rural area and am about to raise kids in an urban one. Although I can see the merits of both I’ve chosen to raise my kids in an urban environment. Recently I went back home for my high school reunion. So many people never made it out of my hometown. They have nothing careers and seem to have a very narrow outlook on life. I just couldn’t see raising my kids in that environment and handicapping them with a lack of world outlook (although you said being an hour away from a city isn’t bad and I agreed). But I think my greatest fear is that my children will get that “small town mindset” and just settle for a mediocre career and a mediocre spouse and they’ll never reach their full potential and happiness.

  3. S.Head says:

    “I’d vastly prefer a rural area, but not one too isolated. I’d prefer to have some access to an urban area within an hour’s drive.”

    This is how I grew up, and how I plan to raise my family. We have a few acres of land we’re going to build on, but the fabulous city of Austin is a 35-45 minute drive away. I hope to give my kids the best of both worlds–a garden and lots of land to roam and play, and the culture that a city can provide–just as I had.

    I think rural areas get a bad rap. People want to make fun if you stayed in the town you grew up in. I went off to college, and made the choice to move back a couple of years afterward. You could say I never “got out,” but I went to college, got a good job, met my husband, traveled to Europe and Mexico, and it so happens that I like living in the country, and I like living near my parents. I’m lucky to have such great parents.

    One of my old friends tries to give me a hard time about living where I live, but she only lives a couple of hours away now, in a city I’d never live in, and she didn’t finish school and has never traveled. I just smile and let her think what she wants.

  4. Pankaj says:

    Hi,

    I recently bought term life insurance through Prudential. My work place also provides Group Life Insurance at much reduced cost as a benefit. I could get almost equivalent coverage (7X salary) from this option. I had heard that Group Life policies are very restrictive. But with 7X coverage, would it be terrible to switch to the life insurance from work and ditch my Prudential policy?

    Thank you,

    Pankaj

  5. m says:

    Note for Tanika – I left my husband just over a month ago. Scariest thing I’ve ever done. One thing I totally underestimated was how much better I would feel after I did it. SO MUCH MORE JOYFUL! I can concentrate at work again, am laughing again, have SO much more energy, and now that half my brain isn’t used up by dealing with his issues, I feel a lot smarter! I’d forgotten who I could be. I say all of this to let you know that you very well may see avenues opening up to you after you kick her out that you can’t even imagine now. Opportunities for part-time work, clever solutions to your budget issues, etc. And let people who want to help help. I found people wanted to be part of the story, and were good about helping if I asked for specific things – watching the kids, groceries, etc.
    I’ll be praying for you and the munchkins. Good luck!

  6. jake says:

    “My biggest regret is that I didn’t go full time with it sooner than I did. I wish I had gone full time with it earlier on.”

    Having read your blog for years now, I remember reading about how caustious you were which was understandable with a family.

    My point is, things happened for a reason at their own pace. It’s tough to say so and so only because you never know. A wrong turn here or there and you could have said the opposite, “I wish I had not jump on The Simple Dollar full time so quickly.”

  7. Johanna says:

    “I actually tend to believe it’s easier for children in rural environments to adapt to and enjoy the city in small chunks than it is for city children to adapt to and enjoy the country in small chunks.”

    I’d be interested in hearing why you tend to believe that (and also what exactly you mean by “adapt to and enjoy the city/country in small chunks”).

  8. ckstevenson says:

    Tanika should also consider ahead of time the option of a restraining order. Given that her soon to be ex partner is dealing with an addiction, there is really no telling what the reaction to the split will be. Since there are kids involved, you need to keep their safety in mind in this.

    As to rural/urban, specifically comment #2 by KC, it is just as easy to fall into various traps in an urban environment as rural. The opposite of the “mediocre house and mediocre spouse” is overreaching, never being happy, living a life of constant wants fulfillment. A well adjusted child is well adjusted regardless of where they grew up, it has little to do with urban or rural.

    Be careful of the mindset you have right now, allow your children to grow and mature and decide what is optimal for them, not for you.

  9. deepali says:

    I am curious about the same thing as Johanna – about country kids adapting to the city better than vice versa. I’ve known both (and myself grew up in the ‘burbs with access to both), and think the disposition of the child and parent has more to do with it than anything else. It also depends on which city and which rural area!

