Reader Mailbag #64

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. Several readers have asked for more “big lists” of money saving tips recently (and I’m working on a couple), but here are three of my favorite ones from the past.
Little Steps: 100 Great Tips For Saving Money For Those Just Getting Started
100 Things to Do During a Money Free Weekend
The Readers Speak Out: Their 25 Best Actions for Saving Money

And now, some great reader questions!

How did you come up with the name The Simple Dollar?
- Mol

When I was first thinking about the site, I made a giant list of potential names – just pure brainstorming. Most of them were pretty awful (somehow, looking back, I don’t think Big Bad Voodoo Debt would have clicked).

I went through the options on the list and gradually knocked off the dumb ones and the ones that were already in use for some other purpose. When I got down to a small handful of promising options, I read them off to my wife, who liked The Simple Dollar.

It was as simple as that! I think it ended up being a really good choice.

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?
- S.

There are a lot of great choices for two players – backgammon, Lost Cities, Carcassonne, and Spite & Malice immediately come to mind.

Having said that, I would strongly urge you to find another couple to regularly play board games with. There are many great games out there that are perfect for four players. Plus, a big part of the enjoyment of any game is the socialization opportunities it creates.

Here’s a great discussion of two player board games on MetaFilter.

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.
- Katie

From my perspective, the die has already been cast here. Your options are either to do something that’s bound to cause some waves or to simply pay for something you don’t approve of. I don’t think there is a tactful way out of this situation, particularly if you’re concerned mostly about the bride’s feelings. I agree with you that the planning process was not appropriate, though – you should have been involved in planning the event.

If you truly cannot come up with the money, you need to tell everyone involved. Simply staying home the night of the party will create negative feelings, too, as the costs will go up for everyone else still participating. If the bill is $1,000 and they were planning on dividing it among four people and you don’t show, suddenly the shares all go up almost $100 – and that will create even more hard feelings.

Having said that, this is a great reason to always be involved with the planning of any event where you’re going to be expected to shell out money. Quite often, if you rely on your own personal estimates, you’ll find that they don’t match well with what others intend to do.

“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.
- Mark

Let me give you an example of the types of “criticism” that are levied at me:

What kind of career advice would you give? How to have a “career” at being self-righteous and armchair quarterbacking others lives from behind your computer screen, while sending your spouse out into the real world to have a real job?

I think most people would prefer the $20.

There was a time, early on, when a comment like that would really bother me. I would wonder what I had done wrong and try to think of some way I could make the site better to please such commenters.

As the site became more and more popular, though, I began to see more and more comments like these and I began to really believe them. I thought I was wasting my time with The Simple Dollar. I’d believe that I was merely a “self-righteous armchair quarterback” who didn’t help anyone.

In order to keep writing, I had to see these kinds of things for what they are: angry people spouting their anger at a convenient target.

It’s not hard to see when genuine, intelligent criticisms are levied against the site and against my own opinions. I value those quite a bit. However, most of the negative comments go down another path entirely, simply attacking for no real purpose at all other than to show off one’s chip on their shoulder. If I let those comments bother me, I’d stop The Simple Dollar tomorrow.

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 definitely open to more training but from where? Do any of your readers have suggestions?
- JoannMe

It sounds to me like you’re in a fairly tough place. Your degree isn’t highly marketable, unfortunately, and you’re at a stage in life where employers are less likely to take a risk on you.

If you need to be employed quickly, I’d start with an employment agency. Once I found a temporary position, I’d do everything in my power to wow them. Go the extra mile to really help out around the workplace and show that you’re something special.

If you have more time than that, do an honest skills assessment – there are many online tools that help with this. Figure out where your skills lie and then look for jobs that match those skills. Get training in those areas that match the kind of job you’re looking for.

I’m sure readers will have a lot of suggestions on this one.

You mentioned your son likes Pixar movies. I love watching them with my own kids. Which one is your favorite? How do you rank them?
- Louise

My favorite Pixar movie is probably Ratatouille, but my children don’t like it nearly as well – they tend to request pretty much every other one instead of this one. I do like all of them, though, and I think they all provide some great family-friendly entertainment with some good lessons tied up in there.

Here’s how I would rank them, for my own enjoyment:
Ratatouille
WALL-E;
Toy Story 2
Finding Nemo
The Incredibles
Monsters, Inc.
Toy Story
A Bug’s Life
Cars;

That was harder than it had any right to be.

