Reader Mailbag #59

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

As usual, we’ll start things off with a few links to older articles that directly answer questions I’ve heard recently. A few readers really enjoyed the recent posts on marriage and wanted more insights. Here are three great books on that topic (links go to my reviews):
Financial Infidelity by Bonnie Eaker Weil
Smart Couples Finish Rich by David Bach
It Pays to Talk by Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz and Charles Schwab

And now, some great reader questions!

I came to this country 12 yrs ago, worked really hard and made some good money. I was very conservative in spending due – the fact that I was living on visa made me cautious. But few months ago, I became permanent resident. I never even bought a new car when I was making over 6-digit salary. Now, that I have my green-card, I am thinking on settling down – basically thinking about buying home. But at the same time I do hear Jim Cramer’s and some of top CNBC analyst’s comments as well – where they suggest not to buy anything big for next few years until market settles down. So, the question is: Should I invest in international market like Indian real-estate (I know it’s booming by the month) OR should I make my (our) dream come true of buying house here? Pls advise.
– PR

First of all, take the advice from Jim Cramer on CNBC with a grain of salt. There’s a reason his segments are prefaced with a big disclaimer similar to the one found on the Mad Money website:

All opinions expressed by Jim Cramer on this website and on the show are solely Cramer’s opinions and do not reflect the opinions of CNBC, NBC UNIVERSAL or their parent company or affiliates, and may have been previously disseminated by Cramer on television, radio, internet or another medium. You should not treat any opinion expressed by Cramer as a specific inducement to make a particular investment or follow a particular strategy, but only as an expression of his opinion. Cramer’s opinions are based upon information he considers reliable, but neither CNBC nor its affiliates and/or subsidiaries warrant its completeness or accuracy, and it should not be relied upon as such. Cramer, CNBC, its affiliates and/or subsidiaries are not under any obligation to update or correct any information provided on this website. Cramer’s statements and opinions are subject to change without notice. No part of Cramer’s compensation from CNBC is related to the specific opinions he expresses.

Past performance is not indicative of future results. Neither Cramer nor CNBC guarantees any specific outcome or profit. You should be aware of the real risk of loss in following any strategy or investment discussed on this website or on the show. Strategies or investments discussed may fluctuate in price or value. Investors may get back less than invested. Investments or strategies mentioned on this website or on the show may not be suitable for you. This material does not take into account your particular investment objectives, financial situation or needs and is not intended as recommendations appropriate for you. You must make an independent decision regarding investments or strategies mentioned on this website or on the show. Before acting on information on this website or on the show, you should consider whether it is suitable for your particular circumstances and strongly consider seeking advice from your own financial or investment adviser.

In other words, Cramer is an entertainer, first and foremost, and you should rely on an investment advisor before making any real money decisions.

Now, for your bigger question: should you buy a home right now? You seem to be mixing personal needs and desires (that of homeownership) with investment desires (Indian real estate). The real question should be whether you’re happy living where you are right now or whether you would be happier living in a home, and that depends on you and the factors in your personal life. If you’re simply looking to maximize an investment, don’t invest in your primary living quarters. Instead, invest in something that you can treat with a purely analytical perspective that you can make moves on without worrying about the personal consequences.

Have you ever tried adding any additional ingredients (ie: Oxy Clean) to your laundry detergent recipe?

I have been making my own laundry detergent from your receipe for a few months now with great results. Recently, I tried adding Oxy Clean and the results were not the same. The batch came out separated with a thick, creamy top layer and a clear, watery bottom layer. No matter how much I mixed it, it would not blend.

I was wondering if you had any similar results?
– Charlette

Yes, I have. If you want to add additional cleansing agents, do it separately, just like you would if you added Oxy-Clean to a load of laundry. You wouldn’t merely dump Oxy-Clean into your detergent bottle, would you?

Whenever you drastically alter a chemical reaction (and that’s what’s going on with the laundry detergent recipe), the product (in this case, the detergent) is going to be very different. Even a change as simple as choosing a different type of soap – or even the quantities used – will radically change the detergent you get in the end.

