Reader Mailbag #4

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.
Why television breaks your wallet (my family watches very little television – the only program I’ve seen in the last two and a half weeks was a single episode of Lost – no movies, either)
Ten tips for talking money with your spouse
A simple explanation of how tax brackets actually work
Some inexpensive wine recommendations

And now, a nice healthy batch of reader questions, starting off with a doozy.

Can you succinctly (maybe you already have) explain HOW you are making money through blogging? I know it’s ads, but do people just have to click on the ads, or do they have to follow through with purchases? How many blogs do you have going? Thanks!
- Susannah

I make money via blogging because of the ads, of course. Each time a page loads at The Simple Dollar, on your computer or anyone else’s, I make a fraction of a cent on average. I’m paid mostly based on the ad itself merely being displayed – some of the ads only pay me due to clicks, but they’re mixed in and on the rare side. If you’re a reader who just wants to support me, please don’t click on ads under the idea that a click will pay me – just click on any that actually interest you. I also make some money via the Downloadables on the right hand menu bar – they’re only $2 a pop, but they do add up for me.

The thing is that almost all blogs out there on the internet – the kind where people talk about their pet cat and such, or ones that are very unfocused about the topics they write about, or are written in very poor grammar – don’t get a lot of traffic. Even the most popular personal blogs don’t get above about 1,000 page views a day. Let’s say an average blog – mine or anyone else’s – makes a hypothetical half a cent for each page view (I don’t know for sure what I actually make, so I’m pulling an estimated number out of my hat here). A blog that gets 1,000 page views a day would thus earn $5 a day from their blog because of the displayed ads. Not bad for pocket money.

Now, take a peek at the traffic The Simple Dollar gets. When I peeked at this link just now, it estimated I was getting 25,000 page views a day on average over the last week. At a half cent per page view, that adds up to about $125 on an average day. (Again, note I pulled the “half cent per page view” out of thin air).

Each individual reader doesn’t contribute that much to that amount – if someone looks at three pages in a day, they’re adding a cent and a half. The power is in the volume. I have a large audience, and it’s the volume of that audience that makes it work. Honestly, there aren’t many blogs in the world that ramp up to that level of traffic – the only one I know of that has comparable traffic in the personal finance genre is Get Rich Slowly, and we’re roughly on par with each other.

So, how does one get a blog to that level of traffic? There’s really only one way: write stuff people want to read and then try to make it possible for people to find it and share it with others. The only way to do that is to find a topic you’re passionate about, write about it all the time, and try to hone your writing skills and find your voice along the way.

I’ve come to view a blog as being something like a carnival. There are people all over the place shouting for the attention of people. If you’re not saying something valuable and compelling, well, there are thousands of other booths to see.

It’s not easy. I wrote like a madman over the first year of The Simple Dollar and my audience was small – it grew to this level gradually, not overnight. No success would have happened without the support of a lot of readers who share what I’ve written with others.

If you want to support an independent blog, here’s the single best thing you can do. When you find an article you like at that blog, send the URL for that article to people you know who might enjoy reading it. Also, if one gets a book published or has something downloadable that you can buy, pick it up if it interests you. Another way is that if they’re talking about a book and offer a link to Amazon for that book, use their link to buy it – Amazon usually throws a few pennies back to the blogger for those kinds of purchases. Only click on ads on their site if they are truly interesting to you.

As for other blogs, I currently just write The Simple Dollar. I am tentatively planning a food-oriented blog that will launch on May 1.

How do you handle something you’d rather not do? There is always that one task that makes one’s brain try to ruin the whole process before it will submit to doing it.
- Michael

When I have something I’d rather not do on my list of “stuff I need to do today,” I do it first. It’s the first thing in the day that I tackle.

Why? Most of the things I have to do in a day right now are things I enjoy doing. Thus, I use those things I enjoy as a carrot, a way to lure myself through the slog of stuff I don’t want to do. For example, today I really needed to clean the bathroom and also do some laundry, both tasks I loathe doing. Instead of putting them off and diving into writing – something I love to do – I did those tasks first thing in the morning just as fast as I could. Along the way, I was mostly thinking about the enjoyable things I was going to be doing later on in the day and it gave me a carrot to chase.

Now I’m sitting here writing, doing something I enjoy, while the laundry is running downstairs. The tasks I didn’t want to do are done, I feel a sense of accomplishment, and it’s only 8:30 in the morning. Even better, the rest of the day is filled with stuff I want to be doing.

If you were standing in front of a grocery store, had a five dollar bill in your hand, and had to spend it on one meal for yourself (not your family)…what would you walk out of the grocery store with?
- MS

Frugal grocery shopping, eh? My answer would probably surprise you – I’d go to the deli section, get a half pound of sun dried tomato turkey breast (about $3.50) and a loaf of whole wheat bread ($1.50 or so – although I’d probably prefer to make my own bread). Then I’d have turkey sandwiches. Seriously – I love deli-style sandwiches.

Another option: a bag of dried black beans, a package of tortillas, a fresh tomato, and whatever cheese I could afford. Bean burritos – that actually sounds really good right now.

I have a gift card (American Express) for $100.00 that I’m thinking about how to spend it. It’s quite a bit a money for me – DH and I are on a low fixed income. I “need” so many things. Do I get personal (new sandals for summer, I don’t have any), household linens (my bottom sheet is torn, my bathroom rugs are really old), small kitchen electrics (could use a slow cooker, and/or a rice cooker). Is there some way I can turn it into cash and put it in our (again small) savings account? So many choices. Right now I’m leaning toward either 1) new shoes or 2) convert to cash if I can and put in savings.
- Karen

It depends on how the gift was given. If it was very much in a “spend it however you want” perspective, I’d probably use it on groceries, then pull $100 out of my checking and put it into savings.

However, most gift cards I’ve ever received usually were with a push to spend it on something fun. If that were the case, I’d definitely go personal with it – in fact, I’d probably head directly to Williams-Sonoma, which is where I usually go if I’m ever gifted a small amount of “fun money.”

I’m such a foodie.

Let’s get controversial!