  10. Anne says:

    I really want both a stand mixer and a food processor but don’t actually need either of them. That doesn’t stop me from window shopping, though! Now is actually not a bad time to buy. Because the KitchenAid is such a great, useful gift it doesn’t get discounted much but I’ve seen some actual deals lately. Costco, I believe, has a model included in its Black Friday sale. I think Kohls is offering a slight price reduction and a gift card with purchase. It’s worth it to look around even if the thought of shopping on Black Friday (rightfully) makes you ill :)

  11. SteveJ says:

    I agree with ckstevenson about the rural/urban dynamic. I grew up in a rural area and while growing up it was great because I knew everyone and you can develop a sense of who you are and where you belong. And for me, I didn’t really belong in small town life. Meanwhile I look at my brother who was born and raised in the city, and he really doesn’t know who he is or what he wants to do, he just flits from spot to spot. He’d probably appreciate the pace and community of small town life if he ever got past the being bored part.

    I think Trent’s approach is probably a good one, there’s a lot of great skills you can learn in both areas, whether rural things where you build your body or city things where you build your savvy. Everyone should know how to build a fire and figure out bus schedules.

    One additional concern I have for raising my kids is that I got into a whole lot more trouble in a rural environment, but none of the consequences were lasting. Whereas my family members that got into trouble in a city environment usually faced stiffer consequences for a single offense. If you get into a fight at a bonfire you walk away with a split lip, the same fight at a mall you go to the police station. I don’t think it swings a parent’s decision one way or the other, just something else to think about.

  12. You are right in that food processors are useful only when you process large quantities of food. This is our example. Every few months, my wife and I will make salted cabbage. We buy a 50 pound bag of cabbage at a produce wholesale store as well as carrots. We then grate all the cabbage through the food processor (it takes a couple of hours) and make our salted cabbage.

    This gives us enough cabbage to last a few months and it is of course very cheap (cost of cabbage $13 or $14, carrots a few dollars, and less than a dollars worth of salt). It would be hellish to chop all this cabbage by hand and we are happy to have the food processor we bought for less than $40 at Costco. It has paid for itself a few times over.

  13. Cathy says:

    I’m still with ING because it’s online banking system is superb. Bill pay, subaccounts, transfers, no hassle CDs – it’s exactly what I need. I’ve never experienced any ‘funny math fees’ from them, so I’ll stick around. The savings rate fluctuates quite a bit, but I stick extra money into CDs. I don’t rate chase either. ING isn’t one of the highest anymore, but it is still competitive. Beats my local credit unions.

  14. kz says:

    For stand mixer vs food processor, I have to go with food processor. Maybe it’s because we’re a small family (just two of us for now), but I use my food processor about 5 times as often as my stand mixer. I’ve acquired three different sizes of processors over the years (unnecessary, for sure) which each come in handy for different things (1 cup for chopping nuts or herbs, 2 cup for small amounts of veggies or salsas, 14 cup for everything else). I make dough in the processor monthly (buscuits for my dog) and I don’t notice any additional clean-up time. Parts can go in the dishwasher, and washing by hand (like I do) is a breeze.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love my stand mixer, too. It was passed down to me from my grandmother who made multiple batches of cookies every month for years and years and it’s still working like a champ. But I just thought I’d throw my view out there.

    Also – in response to KC, I think how a kid turns out depends so much more on their family than on their community. Plenty of urban or suburban kids end up with what I presume you’re terming ‘nothing careers’ or unhappy circumstances, too. The best thing you can do for your kids is provide a loving home, teach them your values, and support their dreams, whatever they may be.

  15. Someone says:

    I hated growing up in a rural area. I didn’t fit in, and in a low-population area, you can’t respond to not-fitting-in by just finding another group of people to spend time with. What you’ve got is what you got. So instead, you spend all your energy trying to be something you’re not, so you’ll fit in with the only group of people that are available. I’d never want to raise a kid under those circumstances.

    Sure, I liked the woods and the space to run around in and all that, but not having friends can be damn rough on a kid. And there’s not much you can do about it if there’s not many people around, and you don’t hit it off with the ones that are.

    It was a revaluation when I moved to a more urban area, and realized that I had the option of seeking out people I clicked with, rather than desperately trying to be accepted by people who didn’t. A whole new perspective on human interaction!

  16. Penny says:

    Looks like I’m jumping on to the hottest response so far. I was raised in the country and currently raise my kid in a small, walkable city that’s technically a suburb of a major city. (It became a suburb 100 years ago, so it has an urban layout, not like the miles of residential nothingness and strip malls of modern suburbs.)

    I’m a strong proponent of small city living. We can hop on our bikes and ride to the zoo; we can walk to the movies or to restaurants. Our yard is small, but there are a large number of parks nearby. Our kid can take his bike to visit his friends or go to school activities. He can exercise his growing independence to go to the store alone — to return cans, pick up a video game, fetch groceries for me, or hopefully soon, get a job. Plus, when we do have to drive, nothing is far away, so we don’t waste time or money on the road.