I have been out of the work force for 20 plus years (stay at home mom) and now would like to get back in. I know I lack many skills that employers are looking for today and would like to know a couple of things, 1. how and where do I go for general training for (office) skills? and 2. would you recommend going to a temp agency for part time employment? I am a bit overwhelmed starting this process,so any suggestions you could provide would be greatly appreciated.
– Mary

Some entry-level secretarial and administrative assistant positions require a high school education and some basic office skills (word processing, writing, and good communication skills, for starters). Many positions look for a person who has completed some sort of additional training, usually offered through a business school or a secretarial school.

One great place to start when digging into this is the Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook, particularly the section on such positions. In fact, the entire handbook can be useful for people who are trying to figure out the basics of a particular job in terms of what they need to do to get their foot in the door, what the job entails, and what kind of earnings might be expected. Good luck!

I discovered your blog a few months ago and quickly subscribed to it via Google Reader. I find many of your ideas very helpful. I have noticed that every so often you write about an email you receive of someone who has criticized your ideas and/or style of writing pretty harshly. Do these emails make you feel bad? How do you resist being offended or resist taking these criticisms personally?
– Gwen

I see dozens of negative comments and emails each day – it’s just a fact of life for anyone who writes anything with a large audience.

At first, these comments bothered me quite a bit – I kept thinking I had actually said something wrong or offended someone. Now, I realize that the vast majority of such criticizers are simply people with giant chips on their shoulders. They’re out there looking for something to complain about, and I’m a fairly open target.

So, for the most part, I ignore it.

The only problem with that approach is that you can lose valid criticisms in the flood, but if I spent all my time wallowing in the negativity to find a handful of truly accurate criticisms, I’d spend all my time looking at negativity, and the only result of that would be to make me a negative person.

I just wanted to add that although I no longer use my Discover Card, I don’t ever remember receiving calls from them ever.
– leslie

Discover uses a fairly tricky method to contact people. Instead of directly calling cardholders, they call with an ominous-sounding voice recording, urgently telling people to call a certain 1-800 number. That number connects you with Discover’s accounts office.

Once upon a time, we used to receive these fairly often – and we ignored them. One day, curiosity got the better of me and I called the number, not knowing for sure what to expect. To find that the number originated from Discover was a surprise, to say the least.

Any word on how your adoring public can get an autographed copy of your book?
– Mol

Is there interest in this? I have no idea what kind of mechanism would be needed to do this type of thing. I hadn’t actually even considered that there would be significant interest in selling signed copies of the book.

If you are seriously interested in buying a signed copy of my book, leave a comment to this post. I’ll show them to my publisher and see whether or not we can come up with a good arrangement that makes everyone happy.

hi first id like to say thank you as you have inspired me to walk thru my fears and start selling and writing along with persuing my lifetime dream of becoming a multimedia artist. so my question to you is, are there any places to start your own website that are very user frendly and reasonably priced as im working on a budget.
– denise warner

It depends on what you’re looking for.

WordPress.com is probably the easiest option for someone who just wants to get a website going. However, WordPress.com doesn’t allow you to include advertisements – you have to stick with the templates they provide.

Blogger is another free option that offers more control over the design, but their interface for actually posting can be difficult at times.

If you just want to put up a small handful of static pages, Google Pages might be the right place for you.

Each of those options make it pretty easy to start your own website to talk about whatever you wish. In truth, it’s all about the writer/creator – if they’re doing something interesting, people will come.

I got a Canon Powershot camera two Christmases ago, and just a little over a year later, the display went black and it won’t take pictures. I sent it back to Canon for repair and since it’s just past the one-year warranty, Canon is giving an estimate of $100 with no guarantee that the problem will be fixed. The person who bought it for me paid $200 on Amazon and it’s currently priced at $277. What is the frugal thing to do here – buy a new camera or take our chances with the repair? Is there a point when a repair isn’t worth it?
– Sandy

If there’s no guarantee the camera will be fixed for that $100, you’re better off buying a new camera. Your best case scenario here is that you wind up spending $100 to get back a used camera with one new part in it, and there are a multitude of much worse scenarios.

Spend some time researching the purchase, though, and make sure that you’re actually getting the camera that best matches your real-world use. You may find that the camera you really want isn’t the one you had before.

I inherited several one ounce gold bullion coins. I have no idea what to do with them. Any suggestions?
– Eddie

Your best bet is to identify any gold dealers in your area and get some quotes from them. Don’t just sell to the first dealer that makes you an offer – call around and get quotes from several dealers in your area. Here’s a handy tool for finding such dealers.