1. What’s your stance on gay marriage?
2. What’s your stance on abortion?
2. Are you a Republican or Democrat and who are you supporting in the upcoming elections?
3. Would you give up your right to vote for a million dollars?

- Money Blue Book

1. My personal feelings aside, the government should have minimal interference with how people should live their lives Thus, this one’s a no-brainer for me. I actually think government shouldn’t recognize marriages, period, but that the government should instead recognize any civil union between two adult people. Marriage is a social and religious construct, not a governmental one.

2. I would never recommend an abortion to any woman – I find the procedure abhorrent. However, I’m not a medical professional nor a psychological one, and thus it’s not fair for me to make a judgement about what’s medically or psychologically the best decision for a woman to make during an unwanted pregnancy. I am a male who isn’t trained in medicine nor in psychology – what right do I have to make a statement about this issue? The government shouldn’t, either. The only authorities I’d ever look towards for guidance on abortion issues are the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association – these groups are intimately involved in the nuance of such issues. My wife says that makes me pro choice – I think such black-and-white labeling is ridiculous.

3. I have, at various times, been registered both Republican and Democrat and also “affiliated” Libertarian (as you can’t register with that party in Iowa). Of the candidates that appear to have a good chance to be on my Presidential ballot (meaning Obama, Clinton, and McCain), I support Barack Obama because his stances on the issues most important to me (government transparency, protection of civil liberties, a much less interventionist foreign policy) are far closer to my own than Clinton or McCain.

4. My presidential vote, sure. Not my local vote, though, as the local people are the ones that actually shape your day to day life in tons of ways.

Do you think financial bloggers post their honest and unbiased opinion on personal finance ? Are they following the same advise that they post for readers?
- Anand

This is a question that expands to all financial writers – some do, some don’t.

The simple fact of the matter is that even if you know the right thing to do when it comes to money, it’s still very easy to do the wrong thing. I mess up all the time – I buy stuff I don’t really need, like my computer setup.

Are any financial writers flagrantly dishonest? I imagine some are, but most of the ones I know well are pretty honest. Take me, for example – I often “blur” personal details about my life simply for privacy’s sake (things like exact numbers, personal relationships, and such), but I don’t change the story – if I did, there’d be no value in it.

Do I follow my own advice? I wouldn’t be able to switch to writing full time if I didn’t – I’d be buying stupid stuff and probably still living in that old shoebox apartment while still working a nine to five job.

what kind of music do you listen to?
- Nina

I mostly like well-constructed pop songs (stuff like Aimee Mann and Jeff Buckley) and get-me-up-out-of-my-seat rock music (like early AC/DC or Van Halen). I’m often amused by people who are confused when I listen to something subtle and mellow like Hallelujah and follow it with Let There Be Rock.

If I were stuck on a desert island and had only one album to listen to for the rest of my life, it would be Bachelor No. 2 by Aimee Mann.

my boyfriend and i are planning on moving in together after 6 years of dating (4 of which was long distance). he is relocating to where i live to be with me. we are both frugal in different ways however i have some $ saved while he doesn’t since he’s just graduated. what advice can you give people moving in together to start their lives?
- j

My first reaction would be to be very sure that this relationship will last long term before merging your finances. If you merge them immediately then break up in a few months, you’ll wind up feeling like it was a giant mistake, as you’ll be rushing around trying to remove names from accounts, dividing up assets, and so forth. Be careful – I’ve seen it be very nasty before.

When you’re confident about a long term commitment to each other, there are a lot of things to talk about. The first question is whether or not you should combine your finances at all – and it’s not the automatic answer you might think it is. If you combine your finances and you’re not on the same page, it will be a constant source of irritation and can build into a devastating end to the relationship.

After that, there are lots of things to talk about, but my suggestion is focusing in on goals that you share. What do you want to be doing in five years? In twenty years? Once these are in alignment, look into how you can reach those goals and what you both need to do to get there.

If you want to read more, Smart Couples Finish Rich is a good place to start.

How do you manage your writing process? Do you sit down and write the whole post, or do you have a bunch of in-progress articles which you start with outlines, etc. and finish up later? With your post frequency and the fact that you have said you write well in advance, it seems like it would get complicated. What do write your posts with-Word, text editor, etc. Do you keep them all in separate files or write them in wordpress?
- RC

I keep an “idea notebook” with me at all times, as I’ll often have post ideas at the oddest moments (for some reason, lately I’ve had a ton of ideas while grocery shopping). In that idea notebook, I’ll list ideas for posts and sometimes even sketch out the points I want to cover.

When I’m in a writing session, I use a basic text editor – Notepad for Windows or SimpleText for Mac. I usually start with a list of the points I want to cover, then I go through and flesh each of them out. Then I read the entire post again, make some grammatical fixes, and usually post it pretty quickly after that. I save a copy locally, too. I very rarely do any editing within WordPress at all.

I maintain a calendar listing the posts I have scheduled for specific days so that when I write a post, I can pencil it in for a certain day and, if I come up with an urgent one I want to post right now, I can move stuff around on the calendar and then change dates within WordPress.

That’s pretty much it. My actual writing area is pretty sparse – just a big monitor with a keyboard and a mouse and that’s about it in my visual range.

Financial Armageddon? First, let me say that I’ve enjoyed reading your blog off and on for the last few months; however, one question has nagged at me – that is if the “financial armageddon” you claimed to have faced was ever really as dire as you portrayed. It seems to me you turned around your situation with minimal effort and, as often and excessively noted through your posts, now have a huge emergency fund, plenty of money for debt payments, a diversified portfolio, additional savings, and the financial freedom or flexibility to quit your job. Thus, you’ve never really had to manage and cope with debt and finances as many of your readers may have, because your debt (in relation to your income) has never very great to begin with (which I applaud, btw). Another commenter phrased it another way, and asked if finance bloggers actually follow their own advice. I guess my question is more specific – have you ever really needed -truthfully- to follow the advice on debt management and frugality you’ve espoused?
- Greyscott

That’s more a matter for you to judge, not me. I made about $50K a year when I hit the wall. I had $17K in credit card debts, about $40K in student loans, and about $7K or so on a truck loan. My checking account was empty and I had a big handful of bills (both debt repayments and utilities/rent) due before my next paycheck. That’s a pretty bad situation – obviously, it could have been worse, but it was bad enough that it really scared me for the first time in my life. That to me is what a financial armageddon is – it’s when you realize in your inner core that something is genuinely wrong and is damaging your entire life.