    Also, I think a small city provides a diversity of experience that is beneficial to a growing mind. Our neighbors are rich, poor, and in between. White, black, Asian, Latino. Young and old. Good citizens and petty criminals. A mix of political parties and religious affiliations are represented here.

    Because our city isn’t a new development, nature abounds here. Our yard is home to squirrels, birds, a groundhog, and occasional visits by possum and raccoons. We have mature trees, fruit trees, and a small raised garden. We can walk to the Farmer’s Market each weekend.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love the country and large cities are fun to visit, but if I had more kids, I’d want to raise them right here, too.

  17. Aggie says:

    Why not get both?

    Oster made for the longest time a “Kitchen Center” that had a blender, stand mixer and food processor attachment. You can buy them used on EBAY for about 100.00 or less and they do EVERYTHING.

    I have one (was bought for me as a graduation present in 1989) and since then I’ve bought used ones off Ebay as Christmas gifts for others. They are awesome!

    -Aggie

  18. cv says:

    On the food processor vs. stand mixer question, it really depends on what you’d want to do with them. I’ve found that I use my food processor maybe half as often since I got an immersion blender, which purees soups and makes bread crumbs and salsa and chops nuts with much less cleanup than the food processor. There are also small (1 or 2 cup) food processors, as someone mentioned above, as well as mandolines. Immersion blenders, mandolines and small choppers can all be had for much less than a big food processor, and might be just as useful in the long run.

  19. Johanna says:

    On the flip side of one of Penny’s points, growing up in a car-dependent suburban/exurban/rural area can be incredibly isolating for young teenagers who are old enough to want some independence but not yet old enough to drive. Want to see your friends outside of school? You have to get a ride from someone. Want to participate in before- or after-school activities? You have to get a ride from someone. Want a change of scenery from your house and your yard? You have to get a ride from someone. This makes for a depressing existence (in my case, anyway) – and although I did not know it at the time, it is not the only way to live.

  20. liv says:

    Here is a suggestion for Yancy:
    I have moved to 2 places without any friends in 4 years. The first time, I was lucky to find a sport/social club to play sports with people. The second, not so much. So I went to craigslist activities section. I put out a posting asking the locals if they knew of such things and I keep getting emailed about meetup.com. It basically has a slew of local meetups for various interests. Put in your zip code and see what pops up :)

    It can be jarring to try to meet people online and/or by yourself, but as long as you keep it to a reasonable and safe situation, then you should be fine. I’m back to playing dodgeball with a group of really nice people :)

  21. Jamie says:

    Just out of curiosity: Why don’t you have any guest post? Would you be willing to publish a guest post from one of your readers?

  22. Kristem says:

    I agree with Aggie, go for a mixer than has attachments. I have a Bosch Compact mixer that came with blender and disc slicer attachments. I’ve been contemplating getting the food processor attachment to go with it.
    I also find the Bosch superior to the Kitchenaid Mixers in performance. Don’t let product placement guide your decisions. The Bosch is lighter weight but just as durable. My mom’s had her Bosch Compact for 16 years and it works like the day she bought it. I had to hunt to find a place to buy mine (I’m in Canada) but it was so worth it!
    I do not work for Bosch… I just really freakin love that machine!

  23. Colleen says:

    I have both the stand mixer and the food processor, and I definitely use the food processor more. I love baking, true, but I use the food processor maybe once or twice a week versus once or twice a month for the stand mixer (outside of holiday cookie baking season). If you’re not fast with a knife; if you like foods such as pesto and fresh salsa; if you hate your box grater; if you want to save money buy not buying pre-cut cole slaw or other produce, then a food processor is a good investment.

    Baking a lot of cakes and cookies is the chief reason to get a stand mixer. I recommend either the KitchenAid Classic or, if you’re dying for a pretty color, the KitchenAid Artisan series. All the KitchenAids have powerful motors and excellent mixing action, so there’s no reason to pay more for a Pro series mixer. All that nets you is a bowl that holds one extra quart (which I’ve never encountered a recipe that needs) and the feeling that you are extra special in the kitchen. ;-)

    If you don’t bake cakes and cookies that often, get a hand mixer. They’re much less expensive and aren’t the space hogs that stand mixers are.

  24. Mitch says:

    I think what Trent meant is that a farm kid can visit the city and appreciate what it has to offer (zoos, amusement parks, museums, etc.) more easily than a city kid van visit a farm and appreciate the experience. I grew up in a rural area, and when my cousins from the city would visit they’d complain that there was nothing to do. The difference between us was that I had to come up with fun things to do on my own or find fun in things they thought were boring. With all the ready-made activities in their back yard, my cousins didn’t really learn how to have fun on their own. I know this isn’t the case with all city kids, but it is something that I observed among the ones I knew growing up. I can definitely see where Trent is coming from.

