Reader Mailbag #46

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. Here are some thoughts on how a new college student can find a career.
The Difference Between a Job and a Career
Ten Things Any College Student Can Do To Prepare For Success In Life
The Five Ps: Breaking Down Big Dreams Into Little Steps

And now for some reader questions!

This summer I reduced my 401k contribution from 20% to 10% in order to rebuild my emergency fund after some unexpected expenses. I now feel comfortable with the emergency fund and am ready to return my contribution to 20%.

Unfortunately, last week our company sent out a statement that due to the economy, the company would no longer be offering an employer match to the 401k funds. So my question is, should I continue contributing to my 401k at all, and instead move my money to a different investment?
– Wayward

If your employer is no longer matching 401(k) contributions, you may want to consider starting a Roth IRA. A Roth IRA is a plan you set up yourself with an investment house – I set mine up with Vanguard and it was quite easy. You contribute directly from your checking account with after-tax dollars. However, when you start withdrawals (when you reach retirement age – roughly 59 1/2), you don’t have to pay taxes on any of it – the contributions or the earnings.

If you believe that income tax rates are going to go up over the long term – and this is something I adamantly believe – then a Roth IRA is likely a better option than an unmatched 401(k). Instead of returning to 20% contributions on your 401(k), consider using some of that money to start your own Roth IRA.

Who’s going to win the Super Bowl?
– Andy

Football is not a professional sport that I follow. I only specifically follow a few individual players because of personal ties I have to them – and Kurt Warner happens to be one of them. Thus, I’ve been rooting for Arizona all the way along this year because of Warner’s amazing comeback. So, I predict an Arizona win.

In all honesty, though, my sports of preference are baseball, college basketball, and a bit of soccer. I’ll watch the Super Bowl, but in my mind it’s more of a cultural phenomenon than anything else.

Since the markets are doing so badly, I want to withdraw about some money from a traditional IRA (about $12,000 over three semesters) to pay for full-time college tuition at a state school. This IRA has pre-tax and after-tax money in it, mixed together from when I contributed more than the employer match when I worked.
Since I am using it for college tuition, I only will have to pay taxes and not the penalty. I plan to convert the traditional IRA to a Roth IRA when I am done with college, so I think this move will lower my eventual conversion tax bill also. When I get re-employed after graduation, I plan to pay the money back to the IRA.
Does this make sense or is there something I am overlooking? My goal is to finish school with no student loans.

– Kate

Your plan makes sense, but you’re also navigating through a number of different rules and situations here, so you may want to be sure that you’re not overlooking any restrictions against withdrawals and conversions.

Whenever you plan on making a withdrawal from a retirement account for a specific reason like this (college education), make sure you know the rules cold, and if you’re unsure at all, call the investing firm through which you hold such investments. They can make sure that your plan does in fact follow the rules and that you won’t get dinged in the end because of a loophole you forgot to step through.

Lost starts up again this Wednesday. Any predictions for the coming season?
– Kat

Those of you who have read The Simple Dollar for a long while know that I’m a borderline obsessive about Lost – as are several of my readers.

Anyway, here are my predictions about the fifth season.

The island has traveled backwards in time, and I don’t think it’s necessarily going to stay in the same time. I actually think it’s going to hit at least two different times in the past – one will be in the 1700s where it pops up under the Black Rock.

Aside from Michael, I don’t think anyone actually died in the boat explosion – that would mean Jin and Sawyer are still alive, at least.

My wife predicts that Ben and Jack carry around Locke’s corpse with Weekend at Bernie’s-style madcappery, but I think that’s a bit of a stretch.

My husband and I have been working really hard and have paid off out student loan and credit card debt. Our plan was to save up 1,000 as a mini emergency fund and then start paying down our auto loans(a total of about 10,000 which we could have paid off in about 7 months) now Im beginning to wonder with this bad economy if it wouldnt be better to continue saving for a more substantial emergency fund? Our interest rates on the cars are higher then we could get right now on a easy to access savings account.
– Katie

In my opinion, the size of a person’s emergency fund directly relates to how much risk they feel they can tolerate in their life. For example, I don’t like risk much at all, having two young children at home, so I try to keep my emergency fund as large as I possibly can. Others with more risk tolerance, though, might have a much smaller emergency fund.