I wrote about what I did in the immediate aftermath of that situation. More importantly, though, I scared myself on a deep enough level that I began to rethink my life in a much broader sense, and right at that time when my mind was asking some deep fundamental questions, I read Your Money or Your Life, which pretty much did change my life.

Did I need to go as hardcore as I did? Probably not. Am I glad I did? You bet I am. It changed my life in ways that I couldn’t imagine two years ago when I was holding my son and finally realizing how badly I’d been messing up. As a result, I feel really strongly that taking a radical look at your life and thinking about some of your basic choices is a vital thing, and a healthy dose of frugality and debt reduction is good for everyone.

Put up a picture, Trent! I can’t take an author seriously unless I can imagine what he looks like, how he might speak the information, etc.
- Ethan

It’s been here all along on the about page, but here it is for everyone to see. I’ve got to wonder if anyone out there reading is going to see the picture and have it suddenly click in their mind, “Oh my, I know him!

who?

Got a question or an article idea? Ask it in the comments.

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  1. Gik says:

    Great choice for your desert album! I wish as many people were exposed to that one as the Magnolia soundtrack.

  2. Frugal Dad says:

    I appreciate you breaking down the monetization issue because this is something many outside (and a few inside) the blogging world really cannot grasp. When I tell friends and family about my blog, and how I’ve earned some debt snowball money from it, they give me strange looks. My mother-in-law is even convinced I’m not really earning anything, that I merely signed up for one of the late-night “make money online” deals!

    I like your idea of an “idea notebook.” I have an informal system using my cell phone’s voice recorder. When inspiration hits I record a message to myself with an article topic and any key points I want to include off the top of my head. The next time I am around a computer I transfer those messages to a text file listing and work from there.

  3. Michael says:

    Thanks for answering my question. Like you, I balk at routine chores, but the day goes very well when I do them first. We differ in our methods, though. I have tried to use checklists, but I have done better by keeping my obligations in my mind.

  4. Carrie says:

    I just wanted to thank you for your continual encouragement to eat better, live better, and, consequently, save money! We are enjoying a ‘less is more’ lifestyle (scrimping to pay for good schools for kids), and seeing the benefits in the kids’ behaviour and lives.

    Thanks again!

  5. Trent, great job explaining how ads support your website.

    I wish all the luck the the reader about to move in with her boyfriend. After 4.5 years (1.5 long distance) I am about to do the same. My darling girlfriend is good with money and understands my philosophies in regards to how couples would share expenses, both before and after the “big day” (yet to be determined).

    My ideas are kept in a spreadsheet. I can access the sheet from work, cell phone, and home so its always with me. I write on my lunchbreaks and email them home.

  6. Lisa says:

    Further to your response about how you make money through blogging. I check my RSS reader daily to read your blog through RSS feed, do you get any money from me as a regular reader or is it only the people who visit your webpage?

  7. Diane says:

    You have the kind of face that ladies my age like to pinch. In a nice way of course!

  8. Carrie says:

    For the person with the $100 giftcard, why not try to use it to earn some more money? See if you could take your $100 windfall and turn it into $110. Then use the $10 as part of a “Sandals” Fund. And try again to turn the $100 into $110.

  9. My.cold.dead.hands says:

    You’re younger than I expected. Until now I thought that you were in you late 30s.

  10. Allison says:

    Trent,
    I write a blog also (www.thecityshopper.blogspot.com) and I am doing a series on clothing consignment. In researching the articles, I realized that many people don’t understand consignment or know how to make/save money with it. In the past, I have been very successful consigning clothes and selling used books, electronics, dresses, etc… online. What is your opinion of consignment and other forms of re-sale like CraigsList and EBay? I understand that during your financial meltdown, you resorted to selling items on Ebay. Are they a useful money saving tool or do they breed materialism and the urge to buy unnecessary things?

  11. No Debt Plan says:

    Sexy beast! I’ve never seen the photo either. Nice. :)

  12. SJean says:

    I still disagree with the TV argument. That says why TV breaks YOUR budget, not mine. :) I like these reader mailbags, they were a good addition to your site. Nice details on how you make money blogging

    I second the RSS feed question. I assume you only get my half cent (or whatever) if I feel inclined to come comment.

  13. SJean says:

    I still disagree with the TV argument. That says why TV breaks YOUR budget, not mine. :) I like these reader mailbags, they were a good addition to your site. Nice details on how you make money blogging

    I second the RSS feed question. I assume you only get my half cent (or whatever) if I feel inclined to come comment.

  14. Jon says:

    I have a hard time believing that someone who now blogs for a living does not know the CPM of his own site. I seriously doubt you are pulling the half-cent out of thin air.
    I do have a question however: Does add block software in anyway affect your revenues or have you done any looking into it? What are your views on using add-blocking plugins?

  15. rhymeswithlibrarian says:

    Idea article: the gender tax, and how to deal with it. If you think it’s interesting but not your area of knowledge, perhaps you could suggest it to a female guest blogger.

    I found this phrase in a personal finance book for Canadian women called “Balancing Act” (don’t remember the author, sorry). It refers to the ways in which things are more expensive for women than men. The most blatant example of discrimination would be hair stylists who have a men’s price and women’s price. The author also pointed out that clothing items (the same fabric and comparable sewing work) are more expensive in women’s sections, and that a male-marketed deodorant stick would be bigger than a female-marketed one at the same price. Also, there’s the issue of whether men or women are quoted the same prices for things like car repair.

    There might also be a gender tax that favours women in some areas, though I can’t think of many examples outside of the sex industry (ie. phone sex lines that are free for women).

    Might be interesting to explore.