  25. silver says:

    I’m the one that asked about the food processor vs stand mixer. The main reason I’m interested in either is the bread dough mixing capabilities. I make large batches of bread dough (with 6 cups of flour) and stirring that by hand can be quite difficult! I realize that I’d have to get a large capacity food processor to handle dough batches of that size.

    What I’m wondering is, besides bread dough making, which one would be more useful? I have a toddler that insists on standing on a chair and watching me prep food, so the enclosed blades of the food processor are appealing. (It can be tricky to cut up onions when a toddler is grabbing at the onion pieces and putting his hands under the knife.) The dough mixing capabilities of a stand mixer are appealing for making sweets like cookies, cakes, cheesecakes, etc. The cleanup of the food processor does seem to be more work than it’s worth. But the price tag of the stand mixer seems to be too high for the limited functionality of it. Both items would take up a lot of space in my small kitchen, which makes me second guess getting either.

    So, fellow readers, beyond dough making, which one is more useful?

  26. Amber says:

    I use my food processor more than anything in my kitchen. I make salsas, sauces, soups, dips…all kinds of goodies-especially good when there is a lot of left over produce from both my parents gardens and using a knife would take days! I don’t even own a mixer-hand or otherwise. It’s great exercise for your arms to mix yourself! Frugal and beneficial to your health. Also, I live in a big city and raised in a small town setting. I always thought I would love big city living…not so much. I don’t enjoy the overcrowding, the crime, and the impersonalization.

  27. margo says:

    Tanika-

    Give all your remaining money to an uncle in the hopes that in 10 or 20 years, he’ll buy your kids some college textbooks or a used car.

  28. SAB says:

    On the rural/urban question-

    I grew up in the suburbs, but I’ve lived in both rural and urban areas since then. One thing I’ve noticed about some Midwestern rural-raised adults is that they’re easily overwhelmed. I think if you live in the city, you get a self-confidence that you can handle a strange and busy environment. But I would like to raise my kids in the country, just because I think people are way more family-friendly.

    I think people need to experience both and live in different places to develop fully. I’m going to encourage my kids to try new places and stretch themselves before they settle down.

  29. Battra92 says:

    I’ve often wondered why city dwellers and former rural dwellers are so bitter and protective about how theirs is the “superior” way. I used to talk to this one girl who would constantly refer to people from the sticks as “white trash.” I saw a heck of a lot more “trashy” people in the cities than in the country.

    Personally, I like living in a small town and can’t see myself changing that anytime soon.

    I will go to Albany once in a while if I need a big city but then the people I know from there talk about how they live in the middle of nowhere so no one is ever happy I suppose.

  30. Laura says:

    Trent,
    I saw your book for sale on Amazon.com, why haven’t you announced that it went on sale on your site yet? I was waiting for you to make an announcement, I would think others would be too.

  31. econ says:

    On the urban/rural debate, I think it’s clear that people should choose the route that best reflects their values and will support a lifestyle that benefits their family. A more rural environment might be nice for the kids, but what if that means the parents can’t find work in their field of choice? I probably couldn’t find any economist jobs in rural Kansas.

    Onto my mailbag question:

    My husband and I have started talking seriously about having kids. I’m 28, he’s 32, and we have not managed our money well through our 20s. We currently rent, own one car that’s about to be paid off in December, have some pretty significant credit card debt (though we’re comfortably paying more than the minimum, it’s going to be a good while before we pay it all off), only have a little bit in liquid savings, and a modest amount in our 401ks.

    My biggest fears are that we do not have a big enough safety net for the unexpected expenses that can come with having a child. In addition, I have no good idea how much the daycare costs could be. We live in a major metro area, and right now we don’t foresee it being feasible, or even desirable, for one of us to stay home full time. Given our current financial situation, what would you advise? I feel like if we waited until we were more financially stable, we’ll never have kids.

  32. onaclov says:

    Trent,
    Does your Kitchenaid have the drop down bowl, or the top flips up, my mom had a flip up top and loved it and bought a drop down bowl the second go around and really didn’t like it (cause you had to take the paddle (or whatever) off before removing the bowl.

    What is your take?

  33. Kate says:

    Silver,

    I manage a kitchenware store – here’s some advice on the appliances you’re thinking about. If you’re more of a cook, the food processor is for you. If you’re more of a baker, the stand mixer is for you. Food processors are, in a sense, more versatile because they can chop, dice, slice, mix, and (if you get a great one) make bread dough. You can do cake and cookie batters in them, although I prefer stand mixers for those tasks.