I’m going to assume that the $1,000 number you’re using is due to the conventional Dave Ramsey wisdom – that’s the magic number he often promotes for a starter emergency fund. However, that single number is not a one-size-fits-all number – it’s merely a healthy starting point.

What I’m trying to say is this: if you don’t feel comfortable with a certain level of emergency fund and feel you need to have a larger one, do so, and don’t worry about giving it a higher priority than paying down debt. You’re simply prioritizing one kind of risk – job loss or other disaster – over another – the risk of holding debt over a long period of time, and that’s a reasonable conclusion to make.

You’ve been hinting time and time again about an upcoming project related to The Simple Dollar that you’re working on. Can you give us a hint?
– Sally

I’ve been working on the outlines of a podcast for The Simple Dollar. There are many issues involved with podcasting I don’t like, however – the inaccessibility to people who want the content but can’t listen in, for one. Another problem is figuring out how to make it cost-effective for me – why not start another blog or something else? A third problem – a lot of podcasts are overly long and rather dull – how can I make this one worthwhile?

So I’m working through the steps of how exactly I want to do this. I have a lot of ideas sketched out and have recorded a few “test” episodes, but I still feel like it’s far from ready to go at this point.

Don’t worry – when I decide to go forward with it, you guys will be the first to know.

I believe I was given a counterfeit $20 bill in change from a local business recently. I didn’t notice it at the time, but under closer inspection, the bill clearly seems fake. What should I do?
– Rod

If you think you received a counterfeit bill, you should report it to appropriate law enforcement agencies. I would call your local police department and tell them about the bill – where and when you believe you received it and so on.

Another thing to do is to write your initials and the date in the white border of the bill. This helps to identify who found the bill and when.

Put the counterfeit bill in an envelope and put it in a safe place for the moment. Eventually, a police officer or a Secret Service agent will collect the counterfeit bill from you – make sure you know who collected it and take note of when it was collected.

Mostly, these measures protect you and also help to ensure that the counterfeit bill is treated appropriately.

Are you still enjoying the iPod touch you received for Christmas?
– Becky

Yes, I use it several times every day.

For those who are unaware and think this is basically a music player, an iPod touch is more like a PDA than a music player (though, of course, it can play music). I use it for keeping my schedule, jotting down notes, checking my email, surfing the web, playing games, and so on. It’s not an item I would have purchased for myself, but I was extremely happy to receive it as a gift.

Anyway, I’ve mostly gotten over the desire to download new stuff for it – I now have it set to do pretty much everything I could want it to do short of it actually being an iPhone. Mostly, I use it for “quick checking” of things like email, Twitter, the weather, road directions, and so on, and occasionally to play a game if I’m twiddling my thumbs in a doctor’s office or something.

It’s a great gift and something I use all the time, but it was also very expensive – I would have likely felt like I had spent too much money on it had I not received it as a gift. That being said, I thoroughly love it.

Is it better to give cash as a gift or a gift card to something you’re sure they’ll like if you can get the gift card cheaply enough that you can get them a higher face value gift card? My younger sister downloads music from iTunes all the time – should I give her a $25 iTunes card or a $20 bill when they both cost me the same amount?
– Ed

I’d give the gift card myself, if you’re quite confident that the person will use the card in the very near future.

I use three basic criteria when trying to decide whether or not a gift card is an appropriate gift. First, am I sure the gift card will get the recipient something they’ll like? Second, can I get the gift card for a lower price than the face value of the card? Finally, is the gift card with a reputable business that’s not likely to go belly-up soon?

If a potential gift card passes all three criteria, I don’t mind giving a gift card as a gift in some situations.

