Reader Mailbag #7

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.
Do I really need to talk to Chuck?
How to write a great thank-you note
A great little way to prioritize things
My thoughts on Getting Things Done and unstructured time management

And now for some great reader questions!

Can you point me in the direction of some great free online games?
- Philbert

First of all, if you haven’t spent five minutes playing You Have To Burn The Rope, you haven’t enjoyed the sublime nature of online games.

My favorite online game of all, though, is Desktop Tower Defense – it’s the one game I actually block my work computer from accessing because I can burn time playing it. The strategy is fairly complex – it’s a real-time strategy game – but the game is simple enough that you can figure it out in just a few minutes.

There are also two online versions of real-world games that I often play. I use WebSudoku.com to get my daily fill of sudoku (I usually play a puzzle or two to mentally limber up in the morning) and I often will play a few hands of Yahoo! Bridge in the evening since I don’t know anyone in real life besides myself that plays bridge.

That’s pretty much it. I’ll try new games that my friends send me, but for the most part I stick with these (and the games we have for the Wii or Nintendo DS).

Can you offer any suggestions on how to stay on track once you’re out of debt? Its so hard when you now have lots of extra cash around, to start spending it again.
- Susan

The biggest tip I have is to surround yourself with people with a similar frugal financial philosophy. I’m very lucky in that my wife doesn’t spend much money – if anything, at this point, I spend more than she does – and my best friend is one of the most frugal people I’ve ever met. They are both positive influences on me and keep me from spending money needlessly time and time again, in both obvious and subtle ways.

Another important tip is to find dirt-cheap methods of entertainment. Book reading is a good one if you leverage your local library and PaperBackSwap effectively. Card games, community involvement, volunteer work … there are a lot of free or very inexpensive hobbies that you can take up.

Also, never, ever shop just to entertain yourself. Shopping for entertainment’s sake is one of the worst possible ways to leak money out of your wallet. Just avoid it like the plague.

What were your favorite movies of the last year? Of all time? Can you name five of each?
- Milton

My criteria for a movie being a “favorite” is that I’m still thinking about it a week later. That means the movie is compelling enough to be a regular part of my consciousness – and thus has probably changed me as a person in some way.

The only move I’ve seen in the past year that I thoroughly enjoyed was There Will Be Blood. Daniel Plainview is one of the best film characters I’ve ever seen – I felt revulsion and sympathy for him at the same time.

All time? The list is easy: The Third Man; Citizen Kane; The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly; Casablanca; and The Maltese Falcon. I watch these films over and over again and never get tired of them.

The simple fact that I have four (!) movies on this list from the 1940s sums up the one singular thought I have about the movie industry: they don’t make ‘em like they used to. I’d far rather watch a movie from the 1940s than a movie from the past decade without even knowing anything else about them.

What’s the difference between then and now? Back then, there was no crutch for special effects – it all relied on the story and the characters and the ideas. I feel computer-aided special effects have ruined most modern movies, to tell the truth. They might be pretty, but quite often I’m left mildly amused but unmoved. I’d rather read a book than watch a CG-fest.

I’d love to see your grocery list, how much each item costs you, and what you do with it — ie. all resultant meals, snacks, etc. for a week (or however long you shop for).
- Anne

Well, I don’t have a “standard” grocery list, per se. Here’s what we do instead.

Each Sunday, in the Sunday paper, we get flyers for our local grocery store for the next week. I use that flyer and look for their exceptional sales – the ones that are clearly and obviously a good deal.

Once I’ve identified a handful of key ingredients – usually whichever fresh produce happens to be on sale – I bust open several of my trusty cookbooks, especially How to Cook Everything, Joy of Cooking, and The New Best Recipe. I simply try to find several interesting recipe ideas that match up well with those ingredients. I’ll also stock up on key staples if they’re on sale – I’ve purchased fifteen pounds of chicken breasts before, for example.