I’ve been following you on Twitter – you read a lot of books! How do you keep track of what you’re going to read next? Do you plan it out, or do you just grab a new book when you finish the last one?
- Cho

I usually have a good idea of the next book I’m going to read, but that’s about it. I usually have about five books I’m interested in reading in the next month or two floating around in my mind, but in no particular order.

Sometimes, I’ll go through the books i have on hand, discover a few that I really want to read soon, and put them in a prominent place so that I see them over and over again. That’s usually a good way to ensure that these are the next books I read.

That being said, I usually am reading two (sometimes three) books at once. I usually pick ones that are very, very different from one another so that I don’t get confused between the two books. Thus, when I mention what I’m “currently reading,” it’s usually the one I’m closest to finishing.

If you were to stop writing The Simple Dollar today and start another blog, what would it be about?
- Ursula

Food, undoubtedly. I’d write about cooking, shopping for food, and so on.

For a long time, I attempted to start such a blog in my spare time, but I found over and over again that I simply didn’t have time to start another blog at the level of The Simple Dollar. It takes a lot of time to run The Simple Dollar – far more than just the writing that you read.

So what do I do with that pent-up desire to write about food? I write about one food-related post a week here on The Simple Dollar, usually focusing on low-cost food ideas. This somewhat restricts what I write about (but not entirely).

What do you think is your worst trait as a parent? What do you work on?
- Cam

My worst trait as a parent is completely misunderstanding what my children are saying to me. They’ll be trying to communicate something to me in words and in gestures, and I’ll completely whiff on it, either because I can’t hear them really well or because I’m impressing an idea I already have on what they’re saying.

How do I work on that? I usually find that getting down at my children’s eye level helps with this problem. Looking them right in the eye usually makes the communication clearer and helps me to understand what’s really going on.

My other problem is that I tend to run out of gas around bedtime. I’ve been up since 6 or so and scarcely stopped all day, and by the time I’ve read the kids their bedtime stories, I’m utterly exhausted. I’ll nod off in their room (I usually sit in there in a chair for a bit if they ask me to until they start to drift off) and then my wife will wake me up after I’ve missed some time we could spend together in the evening. My best bet to stop this is to stay active in the evening until their bedtime arrives – if we do stuff that’s fairly sedentary after supper, I often get a bit sleepy.

How are you doing with your fantasy baseball league this year?
- Roger

It’s going pretty well, but not because of my supposed “good” players. My MVP early on, for example, was Zack Greinke, who was one of my last picks. Meanwhile, some of my earliest picks (like Carlos Zambrano) have done good, but not great.

Here’s the thing with fantasy baseball. I simply love baseball. It’s something that my grandfather and my father ingrained deeply in me. I grew up watching tons and tons of games and dreaming of being able to play as well as Kirk Gibson or Ryne Sandberg.

That passion is still there, but now it’s channeled differently. Back in the day, I used to watch every Cubs game with my father. Now, I’m the only baseball fan in my house, so I listen to the radio, do some reading, and play some fantasy baseball to keep up with it.

Even now, I still get goosebumps during exciting games. “Two on… two out… the Cubs down by two” still gets me going, after all these years. I like to imagine my father watching the game, and I think about my grandpa, too, and something just feels right.

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

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  1. great Q&A post! Some of the topics were quite random but it was good to know the answer…kinda gives a more personal connection.

  2. For a great 2 player board game, I recommend The Settlers of Catan Card Game. It captures the fun of the original, is simple, and is made specifically for 2 people. My wife and I really enjoy it.

  3. Wendy says:

    @S- My husband and I play Settlers of Catan often. It is a totally different strategy with only two players, but still fun. Give it a try!

    @Katie- Is there one person who made the plans or a group of them? Either way, find the one person who is the most in charge- the bride, the maid of honor, or whomever is most reasonable. Tell her that you are very happy to be a bridesmaid, but that you are very frustrated to be left out of planning for things that you are expected to pay for. Tell them that you are really sorry you can’t afford the $200 share, but that you do have $70 to pitch in, and really want to find a solution that works for everyone. Once you have found one person who is sympathetic, it will be easier to address the issue with the rest of the group. Confrontation can be hard, but the sooner you say something, the more likely a middle ground can be reached. You do not owe any explanation of why you can only afford so much and if you are asked, remind her that your budget is not the issue- it is not appropriate to make plans without ALL of the financiers being involved.