You should also do some research online before you call so that you know exactly what you have. Type any identifying marks into Google and see what you can learn about the coins you hold, so that you can accurately describe the coins to the dealers.

What price should you expect? You should get offers per coin that approximate the current value of an ounce of gold, within a few percent. If these are U.S. minted coins prior to 1934, you should get an additional small premium.

How are you doing with regards to your goal of working on a skill every day for one hour, have you been following it? I believe yours was to be able to solve the Rubik’s cube, which only takes a few weeks to learn if you look up how to do it and memorize the moves, but would take years of studying mathematics in order to be able to learn to solve it on your own with no assistance whatsoever. What path did you take?
– C.I.

I’m still learning, actually. There are two difficulties with the Rubik’s Cube for me. First, my hands are enormous, making it difficult to match some of the grips I see in YouTube videos (meaning I often end up solving things completely incorrectly).

The second problem is that I started off trying to learn the Petrus solution, which is pretty difficult. I should have mastered one of the easier solutions, then moved onto this one.

My goal of being able to solve the cube in a minute or so is still in place and I still think it’s realistic.

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

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  1. MLR says:

    A shame to see that the vampires got you down at one point. Glad to hear that you have gotten over their attacks!

  2. S. says:

    Do you have any good recommendations of board games or card games that are fun for two people?

    Settlers of Catan seems really interesting, and I’m planning on buying it, but it looks like you need at least 3 people to play it. Do you and your wife have any faves?

  3. Maggie says:

    When my last camera died, I sold it on ebay. I listed it truthfully as used broken camera, and included the symptoms. I forget how much I got for it, but it was more than I expected and it helped pay for the new camera. (Especially since I bought the new one assuming I would trash the old, it was sort of like found money.)

  4. KC says:

    PR – Please don’t listen to Jim Cramer. I watch him, too, now and again, cause for some reason I find him entertaining. But you have to take his advice with a huge grain of salt, as Trent said. Cramer is a trader, not an investor. Many of the things he talks about are not for 95% of his viewers. Last year was the first year in sometime I actually received a return from the IRS. I listened to Cramer, bought some investments he recommended, they promptly lost 50%, I sold them before they were bought by another company and lost further value, and I was left with a big write off on my taxes that resulted in me actually receiving a return instead of owing the IRS as I prefer.

    IF you want a home and are ready for the responsibilities, and it sounds like you are, now couldn’t be a better time to buy a house. Prices are much lower and in many communities have probably hit their lows or are near it. Banks are looking for good people to give loans to. If you have 20% down to put on a loan you’ll be acceptable to them. And interest rates couldn’t be better. My advice is to do some research on neighborhoods in your area, get a good real estate agent and start shopping. You have plenty of time to find something you will love. Good Luck!

  5. Kathl says:

    Hi – I subscribe to your blog via RSS and, even though I don’t always agree with you, I enjoy your content, style and the way that you logically support your opinions.

    Your response to Mary, the woman seeking advice about re-entering the job market, was sound in terms of acquiring skills for office work. I would add two notes: first, make sure that you aren’t selling your current skill set short. If you volunteered while you were a stay-at-home mom, it’s likely that you have organizational skills that you’re overlooking. If you coached a team you had to organize the roster, make sure all the kids had rides to games, work out time and people conflicts, etc. If you worked on your church fundraiser you probably developed a budget, created a marketing plan, organized volunteers, etc. Try to think in terms of what you did and not where you did it or if you were paid.

    Second, a temp agency is a great way to ‘try on’ different office environments so that you can get a feel for what you would like in a more permanent position. Temp jobs also allow you to audition for prospective companies – you may have to sign some form of non-compete agreement with your temp agency but often they are happy if your gig becomes permanent since that solidifies their reputation for providing quality employees.

    Good luck Mary!

  6. Matthew S says:

    To the person inquiring about the Canon camera, some time ago, David Pogue (NYTimes) ran a blog entry about Canon’s Loyalty Discount:
    http://pogue.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/08/26/with-canon-loyalty-has-its-privileges/
    Apparently, if you ask, they will give you a pretty steep discount on a new camera for being a good customer with a broken Canon camera. I haven’t tried it, but it might work, give it a try!