For example, let’s say I notice a huge sale on oranges at the store. I might then dig through my cookbooks and eventually decide to make citrus chicken breasts under a brick since we have chicken in the freezer, plus eat oranges as a breakfast fruit that week instead of our usual bananas, and possibly some orange ginger bread.

From those recipes, I take a look at what we have on hand and what we still need and construct a grocery list. I also take a look at a handful of staples as well – mostly household supplies – and make sure we don’t need things like shampoo, etc. In the end, I wind up with a very tight list of stuff to buy, then I head off to the grocery store and buy only things that appear on the list.

What is the most romantic thing you’ve done for your wife in the last year? What’s the most romantic thing she’s done for you?
- Annie

My wife reports that the most romantic thing I did for her this past year was save my nickels and dimes to buy her an Amazon Kindle for Christmas, since she’s a more voracious reader than even I am. Since then, she’s been reading a ton of stuff, including a ton of free classics downloaded from manybooks.net. If you’re a fan of classic literature at all, a Kindle can be a great way to read mountains of classic lit – it’s available for free and with the absurd number of classics in the public domain available online, there’s always something to read. She loves it.

For me, the most romantic thing my wife did was give birth to our second child and allow me to hold my daughter before she did. When our son was born, I didn’t hold him much at first, partially because she wanted to hold him almost all of the time, but more so that I was actually somewhat afraid to hold him at first. Not so with our daughter – I was deeply looking forward to holding that little baby gir. My wife knows knows how much our son means to me and she showed so much in that one moment about the wonderful core person she really is. She did hold her a bit, but mostly my wife rested and just watched the two of us.

How can you feel comfortable writing about your family in such detail? Aren’t you worried about privacy or family problems?
- Minnie

This is a tricky issue when it comes to The Simple Dollar. I have two big contrasting interests at work when I write a post in which I discuss family and friends.

Part of me knows that when I write about my family and about my own real situations, I am able to make others not feel alone when they are facing similar problems, and I’m often able to draw people out and make them feel comfortable talking about difficult money problems. I’m a big believer in the idea that talking about money can help heal a lot of problems when it comes to money.

On the other hand, there’s privacy. I don’t want to ever invade someone’s privacy or discuss personal matters in such an open environment – it’s not fair to them in any way.

What I generally do, then, is write about the things I experience, but select facts carefully and blur personal details. I’ll often mis-identify people in discussions, alter details that aren’t relevant, and so forth – doing things that protect privacy while still maintaining the value and truth of the story.

The other options I have – not discussing real stories at all or else just laying everything out there – both have a lot of negative consequences without any real benefit. Not telling real stories at all eliminates most of the necessary humanity of what I’m writing about. Laying everything out there causes personal hurt to people I have no interest in hurting. So I try very carefully to find a middle ground that does both.

I’ve been reading PF blogs for a while now and I have noticed that there is a tendency towards Environmentalism or “Green Living”. Why? Why is it so universally accepted that global warming is occuring when the climate change theory is, well, just a theory? And why are “Greenies” so damn smug and self-righteous about their “faith”?
- Ron

I think for most people there is a big overlap between frugal living and green living. For example, look at installing a programmable thermostat in your home. That’s a brilliant way to cut down on heating and cooling costs by trimming your budget, but it also cuts way down on CO2 emissions.

Also, even though climate change theory is just a theory, let’s say there’s even a slight chance that it’s true and you can make a simple choice to cut down on your CO2 emissions. Why not do it?

As for the “smug” factor, pretty much everyone is smug and confident in their own beliefs. If you believe something to be right and you have any backbone at all, you will stand up for that belief, even if others disagree. Quite often, to those who do disagree, that’s viewed as smugness whether it’s intended to be or not.

Lost comes back on April 24 (this Thursday). What will happen over the rest of this season?
- Johnny Locke

I have lots of guesses, but here’s my favorite one. I don’t think Locke actually blew up the sub last season. I think he merely hid it somewhere and that the Oceanic Six will escape on that sub.