  4. Kristina says:

    Katie, is the bill for the party being paid for by only the bridal party? With the bachelorette parties I’ve gone to in the past, every attendee was asked to contribute an equal portion to the cost. That way, the bridal party didn’t have to suffer with a hefty bill in the end.

  5. Andy says:

    Trent – regarding those who criticize you. Remember out of a nation of almost 300 million, there are bound to be a lot of dopes.

  6. Marsha says:

    For JoannMe: I’m 55, and I just recently got my 4th college degree (actually 3rd advanced degree). I’m not trying to pat myself on the back – I’m just suggesting that (1) having 1 degree doesn’t preclude you from getting another one and (2) it’s never too late to go to school (if that’s what you want to do).

    That said, you may not need to. You might see if your local university or community college offers career counseling – or if your alma mater does. You might see if you can get a teaching certificate with just a few classes and/or student teaching. You might look into freelance writing. You might try temping to find out about various options.

    I can’t tell from your question what you are interested in, and that’s probably where the solution lies. Just don’t count anything out, especially not because of your age!

  7. carmen says:

    Katie – I have no idea what costs you are being asked to cover, but if you can’t afford them then you have no choice but to discuss it with your friend (the Bride.)

    You mentioned a bridesmaid dress; are you expected to pay for that? Neither of my bridesmaids paid for their dress. Bridal/hen parties can often be ridiculously expensive these days but it is selfish for someone to plan an expensive party without the okay from all the guests, who should all be paying an equal split of the total bill obviously.

    Likewise, you should feel free to choose your own choice of accommodation and a wedding gift that is affordable.

    If the Bride is a good friend, as she should be given you are a Bridesmaid, then money should not be an issue and you should talk to her about it. She would not want to cause you any angst, I assure you. Tell it like it is.

  8. karyn says:

    My husband was invited to his boss’ son’s wedding. He doesn’t know the bride or groom at all but feels obligated to go because his boss invited him. My friend says that if he only attends the ceremony, he is not obligated to buy a gift. Do you agree?

    By the way, Finding Nemo far outranks the other Pixar movies. And I should know; I have had to watch it ten times at least, lol!

    Thanks for your blog and your help!

  9. Jackie says:

    I agree with you, Trent, that the Pixar movies adults like most (Wall-E, Ratatouille) are most often not the ones kids like most (Cars, Bug’s Life). Some Pixar movies are really just animated dramas, I think, instead of actually being true children’s films. Not that I enjoy them any less!

    JoannMe: I agree with one of the previous posters that a 26-year-old Bachelor’s is not the final solution here, but only a beginning. Trent has a lot of great post on finding your passion and then figuring out how to make it a job– what are your passions? What are the jobs you want to have? Once you’ve answered those questions, it might be easier to figure out how to get them.

    Also, I think if anyone goes to a wedding, you should bring a gift– not due to obligation, but simply because it’s good manners. Otherwise, don’t go.

  10. Noah says:

    Dominion is the best two player “board” game of the last ten years, in my opinion.

  11. MichelleO says:

    Katie,

    It’s been my experience that weddings and funerals bring out the worst in people. Here’s my suggestion:

    Assuming that you’re close to the bride, why not explain to her that you simply can’t afford to partake in the bridal shower. But, you’d like to do something special for her. Then, do something that fits within your budget. If the other members of the bridal party get upset over it, that’s not your problem. They weren’t considerate when you mentioned you couldn’t afford it, nor did they consult you during the planning stage.

    Michelle

  12. archdiva says:

    @ JoanneMe: I work in higher education and see new graduates and alumni struggling with the same thing. One resource that Trent didn’t mention is the career services office at your alma mater. Usually they offer services free or low cost to alumni, including connecting you to other alum who are in career fields you might like to explore for intformational interviews. My alma mater, which is over 1000 miles away from me, has an online alumni networking service, too, so if you’re not local to your school, you might still be able to connect.

    All in all, it sounds to me like you need to figure out what you’re passionate about, not just what skills and experience you have. Sometimes our skills and knowledge don’t reflect what gets us excited and out of bed in the morning. But your skills might help you in pursuing your passion! Good luck!!!

