Reader Mailbag #62

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. One reader asked which books I’ve reviewed has made me think the most. I had a hard time with this, actually, because many books have stuck in my mind for a long time, but here are five that I’ve chewed over time and time again for years.
Review: Made to Stick
Review: The Well-Educated Mind
Review: Words That Work
Review: The Paradox of Choice
Review: The Wisdom of Crowds

And now, some great reader questions!

I think it is strange that the same car is sold in Europe it has to have an oil change every 10000-15000miles (20 000-30 000 kilometers) but when it is sold in the US it needs an oil change every 3000-5000 miles. This is true both for european, asian and even american cars sold in both places????
– Oskar

The biggest reason for this is that in Europe, many automobiles have diesel engines. Diesel engines run differently – for one, they’re quite a bit hotter and for another, diesel fuel is formulated quite a bit differently than unleaded.

The end result of these differences is that diesels require less frequent oil changes than engines that run on unleaded fuel.

There are a lot of compelling reasons for the United States to switch to diesel from petroleum-based cars, but in all likelihood both types of engines will eventually be a thing of the past.

Considering this is a financial blog, I’m amazed you didn’t mention Mint as a must-have iPod/iPhone app. If you are not keeping track of your finances, you should start. If you are, you should consider Mint, the free online money management site. Their iPhone app is killer, allowing you do check balances in your accounts and on your credit cards, keep an eye on your investments, keep track of your budgets, and look up recent purchases. I use it on a daily basis.
– spritemv

Mint worries me from a security standpoint. As I’ve stated many times with regards to Mint, it doesn’t offer enough compelling features for me in comparison to the security risks of sharing my bank information and other personal data with another organization. Note that I don’t care what their stated policies are – in the end, I’m still trusting whatever computer resides at mint.com to keep my data safe. Thus, I don’t recommend Mint. I think Mint has a lot of neat features, but it’s not worth the data concerns I have. I would love it if Mint provided a fashion to allow you to upload such data without providing account information.

In comparison, I find the security policies of Wesabe to be much more palatable (and, in my opinion, they have a better iPhone/iPod Touch app). With them, you have the option of giving your account information – or you can do the uploading yourself with any personal data stripped. I prefer the latter.

I do not feel it’s worth the risk to share my account information with a third party unless there’s a very compelling reason to do so.

I had just recently moved into a large apartment and was looking at purchasing some furniture, in attempting to get credit I realized how bad my credit really was. There are several debts on the account, mostly old medical expenses when I was in college and uninsured. Other than the medical expenses, I have one Credit Card with a $500 limit that is maxed. A friend suggested that I apply for a debt consolidation loan through my Credit Union, pay everything off, and diligently make the loan payments. He also suggested that once I pay off the Credit Card to leave the account open as “Available Credit” because it would help my credit score. What is your opinion on this
– Krueck

I think that’s a pretty good plan, both in terms of consolidating the debt and in terms of leaving the credit card open. Go talk to a local credit union and see what they have to say about things.

It’s worth noting that depending on how old the old medical expenses are, they may not be affecting your credit much at this point (unless you’ve been making payments recently on those debts). It’s likely that the maxed-out credit card – particularly if you’ve missed payments – is the real problem on your credit. Your first focus should be in getting all of your accounts up to date, as that will help your credit more than anything else, then getting the credit card balance down should be the next goal.

You said invest the maximum to get a company match in your 401(k), then invest the rest in a Roth IRA. While I completely agree with that, what do you suggest to someone who has problems finding that little extra to put in their Roth because they are tying to pay down debt(while going to college), and invests in a Roth 401(k) at their job? Should I become more fastidious with my budget and go for the IRA or continue with the 401(k) where my investments are doing better?
– Chris

Are you saving enough for retirement right now? That’s really the big question. It’s more important that you’re saving at least 10% for retirement than it is to worry about exactly how you’re doing it.

If you’re having trouble coming up with that 10%, your best bet is to automate the payments. Try to get the payments to your Roth IRA deducted automatically from your paycheck, or have it come out of your checking account the day after your check is deposited. Make it so that you don’t have to think about it and you’ll find yourself budgeting with the money left over.