Also, my wife thinks Lost will end with the exact same scene as it started with – Jack laying on his back in the jungle.

What did your spending look like before your frugal change and what does it look like now? Could you show us your income and expense for a full year before and after?
- John

What practical, step by step, things do you do to live off of only 35-40% of your income? Would you consider posting your monthly budget? Thank you
- Lisa

Both of these questions have effectively the same answer. Prior to my financial turnaround, I basically kept no financial records at all. I just spent and didn’t really worry about the consequences, and that resulted in a big mountain of debt that I had to fight very hard to overcome. Thus, a “before and after” picture is basically impossible.

As for a monthly budget, I did one of those for a long while as I recovered, but I began to realize, as I discussed a while back, that a budget is a lot like training wheels – it teaches you how to balance things yourself and eventually you don’t need those training wheels any more.

We were able to live off such a low percentage of our income in 2007 because (a) I had significant writing income on top of a full time job and (b) we spent very, very little extra money. We ate at home almost every meal (and ate a lot of inexpensive things, like beans) and simply didn’t spend money on entertainment at all.

My budget at this point consists of a bunch of automatic bill payments and transfers, if you can call that a budget. I have a rock-solid grip on my spending and when something comes up, I don’t worry at all about just busting out the plastic to cover it, going home, and paying off that whole card balance out of the emergency fund.

I have always been an avid fan of garage sales and thrift stores and have saved a bundle over the years along with the thrill of the hunt that goes with it. Lately I have become concerned with the thought of acquiring bed bugs. Am I being ridiculous?
- Lyndy

That’s not ridiculous at all – anything acquired at a yard sale or a thrift store should be adequately cleaned before use. I prefer to wash cloth items at a laundromat even before bringing them home, just to avoid things like bedbugs. I tend to give all such things an intense cleaning – hot water and more than ample doses of color safe bleach.

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

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  1. Manish says:

    Hello,

    I have been following your incredible blog for a few weeks now and thought I might ask you this question.

    Now, since home prices have taken a tumble, I get a lot of (e)mails about getting a home-equity-line-of-credit from my lender. Which I usually don’t pay any attention to.

    Over the weekend at a party, I heard that paying off your car loan with a HELOC is beneficial since you can get a tax credit on the HELOC payment. Really?

    In my case, I have a car loan payoff amount of about 20K @4%. Do you think taking out a HELOC for paying off this loan actually saves me any money?

    Thanks,

    Manish

  2. Saving Freak says:

    In response to the green living question, I think most PF bloggers see green living as a way to better their lives. You get the benefits of paying less for living and get to feel good about doing something for the environment. In all honesty if it didn’t save money I think many of us would not go through the trouble.

  3. Johanna says:

    Ron: It is universally accepted that global warming is occurring because there are masses and masses of data that show that global warming is occurring.

    See here, for example: http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/graphs/

    Those graphs aren’t based on a theory or a computer model. They are based on measurements – measurements that show that the planet is warming.

    Now, you could argue that global warming is not caused by humans, or you could argue that global warming is not harmful to humans. You’d be wrong on both counts, but you could argue those things. But if you want to claim that global warming is simply not happening, you have to bury your head pretty far under the sand to ignore the facts.

  4. Bill says:

    Trent,

    Your movie list includes one of my all-time favorites “The Third Man” (BRILLIANT movie). There are some recent ones you should consider though. “Millions” came out a few years back and I think it’s the best movie of the past 20 years. Really enjoyable.

  5. Jeremy says:

    Ron, I think that it is pretty evident that we (humans) are effecting the climate/environment, and I agree with Trent that there are lots of frugal things we can do that will also help the environment.