  13. Maggie says:

    Karyn, your friend is wrong about gifts. If he’s worried about harming relations with your boss by NOT going to the wedding–I think it would be much worse to go and not take a gift. A gift is expected at any wedding you attend. And for better or worse, people often systematically keep track of gifts (for both thank you notes or more tacky reasons). Those wedding planners and software have checklists so you can keep track of who sent what gift and at the end of the day his name will be one of the few with a blank spot next to it. To not send or bring a gift would almost certainly be thought of as rude. It will seem like he just came for food, drink and cake. Better to kindly refuse the invitation than to go sans gift. (Also, some think that the mere receipt of an invitation requires a gift. That is a little too strict for me–especially if it seems like I’m invited not so I will go, but just to prompt a gift. I believe on Seinfeld they called it an “un-vitation.”)

    Katie–It’s hard to decide what to do not knowing how humongous this contribution is. If it decidedly harms your budget (as in going beyond just bothering you in principal) and is way beyond what you expected, I would absolutely insist that the plans be scaled back or that those who insist on going forward with the current plans pick up the financial slack. I bet there are other bridesmaids who will appreciate your stance.

    Carmen–bridesmaids are definitely expected to pay for their own dresses. I have purchased many of them. Nice brides try to pick something that’s not TOO expensive and choose a design that would work for another special occasion later.

  14. Dani B says:

    @JoannMe: I can only speak from my limited personal experience here, but I too am a graduate with an arts degree (BMus) and not a ton of ‘hard’ skills. I left university without a clue what I wanted to do, career wise, and simply stayed in the job I’d worked at while a student – Starbucks barista. I worked my way up to store manager, with lots of internal training along the way, and after several years concluded that what really got me fired up was the training and teaching part of my job. Cue personal shift in thinking, where I brush up my CV and start looking for HR and training-oriented positions, figuring out what qualifications they require that I haven’t got, and then taking a part-time course to prepare myself for the market. It’s been a roundabout route to figuring it out, but I got there in the end! What about taking an interest course or two at a community or online college, and seeing what really excites you? You probably also have lots of transferable skills from other jobs, so don’t discount how a job as a barista might prepare you to work as a coporate trainer!

  15. kitty says:

    I’d like to second Wendy and Carmen regarding the bridesmaid dress and the cost.

    I’ve always found the whole idea of putting one’s friends on the spot and making them pay large amounts whether they can afford it or not very selfish and rude. To me friends care about their friends and caring assumes consideration for others. When I was in college, a girl I knew was getting married. She invited 4 other girls to be her bridesmaids and asked them to pay $80 for the dresses which back in 1982 and for these girls – all students whose parents were recent refugees from the Soviet Union – this was a lot of money. The bride had rich relatives, but she had no consideration about those who didn’t. She didn’t have bachelorette party, she had a bridal shower and for that she registered in an expensive store. Most of the people though who couldn’t afford to buy stuff at this store, simply choose an item from the registry that could be bought elsewhere, checked it off and then bought it in a cheaper store.

    Recently, a young woman, a daughter of a friend of mine got married she decided against bridesmaids and settled on one maid of honor who’d pick her own dress because she said “I cannot to do this to my friends. I know that my friends are (medical) students with student loans, and I cannot make them spend money”. This is a real friend. Friends who make their friend spend hundreds of dollars without any consideration how their friends might feel about it are not real friends. It’s Cathy’s friend wedding not Cathy’s. Certainly she can expect presents for the party and the wedding, and if some presents come in form of cash in an envelope that can help offset the cost – great, she can even hint that this is what she’d prefer. But putting someone in a situation when they have to spend more money than they are willing or able to spend is indecent, at least in my humble opinion. As to bachelorette party – I have no experience with those, but if the cost is split among all people, then everyone has to agree beforehand or at least know for sure that everyone in the party is OK with the cost. Just because a sister is willing to spend money she cannot afford doesn’t mean others are like this.

    Maybe as an immigrant I am more used to having friends with different incomes, ranging from recent immigrants who just started making money in the US to people who’s lived in the US for years, have decent salaries and considerable savings, so being considerate for what others can and cannot afford is pretty automatic for me. But I think consideration for others should be universal.

    I don’t really know what the good choice is after one is put on the spot like this. But I think Wendy and Carmen made good suggestions.