    When I am working with customers, I recommend they first buy the one that they would use more, and then add the other appliance at a later time.

    In terms of models, I highly recommend Cuisinart food processors. They are the most versatile and have the strongest motors, not to mention the best warranties. Most of my customer get the DLC2011 11 cup (best for 2-4 people), but you could also upgrade to a DLC2014 14 cup (best for 4+ people) if you’d like extra room.

    On stand mixers, KitchenAids are the gold standard. Look for the 5 QT Artisan, which will give you an excellent motor (much more powerful than Ultra Power or Heavy Duty models). The Pro600 allows you do double batches and heavy duty doughs with no problem. It will be overkill, however, if you’re not consistently needing to make large batches. Now is an excellent time to buy stand mixers – KitchenAid has a $20 cash back rebate on Artisans, and a $50 Visa gift card back on Pro600s.

  34. bethh says:

    I just got a KitchenAid mixer – Amazon had a special on refurbished ones. It’s white (not very exciting!) but only cost $160 – VERY exciting. I was stalking the mixer on Craig’s List before I found the above deal, and can probably sell it for about that much if I decide I don’t use it enough. I have the drop-down bowl, and removing the paddle does sounds not-so-great, but I’ll deal.

    I intend to use mine to make home-made granola. I’ve been doing that for a few months now and it’s really hard to mix the large volume of dry ingredients with just a little liquid. I don’t bake much but I may start – my coworkers will reap the benefits!

  35. Lois says:

    Question: Gas prices are so low right now but there is talk of them eventually going back up. Have you heard of any way to buy a large supply at today’s prices that you can use later after the price goes up? (Sort of a gasoline version of what we do at the grocery store when an item is on sale)

  36. jcat says:

    Mixer vs Food Processor…

    I’ve got both, and I use my mixer more than anything. However, I really hate chopping up vegetables, and food processors do make that easy, but I recently bought a mandolin. It has to be the most awesome kitchen invention ever! Takes almost no time to do anything, and it takes up very little space. For soups and salsas, I use my blender. Making dough in the mixer is easy, and I can use it for other things too. The KitchenAid mixer has a variety of attachments that you can buy for it to serve other purposes, so it might be the most versatile, if expensive, option.

    However, if making dough is the biggest thing on your list, I’d suggest a breadmaker. Even if you don’t want to bake it in the machine, it’s so easy to just have it mixed and then you make the bread you want and just bake it yourself. My husband has started making bread two or three times a week, and it’s heavenly! And so much healthier and cheaper too.

  37. RobinH says:

    I’m a big fan of the food processor for making large batches of stuff with lots of chopped or sliced vegetables, like soup, stew or scalloped potatos. Also, it’s the perfect way to make chicken or ham salad for sandwiches- I simply didn’t make recipes that required that much fine chopping before I got the food processor. If I’m slicing an onion for stir fry, or a couple of chicken breasts I’ll use a knife, but I find it a ton faster than than cutting by hand for large quantities.

    And I’ll second jcat’s rec for the breadmaker. I use mine a lot. I use a hand mixer for other baking, and don’t have a stand mixer.

  38. steve says:

    I will submit that most people who don’t like using a knife have probably never handled a *sharp* knife.

  39. Shevy says:

    I have very much the opposite belief to that held by KC on the city vs rural issue.

    I spent my first decade in a small town (about 16,000 pop. in the 60s) and moved to a major metropolitan area (900,000 to 1 million pop. at that time).

    I’ve raised 3 kids here (and in another major metropolitan area several hundred miles away) and am now in the process of establishing a home where we will eventually retire with our 4th child in a very rural area minutes from my hometown (which now has a population of 30,000 city only to 40,000 for the region). The major city region, on the other hand, now has a population of over 2.2 million.

    I left when I was young because my father was transferred, but most of my schoolmates left for college and a lot never returned. Interestingly enough at least 4 or 5 of us from the same class have either moved back from the city in the past couple of years or are in the process of moving back.

    Why? It’s still small enough to be friendly. Housing prices are better than the city even though it’s a prime boomer vacation and retirement area. There’s far less crime. It’s beautiful. It’s safer. There’s enough to do to keep teens and adults occupied (not so much the case back in the 60s — think cruising Main Street in American Graffiti).

    From a financial meltdown point of view a small town is a far better place to be than an impersonal, crime ridden city (although that had nothing to do with our choice).

    Interesting how everyone has a different point of view, isn’t it?