    Trent, I want to piggy-back on this with another question: What is your opinion on the oil situation…with the massive profits by Big Oil, and so much of our money going to the Middle East so they can splurge it on palaces and mile high skyscrapers. Have you gotten to, or where would be, your breaking point for becoming more proactive on becoming less depending on using “oil”.

    http://www.grassrootspeace.org/consumers_guide_to_gasoline.pdf

  6. Frugal Dad says:

    Funny, I didn’t really consider “living green” until I started blogging about our frugal lifestyle. I discovered that the things we were doing that we considered ultra-frugal were but a fraction of the sacrifices others are making out there. It really opened our eyes to living a life of reduced consumption that benefits both our planet and our wallet. Still, I have tried to avoid the self-righteous tone many “green” folks tend to take by telling everyone else how to live. Better to live by subtle examples and hope others begin to follow.

  7. palm says:

    The “just a theory” comment reveals a common misunderstanding of scientific language. A theory is the strongest scientific statement you can make about a body of evidence; gravity, for example, is “just a theory”. When you’re not feeling fairly certain about the body of evidence you call it a hypothesis. It’s unfortunate that the popular understanding of the word “theory” is so different.

    The National Academy of Sciences: “Some scientific explanations are so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter them. The explanation becomes a scientific theory.”

  8. Bill says:

    Manish,

    Re: Your HELOC question. That is a highly unadvisable move. First, the tax benefit is not off of the payment, it is off the interest on the loan. Secondly, it isn’t a one to one. That is to say, $100 in interest spent doesn’t equal a tax savings of $100, it is $100 times your tax rate (more or less). Lets say you pay 20% in taxes, that’s $20 off your tax bill.

    When you work through all the math, it is highly unlikely you save money (especially after closing costs) by paying off a 4.0% interest loan with a HELOC. Not too mention, I doubt you can secure a HELOC anywhere near 4,0%.

    Regardless, think about what a HELOC represents – it is money loaned against your house. There is risk in that you must consider. Do you really want to tie up your most valuable asset with a second note?

    HELOC’s are a poor way to manage finances.

  9. KC says:

    Who gives a crap about living “green” or saving the environment – we’re talking about saving money here. If I can replace my light bulbs with something more efficient and save some money on my energy bill I’m all for it. If I can recycle easily and my city gets money for it and it helps keep my tax bill in check I’m all for it!!

    I have friends who actively make it a point not to recycle. In fact their recycling bin is in the attic used as storage (and you can actually see it in the window of the attic – I think they did this on purpose, too). In our city you put your recylables in a seperate bin (or paper grocery bags) and put it on the curb on your trash day. Its very, very easy – otherwise I wouldn’t do it either. And our city has a pretty lucrative contract to sell the recyclables by the ton. In other words it makes money for the city and helps keep our tax bill down. Their anti-environmentalism just shows their stupidity. They can’t see beyond their own politics in order to save themselves (and our city) some money. That’s just plain foolish regardless of your political leanings.

  10. Green Grant says:

    To environmentalists, it’s just so obvious that we are polluting our air and water and we are constantly surrounded by toxic materials, all of which is having a huge negative impact on a large number of people and it’s only getting worse.

    Many people (Americans, in particular) have this attitude that it is their God-given right to consume and waste as much as possible. But as soon as they are personally affected by something (toxic waste in their neighborhood, rising gas prices, etc.) they are OUTRAGED and want somebody else to blame and also to come to their rescue. I think many in the green movement understand that there is personal responsibility involved and even some sacrifice required for the greater good. It appears that many Americans just aren’t willing to even do the small things (like recycle, or not drive a 2 ton SUV) in order to minimize the negative impact we have on our environment (and, ultimately, on ourselves). This is very frustrating to those that are making an effort.

    As for the climate change theory part, this is very much like when people say evolution is “just a theory.” These aren’t ideas that somebody pulled out of a hat yesterday. They are scientific theories backed by significant empirical evidence (compiled over many decades in both of these cases). I’m not going to present any evidence here. There is a tremendous amount of literature on these subjects if you are interested in educating yourself.