The earlier you start saving for retirement, the better. The more you save early on, the better. Why? Early investments have a lot of years to compound and multiply their value – later investments do not.

Do you have any thoughts or suggestions on the 2009 tax credit for adding energy efficent windows and doors to a home?
– Jane

If you know the efficiency of your current doors and windows and they’re particularly inefficient, upgrading to efficient windows and doors is a pretty bright move. Not only will you increase the value of your home and enjoy reduced utility bills, you’ll also pick up a tax break this year.

I almost always think that these types of investments are worthwhile because they reduce your monthly bills in the future, and it’s often hard to tell what exactly your future holds, plus they often increase the asset value of your home.

If you don’t know the efficiency of your windows and doors, it’s time to do a proper home energy audit – and you can do it yourself! Here’s a great guide from the Department of Energy on doing just that. This is a great weekend project – it’ll help you identify the big energy inefficiencies in your home and give you some goals to work towards.

You work alone all day long many days. How do you deal with loneliness during the day?
– Bender

My goal most days is to get in a writing zone where I don’t notice the loneliness. If I’m successful, I can easily write for hours without even noticing the time passing – then, suddenly, it’s four o’clock and it’s time to get started on the evening activities.

On the days where that doesn’t work, I’ll usually place a phone call to my mother, who’s always willing to talk and fill me in on all the news from my hometown area.

If both of those fail (and that happens about once a month), I’ll pack up my messenger bag and go somewhere in public to work, just for the sake of watching people and interacting a bit.

What do you do with personal finance books after you read them?
– Lawrence

First, a note: quite often, when I hear about a personal finance book of interest, I’ll write to the publisher and ask for a review copy of the book. Most publishers are happy to send me a copy, even though I’m quite clear that I’m not promising a review at all – I only try to review books that make me think in some way.

So what do I do with those books when I’m done with them? I do lots of different things. Sometimes, I’ll give them away to commenters if they leave a particularly thoughtful one – I’ll just email that commenter and offer to send them the book. Sometimes, I’ll send out the book via PaperBackSwap (usually with a “bookmark” mentioning The Simple Dollar). At other times, I give the book to people I know.

At one point, I tried to give a box of books on frugality away at a food pantry, but there was no interest at all in them, which surprised me a bit.

On Twitter, you said “I buy local when it’s obvious – at a farmer’s market, for example – but outside of that, I don’t worry about it too much.” Could you elaborate on that a bit? What about American cars and American appliances?
– Charles

This was part of a lengthy discussion on Twitter about what it means to “buy American” when parts – and, often, whole products – come from global supply chains. Should I be partial to a Ford Fusion, which is built in Mexico with only 50% American parts, over a Honda Accord, built in Ohio with 70% American parts? (See http://tr.im/k1Kw for more.)

Personally, I prefer the Honda. American workers are assembling the cars. American workers are making more of the parts. In both companies, there are stockholders all over the globe, which is where most of the profits go. The only part of the equation that’s more “American” for Ford is the name on the label and the million-dollar salaries of the top company managers.

Because of all of these factors, I don’t worry about the “nationality” of most products – at least not anything that comes from beyond what I can track. I like buying produce at the local farmer’s market from people in the community. I prefer to buy Picket Fences milk, because that dairy is just a short drive from here. Beyond that, I often have little idea from who or where the product comes from – who was paid to assemble it, who made the parts, and so forth.

So, frankly, I don’t worry about it too much. I evaluate based on the quality of the product, not on the perceived qualities of the name on the label.

How do you decide which questions to use in a reader mailbag? You’ve said before that you get many more questions than you can answer.
– Angie

I get about 50 questions a week for the reader mailbag, of which I answer ten in the mailbag, about five in individual posts, and a few more by direct email responses.

How do I decide which ones to respond to? I don’t use an exact method. Instead, I just look for questions that look interesting. Does this question make me think? Would it result in an interesting answer that might spur discussion (without enraging people)?

I do like shorter questions that get right to the point. I generally don’t like long questions with tons and tons of rather extraneous details.

What are your summer vacation plans this year? You mentioned camping and a potential road trip. Will you be able to speak or meet with readers? We’d love to meet up with you for drinks if you’re ever near Memphis.
– Kylie

My parents, my wife, my children, and I are going on a long “road trip” vacation together in June. We intend to visit the Dallas/Fort Worth area, New Orleans, and possibly Memphis. Later in the summer, my wife, my children, and I are going to camp somewhere north of Duluth, Minnesota.