  40. AnnJo says:

    On food processor vs. stand mixer:

    I’ve had a large Cuisinart food processor for nearly 30 years and next to a couple of really good chef’s knifes, it’s the best $100 I ever spent for the kitchen (the price back then). The motor is beautifully reliable, but the blade and plastic bowl have had to be replaced once or twice.

    With some changes in technique, it makes wonderful cakes and cookies, but since I got my stand mixer, I tend to use the mixer for that.

    I use the processor for pie dough, shredding large quantities of cheese, thin-slicing cucumbers, making pates, salsas, sofrito, chutneys and pestos, shredding cabbage, making vegetable purees, mincing nuts for baklava or nut crusts. I used to use it to grind meat, but the grinding attachment to the stand mixer does a much better job of that, just as the stand mixer does a better job of large batches of bread dough, although the processor is just as good if not better for small batches.

    I wouldn’t haul it out to chop up an onion or two – a good sharp knife is fine for that – but it’s really a great appliance to have. The components (other than motor) are all dishwasher safe so cleanup is not hard.

    If I had to give up one or the other, it would be the stand mixer because the processor is more versatile, but I’d hate to have to choose!
    I agree with those who suggest a good knife is THE most important kitchen appliance, though.

  41. Liz says:

    RE: stand mixer vs food processor. I have both ( I have the heavy duty kitchen aid mixer, it’s wonderful). I use the mixer more often. I also find that I use my mandolin slicer (a slanted platform with a blade in it)I was given a couple of years ago to do a lot of things I used to to with the food processor–i.e. slice and shred vegetables. I think they run about $60.00, much less than a good food processor.

  42. Lurker Carl says:

    Lois asked, “Gas prices are so low right now but there is talk of them eventually going back up. Have you heard of any way to buy a large supply at today’s prices that you can use later after the price goes up?”

    The answer is no. Gasoline has a very short shelf life, the lighter hydrocarbons in gasoline evaporate and make the fuel unable to burn properly in the engine. Diesel and kerosene can be stored for longer periods because they do not contain those lighter hydrocarbons.

  43. Lois, you can buy stock in an ETF that tracks petroleum prices when gas prices are down. If they go up, the stock value goes up, and you can sell and use the profit to buy gas when the price of it goes up. There is a more detailed post about it at:

    http://www.mymoneyblog.com/archives/2008/11/time-to-hedge-against-higher-gasoline-prices.html

    I haven’t tried it, but it looks intriguing at least.

  44. Michelle says:

    Here’s a question Trent…

    How do I deal with parents who have absolutely no idea how to manage money? They have declared bankruptcy once, and are close to doing it again. My mom literally has a room full of clothes, but not enough money to fix the car when it breaks down. My husband and I have our financial house in pretty good order, and sometimes I just want to shake them and yell, “It’s not that hard!”. What can I do? Is there anything I can do? I hate seeing them head down this path, but I honestly feel very hopeless. Thanks!

  45. Chris says:

    My wife was laid off in October and has been unable to find a new job. In her time away she has grown to like being at home and is wanting to “work from home” instead of going back full time in a regular job. It is very stressful because I want to support her, but I cannot financially support the whole family. I have no idea on where to start to look for things she can do to earn a steady income from home. Any suggestions?

  46. Saver Queen says:

    I fear that Tanika, if you have been living with your partner for over a year and are considered “common law” you may actually owe half of your earnings on the home to your partner. You will want to look into your legal obligations here in order to protect yourself.

  47. Mike Sty says:

    Trent, I find it funny how so many of us (including myself) were piqued by your statement of rural v. urban! Definitely write an article on that!

  48. MattPatt says:

    @SaverQueen:

    While your advice would ordinarily be good, read a bit more closely — Tanika and her partner are both women. While it’s entirely possible that they live in a jurisdiction that recognize some form of same-sex civil partnership, to the best of my knowledge, none of those (at least, in the United States) recognize common-law same-sex partnerships.

  49. Cathy says:

    For Tanika: After leaving your partner and selling your house, if at all possible, move back in with family for a short while to get back on your feet. While many of us may cringe at the thought of moving back into a parents’ house, sometimes you need to buckle down and do what’s necessary. Best of luck.

  50. SteveJ says:

    @Chris

    Check Trent’s archives for “side hustles”. Those articles inspired me to actually get off my duff. I answered an ad on craigslist to do something trivial from home and have expanded that into a fairly steady gig of work on the side. That initial ad was nothing glamorous or particularly “worth my time”, but it’s turned into a good thing for me.

    My wife also had a hard time getting back to work and it was hard for her to get back into things. She did try and apply to several places, but nothing panned out for several months. She took on some babysitting as a favor for some friends and then ended up with 3 part-time jobs. So I’d say if it’s possible that doing something part-time at off hours might appeal to your wife, then I’d look into something like that. Any money coming in is better than $0.