  11. “I don’t worry at all about just busting out the plastic to cover it, going home, and paying off that whole card balance out of the emergency fund.”
    Out of curiousity, do you really pay it off quickly after purchasing it, or do you do it on a monthly basis? (Not an important detail or anything, just wondering)

    Anyway, interesting mailbag, yet again. Thanks!

  12. sarah says:

    Trent: I admire your diplomatic answer to the global warming question.

    I think when one is ready to face the responsibility of living frugally, owning up to ALL your bad habits and facing the responsibility of living green is a logical next step.

  13. Dave says:

    The earth has been warming for thousands of years, did we forget about the ice age? It was warm millions of years ago, got cold and is getting warm again all before people drove an SUV. I sometimes wonder if we waste more fuel and money than we get out of recycling, by the time we truck all of the waste to the recycling plant and burn whos knows how much energy and create tons of pollution to make a tire or plastic bottle into a park bench or someting did we really come out ahead. Its like the people who want electric cars what do you think produces the electricity to charge them….a big polluting power plant. Are Solar and Wind the only green energy? I use the CFL’s in my house and recycle it just seems we are doing it wrong. Sorry to get off topic a little.

  14. Michael says:

    Lots of people want global warming. There are many many poor Russians and Canadians, for example, because their land is too cold for good farming. Now they may a chance to enjoy what those of us in warmer countries take for granted. Only self-absorbed people (“latitudists”?) would try to keep the best temperatures for themselves, and at any cost.

  15. John F says:

    Here’s something I’d love to see the numbers crunched on: Hourly car rental services (i.e. Zipcar).

    I’m not entirely sure I know how to adequately address all the variables. Perhaps a break-even rate of driving that makes owning worthwhile? The alternative for me would be owning a simple, reliable used car that can be conceivably saved up for, i.e. $5k or under. At least in my case, I’m also coming at this from the perspective of being a 23-year-old male (insurance rates are not so fun) living in Baltimore, MD. I get a discount on public transport (which is already relatively inexpensive), so I would stick to using the car for errands either way.

    Thanks for the help!

  16. Johanna says:

    Michael: You’re kidding, right? When was the last time you were asked to donate money to help the poor Russians and Canadians? The world’s poorest people are concentrated in the tropical latitudes in places like Africa and India. And they don’t even have air conditioning – imagine that.

  17. Allie says:

    Manish:
    The interest rate on your car sounds pretty low. In order for this to even be considered a ‘good deal’ the interest rate on the HELOC would have to be lower after the tax credit. Just from what I’ve seen here in NY, I doubt you’d be able to get a comparable rate. Not to mention if you ever defaulted on the HELOC, your house could be in jeopardy.

    Susan:
    In my experience, a good way not to spend your ‘extra’ money now that your debts are paid off, is to have this ‘extra’ automatically transferred to a retirement or savings account. This way you never see the money and it doesn’t feel like extra. That’s what I did after paying off some debt and it worked well-I didn’t even miss the money.

  18. luvleftovers says:

    “Lots of people want global warming. There are many many poor Russians and Canadians, for example, because their land is too cold for good farming. Now they may a chance to enjoy what those of us in warmer countries take for granted. Only self-absorbed people (”latitudists”?) would try to keep the best temperatures for themselves, and at any cost.

    Michael @ 11:40 am April 21st, 2008 (comment #14)”

    This “self-absorbed” person will try desparately not to curse you out when I’m drowning in the flood caused by the melting glaciers.

  19. Jon says:

    @Johanna

    “It is universally accepted that global warming is occurring because there are masses and masses of data that show that global warming is occurring.

    See here, for example: http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/graphs/

    Those graphs aren’t based on a theory or a computer model. They are based on measurements – measurements that show that the planet is warming.

    Now, you could argue that global warming is not caused by humans, or you could argue that global warming is not harmful to humans. You’d be wrong on both counts, but you could argue those things. But if you want to claim that global warming is simply not happening, you have to bury your head pretty far under the sand to ignore the facts.”