  16. Joseph Tanner says:

    I’m not sure there is a right way to handle this. I’d probably just tell them that you can’t afford this, and you understand if you’re not allowed to the party. If they ask why you can’t afford it, just tell them it’s due to the economy, or say it’s private and you don’t wish to discuss finances with others. If they hound you about it, tell them that if you would have been included with the planning, you would have brought it up right away.

    My wife’s sister recently had a wedding. Each bridesmaid had to buy their own dress, the only stipulation was it had to be a specific color (then of course the long dress my wife bought was not right for the season, should have been shorter or something, I dunno). Then my wife pays for the deposit for where the shower would be. Of course her sister changed her mind, and the deposit was non-refundable. Wife was still expected to pay “her share” of the new place. Not sure what etiquette dictated, but everyone was a little upset, and my wife had to pay twice.

    I’m glad I’m a man and didn’t have to worry about any of this stuff. Had to pay for the tux rental, and the bachelor party was dirt cheap (the best man and my brother came over and we watched DragonBallZ all night).

  17. guinness416 says:

    Katie please give us an update on the bridal event when you decide what to do. I agree that being honest (and upbeat, somehow, not whiny!) with the maid of honour or someone “senior” is the best way forward if you really don’t have the cash. However in my experience weddings turn otherwise reasonable people into lunatics; best of luck in a tough situation!

  18. marie says:

    Katie,
    Your story is one I have heard many, many times from friends, and cousins.

    What bothers me the most about what you said is that the wedding is in ‘a few weeks’. Because it is so soon, there is very little you can do. If you talk to the bride/maid of honour, you might be able to get out of it, but so close to the wedding, there will be a lot of resentment coming from the wedding party. Not to say that you should just charge it all on your credit card, and pay it back for the next three years. Talk to the bride, one on one, without the rest of the bridesmaids. Tell her you don’t want to ruin her day, you don’t want to worry her, but be prepared to show her that you really don’t have the money. Her sister might be ‘poor’ by her own standards, but that is only an opinion. Tell the bride exactly how much money you are out, and try to come up with a way to get the money without it affecting the other bridesmaids.

    Also, at this point, is there anything that could be cut out. For example, maybe the other bridesmaids are getting their hair done, but you could do it yourself. How about the bachelorette? Could you all buy your own drinks instead of charging the whole thing and then slipping it. Try to find ways that can cut your costs. Don’t give a bridesmaid gift, or get out of the group one.

    I also think that is is a really important issue that needs to get out there. Every single woman I know who has been a bridesmaid has come up with this type of issue, either by a small margin, or a big one. I think the biggest piece of advice that needs to get out there is that girls are allowed to graceful reject the invitation to be a bridesmaid. The thing is, you must do so when the plans are in preparation. Normally, you will be asked some time after the engagement. At that time, if you know you won’t be able to afford it, or if you don’t know if you will be able to afford it, then say no. At that time, no plans have been made and it is the best time to step out of it.

    Also, when you get asked to be a bridesmaid, bring up the issue of cost right there and then. Tell your friend how much you would be able to contribute for her wedding. Whether it is $300, or $2000, she should know so that she can tell you the type of wedding they are planning, and how much it’ll cost. Ask her if you will need to buy your dress, if there will be a bridal shower, a bachelorette (yes ,some people have both!), bridesmaids gift, etc. etc. Also, never compare it with your own wedding, or somebody else’s wedding that you were a bridesmaid for because costs vary enormously.

  19. Ariel says:

    I’m 22 and I’ll be starting grad school in the fall. I have almost enough cash in the bank to pay tuition for my two year program (including the mandatory summer semesters), but I don’t have any additional cash for housing, food, textbooks, etc. I plan to work a lot of overtime this summer and save what I can from that, and then work as much as possible while I’m in school to help cover expenses. Because of my assets, I can’t currently get student loans, but I will probably become eligible later as my assets decrease, hence my question:

    Should I contribute to my Roth IRA these coming two years, or should I keep my earnings as cash and put them toward expenses? If I contribute to the Roth, I’d become eligible for low interest student loans fairly soon. Would it be a better deal to have student debt and have the corresponding amount of money in a Roth with two more years of compound interest, or to graduate debt free?