  7. BRCA1 says:

    Re: Gold Coins
    Depending on what they are exactly, you should take them to a coin dealer. Demand is quite high right now for bullion gold and silver coins. However as a numismatist I bet the coins will have an even higher collector’s premium. Try looking up the values at a website like PCGS. Keep in mind these are general price guidelines and you probably won’t get full retail for your coins from a dealer. Which brings me to who you should go to. Try to use an American Numismatic Association member dealer (just google ANA), it has been my experience that those dealers are better educated and more consumer friendly. Or you could keep them and start a fascinating new hobby. One last piece of advice, DO NOT CLEAN THE COIN! No matter how dirty you think it is don’t even think about cleaning it. Cleaning 90% of the time drastically reduces the collector value of the coin.

  8. tina says:

    The easiest way to handle autographed copies of books is to buy a bunch of bookplates (or adhesive name badges), and offer them to anyone who wants to send you a SASE for one.

  9. michael says:

    Do you have a deal with the publisher where people can buy the book directly from you? If so, why not just set up a paypal, and sign it before you ship it out. Seems pretty easy.

  10. Rachel says:

    Hi Trent,

    Re: the person who asked if you’d attempted adding OxyClean to your laundry detergent — I’ve started using the ingredients in OxyClean with my laundry (I know they make it look fancy, but it’s actually just hydrogen peroxide and baking soda), but as a pre-treatment. As you said, just sticking it in the detergent mix would change the chemical reaction. But using it beforehand – and using the homemade stuff, since it’s a fraction of the cost – has worked really really well for me.

  11. chris says:

    Canon cameras are known for that fatal error. At two years old, it is not worth the repair. Go buy a new one and enjoy the updated features!

  12. kat says:

    For the stay at home mom wanting to get back in the workforce I highly reccomend her local state job center. Colorado offers free classes for Excel, Word, Powerpoint and so on. They also have classes on making a resume and other things. If she is over a certain age, there may be special programs for her. Going through a temp agency once you brush up on your skills can be a great way to see what’s available in your area.

  13. PF says:

    No offense, Trent, but your response to Mary needs a bit more advise. :-)

    Mary, I hire office workers occasionally where I work and my advise is to look into community colleges and other inexpensive sources for courses in Microsoft products. You should have a good understanding of Microsoft Windows and ensure that your skills in Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel are “up to snuff” A completion certificate would be especially helpful and something that you could include on your resume. Some familiarity with Power Point is good and any knowledge of Access is a huge bonus in my book. When I hire people, I actually test them at the interview on Excel and Word. These are quick tests, but I also make sure that the applicant can write a cohesive sentence.

    By all means, contact a temp agency. That can be a great way to get a regular job eventually. Our company hires our own temps. They don’t get benefits or 40 hours a week, but if they are good, they will be hired within 6 months to a full-time job. We all want to “try before we buy” here when it comes to employs.

    Don’t get discouraged if your first job nets you very little take home pay after taxes, commuting costs, etc. Eventually, it will lead to something better. Consider it a long-term investment. Good Luck Mary!

  14. beth says:

    For the SAHM looking to get back in to the work force, my suggestion would be to check with your local university or community college if there is one nearby. Most of them have a Continuing Education department geared toward the non-school community with all sorts of courses that may be job-hunting related for nearly free. In the town I used to live in, the local CC had job-hunting skills, business computer courses, & conversational foreign language classes among others that didn’t cost a dime. Might be a good start before investing in a business or secretarial school.

  15. imelda72 says:

    @ PR: When it comes to real estate, most areas are a buyer’s dream market right now. Jim Cramer is an idiot if that’s his advice. If you’re ready to buy, buy now.

    @ Sandy: I just read Ramit Sethi’s book (blog ‘I Will teach you to be rich’), and he mentions something about credit cards offering extended warranties on some products. If you bought the camera on a credit card, it might be worth looking into what he says.

  16. Gwen says:

    I know that I would like an autographed copy of Trent’s book if it was available.