    Actually there is still quite some debate about if there is actually any significant warming occurring. There have been instances that have shown that the temperature monitoring stations around the world have not been maintained correctly. There have also been some that are now standing in the middle of concrete parking lots or on the tops of dark colored buildings. Things of this nature can dramatically affect the proper readings.
    Even as of recently, NASA discovered that its calculations where off due to a Y2K bug. I’m not necessarily saying that the earth isn’t warming, but it is far from universally accepted.

    @Jeremy

    “I think that it is pretty evident that we (humans) are effecting the climate/environment, and I agree with Trent that there are lots of frugal things we can do that will also help the environment.

    Trent, I want to piggy-back on this with another question: What is your opinion on the oil situation…with the massive profits by Big Oil, and so much of our money going to the Middle East so they can splurge it on palaces and mile high skyscrapers. Have you gotten to, or where would be, your breaking point for becoming more proactive on becoming less depending on using “oil”.”

    Only its not clear why it is being caused. What about cycles in temperature across the Earth? What about increase in sun spot activity? There are lots of factors involved.

    As for tons of our money going to the middle east for oil, check your facts. We don’t get a huge percentage of our oil from there. As for massive profits by “Big Oil”, they have the same or less profit margin as many other industries. When the quantity of what you sell is so huge, you still make tons of money even with small profit margins. Everyone complains about how much the oil companies make, but the government makes almost 4 times what they do on every gallon of gas just in taxes. Think about that for a bit.

    Please people, don’t believe everything you see on the nightly news or that Al Gore tells you in a movie.

  20. Jayson says:

    “Can you offer any suggestions on how to stay on track once you’re out of debt? Its so hard when you now have lots of extra cash around, to start spending it again.”

    Best way (although not mentioned in the post), have the extra money automatically deposited into a separate savings account that is not easy to access (i.e. with a debit card). If you never see the extra cash in your checking account, you won’t be able to spend it.

  21. Jayson says:

    @ Allie

    Didn’t see your post there. Excellent response! Beat me to it, I must say. :-)

  22. I’VE ABANDONED MY BOYYY!!!

  23. Jetts says:

    In response to the online game quesiton I would suggest jayisgames.com

    This is where I learned about ‘You Have to Burn the Rope’ and ‘Desktop Tower Defense.’ They have regular updates with new games as well as game design competitions which always yield some excellent games.

    Not all the games are free, but a majority of them are.

  24. Green Grant says:

    Dave, even if a “big polluting power plant” charged your electric car, it’s better than a million small polluting power plants under the hood. Also, there are many sources of electricity–solar, solar thermal, wind, hydroelectric, tidal, nuclear, and probably others that I’m not aware of or don’t exist yet. There are pros and cons to each of these, but there are many alternatives to coal-fired power plants.

  25. Jetts says:

    Dave: “Its like the people who want electric cars what do you think produces the electricity to charge them….a big polluting power plant.”

    I’ve read research that concluded that if you lived in a region that used a large proportion of renewable energy for electricity that it could actually be beneficial to drive a hybrid or electric. So the people in California or British Columbia are actually driving wind and water power cars respectively. (

    In my home province of Alberta, though, it’s all coal and natural gas. I would hope that no one who is living near a coal power plant has any delusions about saving the environment with their electric car.

  26. New York Travel Beat says:

    I’ve been using some of your frugal tips, including making your own laundry detergent. I was surprised how easy it was, took less than 5 minutes. I opted to do a powder detergent. Living in an apartment, don’t have a lot of extra space for 5 gallon buckets. I figure I’m doing at the very least $.03 a load instead of the $.35 or more I was doing per load with brand detergents.

  27. Holy crap! We just watched The Third Man last night. Loved it.

  28. Kari says:

    “Quite often, to those who do disagree, that’s viewed as smugness whether it’s intended to be or not.”

    I agree 100%.

  29. Trent says:

    “I’VE ABANDONED MY BOYYY!!!”