    A good friend of mine is a stay-at-home mom and she does the coupon/drugstore game. Since she’s perfected it to the point where they rarely pay over $50/month for groceries (family of 5), and they don’t have to pay for childcare, they break even financially.

  51. steve says:

    I am guessing that trent is referring to in his “country vs city” comment is that you never hear kids from the country saying “there’s nothing to do” when they visit the city. However, I have heard it quite a bit from city kids who visit my more-country setting. Also, I have heard it from heavily urban people (New Yorkers) who visit my (smaller) city. It seems we are more easily wired to ramp UP the excitement/activity/freneticness scale than we are to ramp down it to a calmer state.

  52. Aggie says:

    Trent,
    Normally I wouldn’t post a picture.. but this is an image of the Oster Kitchen Center– with the blender attachment, the stand mixer, the dough hooks, the food processor and the meat grinder.

    http://www.tennessee-mom.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/05/center.jpg

    Folks who are very thrifty would appreciate this, as well as folks who have a limited amount of space.

  53. Johanna says:

    @steve: OK, but one might ask which is more important: for kids to learn not to complain about not having anything to do, or for them to actually have something to do? As I said above, when there’s nothing within walking distance and you’re not old enough to drive, your options are really pretty limited. I learned not to complain, and I found ways to pass the time, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t miserable.

    Besides, there’s more to the city than just “things to do.” You know the story of the city mouse and the country mouse? It says that in the country, the food is bad, but in the city, you might get eaten by a cat. Therefore, the country is better than the city. But that’s the wrong conclusion to draw. In my experience, country people (including myself, when I was one) have a fear of cities that’s completely out of proportion to the actual threat that exists. When I moved to the city, it took me a long time to learn not to be afraid and overwhelmed by situations and languages and people that were unfamiliar to me.

  54. Cathy says:

    I grew up in the city and was never allowed to walk anywhere on my own. 14 year old girl walking around by herself and lots of weirdos around – not a great idea. I hated it as a kid, but now that I’m older, I realize my parents might have actually been on to something (shocking!). So I had ‘nothing to do’ as a city dwelling teen either. I enjoyed visits to the country, personally. I could take walks along the countryside fairly uninhibited, and I loved the idyllic nature paths and streams. Probably being cooped up in the house stirred my desire to be outdoors.

  55. Marcia says:

    I grew up in the country, and like Someone said, it was hard to not fit in, because you just couldn’t go find someone else to hang with.

    But in the end, it was good for me and made it a lot easier to make friends in college. Because I’m nice. I don’t think either city or country is bad. Lots of my HS friends and family stayed in the rural area, and I don’t think they consider their lives to be mediocre (especially the woman who was recently elected as a state representative).

    I live in a small city now, and I really like it. The rural area would be appealing for the space, but only without the rural attitude that I grew up with (I’m a tree-hugging, pro-gay liberal atheist, about as far from my hometown politics as possible.)

    I don’t consider Albany to be a big city (been there). Someone made that comment.

    Also, I like the food processor because I’m a cook not a baker. My husband likes the stand mixer – he’s the baker. But the stand mixer is only used about once/year. Food processor is a few times per week.

  56. Deidre Ross says:

    Our family lived in the city, and now we live in a far more rural area. We moved for several reasons:
    (1) We have five boys, and despite our best intentions,and preventions, people’s yards did get trampled on, and occasionally a flower or two would come up missing as a present for someone. Neighbors complained.

    (2) We homeschool, so the quality of the school district was not a concern for us; plus when we did put the children in school while their brother was recovering from cancer treatment, we placed them in a local private school (which was less expensive than the private schools in the city), and it filled in nicely.

    (3) The housing, electricity, and water (free, because we have a private well) were way less expensive. Our 3,000 sq. ft. home in the country cost only a third of the same house in the city.

    (4) Our home, like Trent suggested, is within a 30 minute drive from town, so it’s no trouble to get back to “civilization.”

    The argument could be made that we spend more in fuel costs for our drive, and although we do spend more for fuel, the cost difference is nowhere near enough to negate the housing and electricity cost savings.

    Our boys love it here: they can have Airsoft fights with the boys on the land behind us; they dig trenches for their war games; they can actually see the stars, and one son will spend hours with a telescope stargazing; Plus, since we are not far from town, they are involved in community activities as well, such as Civil Air Patrol, their homeschool group activities, and hanging out with friends from church.

    Having said all this, I would move back to a suburb if we had to do so, but I would miss our life here terribly.