    I’m not sure whether it’s relevant, but my annual pay is expected to go from 35k to 70k after grad school, and I’m easily living within my means on the 35k salary, meaning I should be able to put a lot toward investing later. The annual cap on the Roth, though, will significantly limit what I invest before taxes. Also, I’m currently single, but I’d be thrilled to meet someone and have some kids, which would change all my financial plans.

  20. Todd says:

    As Trent says, Katie’s concern with the bride keeps this from being a simple situation. Backing out or causing a scene might hurt her friend’s feelings. So, since the planner(s)were so rude, and essentially planned a party they couldn’t afford and are attempting to foist the bill off on the group, I think Katie should respond not with rudeness in return, but with extreme concern. I’d say something like “If I would have known it would be so much I would have had to back out of the party, but I don’t want to do that at this point, so I’ll do whatever it takes to find the money. It might take me awhile though. I don’t even have that much in the bank right now, so I’m going to have to ask my parents for a loan, and I can always sell a few of my things on e-bay, and oh but I will do whatever it takes to make this day special for _____.”

    I’d pour it on thick. Not that the rude people will have the capacity for feeling guilty, but at least you’ll make it clear that you are not about to hand over a pile of cash without a LOT of fuss and handwringing. Just maybe this will make them think twice about pulling this kind of thing in the future–or at least they won’t pull it on you again!

  21. Becky Thomas says:

    I have to admit at being a newbie to your site. I find a lot of information on it, some I can use, and some I can’t. I have to say that I don’t understand the criticism against you. I take the advice I know I can use and leave the stuff I can’t. I know my situation better than anyone else and I know what works for me. It’s as simple as that.

  22. cynthia says:

    scrabble is my very favorite game ever!

  23. Shevy says:

    When I was little, from about age 7 to 11, my best friend and I used to come home from school every day and play together at one of our houses (we lived in the same block 2 streets apart). We played a game of Monopoly almost every single day! I don’t think our mothers could figure out why we didn’t get bored with it, but we didn’t. Nowadays, when we get together (some 40 years later), we’re more likely to play Scrabble.

    As for the wedding issue, this is not uncommon at all. Unfortunately, a lot of brides have this fantasy wedding that they’ve built up in their head and they feel absolutely entitled to it. Bridesmaids are generally expected to pay for the dress (chosen by the bride and usually unwearable for any other occasion), shoes, a shower gift, a wedding gift and a portion of the batchelorette party. Sometimes there are other “extras” like an engagement party to attend (with engagement gift) or multiple stagettes or showers (a family one and a friend one).

    At some point you really just have to put your foot down and say that you aren’t able to fly to Vegas for a weekend stagette or attend more than 2 or 3 restaurant parties to announce the happy event, or to pay for a night at a 4 star hotel (in a suite with the other bridesmaids after the stagette).

    If you can’t spend that kind of money, that’s it. You can’t afford it. And if you just object to paying several hundred dollars in order to watch your girlfriend make a drunken fool of herself at a nightclub, that’s fine too in my book!

    So long as you’re paying for the dress, shoes, 2 gifts, attending a shower and being available for your friend to talk to when she’s all stressed out about the wedding *you don’t need to apologize to anyone for not doing more*.

    And, if you can’t manage all those things, then the thing to do is to turn down your friend *when she asks you* to be a bridesmaid. Say you adore her and you’d love to be a bridesmaid but that your finances are such that you know you won’t be able to handle the responsibilities that it entails.

    And my take on weddings? It’s not supposed to be the best day of your life! It’s supposed to be fun, special and memorable but if it’s the acme then your whole married life together will be an anticlimax!

  24. prodgod says:

    Very well-put, Shevy.

  25. Sudipta says:

    Hi,

    I am a regular visitor your site and find your columns very interesting.
    I have a question, and would be very happy if you could answer it from your perspective.
    We are dealing with a huge credit card debt that both me and my husband has piled. I have curbed my indiscriminate spending habits, have built some emergency fund. I also have a regular retirement savings and seperate savings for my kids education.
    Unfortunately my husband is struglling with his debt and I am failing to help him with it. It is creating a lot of tension in our family.
    As we are Indians I have a sizeable amount of gold jewellery that is lying unused in my locker. Should I sell off a part of it to help my husband and end the tension between us.
    Thanks
    Sudipta

  26. Todd says:

    You’re an absolute moron if you think Carlos Zambrano has done any semblance of “good” this season. A 4.64 ERA with high WHIP, low K/9 and a stint on the DL is atrocious.