    WAAAAAAAAALLLTTTT!!!!!

  30. Melanie says:

    Trent,

    I have read your blog for about a year and was excited to see your blog referenced in an article in CityBeat which is our small local indep paper. The article is at: http://citybeat.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A144646
    Melanie

  31. Stephen says:

    In every day life a “theory” is often a fancy way of saying a “WAG.” Which is a wild [something] guess.

    In science, nothing can ever be considered proven. Theories are things that are pretty much accepted as true. Like the “theory” of gravity. Or the “theory” of evolution, I mean evilution.

    When someone states something is “Just a theory,” they either need to review their high school science definitions or they are trying to deliberately mislead you with this play on words.

    That being said, referring to Global warning as a theory basically means all right thinking scientists (not on someone’s payroll) think it is just about fact. While I think we will end up at that point, we are not quite there yet.

    -Stephen

  32. Phil A says:

    “There Will Be Blood” is excellent. It is a terrific morality/cautionary tale about what greed does to people.

  33. Green Grant says:

    Jon, any data to back up your claims? Do you work for Exxon Mobil?

    Regarding the gas taxes statement (“Everyone complains about how much the oil companies make, but the government makes almost 4 times what they do on every gallon of gas just in taxes.”), you are wrong.

    The Federal Gas Tax is 18.4 cents per gallon. State taxes vary (between 8 and 30 cents per gallon, with an average of 18 cents). Exxon Mobil made $40B in profit on $360B in sales in 2007 (or 11% profit margin). So that’s about 38 cents on your $3.50 gallon of gas. So for most states, Exxon Mobil makes more profit per gallon than the federal and state governments combined take in on taxes. Where does your “4 times” number come from? My source is the American Petroleum Institute.

  34. Phil A says:

    Daniel Plainview: Are you envious?…I have the competition in me. I want no one else to succeed.”

  35. Kate says:

    I have had a problem with an automatic draft by a health club from a bank account attached to my debit card. (This account contains my “walking-around” money and is separate from my household account that my cable, utilities, regular bills etc., come from.)
    At the end of my 1-year contract term, I notified them in writing I was ending my membership and dropped it off at the club, in addition to my key cards. The next month, the drafts stopped, so I thought it was taken care of.
    It came to my attention recently that they continued to take money out of my account over the next two years, to the tune of over $600. It is embarrassing that I didn’t catch on sooner, but some months there were no withdrawals and other withdrawal dates skipped around the calendar. Also, since it’s a draft, it does not show up on my statement with a vendor name, just a number and amount.
    I talked to the club manager, who said they did not have my note in my file, which they say they are contractually required to have before they can “turn off” the automatic draft.
    (I did not receive a copy of my signed contract until this issue arose last December. Although I had requested one when I joined, they never provided one while my membership was active.)
    Because I didn’t send the notification by certified mail, I don’t have any proof I gave it to them.
    Since then, I notified both the club and my bank by certified mail to stop the drafts, which was done.
    But now I am wondering if I have any recourse or if I am just stuck. If a company does not provide the contracted service, does that make a contract voidable?
    P.S. I walk at the park now for free! :)

  36. Jetts says:

    Green Grant, you might be interested to see that the numbers are a little different in Canada where the government does its best to empty our wallets.

    Understanding Gas Prices
    http://www.petro-canada.ca/en/media/296.aspx

    That pie chart is on the Petro-Canada pumps to try to soften the blow of $1.23/L gas prices as we fill up. (http://www.canada.com/windsorstar/news/story.html?id=9a3cfa14-4088-4240-845e-bfa526ec5947&k=18010) To save you doing the math that’s $4.66/gal.

  37. Linda says:

    Green living isn’t just specifically about global warming. It’s more about being aware of the environment – where we live, how it affects us, how we affect it. It dovetails easily with being frugal – you really get to thinking about all aspects of what you bring into the house and what you send out of it.