  17. Anne says:

    To Mary:

    1. Look at community colleges too. You can take basic office skills classes at some of them, including typing and word processing. Here is the course list for the admin. asst. program at my local tech school:
    http://programs.matcmadison.edu/programs/administrative-assistant

    I have a college degree and currently have the title “administrative assistant” and it’s interesting that some of the courses listed are skills that I had to learn on the job :D

    2. Also, temp agencies are great. My office is in our busiest season right now and we have half a dozen temps on any given day. Some do higher-complexity database work while others take care of filing backlog. There are positions for every skill level. Just make sure you get a good idea of what the most used agency in your area is and sign on with them. We use one temp agency exclusively as do many of the other companies in town.

  18. SteveJ says:

    @Mary,

    Along with the community colleges, which I would start with, there are some other options. A lot of full-size state universities have cheap to free continuing education and some are online. Another place to look would be a local community center, some offer computer classes infrequently. This may be very simple introductory type stuff, but I know a few volunteers that do these classes locally and they are usually excited to teach more advanced material when there’s interest.

    Temp work is always good, especially if you have a degree. Pay attention to how the client treats temps, if you’re treated as a second class citizen then it’s probably not going to improve much if you move on to a hire situation. Some companies look at temps as slave labor, others are genuinely short staffed and need to fill gaps.

  19. Sarah says:

    PR, not to be unkind, but if you’re not able to identify a huckster like Cramer on sight, you really aren’t ready yet to start risky investing moves–including international real estate. Please be careful!

  20. Jamie says:

    For the person with the coins I would suggest checking the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation website. It’s a great source of information.

    When you use their services NGC assesses the condition of the coins, gives them grade and then seals them in a holder so that they remain in said condition. If your coins are in good condition I’d suggest considering their services.

  21. @Sandy: I’d definitely buy a new camera. You might not manage to get it fixed and if it’s playing up now you’ll probably have a host of new problems in the nest year or so. You’re better off buying a new camera (looking for a very reliable one) and being sure that you’ll get what you need – a working camera! Furthermore, I wouldn’t buy the same model. If this one broke just after the warranty period, another one might have the same problem.

  22. DebtGoal says:

    Another issue on international real estate is that even if you think you’ve mitigated risk by investing in a country like India with a relatively stable political system and economy, there remains an unavoidable degree of uncertainty and regulatory complication that comes from living in one country and investing in another. Make sure to fully account for these risks before making the plunge. Depending on the metro region of the US, real estate may never be the best bet, and one can certainly strategize for retirement without ever having owned property.

  23. Katie says:

    I am serving as a bridesmaid for a dear friend in a few weeks. I estimated (based on my own wedding and others in which I’ve been part of the bridal party, and knowing the actual cost of the bridesmaid dress) what the financial requirements would be, and was comfortable with them. I assumed there would be some sort of bachelorette event, and that I would contribute to it, but at the shower a few days ago, I learned all the details, which were planned without involving me at all, and I’m not comfortable with the amount of money I am being asked to spend (more than all my other wedding-related costs combined). I think it is excessive, and excessive particularly in that what we’re being asked to spend contributes no value to the couple’s life together.

    To say that I was asked to spend this money is an exaggeration. Plans have been made, and I have been told that I am splitting the cost with the other bridesmaids. When the issue of cost was raised, the maid-of-honor, who is the bride’s sister, said, “I’m poor, but I can afford it.” I can’t. I don’t know how I can get out of the situation. I don’t think staying home from the party is a realistic option because it would hurt the bride’s feelings, and I adore her.

  24. tightwadfan says:

    PR, please please do not take advice from Jim Cramer or any other personalities on CNBC, or on TV in general, for that matter. But especially CNBC. They are entertainers who rely on ad dollars from financial services companies. Their “advice” is less than worthless and has been consistently wrong over the last 10 years.

    If you are ready to settle down now is a good time to buy a house. You’re in a buyer’s market so take your time and find a good deal.

    However if you’re looking into house buying as an investment put your money in something else, because you will probably have trouble selling the house if you try to within a few years. Homes are not very liquid investments.

    Mary, you’ll definitely want to learn the Office software products if you don’t already know them. I worked at temp agencies during the summers in college. The big minus is you don’t get benefits, but it’s a good way to get experience, and it can sometimes turn into a full-time job. Nice thing is if one job’s not a good fit the temp agency can get you a different assignment. Also, in my experience, the companies usually had low expectations of you, so there wasn’t much pressure, which might make you feel comfortable if you haven’t worked in 20 years.