If things work out, I might be doing a small event of some sort in both DFW and New Orleans, and possibly in Minneapolis. This would likely involve a presentation at a library and/or an open “get-together” with readers for appetizers and beverages. If my schedule works out for this, I’ll post details later on.

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

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  1. The biggest difference between cars in Europe and the States is culture. Here in the US we were brought up think every car should get their oil changed every 3-5k. In Europe the cars sold were different, designed differently, and used differently; they’re maintenance requirements were thusly different.

    Now many of the cars are the same thanks to globalization, while it is ingrained in our culture to change every 3-5k engines in fact can go much longer. The maintenance minder on my 2008 accord goes off about every 7500 miles, but I’ve stretched it out to over 9000 before.

    Trent is also right about diesels, but I wanted to point out the difference between the gas/petrol cars too.

  2. Art says:

    Re: Oil changes
    Consider the source of those who have a vested interest in frequent oil changes: (1) the manufacturer who wants you to bring your car in more frequently so they can “find” other problems; (2) JiffyLube et al. who want to sell you oil.

    My 1998 BMW has 290,000 trouble free miles and I chnge the oil every 20,000 miles. I am on my third BMW and have logged over a million documented miles on them. Show me one “American” car brand that can make that claim. And yes, I have owned GM and Ford products. I love my F150. But for my hard-earned money, BMW has been the best and least-expensive investment.

  3. Craig says:

    Trent,

    On your answer regarding buy local, you mention the parts content of the vehicles but an important consideration is missing from the US/Foreign discussion. While I generally agree with your answer it is important to note that the US companies support many more jobs in this country than the foreign companies. These jobs are the higher paying engineering, marketing, technology, and research jobs that provide a much greater economic impact than just comparing the assembly jobs and profits of the companies.

  4. Craig says:

    Art,

    Here is an “American” brand vehicle that has hit the one million mile mark….

    http://www.autoblog.com/2008/02/01/wisconsin-mans-91-silverado-set-to-hit-1-million-miles/

  5. leslie says:

    I hate the Mint iphone app. I found it extremely pointless. It is not nearly interactive enough to make it useful to me. All I found that it does, is show me how my current budget stands. I don’t need an app that does that. If it allowed me to edit everything the way the website does, then that would be awesome. But it doesn’t.

  6. Bill in Houston says:

    I agree with the debt consolidation loan idea. Just be sure that, once the card is paid off you don’t just fall back into the same pattern. I know of people who consolidated their debt, and once the credit card wasn’t maxed out they started using again. It was like a drug habit. This meant that, in addition to making a debt consolidation payment they were once again making credit card payments too. The key is self discipline. I came close to doing that. Two years ago we made a number of purchases on AmEx. They totalled $4200. We thought, “What the hey, we have an $11,000 limit on this card and we’re making larger than required payments, usually $400 a month.” It turned into a boat anchor as they first dropped our credit line to $4800. Oh. No cushion for a rainy day. In six months we paid that down to $2500. A month later they dropped our line to $3200. Before we bought our house we worked hard and paid it all off. They haven’t changed our credit limit in the past eight months, but I realized that we couldn’t depend on a credit card to be our rainy day fund. The money we used to send to AmEx we now bank for a rainy day.

  7. Margaret says:

    If the medical bills are years old, they might be past the statute of limitations for debt, meaning that although the debt exists, the creditor cannot sue you to collect. If you make a payment or agree to make a payment, however small, then the clock starts over. This is not meant to be a comment on the ethics of paying old debt. However, depending on the amounts and your personal circumstances, it is something to be considered.

  8. Carrie says:

    Another possibility on the European vs American cars is whether they’re designed to use synthetic oil or not. I’m in America and have a Volkswagen Jetta that uses synthetic oil and my owner’s manual recommends changing it every 10k miles.

  9. KC says:

    Concerning oil changes – I try to find a reliable independent mechanic who is honest. He’ll let me know when something needs to be done to my cars when I bring it in for oil changes (servicing). He does not “make up” problems like the Nissan, Acura, Honda, Saturn and Toyota dealers have done with me in the past.