  16. Trent says:

    I put out the RSS feed and emails as a service to readers – it keeps people reading who might not otherwise make the effort to visit the site. I’d rather have a reader than have a page view.

  17. rhymeswithlibrarian says:

    PS Can’t believe I forgot this example of the price discrimination against men: car insurance.

  18. Trent says:

    “I have a hard time believing that someone who now blogs for a living does not know the CPM of his own site. I seriously doubt you are pulling the half-cent out of thin air.”

    I do know, but I can’t reveal it. Almost every advertising agreement binds you from discussing such details. Here’s Google’s agreement for one, and a key quote: “You agree not to disclose Google Confidential Information without Google’s prior written consent. “Google Confidential Information” includes without limitation … click-through rates or other statistics relating to Property performance in the Program provided to You by Google.”

  19. Rick says:

    Oh my freaking goodness! Has anyone ever told you you look like Peter Griffin from “Family Guy”?

  20. Jon says:

    @Trent,

    “I do know, but I can’t reveal it.”

    Ok, then say that. Don’t say you don’t know and are pulling a number out of thin air when you actually do know. I am aware that advertisement agreements state you cannot disclose information, but that’s no reason to act like you are in the dark.

  21. Trent says:

    But I am pulling the half cent out of thin air. It’s a round number so that people can easily follow the math.

    While I do know (or can find out) what my eCPM is for each advertiser, I do not know what they all add up to. I know what Google provides, but that’s not over the same set of pages as what Amazon provides and so on. I do know what sort of CPM a specific ad gives me. I don’t know what the true average CPM is for a given page on this site because it’s impossible to calculate – each page shows different ads, some don’t show ads, some ads are blocked by ad-blocking software, and so on. In a nutshell, while I might know the CPM for Google and I might know the CPM for Amazon, they’re incompatible with each other in any sensible way – you can’t just add them together because they don’t appear on all of the same pages. Thus, I don’t know what the true CPM of a single page on this site is.

    This is a complexity issue that’s completely irrelevant to this discussion. To get the point across of how a blog makes money, it’s much easier and comprehensible for someone asking a question like “how does your blog make money” to say “a page view earns an average of half a cent.”

  22. Laura says:

    Love the mailbag!!!

  23. Linz says:

    ipod + tunes + podcasts = chores done + entertainment + self improvement!

  24. Rob in Madrid says:

    Thanks, love the readers mailbag.

    So to understand you dont’ make any money via an RSS feed but do via a page load.

    Another question

    do you read all the comments posted regardless of when the post was created (ie if I comment on a very early post)?

  25. Trent says:

    “do you read all the comments posted regardless of when the post was created (ie if I comment on a very early post)?”

    I try to at least browse them, but I miss a fair amount. The blog attracts about 300 new comments a day, spread out mostly over the newest posts, but with a pretty even spread throughout the archives, too.

  26. Jon says:

    You’ve said that you support Obama. I’m curious as to your stance on socialized medicine. Oops, I mean “Universal Health Care”. How does that line up with your views of the government keeping out of the lives of individuals?

  27. guinness416 says:

    Can we submit questions here? I’ll jump in anyway. My question is how you feel about the flood of comments, some very judgemental in tone, that address your parenting techniques every time you post something even tangentially kid-related? It seems to me that questions about and critiques of your financial goals are fair game, given that you’re the subject of the blog. The comments about your kids always leave me quite uncomfortable … do they make you feel bad or angry?

  28. Trent says:

    “You’ve said that you support Obama. I’m curious as to your stance on socialized medicine. Oops, I mean “Universal Health Care”. How does that line up with your views of the government keeping out of the lives of individuals?”

    It depends wholly on implementation. I like Obama’s plan better than Clinton’s because it allows an individual to completely opt out and receive no health benefits at all.

  29. Jon says:

    “It depends wholly on implementation. I like Obama’s plan better than Clinton’s because it allows an individual to completely opt out and receive no health benefits at all.”

    I should have clarified a little better: Government run health care is a slippery slope that other countries have gone down and failed. Do you have any issues with having to subsidize someone else’s health care expenses?

  30. Trent, I just want to commend you for your response to “Let’s get controversial!” It’s these types of even-handed, well-reasoned writing that keeps me coming back to this blog.

    Have you ever thought about going into politics?

  31. Steve says:

    I’ve often wondered about the whens, whys, and hows that resulted in turning the blog into a business? Was it a business from day one? If not, what criteria led to the formation of a business?
    If this information is found in a post I’ve missed, please forward the link. Thank you.

  32. leslie says:

    There is little reason to purchase a slow cooker. They are extremely easy to come by on FreeCycle, which is how I got mine and it’s in perfect condition!

  33. Madelaine says:

    Aimee Mann Rules. So does Jeff Buckley. Awesome taste.

  34. Monica says:

    Jon said, “Government run health care is a slippery slope that other countries have gone down and failed.”

    I and millions of other Canadians, Britons, French, etc. beg to differ.

    I am Canadian and am continually horrified at stories I hear from Americans, such as going bankrupt due to illness, millions of people not being covered, people having to stick with a job they hate because of the insurance, people who have insurance but it won’t cover what they need, people who can’t pick whatever doctor they want, etc. I am very grateful for our health care system, which does have its faults but is miles better than the American system. It is not really “government run” any more than yours is. It is just that it is a “single payer” system where the government foots the bill. I go see a doctor, and the doctor is paid per visit/service by the government. Doctors are still set up in private practice running their own show.

  35. Travis says:

    Next time you get into politics, Trent, put some sort of spoiler alert so I can skip that section.

  36. Tiffany says:

    “Next time you get into politics, Trent, put some sort of spoiler alert so I can skip that section.”

    Or you could just..you know…read the question and then skip the section? Instead of demanding a blog writer do something just to make your one single life easier?

  37. Jon says:

    @Monica

    And I am continually horrified by stories from Canada, England, France, etc. about high taxes to cover socialized medicine, waiting lists for operations, the government telling people they can’t have operations, people coming to the U.S. just to get a procedure done so they won’t die.