How’s the homebrewing going?
– Lee

The most recent batch we made – bottled on January 8 of this year – tastes almost exactly like Sam Adams Light. I wasn’t actually shooting for that – I was attempting to make something closer to a pilsener, but this turned out to be substantially darker than that.

My wife and I tend to brew a batch about once every two months or so on average. We’ll likely make another batch in late February – most likely, a porter of some kind. We tend to try hard to make a wide variety of beers instead of just making the same thing over and over again – variety is the spice of life, after all.

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

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  1. Trevor - 14 Year Old Money Blogger says:

    Great mailbag again!

    Thanks for all the information on Mondays!

  2. I agree with your answer to the first question. If your employer isn’t matching, you’re probably better off putting that money into another account like a Roth (mine is at Vanguard too).

    In my experience, most 401(k) providers have very few options and their fees are higher than what you can get in the “open market,” like at Vanguard. So I would recommend you follow Trent’s advice and take your money to Vanguard.

    In other words, your 401(k) provider probably sucks.

  3. KDB says:

    Soccer huh? Good man, I knew I liked your style! I’m with you on the Superbowl though – fantastic marketing event and one big party no doubt…but I’ll most likely catch the commercials on youtube the next day and save myself the trouble ;-)

  4. Troy says:

    There is really no point in contributing to a Roth IRA if you are not first contributing the full deductable amount with a traditional IRA. Do the math.

    Counterfeit Bills: I worked in the financial industry for several years and the best thing you can do is take it to your local bank. There are regulations that banks’ follow for situation like this. DON’T WRITE YOUR NAME ON THE BILL!

  5. dugsdale says:

    to the college student who’s raiding the IRA for tuition money: I did something similar, and I’m beggin’ ya, do NOT underestimate your additional taxes you’ll owe. You’re kicking your taxable income up by 12G’s, and that’ll affect not only federal, but state & local taxes too. I even took out extra to cover the additional taxes (I *thought*) but b/c of poor planning on my part, the entire episode (though necessary) was an exercise in nasty (expensive) surprises at tax time. were I you, I’d sit down with a smart tax person and game it out as completely as possible FIRST.

  6. Gabriel says:

    Thanks again for the information! I’m going to check out those articles for graduates right now!

  7. CPA Kevin says:

    Troy – you can’t contribute the full amount to a deductible IRA then contribute to a Roth. Once you hit the statutory annual limit, you’re done regardless of what type of IRA.

  8. KC says:

    Ed – I give gift cards to young people all the time, but I make sure first I know they’ll use it. The little girl who looks after my dog love her iPod so I get her itunes cards. I’ve also asked her mother for other suggestions – she loves Claire’s Boutique so I got her a card there once, too. I’ve also just given her cash which she was happy about. With older kids I just give cash – they might be going out with friends and want to buy food or they might use it for gas money.

    Katie – Definitely build up your emergency fund. Don’t let the economy dictate it as much as your personal situation. Are both your jobs secure? Is your current pay scale secure (or could it be scaled back)? These types of questions will help you figure out a good EF amount. The more uncertain you are the more cash you should have. But I read an article in yesterdays paper that said the best thing to do with your money (as far as returns) is to pay down your debt. Returns from the bank and CDs are small, but the cost of debt is going up. So get comfortable with your EF amount and then get back to reducing your debt load. Good luck.

  9. CathyG says:

    As a follow-on to Katie about the emergency fund:
    I agree with Trent – it’s all about your comfort level. If you can pay $10,000 in 7 months, that sounds like you can come up with about $1400 per month. Can you do that for 8 months? If so, put the first $1400 into your emergency fund, then spend the next seven months paying down the car. That might make you more comfortable to have $2400 in the emergency fund instead of $1000.
    (Maybe I got this wrong – if you can come up with $1400 per month to pay down debt, why do you need to “save up” for a $1000 emergency fund?? Maybe I am not getting the semantics.)

    And for the counterfeit bill, yes, take it to the bank, but DON’T just try to deposit it!!! Very clearly talk to the teller or the bank manager and explain the situation and ask for their help to see if it really is counterfeit (do they have a test?) and if so, what do they recommend to do about it.