    I change oil in my newer cars (less than 50,000 miles) every 5k to 6k miles. As the car ages I change it more frequently with the most frequent being every 3k miles once the car over 120k.

    My trusted mechanic recommends the older the car gets to be more frequent. He said you can tell by the color of the oil – grab an old rag or newspapers and pull out the dipstick, wipe it clean and reinsert. When you pull it back out the oil should be a nice golden brown color. If it looks black or dirty then its time to change regardless of when the last oil change was. He’s right – my 150k Nissan would turn oil black every 3k miles. My new Toyota can go more than 5k before going black (I usually change it before it gets black). My Acura (90k+) recommends oil changes every 7k miles, but according to the oil test I do 6k is more accurate.

    Read your car manual and see what it says. I was very surprised that our Toyota recommended every 5k and the Acura every 7k. Read your manual and see what it recommends.

  10. Jeannine says:

    You will absolutely love New Orleans – there are quite a few things to do with all members of the family. The zoo, aquarium, and insectarium are top notch and I think everyone would enjoy a cruise on the paddlewheeler Natchez. Look into some of the packages for these things – it will save some money on admission prices. There are also plenty of sights to see that don’t cost a thing; touring the French Quarter, the sculpture garden in City Park, the Garden District’s historic homes. Small caution though – prepare yourself for the humidity in summer! It’s usually 100% everyday once June and July come around.

  11. Andrea says:

    If you end up in or near Two Harbors, MN which is north of Duluth, yet south of the boundary waters area, eat at Vanilla Bean Cafe for breakfast. They have absolutely delicious, creative breakfasts.

    http://thevanillabean.com/

  12. George says:

    The color check for oil changes never lies. The oil doesn’t necessarily break down much, but the combustion contaminants collect in the oil, which makes it change color.

  13. Tordr says:

    I have some mathematical questions/comments about the figures you are using. As I have been reading through a lot of old post, there are two things that I want to comment.

    The first is the 8% interest you are calculating on retirement accounts. Now I have no problem with the 8% figure, but while you are technically correct you are forgetting about inflation. To take an extreme example, if you put a few dollars into an account then in some generations interest will have turned these few dollars into 1 000 000 dollars. Now that might sounds great, but at the same time the price of bread has increased to maybe 2000 dollars, then you suddenly do not have so much money.
    My solution is that you reduce your interest down to count for inflation so the few dollars would in some generations turn into 500 dollars, that does not sound so impressive, but then you can still buy a bread for $1 because you have accounted for inflation. The figures become less, but you can then relate that value to the prices that are today.

    My second question was that you use the 15 years figure when figuring out which electrical appliances are cheaper in the long view. Now if you use 15 years, for the appliances then that means the average appliance should last 15 years. I feel that this figure is to big. Appliances will quite frequently last 5 to 10 years, but when you get to 10 to 20 years. Then although the appliances might not be broken, we might be tempted to replace it anyway, because new and more efficient models are on the marked. So it might be cheaper to replace it.

    I have not researched my comment enough to come up with new figures, but I would be good nice to get your view on the figures you are using.

  14. Amanda B. says:

    Yay! DFW is my hometown! I would recommend you spend more time in the FW than the D. Dallas is dirty and not all that appealing. FW is nicely laid out, has a strong arts district and some really good restaurants downtown. Plus, down town is VERY walkable, so you can make a night of just seeing what is around. Oh, and there is an awesome improv comedy show, Four Day Weekend, that has a couple shows on the weekend.

  15. Will you be heading up to Voyaguers National Park? I think I’ll be heading that way soon. Should be a nice escape into the wilderness!

  16. Bill says:

    Regarding American-made vs. Foreign-made cars:

    It is true that many foreign carmakers build their cars “locally.” However, when you buy a product, you don’t pay for just the parts and their assembly. The administrative, engineering, sales, R&D, and marketing organs of the American manufacturers are largely located in the US. The “locality” of an organization should be viewed more from a viewpoint of where the paychecks of the organization go, not just where a product they sell was made. By buying US-made goods, you support more local engineers, accountants, salesmen (corporate), corporate attorneys, etc. Since these individuals live in the US, their wages go to support their local communities, and therefore you indirectly pay for healthcare, food, tax base, etc. A Honda manufacturing plant in Ohio supports only one community – the engineering, legal, accounting, administration, etc. has already been done in Japan. Assembly and production are only one, small part of the equation. We can’t just focus on the supply-chain side cash flows.