  27. Sunshine says:

    WRT the criticism, all one has to do is look at the recent tuna casserole post. Some of it is just nasty and not constructive at all.

  28. Anna says:

    Katie, in addition to the excellent comments already: when you talk to the person in charge, whoever she is, ask if there’s still time to downsize the plans. You could even suggest a low-cost modification. The other bridesmaids, too, may well be grateful for the lower expense (no matter how well off they are).

    And please do let us know the outcome. You can tell from all these comments that many of us are concerned. You’ve struck a nerve here.

  29. reulte says:

    JoannMe — So you got a degree a quarter century ago. It sounds to me like you’re not only open to new training, you want us to suggest it. OK — get more training. It won’t help you decide what you want to be when you’re all grown up (this is not a put-down –I’m 50 and have decided to wait until I retire in a few years before I decide what I want to do or be!) However, don’t go to an employment agency. They’ll charge you money and push you to whatever job is closest at (their) hand. Go to the college you work at — do they provide some kind of ‘discount’ for employees? Go to their job-search program, check out if they have personality tests pointing you in certain directions. Check out http://www.usajobs.opm.gov for government jobs.

    My favorite two-person game? Cribbage.

  30. AC says:

    [quote]What kind of career advice would you give? How to have a “career” at being self-righteous and armchair quarterbacking others lives from behind your computer screen, while sending your spouse out into the real world to have a real job? I think most people would prefer the $20.[/quote]

    It’s amusing to see gender stereotypes rear their heads – would you have made this same comment if a woman was running TSD while her husband worked a “real job”? Chances are, having written a comment like the one I quoted above, you wouldn’t even read a financial blog written by a woman, so perhaps my point is moot.

  31. Kristin says:

    @AC It’s interesting that you think the quote was written by a man.

    @Trent: you are clearly bothered by the post if you reference it weeks after it was written.

  32. ML says:

    @Todd, one of the letters included in the mailbag mentioned negative comments. I think you could have stated your disagreement with Trent’s assessment in a polite manner. @Kristin, I agree that Trent is still bothered by the post. No one likes to be insulted. Some would say, if you are not open to all comments, why have a blog? A blog is one’s person’s opinions, trials and experiences. I think the negative comments signal a bigger problem globally that people do not have respect for the feelings of others.

  33. Marie says:

    Here’s a question:

    As an older graduate student, I am finding that I am racking up quite a nice debt ($20-30K) in student loan money. I am working p/t while I am in school, so that I finish faster. What do you suggest I do with the debt once I start paying it? Should I try to pay it off in as little time as possible, or to hang onto it and pay it off over more years. I already have a good credit history. But, I have barely any retirement money saved, and will be 40 in a few years. I am wondering if money is better off split between the two, favoring the retirement fund. Thank you.

  34. Becky says:

    I want to comment on the letter about keeping track of your reading. There are many free websites that help you keep track of what you have read and want to read. The 3 most popular are Library Thing, Good Reads and Shelfari.

    As a librarian who specializes in leisure reading, I have worked with all of these. Personally I use Shelfari and you can see my shelf at http://www.shelfari.com/bspratford. I keep three lists, books I have read, books I am currently reading (this month) and books I want to read. What is nice about the “to-read” list is that since I am using a web based list, I can add titles anytime. I also write about leisure reading at my blog http://raforall.blogspot.com.

    Like Trent, I read many different books at the same time, but unlike Trent, I am expected to remember the details of what I read for my job. It works for me. Hope that helps.

  35. AC says:

    @Kristin: It’s interesting that you think that I thought the quote was written by a man. ;) I think my comments would still hold if the poster of the comment I quoted were a woman – gender stereotypes are upheld by both sexes.

  36. Todd says:

    @ML. You’ve clearly never played fantasy sports if you think that you should address different points of view in a polite manner. If he really thinks that Carlos Zambrano has been good this year, I stand by my assertion that he’s a moron!

    Fantasy sports trash talk is part of the game. It’s all in fun.

  37. Mol says:

    Trent,
    How do you make a resignation letter look respectable, but not ramble? Where is the happy medium? (Yay for following your dreams!)

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