  10. DivaJean says:

    Lost nitpick-

    We already knew Sawyer was alive- he jumped from the helicopter and swam back to the island- to see the fires of the boat on the beach.

  11. Cathy says:

    I think a podcast is a great idea. You’ll be able to reach a new audience through iTunes and expand your readership.

  12. Good luck with the podcast. I’ve played around with that same notion.

    Another thought that would help you get your feet wet is to record yourself on a video file and post it to youtube.

    You can even do it anonymously and probably get some good feedback from the community.

    I’ve listened to dozens of boring podcasts, and it’s hard to talk about money and not make me fall asleep behind the wheel. That being said, if you can get it up and running, I’ll be your first subscriber.

  13. Carrie says:

    Regarding counterfeit bills – Although it does make sense to contact local law enforcement, it is also good option to take it to a bank. As a bank teller, I was trained to know the markers of counterfeits, and we had access to special equipment to test to see if a bill was real or not. One of the simplest external tests is a special marker. Banks also have procedures to deal with counterfeit bills in conjunction with law enforcement.

    Unfortunately, if you’ve received a counterfeit bill, you won’t recover the face value of the bill. The original merchant likely won’t reimburse you (as they are also out the $20), and the bank won’t trade it in for a real bill.

  14. Mule Skinner says:

    With which foot does one play football? I live in a place that has professional football. Although people refer to it as “our” team, it actually isn’t. The team owned by billionaire investors, and there isn’t even a provision for share ownership by fans (except in Green Bay). Meanwhile, the players are not from around here, they are recruited from all over, and they will move on to somewhere else as soon as they can get a more lucrative contract. This franchise nevertheless puts a lot of effort into persuading us that it really is “our” team, and getting us to buy expensive tickets and expensive trinkets and jackets and flags with their name on it to remind us of our alleigiance to them. **We pay them for the advertising novelties that remind us to spend money with them** Oh, I almost forgot: they ask our state/city/county to buy a stadium for them to play in. So, which team do I follow or support? Well, none of them, except to the extent that I need to remember to vote against that tax-dollar stadium when it comes up.

  15. The Personal Finance Playbook says:

    I’m a big Kurt Warner fan myself. It’s hard not to root for that guy. Plus, he used to be with the Rams, my team of choice. Ex-players on the Rams or StL Cards are my boys.

  16. Broken Crock says:

    A few years ago I went to China via Hong Kong. When I returned to HK I went to a moneychanger to get rid of the China currency. She became very angry with me, but I was mystified since we had no language in common. I concluded though, that I had a counterfeit since she angrily thrust it back at me. Of course I had no familiarity with China currency so the deviation was not evident to me. And in my excitement at being there I probably wouldn’t have noticed anyway. After that I felt vulnerable in that I might pass a counterfeit unknowingly and get arrested.

  17. Frugal Dad says:

    I’m a bit torn on the Superbowl. I like Kurt Warner–great story, great individual, etc. I don’t much care for professional football, and would much rather watch college ball. But if forced to choose a pro team to follow, I generally claim the Steelers from the AFC and the Falcons from the NFC. Bottom line…I hope Warner plays well, but the Steelers win the game.

  18. Seth Miller says:

    can we get a picture walk through of the home brew process?

  19. DB Cooper says:

    I disagree with your advice regarding gift cards. Besides potential hidden fees, the risk of going out of business, expiration dates, and possible inconvenience of use, gift cards received seem to always either A) cost me my own money, or B) end up with 87 cents left over.

    I’m a teacher, and students often (very thoughtfully) give me gift cards for Christmas. They know I like to read, so a common one is Barnes and Noble. If a student gives me a $10 B&N card, I either need to A) find a book for just under $10 (considering tax, etc), or B) plan on spending my own cash in addition to the card.

    The problem I have with giving cards is that while you are giving a gift, you are in many cases putting the recipient in the position of spending their own money as well. Not the intention, but often the case. On the other hand, if I give a $20 card, there’s a chance that a portion of that will never get spent (remember that 87 cents?), which is 100% profit for the retailer.