    Given that US-located employees spend money in the US, and foreign employees don’t, I’d wager that a significant amount of “local” good is being overlooked here. I’d also wager that there are more people working on the overhead side than on the assembly side, given today’s production efficiencies and fondness for robots. Also, we can’t forget the millions of retirees the US companies support. Your money goes to keep them and theirs fed as well.

  17. Becky says:

    This is in reference to the questions asked by Krueck. Debt consolidation does not work. It only gets you deeper in debt, because of the high interest rates. I know from personal experience. And from friends & family with the same experiences. And most ‘experts’ will tell you it’s a waste of time, also. Think about it. You put all debts into 1 bill. Sounds great, right? Then they tack on the interest. And the 1 low monthly payment, isn’t so low. It’s a scam, & you’re better off talking with these people you owe money to, & working out another solution. Heck, even go to Consumer Credit. It’s free, & they will help.

  18. Mike C says:

    Trent, you are wrong about the oil changes differences in Europe. Diesel cars actually require oil changes more frequently than gasoline. Also maintenance of diesel engines is usually more expensive. On the other hand, Diesel engines last longer than gasoline, and they have far better mileage (a typical diesel car yields about 45 MPG highway).

    The difference for the oil changes is the type of oil used. In Europe they use synthetic oil, not in the US. A typical European Diesel car gets oil changes every 20000 km (12000 miles), while a 0typical European gasoline car gets oil changes every 30000 km (18000 miles).

    Some European brands like BMW actually use synthetic oil in their American cars, and also schedule their oil changes every 15000 miles and up.

    Now the question is: which one is better or cheaper? Synthetic oil is more expensive, but probably not 4 times the price. Which one is better for the environment?

    Some oil brands sell synthetic oil for American cars. Are these safe to use? Are they better than the regular oil?

    I wouldn’t mind some insight into these issues…

  19. t.e. says:

    Trent,

    That list of five books that have stuck with you caught my eye. Three of them are on my to-read list, with a bunch of behavioral economics books I think you might be interested in too:

    – Nudge, by R. Thaler and C. Sunstein
    – Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely
    – Animal Spirits, by George Akerlof
    – Infotopia, by Cass Sunstein

    I intend to attack that list as soon as finals are over. I read Nudge for class this semester, which was what sparked my interest in this field. Happy reading! ;)

  20. Matt says:

    Hey Trent, after reading your comment about Mint I was wondering if you have ever used Xpenser? My father was very insistent that I kept track of my finances with Quicken when I got my first checking account but I found it almost overwhelming because of all the features.

    With that being said, I think Xpenser is an excellent way for young people to get in the habit of tracking their finances. You can setup very easy methods of entering transactions such as texting how much you spend and what you spent it on to a certain number that then gets entered on the site.

    Also, I would like to recommend a book if you haven’t already read it. Pragmatic Thinking and Learning by Andy Hunt. It was an excellent read and, in my opinion, really helps you get back into the groove of learning after long periods of being out of school.

  21. Matt says:

    Sorry about the double post but I’d also like to point out that Xpenser does not need any personal info.

  22. Brian says:

    I think you are mistaken regarding proper oil change intervals and the differences between the US and Europe. Read here for more info:

    http://www.oilanalysis.com/article_detail.asp?articleid=562

    In general, I believe the primary difference is in the use of synthetic vs conventional oil. Europe uses primarily synthetic oils, while conventional oil usage still dominates the landscape in the States.

  23. THANK YOU, Trent, for your comments on Mint.com… I took a look at it several months ago and felt exactly the same way about the security of it. I’m extremely worried about sharing that much information with a service that isn’t charging anything. What have they got to lose? Nothing. What have I got to lose? Everything. No thanks!

  24. Big D says:

    PLEASE COME TO DALLAS :). I’d love to get a chance to meet with you and hear you speak.