    Check job listings to get an idea what skills companies are looking for. Then you can look for classes that will teach you those skills.

  25. Michael says:

    Remember when Trent said he tries to learn from every single negative comment on his articles? I’m glad he’s over that now.

  26. tightwadfan says:

    Also, PR, if Indian real estate is “booming by the month”, that sounds like another bubble. I would be very careful about investing in something like that unless I understood that market very well.

  27. Prasanth says:

    To PR,

    Unless you have some one back here in India whom you know very well, do not blindly invest in real estate – even here not all real estate investments are safe or will fetch you returns. There are other safer options for you – check with your contacts back here in India for those. They should be able to guide you to some one who specializes in investment guidance for overseas Indians or people of Indian origin

  28. Lisa says:

    Trent,

    My husband & I would be quite interested in obtaining a signed copy of your book! We borrowed it from our library when it was released; however, your signature would certainly prompt us to buy it.

    Keep up the good work!

    B & L

  29. FrugalCubicle says:

    The Rubik’s cube proves to be a great tool in the office environment. I get questions all day long regarding Microsoft Access, Excel, Power Point, Project as well as 401k investment advice, ERP how-to’s, etc and the Rubik’s cube helps me take all those questions. I simply ask someone to solve the cube and i will answer their question…no one has yet, but as long as they try I will help.

    I can solve it in <5 minutes, but I learned how to do it by solving in layers and understanding certain moves.

    I have actually seen a 7 year old solve the damn thing

  30. Rob W says:

    I will buy a signed copy of your book.

  31. SG says:

    Question: My husband and I moved to a new city after college (both with MBA’s), I had a crummy job, spent 18 months there, then found a good job which I’m still working at, but am about ready to look again. My husband was unable to find steady, good employment, and has gone through many odd jobs through past 5 years, some better than others, but all temporary. He has a hard time dealing with this, as do I, as we are broke, but the bigger issue is his confidence. How do I help him/us to feel better about his abilities, and help him make goals to get him on the way to find the occupation that will make him happy, and our financial situation stable?

  32. Mol says:

    Trent, your work means a lot to me. It keeps my mind stimulated, encourages me to push past my comfort levels, and has steered me towards financial and general wisdom. I would purchase a signed copy of your book.

  33. “At first, these comments bothered me quite a bit – … Now, I realize that the vast majority of such criticizers are simply people with giant chips on their shoulders.”

    Wow. Surely you understand that when you give advice or offer suggestions that your words are not gospel. They represent your best opinion.

    Part of the time other people have other opinions, and yes, it can even happen to you – an opinion that provides a better solution to a problem than yours.

    An open mind is a good thing.

  34. Bill says:

    It’s been mentioned, but EBAY that camera, as a hardware hacker, those cameras are full of useful parts, just be very honest.

  35. I had a similar problem with my Canon Powershot last fall. Canon ended up repairing the camera for free. I blogged about my experience here: http://savvyworkinggal.blogspot.com/search?q=camera

  36. Dave says:

    I’m very interested in starting a garden next year, but I’ll be living in an apartment on the third floor. I have a balcony, but want to have a year-round garden inside if it’s possible. I’m not sure exactly what my lighting situation is going to be like, but could you recommend some starting points for me? I don’t know the first thing about gardening, ESPECIALLY indoor gardening year-round. If it makes much difference, I’d be most interested in tomatoes and/or peppers (green or red peppers probably). I figure you’d be a good resource to tap in to. Thanks!

  37. Jenn says:

    Hi Trent. Thanks for your good advice and the easy read. This site is a favorite of mine. :)

    For Mary – Congratulations for venturing out into the market again! The advice about looking into community colleges and state/local government programs is solid. There are also classes and tutorials online, both through colleges (non-credit and for-credit) and some self-paced ones. If you have a computer at home and a cable or DSL internet connection and would prefer to stick closer to home while you build your new schedule, here are two more options for you:

    http://www.ed2go.com offers classes attached to local colleges/universities and their classes are usually pretty affordable.