    Stories are just that: stories.

    “It is just that it is a “single payer” system where the government foots the bill. I go see a doctor, and the doctor is paid per visit/service by the government.”

    Where does the government get all that magical money from?

    They can’t even get social security right here without bankrupting the system. I sure don’t trust them with my health care, especially when I’m the one footing the bill.

  38. Lola says:

    Hi, I have a question for you, not related to personal finances but to your experience as a blogger. Do the visits your site gets diminish on weekends? Why do you think that happens? Do you post on weekends? And about the comments: in the beginning, when you wrote like crazy and had few readers, did it bother you when you got almost no comments? I find it fascinating to hear you talk about your very successful experience with The Simple Dollar. Congrats!
    http://www.escrevalolaescreva.blogspot.com

  39. j says:

    thanks for responding to my question : ) not only is it sound advice but i am hoping that it’ll possibly be a reason my boyfriend will start reading your blog (and other PF blogs) so he’s as informed as i am when it comes to financial decisions – i WISH i had known about all the information out there a year ago when i finished college, got my first job, moved across the country AND bought a new car.

    @the weakonomist: thanks! and congrats to you as well – long distance is not easy and i am always happy to hear of couples who make it through

  40. Travis says:

    @Tiffany: Gee, I didn’t think of that. Thanks for sharing your wisdom with me.

  41. Tiffany says:

    You’re welcome! I try.

  42. Tim says:

    re: RSS readers

    I too, read through an RSS reader. It is really the best way to “support” this site, because it allows me to quickly skip over any articles that I’m not interested in, and usually with the ones that I am interested in, I follow up with a click to the site to read all of the comments (like this one). That way, I “pay” for the content that I actually use…in a sense.

    besides…what good blog doesn’t feed?!

  43. alex says:

    Trent,
    You talk sometimes of having an Amazon Visa card. Doesn’t that come with a $80 fee? Do you order enough stuff to make it frugal, or is it more of a luxury?

  44. Kathy says:

    I have to say that I’m disappointed that you mention Obama as the person you would support for Pres. I really thought you were smarter than that. I know I will probably get all sorts of hate mail for this as it seems that many of your readers are younger and somewhat immature and completely idolize you. But come on, Obama. Get real!

  45. Trent says:

    “I have to say that I’m disappointed that you mention Obama as the person you would support for Pres. I really thought you were smarter than that. I know I will probably get all sorts of hate mail for this as it seems that many of your readers are younger and somewhat immature and completely idolize you. But come on, Obama. Get real!”

    If you can convince me how Clinton or McCain is stronger on the key issues I care about as stated above (government transparency, protection of civil liberties, a much less interventionist foreign policy), I’d be happy to support that candidate. Until then, curb your “disappointment” as I explained the reasoning I used to select Obama.

  46. Shevy says:

    @Jon

    While there are some areas where there are problems with surgical wait times or lack of beds, or where a rare condition might be treated best at a highly specialized center in the US, in general the Canadian system works incredibly well.

    You ask where the government “magically” gets the money to pay the doctors. In my province that would be from the premiums everybody pays for their medical insurance (kind of like in the US, except we’re all paying it to Medical Services Plan instead of a for-profit private company, nobody goes without insurance, and you aren’t forced to belong to an HMO that will limit your access to the doctor or specialist of your choice).

    The implication of the term “socialized medicine” and the question “Do you have any issues with having to subsidize someone else’s health care expenses?” indicates to me that you believe it costs everybody a lot of money and that the average Joe ends up spending a fortune to subsidize the unemployed and the working poor.

    Do you mind my asking if you have insurance and how much it costs per month? Where I live its
    $54 for one person
    $96 for a family of two
    $108 for a family of three or more
    (and most employers pay half the premiums).

    All the people I know who live in the US pay *much* more than that and are limited in their choices.

  47. Renee says:

    Trent,
    Thanks for the information on blogging. I have not idea about any of the information you provided. I find it very interesting. I only use my computer for the very basics, emailing and accounting, so this is really all new to me. Someone else told me/emailed me your site information and I, being very frugal most of my life, find it really interesting. I have some friends that are so far gone with their finances that I don’t know how they sleep at night! I hope your blog/web page really catches on with my friends.
    Thanks

  48. Victoria says:

    Hooray for Obama and Aimee Mann too. Nice to know that the guy I’m reading every day is actually someone I could sit down with a cup of coffee and chat with.

  49. Victoria says:

    Oh and Kathy (the one who calls Trent’s readers immature), do you think it’s mature to pick on other people in the comments section of someone’s blog? Kind of pathetic. Go Obama!

  50. Jon says:

    @Monica

    The implication of the term “socialized medicine” and the question “Do you have any issues with having to subsidize someone else’s health care expenses?” indicates to me that you believe it costs everybody a lot of money and that the average Joe ends up spending a fortune to subsidize the unemployed and the working poor.

    Do you mind my asking if you have insurance and how much it costs per month? Where I live its
    $54 for one person
    $96 for a family of two
    $108 for a family of three or more
    (and most employers pay half the premiums).

    All the people I know who live in the US pay *much* more than that and are limited in their choices.

    I am single and pay $43 a month pre-tax in premiums. So in reality that’s about $30 a month. My employer covers the rest of the premiums.

    Those are just the premiums that you pay every month correct? If I recall correctly, you also pay about 10% higher taxes to help offset the costs. That makes your out of pocket per month, much higher than the numbers that you stated. Your right, its not really socialized medicine in Canada, as its publicly funded, but privately executed. My issues is with the government holding the purse strings. Governments are notorious for mismanaging money, especially in the U.S.
    It’s been proven time and time again that the private sector operates more efficiently than governments do. They are incapable of providing goods and services at a lower cost and higher quality than the private sector. They have no reason to save money because they are not for profit. If they need more, they tax more or print more.

  51. Jon says:

    Forgot the quotes:

    @Monica

    “The implication of the term “socialized medicine” and the question “Do you have any issues with having to subsidize someone else’s health care expenses?” indicates to me that you believe it costs everybody a lot of money and that the average Joe ends up spending a fortune to subsidize the unemployed and the working poor.