    Cash always spends, has unlimited use possibilities, doesn’t go out of business, is much appreciated, and never expires!

  20. At least Sam Adams Light is a very good “light” beer (in my opinion, at least). :)

  21. momof4 says:

    And to think you originally mocked those of us who went to buy the new iphone….. : ) Looking forward to a podcast form you.

  22. Kathy says:

    @Katie’s questions re: pay down debt vs. emergency fund.

    I struggled with this same scenario just recently when I got started on my resolution to pay off my auto loan during 2009. It wasn’t until I’d scraped together ~$1,300 that I started thinking about dumb I’d feel if I put that money towards a car loan when my payment was only about $300 just to have something bad happen at work. That would literally be an entire month’s of living expenses for me. On the other hand, I *needed* to see the progress on the loan in order to keep my momentum for the next month.

    In the end I put $300 towards my existing $1500 emergency fund and $1000 towards the loan… that $300 is still ear-marked for the auto loan – the “just in case” savings will probably make up the very last payment.

  23. Hi Trent,

    I’ve been doing interviews with successful entrepreneurs and was recently introduced to http://castingwords.com/ – a transcription service. Their transcription service is pretty cost-effective.

    Also, Andy Baio found a way to “hack” audio transcription out of Mechanical Turk (which is almost certainly what CastingWords is doing, too.) It’s cheaper, but requires more time and effort on your part. His blog post is at:
    http://waxy.org/2008/09/audio_transcription_with_mechanical_turk/

    Good luck! I’ve found that including a transcript increases the sale-ability of my interviews.

    -Erica

  24. Pamela says:

    I’m new to your blog and have found it very informative.

    My question for your next mailbag:
    Have you had any experience with Swaplease.com or leasefinder.com? I need to replace my 10 year old vehicle and like the idea of assuming a lease on a model that is 1 or 2 years old with the intent to buy it out right at the end. Your thoughts?

  25. Mol says:

    Are there any ways to optimize utalizing toll roads? How do you weigh between it taking more time to get to point B and it costing $0.75 on a toll road?

  26. Regarding the emergency fund question: Especially in this economy you need to have enough money to pay monthly expenses for 8 or so months. If you don’t, your emergency fund is going not last long. Remember that although a savings account is best, any money that you can get to quickly is fine.

  27. Marsha says:

    To KC above, re the gift cards to Claire’s: some Claire’s stores are closing. Please check to be sure the ones in your area are not. :(

  28. Wayward says:

    Thanks, Trent. That was my inclination as well. But it’s nice to get some reassurance. Unfortuantely, our personal finance advisor has been pretty incommunicative. It may be time to shop around for another, which is a shame. She’s also my mother’s advisor and does excellent work with her.

  29. Penny says:

    Have you thought about http://www.blogtalkradio.com/ ? … This is where you can make broadcasts via phone & have user interaction. The saved broadcasts then can be downloaded & listened to just like a pod cast. Benefits are ease of use/listening & if you can have some “call-in” options? It might make it more interactive which would make it less dry.

    Just a thought.

  30. Karen says:

    Thanks Lost nitpick (#8)!!!!! I was going to say something similar. I tend to agree with Trent on the island going to a diffent time. Can’t wait for this season to start.

  31. I was going to agree with Trent’s advice on not putting that same amount of 401(k) money if you aren’t getting a match. Most 401(k) providers (in my experience) offer limited options with fees that are too high for what you get. They have the advantage of being able offer less and charge more because if you want to participate in the 401(k) program and get the matching (free money), then you have no choice.

    But if the matching is gone, go get a Roth at Vanguard. That’s what I have and it’s great.

  32. Sheryl says:

    I think simple dollar is “simply” great ! I have learnt a lot from the advices given. Like now, I am thinking of buying a dining/dinner table and instead of going to the furniture store to get one of their very expensive sets, I am looking at other alternatives such as online auctioning, checking the classifieds for used ones that are usually much cheaper that I can refurbish and use…expect to save a fortune.