  25. FrugalCubicle says:

    I have been using Mint.com since 2007 with no problems. It does not win all those awards just for the hell of it. The iphone app is a little quirky but it still keeps track of all my balances at the touch of a button.

    Quit being so scared people, if someone wanted your information, they will get it.

  26. What is the thought process you go through when organizing an article to write? Do you outline your thoughts first? Often when I try to write something, it ends up fairly chaotic.

  27. Marc says:

    Re: Oil Changes

    Europe or America makes no difference. Manufacturers (if you check your car’s manual) recommend identical intervals for oil changes regardless of location. The difference is that dealers in North America are quite adept at perpetuating the old adage of 3000 mile oil change intervals. It is much more ingrained here as cars were more common here in the 50’s-60’s than they were in Europe (when this level of maintenance was necessary).

    The only EXCEPTION to this is if your use of the car falls under “severe conditions” – this requires more frequent oil changes, usually every 5000 miles. “Severe conditions” include use in extremes of temperature, high (80%+) city driving, frequent short trips (less than 3 miles), etc. Again the manual will specify maintenance schedules and what constitutes “severe use”.

    FYI BMW’s use much larger oil filters than most cars so they clean better and can usually go farther between oil changes.

  28. Mule Skinner says:

    I have an American car with a manufacturer recommended 5000 mile oil change interval. There is a computer in the car with a small display in the middle of the instrument cluster that raises an alert when the 5000 miles have passed and the oil change is due. So I take it to the dealer.

    The dealer changes the oil, putting in manufacturer branded replacement oil, and affixes a sticker to the upper left of the windshield showing an odometer reading for the next oil change. It is calculated at 3000 miles.

  29. Karen M says:

    “There are a lot of compelling reasons for the United States to switch to diesel from petroleum-based cars, but in all likelihood both types of engines will eventually be a thing of the past.”

    Diesel fuel is petroleum based. Yes, diesel engines can run on biodiesel, BTL, or GTL fuels, but these are considered “alternative” fuels. The traditional, eponymous “diesel fuel” is a distillate of petroleum fuel oil.

    And as for eventually being a thing of the past, I doubt it. Traditional fuels may give way to more sustainable methods, but the engine is here to stay. At least for my lifetime.

  30. Jim says:

    The 3000 mile number for oil changes is mostly dated. Cars usually go 5000-7500 mi. now. The 3000 number is mostly perpetuated by the people who get paid to change oil. And its just an ‘old habits die hard’ thing for most Americans.

    I personally also prefer to buy a car made in USA as opposed to one made in another country. But there is still a big difference in the ownership of US versus Japanese brands. Most of Ford is American owned. Most of Honda is foreign owned.
    So if you buy from Ford the profits mostly stay here in the US but if you buy from Honda the profit mostly goes overseas.

    Jim

  31. Dave says:

    Comment #8: The color check for oil changes never lies.

    This is COMPLETELY FALSE. The color of oil is in no way a reliable indicator of its quality or remaining life. The only way oil can be reliably tested is by a professional laboratory, since most readers are not going to go to this extreme, stick with the manufacturer’s recommendation. Check http://www.bobistheoilguy.com for much more about oil than you want to know (I have no affiliation with this site).

  32. Gayle says:

    Hi Trent,

    Love the blog and read often. I actually work for a travel guide publisher putting our guidebook content online. In the past month or so we’ve put up parts of our guide to Texas (including Dallas/Fort Worth) and Tennessee (including Memphis). We also publish Jamie Jensen’s Road Trip USA (book and website).

    I tend to favor road trips as well—headed to the Idaho panhandle in August.

    I sincerely hope you find these links useful while planning your trip. Happy Tripping!

  33. Bill in Houston says:

    On a side note, we won’t be moving away from internal combustion engines anytime soon. Thirty years from now the vast majority of cars will still run on some kind of internal combustion cycle. There may be various geegaws like so-called “hybrid” technologies and adiabatic engine modifications, but it’ll still be some form of the Otto cycle. the reason I put hybrid in quotes was that a true hybrid, an engine that will run equally under more than one fuel source, is not being developed. E85 vehicles are close, but not quite it.