    Do you mind my asking if you have insurance and how much it costs per month? Where I live its
    $54 for one person
    $96 for a family of two
    $108 for a family of three or more
    (and most employers pay half the premiums).

    All the people I know who live in the US pay *much* more than that and are limited in their choices.”

    I am single and pay $43 a month pre-tax in premiums. So in reality that’s about $30 a month. My employer covers the rest of the premiums.

    Those are just the premiums that you pay every month correct? If I recall correctly, you also pay about 10% higher taxes to help offset the costs. That makes your out of pocket per month, much higher than the numbers that you stated. Your right, its not really socialized medicine in Canada, as its publicly funded, but privately executed. My issues is with the government holding the purse strings. Governments are notorious for mismanaging money, especially in the U.S.
    It’s been proven time and time again that the private sector operates more efficiently than governments do. They are incapable of providing goods and services at a lower cost and higher quality than the private sector. They have no reason to save money because they are not for profit. If they need more, they tax more or print more.

  52. Flexo says:

    Hallelujah is one of my favorite songs. I like the Buckley version over the Cohen original, but Damien Rice does a nice variation was well.

  53. Sally says:

    @Alex: the Amazon Visa does not have a yearly fee. I know because I have one.

  54. Aristotle says:

    You’ve done some helpful posts about resume-building, interviewing, and other aspects of the job search. Can you give some insight into negotiating? I’m specifically interested in your thoughts about how job candidates should determine their salary requirements and phrase them (when asked for or appropriate). I’d also like to know how to negotiate forward from this starting point. Thanks!

  55. guinness416 says:

    Jon, my taxes are almost exactly the same here in Toronto as they were when I lived in New York. And I have no medical copays, ever-increasing paycheque contributions for insurance, or changing insurance providers every year while my employer tries to keep up with the costs. And my husband has the freedom to do more freelance and entrepreneurial work because he’s not tied to an employer for healthcare.

  56. Lisa says:

    Well, Hallelujah, Trent, for saying what I so fervently believe on the gay marriage issue!!! Why is it that lawmakers can’t understand this simple concept — marriage as it currently stands, IS a civil union. You can go to any house of worship, beachfront, backyard, wherever you like, and have a clergy person pronounce you husband and wife (or husband and husband, etc.), but without that marriage license that you obtained at your County clerk, register of wills, etc. as appropriate where you live, it is NOT a legally recognized union. This is true of every marriage that happens in the United States of America. You don’t have legal standing in terms of taxes, benefits, anything conferred upon legally married couples, without the filing of a license in your jurisdiction. And this is why, without exception and without regard to sexual orientation, any two consenting adults should be able to file a civil marriage license and be joined as a married couple. Period. All the self-righteous evangelicals and “family values” types who scream that marriage is a sacred institution are wrong. Marriage is a CIVIL act with legal documentation. The WEDDING is a sacred institution that symbolically unites the couple. Any church that chooses to be intolerant and prejudicial (a great many of them, unfortunately) can by all means elect to refuse a ceremony to couples whose philosophies and lifestyles don’t mesh with theirs, but really in the eyes of the law, the symbolic act of a wedding has no standing whatsoever. I think as you do, that the government should stay out of marriage altogether, but as long as couples are required to obtain and file a marriage license in order to have legal standing, then this process should be open to all consenting adults regardless of whom they choose to love.

    Lisa, who is straight but most definitely NOT narrow

  57. SeeMeThink says:

    You look like a guy I know named Tony N……

  58. Jon says:

    @guinness416

    “my taxes are almost exactly the same here in Toronto as they were when I lived in New York.”

    Not to necessarily say you are wrong, but are you sure about this? From my research, Fed taxes are on par with the U.S., but Providence taxes look to be 2-4 times as much as most state taxes here in the U.S. Sales tax looks to be double as well on average.

    Canada is known to have a low doctor to patient ratio. Canada is also known for having 1 in 9 Canadian trained doctors now working in the U.S. Numerous reports have been made about wait times for common elective operations having wait times of weeks, months, or even years. Just last year, the Prime Minister announced a plan to guarantee wait times by the year 2010. Strange that even the Prime Minister acknowledges the problem, huh? In 2004, the average wait for a diagnostic MRI in Saskatchewan was 22 months.

    Now, the health care system in America is also junk because of how its organized. It definitely needs reform, but having a single payer system where there is no competition is not good for the system. When treatments are “free”, then people are tempted to overload the system every time they get a cold.

    Health care should not be linked to your employer. It should be affordable and bought outside of the workplace. Leave it up to competition to drive down the cost of premiums and out of pocket expenses.

  59. Patricia says:

    I really enjoy this website, sometimes I dont’ want to read about this stuff but I know its good. Thanks

  60. Sylvia says:

    Article idea: How should a young-ish person (36) who can’t get individual health insurance due to a surprise pre-existing condition (probable MS) try to deal with money? I’m partnered (not married) and have a 10 month old son. And am perfectly healthy, so far, other than one episode. The problem is, if I stay poor (I teach singing lessons and perform), I’m eligible for county assistance. If I make more money, I’m disqualified and put my little family at great financial risk should I relapse- even if I got a job with a company I don’t think I could afford the bills. I have some retirement savings…which are considered assets by the govt and would need to be spent to qualify for further aid, if it turns out I’d need it. So, everything feels like a huge gamble. I read financial advice books/blogs and constantly find myself wondering how this applies to me?
    I guess this is another comment on the mess that is the US health insurance situation… Oh, and I had student “health insurance” when I got sick- what a useless crock.

  61. Amanda B. says:

    So what do you think of this “retirement plan”?

    http://www.homestead.org/JanCooke/EconomicsofBeingaCheap-o/EconomicsofBeingaCheap-o.htm

    I kinda like it.

  62. Louise says:

    Insurance for a non-smoking early-20s + early-30s couple with no pre-existing conditions is over $300/month here in the good old US of A.

    What are co-pays like in countries with socialized health care?

  63. Danny says:

    “in general the Canadian system works incredibly well.”