    Lynda.com has tutorials online for programs you’re likely to use often, such as Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, Powerpoint). They also have tutorials about blogging and a lot of web and graphic design programs. You can check out some of their tutorials for free to test whether it is something you’d find useful. And it is really inexpensive! Subscriptions cost only about $25/month. I found this the most acceptable option for me after I researched commute costs, scheduling, and the costs of my local community college classes were a bit of a challenge for me. I have a year sub to Lynda and love it! There is so much on there I can learn. I recommend it.

    Also, if you know anyone who would like to learn to type, there’s a free typing tutor site called http://www.learn2type.com that is helpful.

    Good luck! :)

  38. Jenn says:

    Dave – Have you considered container gardening or raised bed gardening? Look for a book at your local library or Google “Earthboxes”. You can also find good, small-space container gardening videos on YouTube.

    I think that there is also something called a AeroGarden for sale at Target or Amazon, although it is pretty expensive. It grows hydroponic salad greens and herbs. Don’t know if it will grow peppers. Good luck with your gardening! :)

  39. Patricia says:

    Love your newsletter. It’s like a phone call from a friend. :)
    The fellow who inherited the gold should keep it! The paper ‘money’ he would get for it isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. Gold is real money. Paper money is just paper, and becoming more inflated daily.
    I enjoy your ‘do it yourself’ articles very much.
    About the $10 argument: perhaps the stores make the process so unpleasant – purposely – so that the customer is too embarrassed to stake his claim. I can see where this policy could save the stores a lot of money. I would try to get my discount – as pleasantly as possible – but if the store has promised it and you’ve met their conditions, you should certainly get your discount.
    Keep up the good work! I enjoy reading your daily postings.

  40. dream says:

    I just wanted to say that weebly.com is where I started my website/blog it’s free and already has an adsense running on it…now if someone will actually start reading it……..lol

  41. shannon barr says:

    i would be interested in buying a signed copy of your book as well. :)

  42. Doug Dawson says:

    Mary, I suggest you see what computer classes are available at your local library. Many public libraries offer classes in Microsoft Office software and internet tools. In addition, you can find guidance on updating your resume and using the latest job-hunting tools. Good luck!

  43. Becky says:

    I read the letter from the woman who was re-entering the work force. GCFlearnfree.com is a free website that offers computer and office programs such as Word, Excel, etc. You can learn at your own pace, or take a class. It’s well worth the time.

  44. Chris says:

    I would enjoy a signed copy of your book!

  45. Melody says:

    Denise, if you’re really interested in being a multimedia artist and work with adobe, look at sitegrinder. It lets you make websites visually using photoshop – pretty impressive results w/o writing code. They have a trial version that leaves a watermark on the site, so you can make sure it works for you for free. Then you can host the file anywhere…Sitegrinder is mainly for visual layout, however, so if you’re focused more on writing it may not be right for you.

  46. kev says:

    Isn’t Jim Cramer the guy who got skewered alive for financial quackery on the Daily Show last month?

  47. TW says:

    Trent,

    First off, thank you for your valuable work–your blog has been a favorite of mine for some time now.

    My wife and I are expecting our first child in a couple of months and I would like to set up an account for him now to benefit him later–to take advantage of compound interest.

    For background, you should know that:
    1. His great grandpa has already pledged to cover $60K for his college expenses, a wonderful blessing to be sure.
    2. We have no debt, are earning solid income (active and passive) and our retirement plans are in place–we are on track.
    3. We are in a position to give $10K to our son.

    I’d like to set up an investment account where the money could grow tax free until it is needed. College/grad school will likely cost more than $60K, so possibly the funds would be needed then–but I do not want to limit the funds to pay for education. Perhaps our son will just let the money grow until his retirement–65 years is a lot of time and could result in a hefty sum some day. Perhaps he will use the funds to buy his first home.

    My intention is to buy stocks in solid american companies and to just let it ride. Nike, McDonalds, Altria, Apple, Walmart, Verizon come to mind. Dividends would be reinvested.

    Do you know of an easy way to set up a tax free self-directed (low fee) investment account for my son?

    Thank you.

  48. MelodyO says:

    Great post, Trent! I love mailbag days. :0)

    LOL, I was just WAITING for someone to respond to your negative comments remarks with a negative comment. There’s criticsm and then there’s bile. I’ve seen both in the comments on this blog, and I admire you for handling all of it with grace.