    I’m a big science fiction buff. Thirty years ago I had hoped to see nuclear powered cars with hafnium reactors, or hydrogen powered cars. Three Mile Island killed my first dream and mass production problems killed my second. Battery technology will never compete on a one-to-one basis with internal combustion, but there is some future for short commuter vehicles. Time will tell.

    To get back on topic, I stick with my manufacturer’s 3750 mile oil change schedule.

  34. Anastasia says:

    I don’t fault anyone who is concerned about security of online banking and money management sites. If you’re going to talk about security though, don’t forget the things that a user can do on their side!

    Use passwords which are hard to guess – no personal information, include both numbers and letters, change your password every 3-6 months. If you need to write it down, store it in a safe location.

    Don’t use public computers to access your online bank.

    If you have broadband (cable or DSL) get a router with a firewall.

    Never ever click on a link in an email that looks like it’s from your bank. 99% of those are phishing emails, designed to trick people into entering their user names and passwords. Then these sites use that information to hack into people’s accounts. I don’t have the link handy, but about a year ago there was an article at one of the big tech websites showing many of these phishing emails and the sites they went to. The sites looked almost identical to the bank’s real sites.

    Finally, do not give out your password over email or over the phone. If the bank calls and insists they need your password, call them back (using the customer service number on your statement or the back of your credit/debit card) first. That way you know you are actually taking to the bank, and not someone just claiming to be the bank.

    My point is the security is a multi-faceted issue. I hope that my bank (or the money management site I’m using, Rudder.com) never get hacked. That’s out of my control though. What I can do is these things listed to help keep my account safe.

  35. I have to agree that sometimes buying local or American isn’t so easy to know. However, when buying big ticket items that provide employment for alot of people the research can be worth it.

  36. Shevy says:

    @FrugalCubicle
    Yes, if someone wants your information specifically and wants it badly enough there’s probably very little you can do (other than delay them with Anastasia’s suggestions).

    But I see no reason to hand out my data on a silver platter to be grabbed by the first hacker past the post! A treasure trove of information like Mint is a hacker’s dream come true. It’s much more work to crack people’s data one household at a time. (In similar fashion, mailbox thieves prefer apartment buildings to going house to house. One stop “shopping”.)

  37. ub says:

    Question: Excel expertise. You are constantly referring to your Excel spreadsheets and “running the numbers” but I haven’t seen (or I’ve missed) articles/links to help out those who might want to get started out creating their own spreadsheets. It would be great to hear you explain some basic to advanced topics in spreadsheets, from setting up simple formulas and formatting tips to pivot tables and pulling information from the internet. Links to other sites that do the same would be interesting too but we all read this blog for the clear, concise and relevant way in which you present the information so it might be fun to hear it from you.

  38. Ginny B. says:

    Hi Trent,

    I have done much camping north of Duluth; being Minnesota born and raised. I currently have a one year old and a two and a half year old. When my youngest was only a month my husband and I took a vacation up into the Gunflint Trail (essentially the boundary waters). If you want any info regarding good spots to go or good places to stop with the kids along the way send me an email and I would be happy to share what I know with you.

  39. Writergirl says:

    Hi Trent, I was wondering what you would do if you were recently laid off like I am and had some credit card debt? I was going to pay it off with my tax refund, but then I unexpectedly lost my job. Some experts like Suze Orman and a few friends have recommended just making minimum payments on this debt and stashing the refund in my emergency savings because credit companies will close your line of credit, and you can no longer rely on it for the worst-case scenario.

    If it matters, I have enough saved to cover six months of basic living expenses, I’m expecting to get weekly unemployment checks that cover all of my living expenses for the time I’m receiving them, and I have a little bit of severance that I also plan to put aside. Thanks, Trent.

  40. Bill in Houston says:

    Sorry about my ramble above. I just get going, meaning to type two or three lines and it turns in to paragraphs.

  41. tlangejr says:

    Looking forward to some type of Minneapolis get-together… I enjoying reading even though I may not comment much!

  42. Jamie says:

    I’d love to meet if you come to DFW. I was excited when I saw today’s post. Your blog is consistently one of my favorites! It’s well-written (double-checked for spelling and grammar), very useful, and drama free. You don’t preach or lecture at all. You simply state what you do and who you are–which is rare nowadays. And! I love the simple layout of the site, even the Trebuchet MS font! :-)

    Keep up the great work Trent. You truly are an inspiration.