    I a native Caribbean Island girl, in my early 30s with very little savings, and have plans to apply all that I have learnt on simple dollar to get things started. Keep up the excellent work & Thank you.

  33. Jane says:

    On the counterfeit bill, if you are in a city that has a local Secret Service office bring it into them instead of the bank. The bank is just going to send it to them if it is counterfeit or if it is questionable. Officially only the USSS can determine if something is counterfeit. Even the Federal Reserve which is in charge of managing the physical money supply sends counterfeit to the USSS.

  34. Niki says:

    w/r/t other investment options when a 401K isn’t the best choice (i.e. umatched 401K’s) a Roth is the oft touted 2nd option. But what about options for those of us who are financially disqualified from opening a Roth? Is a traditional IRA better than an unmatched 401K? If not what is?

  35. pam munro says:

    What is your geographic location? Los Angeles, CA
    How did you find The Simple Dollar? from referral from other thrifty websites
    Are you male or female? female
    How old are you? (Feel free to say “30s” or “40s” if you don’t want to leave your exact age)61
    Are you married? yes
    Why do you keep coming back to The Simple Dollar?
    I am a fellow thriftyblogger (www.myfrugallife.com/blog_pamphyila.html) and former thrift columnist – like to keep up on the goings on in the thrifty community….esp. among younger folks…

  36. Sharon says:

    I’m delurking.

    What is your geographic location? NE Georgia
    How did you find The Simple Dollar? I honestly don’t remember.
    Are you male or female? Female
    How old are you? (Feel free to say “30s” or “40s” if you don’t want to leave your exact age)Late 40’s
    Are you married? Yes
    Why do you keep coming back to The Simple Dollar? I learn something new quite often.

    Thanks for the great info!

  37. Andy says:

    Your iPod was the perfect gift for you: something you like that you wouldn’t have purchased for yourself!

  38. Ranga says:

    An article on pets would be great; analyzing the pros and cons, and what would be your choice? (if yes, what animal? if no, why?)

  39. xmonkey says:

    For the podcast idea, what about having readers call in and ask their questions in person? Then you could record their question and then your answer. That would make it more of a community feel, although it would probably complicate things.

  40. Mountain Man says:

    Geographic: N.C.
    Found by Googling consumer financial subjects.
    Male
    Age 63
    Read daily because of the diversity and applicability of the topics to me and my family. Like the writing style. Really connects and feel like you are having a conversation with “me/us” that is practical and helpful. Some subjects don’t apply of course but almost every day there is something in your post that is useful and/or interesting to me.

  41. ChrisB says:

    The island went *backward* in time? Interesting… very interesting… hadn’t considered it, but it does seem more than possible.

    But like others, Trent, I caught the Sawyer error… clearly, you aren’t obsessive *enough*. :-)

  42. 3girlsdad says:

    50’s
    I don’t remember how I found The Simple Dollar but it hasn’t been that long.
    I’m male and married and live in Louisiana.
    I find the information informative and intersting.

  43. pima says:

    Eastern Washington State
    female- 50’s…married
    I don’t remember how I first found your blog
    I love the subject of money. I think personal finance
    and more specifically small business is more fun
    than any board game.

    keep up the good work.

  44. susan says:

    What is your geographic location? greentown indiana
    How did you find The Simple Dollar? i am sure a link from another site
    Are you male or female? female
    How old are you? (Feel free to say “30s” or “40s” if you don’t want to leave your exact age) 50
    Are you married? single
    Why do you keep coming back to The Simple Dollar? you have consistently provided valuable advise to consider and apply.

  45. Your Friendly Neighborhood Computer Guy says:

    On Lost:

    Cool prediction about the island going back in time. I’ve all but given up on predicting anything about that show anymore. I just sit back and let the writers wow me.