    And I do have to kick in a comment to the woman wanting to enter the workforce after a 20 year absence. It always makes me sad that the only options offered to so many women seem to be secretarial in nature. Why couldn’t she start a small service business or make crafts or take a short course to learn a new, non-secretarial skill? Keep your options open, my dear! I’m rooting for you!

  49. Jessica says:

    To the stay at home mom. Please contact your local workforce center (I work in one.) You should qualify for the Dislocated Worker Program, under the displaced homemakers catagory. This is a free program that has some training dollars and you will get hooked up with employment counselor.

  50. Beatriz says:

    I would buy an autographed copy of your book; I haven’t read it yet and I would like to. I don’t like signed bookplates, but that is an easier way to go for you; you’d just have to buy some in bulk and tell people to send a request with a SASE. Maybe a local bookstore could handle the autographed copies for you if you go that route.

  51. Lisa says:

    Hey Trent, Your blog makes me think more entreprenurially (is that a word?)- Thank you. Here’s an idea – not income generating, but one I’m tossing around. With all the singles websites out there, & having tried most of the mainstreamers- I’m interested in starting some kind of internet “thing” which would target religious progressive singles. I’ve thought about doing it as a Facebook page, a blog – don’t want to spend much $, if any. Have any advice on which “venue” would be best? Esp. since success would mean it was easily searchable? THANKS.

  52. KeptWench says:

    I know of one temp agency that offers free training in Microsoft Office. As someone else mentioned, many public libraries offer classes too.

    My local community college has a program for women who want to get a degree and/or return to the workforce for whatever reason.. they provide many different types of assistance for no charge, including things free loaner textbooks, help with financial aid and scholarship paperwork, counseling, tutoring help, and aptitude testing to see what kind of job one might be suited for.

  53. JoannMe says:

    I am 56. In ’83 I got a BA degree in art with a minor in humanities. I tried having my own business but was unable to make a go of it. I had 3 children to support so I started taking any job I could find. Now I am a cashier in a dining hall at the local university.
    I’ve heard several people say go to college and get a degree. Well what if you already have a degree? I took a Microsoft class this spring hoping to make myself more employable but I don’t know where to head to from here. I don’t have a clue as to the type of job that would best suit me and I am definately open to more training but from where? Do any of your readers have suggestions?
    By the way I love your articles. I find you have arrived at a level of maturity not often seen in today’s media. Keep up the good work.

  54. Mol says:

    Question – I just became the Senator of Finance in an International Honor Society I am a part of. Most members are not too active, but I have a lot of gusto, and I am wanting to do a fund raising event every month, but not overwhelm or bore our chapter. Did you come across any interesting ideas catered towards this kind of thing in college?

  55. Dave says:

    Another question, randomly:

    I have started a new job which will leave me with quite a bit of extra money to save, spend, invest, whatever. Over the next year I plan on establishing a fairly healthy emergency fund, paying off all of my debt, and still having enough left over to do something with. I’ve contemplated putting the money into my Roth IRA, but I’ve also contemplated using the money for a business venture; I don’t have a solid plan now, nor would I really need one until I have that money to make a decision with anyways, but I was wondering your take on the issue – when would you advise one or the other?

  56. FruGreen says:

    @Sandy: I had the same problem with 3 Canon cameras I have. After a search, I found these pages which describe the error and give instructions on how to get them fixed for free by Canon. I believe there is a known problem with the chip, which they will replace even though the camera is no longer under warranty. You might call them up again and see if they will do it. Good luck.

    http://camerarepair.blogspot.com/2007/11/canon-digital-cameras-showing-black.html

    http://www.usa.canon.com/consumer/controller?act=PgComSmModDisplayAct&fcategoryid=225&modelid=13390&keycode=2112&id=29819

  57. For the woman who is looking to go back to work after 20 years. Any employer will want to know she’s current and has already shown she has made an effort to be prepared. Knowing basic computer skills is essential and the more she can show she knows different programs and is comfortable using EXCEL, Word, etc. the more marketable she will be. If she wants to get into more creative work, take Illustrator, Photoshop or those types of programs. Her attitude will be more important than any one skill–Taking classes, doing temp work and being sure she is groomed and dressed appropriately will show the attitude they are looking for.

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