  43. FrugalCubicle says:

    http://www.mint.com/privacy/security-tech/

    Check out their security. if you can hack into and know several ethical hackers

  44. Jessica says:

    My husband and I plan on taking a two week road trip this summer to VA, DC, PA, and OH. We signed up for AAA and saved so much on our DC hotel that it paid for the entire membership…

    Qustion: What will your family do to keep costs down on the road?

    I’d love to see some tips!

  45. Hallie Evans says:

    Hi Trent! My husband and I took a trip a couple of years ago along the north shore and it was great. It may be too late to reserve a spot there, but if you’re still looking for a place to camp, Gooseberry Falls is very nice. The scenery there is absolutely beautiful, and the campsites that we saw had a lot of trees around them and trees between the sites, so they looked semi-private. Just a heads up. Hope you enjoy the drive no matter what.

  46. tadeusz says:

    I wonder why you keep on suggesting both 401(k) and Roth IRAs.

    As social welfare in the USA gets bigger and bigger there will be more and more government control upon those resources.

    Argentina and Slovakia recently nationalized they retirement programs similar to 401(k) and Roth IRA at a tremendous loss to the citizens.

    Are you willing to bet all your retirement funds on the bet that there will be no crooks in Washington DC in the next 30 years?

    In my opinion it’s time to diversify political risks in your portfolio. What do you think?

  47. Leah says:

    My Honda was built in Mexico. It says so on the inside door panel, right next to the tire information.

    Don’t get me wrong — I love Honda, and barring some compelling unforeseen circumstance, I’ll own one for the rest of my life. But…they’re not always built in the USA.

  48. St. Paulite says:

    Yes, definitely stop in the Twin Cities, Mpls-St. Paul. Bet you’ll get a big turnout.

  49. nw says:

    Here’s a question Trent. We are upside-down on my husband’s car loan and are trying to get rid of it. what steps do you take to do this when the car is worth less than the loan? we’ve moved to a city with great public transportation and no longer need the vehicle, so it would be wonderful if we could cut our losses and save on car insurance and car payments since our living expenses have gone up considerably since moving.

  50. Georgia says:

    I heard an old gentleman say that we waste far too much oil. He said to check your oil often and if it is viscous, it is fine. What you should change every 3-5k miles is your oil filter. It is what keeps your oil clean and as long as it is clean, it is usable. He said if your oil is thin and burnt looking, change it. But who can change your own oil filter anymore? And what service station would do it? Cars are so complicated now that it is hard to work on them.

    And, as to time to change oil, the book that came with my 91 Lumina said to change oil every 3k if you drove around town or short distances. If you drove mostly highway miles, change it every 7500 miles (and that was not with synthetic oil). As I was doing 7-800 miles a week of highway driving, I only changed oil every 7500 miles and tha usually happened about every 3 months.

  51. Jessica says:

    You talk a lot about researching before a large purchase. What do you use to research?

    I am on the market for a new computer. Needs to be a good one, technologically speaking, because I need to use it for my Distance Education Masters program (but I liked your post about the $100 computer for just mail and word or something). I am willing to spend a bit extra to get something that will be more reliable and longer lasting (like perhaps a Mac)…. but I dont know what would be best.

  52. oldernwiser says:

    Hey Trent,

    While there’s probably plenty on your list for New Orleans, try to fit in a visit to the D-Day Museum! Your parents would love it and I’m betting your little boy would be enthralled with all the planes and vehicles and stuff that are there. It is really a cool place. I’ve not seen the Pacific theatre part of it, only the European theatre.

    If you make it, be sure and notice the commission pennant from the U.S.S. Augusta (flagship of the invasion)..it is on a little wall all by itself sort of near some stairs..ok, totally random…
    but my dad rescued that pennant after it was shot down by the Germans firing out to sea.

  53. Erik says:

    Hey Trent,

    I was wondering about how to best position yourself for getting a mortgage. I am 20 and have only had one credit card and no debt. should i get a CC and make some smart moves to build credit so I can get the full amount on a mortgage (with a proper down payment also)? and what are smart credit moves?

    Thanks for all you do!

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