    Then why is the cancer center of Canada in the USA? They are choosing to get taken care of in another country. That doesn’t sound like it works well at all.

  64. Sam H. says:

    I can’t help but be disappointed that you are an Obama supporter. You seem to be such an involved, caring parent, and I’m surprised that you would vote for a candidate who let his little girls attend a church run by the horrible Rev. Wright and let their impressionable minds be poisoned by his garbage.

    OK, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, allow me to say that I really enjoy your blog and think your Monday Mailbags are a great idea.

  65. Shevy says:

    @Jon, Louise & Danny (This is long, sorry)

    There are very few instances where you would have to pay any money at all for a medical test ordered by a doctor. An example would be if you were 25 years old with no family history of heart problems and you requested your cholesterol levels. You never pay to go to the doctor (whether a GP or a specialist), but you pay a fee if you want them to fill out your kid’s form for camp or whatever (maybe $25).

    It doesn’t cost to go to Emergency or to a walk in clinic if you don’t have a family doctor. It doesn’t cost for a room if you’re admitted to hospital, and they don’t charge you for every aspirin and tissue you use. It doesn’t cost any money to have a baby, from prenatal care to hospital or home birth to postnatal care for both you and the baby. Emergency care is excellent. You might wait to get a bed if they’re busy, but you can get a CAT scan or MRI within an hour or two and be in surgery very quickly in a crisis situation, such as a heart attack or car accident.

    I have no idea what Danny means by “Then why is the cancer center of Canada in the USA? They are choosing to get taken care of in another country.” The only person I personally have *ever* known who left Canada for cancer treatment went to *Mexico* for laetrile treatments for leukemia.

    Jon, who has confused me with Monica, pays just slightly more than most employed single people would here, but it’s not clear whether his employer is paying half his premium or a larger percentage. The $300 Louise quotes for a couple is more like what other people have told me. (I’ve heard of folks paying $600/mo for a family.)

    I’ve looked at US & Canadian taxation info online and here’s my take on it, based on what I found.
    Let’s say a single person had $40k in employment income and compare the income taxes they’d pay in each country, living in 2 major West Coast cities (Seattle and Vancouver).

    The Canadian would pay $4,453 in federal and $1,787 in provincial income taxes, for a total of $6,240.

    The American would pay $6,424 in federal and $0 in state income taxes, for a total of $6,424.

    Since Washington is one of only 7 states that doesn’t have a state tax, our American taxpayer would obviously pay even more in any of the 43 states with a state income tax. So, I’m not really seeing Jon’s POV on the issue of income tax.

    The Washington state sales tax is 6.5%, in BC it’s 7%. There is also a 5% federal sales tax (the GST, a kind of Value Added Tax) in Canada, so Jon is right that our Canadian would pay more tax on taxable purchases. Or he could move 800 miles to Alberta where there is no provincial sales tax, only GST.

  66. tightwadfan says:

    Trent, I’m glad that you took the risk of answering some touchy political questions, it was interesting to hear your views. But I hope you can see from the comments section why your usual policy to leave politics out is best!

  67. Trent says:

    “I can’t help but be disappointed that you are an Obama supporter. You seem to be such an involved, caring parent, and I’m surprised that you would vote for a candidate who let his little girls attend a church run by the horrible Rev. Wright and let their impressionable minds be poisoned by his garbage.”

    The Wright situation convinced me more than ever that I had made the correct choice in a candidate. Let me explain.

    One of my older relatives is a sweet old guy. He’s been incredibly kind to me throughout my life. He drove eighteen hours through some disastrous weather to attend my high school graduation party and he taught me several of my best techniques for hunting mushrooms in the woods. He’s danced with my wife, held my son, and made me both laugh and cry during an afternoon of conversation. He’s given me probably more good life advice than anyone I know.

    Every once in a while, though, he’ll go on a crazy rant about something – usually it’s affirmative action or something along those lines. He’ll take a stance that I find abhorrent, something that’s tantamount to the views of George Wallace, and I’m shocked by the rhetoric that comes out of his mouth.

    I usually wait until he’s cooled off, then I quietly suggest to him that he’s maybe viewing things through the context of forty years ago and that the landscape has changed.

    So, when I heard about Rev. Wright and heard his speech, I immediately thought of this relative, and I thought to myself, “What would I do if I were running for President and someone trotted out my uncle?” I looked at the options. I could completely denounce my relative and publicly reject him. Or I could be a bigger person than that and stand by my relative, a person who has stood by me through thick and thin.

    If Obama had tossed Wright to the curb because of this, some of Obama’s appeal would have been washed away for me, but I would have understood politically why he did it.

    The fact that Obama did not, that Obama took the politically risky road and didn’t desert someone like Wright, impresses me a great deal.

  68. Jon says:

    @Shevy

    Ah, but income tax is not your total tax burden. It is estimated that Canadians pay an average of 48% of their total income in taxes each year. Americans on the other hand pay about 10% less. A full 22% of all taxes in Canada goes toward healthcare. Some Provinces use up to 40% of all taxes brought in to cover health care. So how cheap is it really for your health care if 22% of your taxes goes to it? How about 40%? You are paying (as you researched) about the same income taxes, BUT you pay almost double in sales tax, let alone all the other taxes ($100 for a car air conditioner. Did you know that?).
    Here in the U.S. I know exactly what I am paying for health care. My premiums plus any deductible and copays. Your cost is hidden. You think everything is free, but in reality you could be paying huge amounts for it.

    “It doesn’t cost to go to Emergency or to a walk in clinic if you don’t have a family doctor. It doesn’t cost for a room if you’re admitted to hospital, and they don’t charge you for every aspirin and tissue you use. It doesn’t cost any money to have a baby, from prenatal care to hospital or home birth to postnatal care for both you and the baby.”

    This is exactly the type of comment I expect to get from people who support a single payer system. They see the services they receive as “free”. None of that is actually free. There is no such thing as a free lunch (TINSTAFL). Someone is paying for it. And its YOU! You just don’t realize it.