    On Podcasting:

    I think podcasts are not boring if you’re interested in the content. I think as long as you keep them personable and simple, they’ll be very enjoyable! Also, including a streaming version of the podcast will allow users to listen to it on your site if they don’t have something to download it to. I think a Simple Dollar podcast is an excellent idea!

  46. Heather says:

    I hope you’re right about Jin not being dead! I am a very recent Lost convert and just watched all the previous seasons online at ABC. I love that they put them on there for free, because I have no other way of catching up!! I think you’re right about the Island going back in time. I think the next thing they are going to introduce after the flash backs, flash forwards is some sort of time travel element.

    I love getting gift cards as long as it’s to a store I like. If I get cash, I feel guilty spending it for a treat for myself even though it was a gift. A gift card takes away this dilemma and “forces” me to spend it for fun. However, I am quite nervous about them this year, and am spending the few I got as gifts as fast as I can, because I’m worried the stores are going to go bankrupt and I won’t be able to use them.

  47. Troy says:

    CPA Kevin – I’m was referring to the max for the tax deduction. e.g, depending on your age/catch-up: Let’s say you contribute $4000 to your IRA, then you can start contributing to your ROTH.

  48. Mol says:

    Me and my boyfriend are obsessed with Babylon 5. Do you like B5?

  49. R says:

    Re: the Roth IRA — you might also point out that your basis in a Roth IRA is always available for withdrawal. You can’t take your earnings early without incurring a penalty, but your contribution is yours to take out as you wish. Not that you should…

  50. ariel says:

    what’s the best way to build credit? I graduated from college without loans or anything, thinking I was being smart, but now I’ve found I can’t get a condo or the other things I want because I have no credit history.

  51. brooke says:

    I love mailbag mondays!

  52. TMS says:

    Trent, I have a question for your Monday Reader’s mailbag…

    Are you familiar with–or perhaps even participating–Ramit’s (from iwillteachyoutoberich.com) Scrooge Strategy? He has a whole different approach to saving money that avoids most frugality tips. Instead he focuses on things like calling to get your cable/phone/insurance/etc. bills lowered and tackling those major spending habits. His argument is that small frugality tips (those that “only” save $5-$10 per month) take too much effort when trying to implement several at a time over a long time; an argument that I believe is completely valid. Anyways, I just wanted to get your opinion on Ramit’s view of frugality [or lack of]. Personally, I don’t believe there is any right or wrong way to save money, but do find Ramit’s method to be my preferred choice. Thanks.

  53. Bridgette says:

    This is in response to your query about your readership: I am a mid-30s professional, married, with 4 children ages 16-2. I first read The Simple Dollar as a link from a story about tips on frugality. I enjoyed the article so much that I subscribed. I currently live in Kansas, but have lived in Indiana and Kentucky as well. I enjoy the tips on how to live happily and frugally concurrently. I have learned a lot about investing, stocks, retiring, and saving. I appreciate that concepts are put into layman’s terms and are easy to understand.

  54. Susan Parker says:

    What is your geographic location? –Pittsburgh, PA
    How did you find The Simple Dollar? — When I googled something about dealing with debt
    Are you male or female? Female
    How old are you? (Feel free to say “30s” or “40s” if you don’t want to leave your exact age) 65
    Are you married? Separated
    Why do you keep coming back to The Simple Dollar? Because I find the information interesting and valuable.

  55. Troy says:

    To TMS:

    There is a right and wrong way to save money……..

    A wise man once said(insert Wise man’s name here), Don’t spend $10 to save $1. YOu get it???

  56. Roger says:

    Good stuff, as always. The Simple Dollar Podcasts would be a nice addition to the site. I’m certain, if you opened up the floor to your readers, that you could get plenty of suggestions for subjects to cover. (Frankly, you could do worse than a format like these Reader Mailbag posts; take half a dozen or so questions, read them aloud, and then provide your answers. Short, simple, and good way to make sure your podcasts are informative.)

    As for the gift cards; how would I find gift cards being sold for less than the face value?

  57. Radman says:

    Commenting usually isnt my thing, but ive spent an hour on the site, so thanks for the info

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