  57. steve says:

    @Johanna:
    There’s some truth to what you say. However, actually, there are lots of things to do in (some) country settings. But urban kids don’t know/haven’t learned how to perceive them or do them. That’s why they get bored. Not because there’s nothing to do, because there’s “nothing to do that they are used to doing” and there’s less passive entertainment in the country as opposed to the city.

    Going out walking and looking at leaves, or catching frogs, or studying pine cones, or …. you name it… just is very different from city-type activities.

  58. B says:

    Hi Trent,

    I have a bit long-winded question for you. I am contemplating a executive technology mgt. degree at one of the ivy league schools. I already have secured admission and have deferred it till Fall 2009. The main reason being, cost. The program costs $115,000 in total (spread over 2, 3 or 4 years depending on full time or half time program format). I currently work in pharmaceutical R&D and would like to move from science to something which is more at the business-science interface.

    Although we (me and my wife, no kids yet) make around $160K per year, the total cost of this program is something which is a little beyond what we really would like to pay for education at this stage. According to my analysis, if I finish the degree, my salary won’t change more than 10-20% over my current salary but I anticipate my move to science-business interface will be much much easier.

    So here are the facts:

    1. Its a E program so won’t have to leave my job.
    2. Will finish in max. 4 years
    3. Its a great school (UPenn)
    4. Its extremely expensive ($115K)
    5. Will not result in more than 20% salary change
    6. Will allow me to make the career switch I am contemplating.

    The question is, does it make sense financially?

    Thank for your thoughts.

    B

  59. BudgetBride says:

    Hi Trent,

    Thank you for such a wonderful blog – it’s been very informative, and has creative solutions.

    I got engaged about a year ago, and my fiance and I live in different cities. His field is more difficult than mine for finding employment, and it took him about six months to get the job he just started in September. He’s got a moderate-sized apartment, and a stupidity-level car loan (underwater about $10k). I have a house I love with a well-earned sweetheart mortgage and a stable job. His new salary is about $15k more than mine before taxes, but with his car debt it’s much less of a difference, and he can’t support the two of us (or children) on just his salary, so I’m very concerned about how we take the next steps, how to get ourselves to the same city, and which city that should be.

    I’ve seen calculators on how to calculate if it’s better to rent an apartment or buy a house. Is there any way to figure out if it’s better to sell my house and move to his city or to stay in mine and have him change jobs or even fields? Even for a single person – how much higher does your salary have to be to make it worthwhile to uproot, sell your house and move somewhere else? And in our case, with the ridiculous car debt, how much does that skew the options?

    Thank you for your input,
    –BudgetBride

  60. pat says:

    on the storing of gas at these prices now…

    there are some kind of associations, or clubs in places around the country, whereby, you pay upfront…$500, $1,000…(I think there is a minimum amount you must pay)

    and if the gas is selling at $2 a gal at the time you join…that is what you will pay for your gas until you use up your money…even if gas goes to $5 a gal next week, you can keep getting gas at $2 gal, until you have spent that $500, $1,000, you paid up front..

    of course one has to live close enuff to such a club, association, etc for it to make sense…

    I don’t even know what they are called, but I recall reading about some such thing in St. Cloud MN, personally knew someone who had done that…and seems there are more then just that one….

    I’m sure there are more details to it, probably a membership fee or something like that…

    if that helps anyone….

  61. pat says:

    on the rural living thing…

    I grew up on a farm..9 miles from town…there were cows, sheep, pigs, chickens…and a dog…we always had a pet lamb that we raised,we milked a few cows, we played cowboys and indians, we tried the Jane and Tarzan route in the trees and found out, no you can’t swing from vine to vine as Tarzan does, we saw lil calves, kittens born, etc

    and yes there were times, I would say…”I’m so bored’ too bad…. but I learned to drive the straight shift car when I was 11-12

    went to a big city shcool for the 9th grade…I made absolutely no friends..back to the lil town school for the next 2 years, and the last year a really big school in Calif..

    worked in the big city envirment for several year, made friends, got married, but I craved the country life…so we moved out of the city, and lived way out in the country…some years later, city neices came to stay for the summer…they were horrified…no swimming pools at all to go to…they were absolutely lost..far as they were concerned it was a totally wasted summer….

    so I think its easier for a rural child to adapt to the city life, then it is for city child to adapt to the rural life..

    and I don’t think that living in a rural area, is a mediocure lifestyle…it depends on the person…for many people less is more…..some folk hate the rural atmosphere, they leave it, some loved it they stayed…

    I don’t really fit in here, as I never had any million dollar job, nor million dollar ambitions

    just my take on things…

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