  69. Tom says:

    Tent, thanks for the interesting post. I’m a small time blogger and have been doing some affiliate marketing (sort of) lately.

    What have you learned about affiliate marketing that you recommend to bloggers with a small readership? In my case it is about 200-300 unique visitors per day.

  70. Reem says:

    My question is:
    What benefit can someone get from learning new languages (french, spanish, etc..) specially if he is not willing to travel to a foreign country or at least it is not one of his current goals?
    I’m asking this question because I have a desire to learn french, I like the language and I know some basics, but the problem is that I do not know exactly why should I learn it and I am afraid to waste time in something that is not clearly related to my goals.

  71. Sam H. says:

    Trent, I don’t want to turn this into an Obama thread, really I don’t. But your comparison of Rev. Wright to a ranting old uncle just isn’t a good one. We obviously can’t choose our relatives. If it had been Obama’s uncle saying these things, of course I’d expect him to say “He’s my uncle, I can’t just cut myself off from him.” I wouldn’t expect him to throw the man under the bus, as they say.

    But Obama CHOSE the rev as his spiritual mentor. He CHOSE to attend that church for 20 years, even after hearing those hateful, vile sermons. He CHOSE that man as someone who would influence his worldview and decision-making. He CHOSE to make that man a very big part of his life. I personally don’t want a president whose CHOSEN mentor and advisor is someone who says “God damn America.” That worries me. A crazy old uncle saying the same thing wouldn’t really worry me and I might still have voted for him. But this is very, very different and I can’t in good conscience cast my ballot for him. I was actually leaning toward Obama before all of this, but Rev. Wrong decided me.

    And I promise, this is the last time I will mention politics in your comments section :-)

  72. Susannah says:

    THANKS for answering my question!!!

  73. Mike T says:

    Longtime reader, first time commenter.

    I recently read your article on Maximizing Your Sleep Effectiveness and found the idea of periodic sleeping intriguing. I’ll have to give it a try.

    My question is this: How do you get up so early in the morning?

    I’ve always been a night person, and getting out of bed each morning feels like a chore. I’ll wait until the very last minute, end up rushing out the door, and still get to work 5 minutes late about half the time. I’d like to start getting out of bed earlier so I could eat breakfast, exercise more, work on other projects, etc. But I can’t stomach getting out of bed 10 minutes earlier to make it to work on time – getting up 60-90 minutes early sounds impossible.

    Do you have any tips? Motivational techniques? Was it always easy for you or did you have to adjust? Thanks!

  74. I started blogging because I think that MANY personal finance bloggers, and certainly MOST personal finance book authors were ASPIRING to be rich, but were NOT yet rich themselves.

    It was important to me to actually DO before I started writing … I got the idea to write about 5 years ago, but was only 2 years into my 7 years journey that took me from $30k in debt to $7million in the bank DOING WHAT IT IS that I advise people who read my blog to do … integrity counts!

    BTW: Like you, I have no way of really KNOWING, but Trent and a couple of others that I recommend on my blog appear to be the REAL-DEAL on guys who are still on the journey and are writing authentically about their experiences.

  75. Ron says:

    Dwindling down such topics as gay marriage and abortion to a simple “For” or “Against” attitude tends to make me think some people haven’t grasped the complexity of the issues or don’t possess the intelligence to articulate a strongly held point of view. I don’t think that either of these apply to you, Trent, but you are sidestepping the question about abortion when you respond in the manner that you did.

    Proclaiming abhorrence for the act but then stating you have no right to judge such things because you are not a doctor or psychologist is nothing more than a balancing act atop a rather rickety fence. That is why your wife intuitively pointed out your true position.

    I do not come at this issue from a religious point of view because I am not a religious person. I think a good society protects the innocent so I am against abortion in general but would demand one if it was the only way my wife or daughter could survive a troubled child birth. That is my belief. The “nuanced” opinion a doctor could provide would not change this belief. Would it really change yours?

  76. Tim says:

    Trent, I have a quick question for you. I was wondering how protected my investments actually are. Let’s say I buy Coca-Cola stock through Scottrade, and Scottrade goes belly-up. Does anything happen to my Coca-Cola stock? Also, let’s say I buy a mutual fund through Vanguard, and Vanguard the company itself is going out of business, how would this affect the fund offered through them? Thanks.

  77. imelda says:

    Wtf does it matter what Trent looks like? That’s not a critique of you, Trent; it’s nice that you put up your photo. But I think that guy’s comment was terrifically obnoxious. I can’t imagine how what a person looks like would influence how much credence someone gives to them. (well, I CAN imagine how, but I won’t go there)

  78. Trent- Thanks for answering my question about you “writing process”, it is interesting to hear how other go about it.
    Thanks,
    RC

  79. Mary says:

    I find it rather funny that you explain the whole Rev. Wright situation as being similar to your old uncle who sometimes says things you don’t agree with. Did you borrow that one from Obama himself or has he brainwashed you and his other followers? I mean no disrespect but come on. You basically elaborated on his uncle excuse regarding his pastor’s hate-mongering, sacreligious rhetoric. Maybe “we” have done some terrible things but so have others (the Nazis, melosovic, etc.). We certainly didn’t invent the AIDS virus to kill off African Americans and so on and so forth. And this pastor is basically saying that God is punishing us for the bad things we have done. That is not the God I worship and I can’t accept that. Like my old “uncle” who says things I don’t always agree with, “Birds of the feather flock together” and “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…”

    I also can’t understand why you would encourage someone, on a limited income, to blow $100 when she needs practical items. I can attest to the fact that a new set of sheets is not only practical but feels like I’m spoiling myself. As a frugal person, I certainly would suggest, at the very least, a balance. I certainly wouldn’t suggest an expensive store where you’re paying for the name. I don’t know this person’s geographical location but $100 can go very far at places like walmart and biglots.

  80. affiliate.solutions says:

    I really liked your blog! You have some great content. Check out my blog and give me some feedback… I just posted a great blog about the 36 Best WordPress plugins for 2009., thanks !

  81. Amanda S says:

    This is the way things should be, get off what we are on now

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