    For example, I use flannel washable female sanitary pads instead of disposable pads and tampons. Not only is this much cheaper in the long run (I’ve been using the same pads for years!), it also prevents that much more junk from ending up in landfills.

    Another example is using baking soda and vinegar as cleaning agents in the home. It’s a frugal solution because it’s cheaper than buying commercial cleaning products, but when you really think about it, it’s also a more “green” solution (fewer harmful chemicals, less disposable cleaning junk to just throw away, fewer plastic containers if you get baking soda in boxes and vinegar in glass bottles).

  38. Jason says:

    It’s bee said many times throughout the comments, but, as a scientist and someone who works closely with one of the nations more well-known researchers on the topic, I want to add my voice to Palm (comment #7) and all the others. There is a mountain of evidence supporting the theory of anthropogenic global climate change (instead of global warming because “warming” is not the universal outcome) and its effects. The actual measured warming, climate effects, and future predictions are more dire than the worst possible outcomes cited by the press even in the last several years. Thanks for everyone who pointed out that scientists use the word theory in different context than many non-scientists.

    To those who are still unconvinced: who do you trust the most to give you an accurate rundown of whether to worry about global climate change: an economist? a politician? a PR specialist? or a climatologist? Contrary to what you may sometimes read in the press, there is consensus among researchers about global climate change. The rest of the research is just focused on better illuminating the details.

    Some good websites for more info:
    http://environment.newscientist.com/channel/earth/dn11462
    (Climate change – a guide for the perplexed)

    http://pewclimate.org/global-warming-basics
    (Global warming basics)

  39. michael the conservative says:

    It’s worth pointing out to the anti-global warming crowd that many of the things that “green” folks want to do in order to prevent global warming are exactly what we need to do to starve terrorism of U.S. dollars.

    I don’t care about global warming, but I wouldn’t consider driving an SUV because I have no interest in supporting Middle Eastern terrorist regimes like Saudi Arabia (you know — the guys who actually carried out the 9/11 attacks?)

    I also appreciate that recycling (as someone has already mentioned) keeps my taxes low, and as a backpacker/hunter/fisherman, find pollution controls and preserving our nation’s few pristine natural areas absolutely vital.

  40. Jon says:

    I guess my comments are not showing up any more.

  41. Amanda B. says:

    I am exhausted from playing DTD all night, can I charge you for the coffee it will take to keep me awake?

  42. NED says:

    Just 1 question, where’s Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome on your most fav movie list? =)

    btw, the definition of a theory is that it is a statement that has not been proven (or disproven) as yet. A theorem is a proven theory. Therefore, the theory of global warming is just that, a statement that is not wholly proven. However, more facts are in support of it than not. My final argument is the application “law of odds and consequences”: Global warming might and might not be true, but if it were to be TRUE, can you (or your children) afford the consequences? Go green, don’t play with your children’s future recklessly.

    P.S. Your “about” profile listed that movie. Now I sound like some stalking troll. =/

  43. Anne says:

    I’d love to see your grocery list response made into a separate post. It’d be like the hamburger post, but larger. For me, groceries are a big expense, and one of my few regular expenses that can vary a lot.

  44. cendare says:

    Trent: You Have to Burn the Rope is the funniest thing I have seen in weeks. Thank you so much for mentioning it.

  45. Another Anne says:

    @John F: I find the break-even to be at a LOT of driving. I’m a Zipcar fan in Chicago. When I think about owning a car, it’s overwhelming:

    Car payment (or depreciation if car is paid for)
    Registration
    Insurance
    Gas
    Parking
    Maintenance

    $9/hour for a car, insurance, and gas is an incredible bargain to me if you don’t need a car on a daily basis. I use public transportation and my own two feet for most everything and Zipcar only for errands where I need to haul stuff. For road trips out of town, it’s still cheaper to just rent a car for the weekend than to own one all year.

  46. Nate says:

    Mailbag Question:

    Couldn’t you use a credit card instead of an emergency fund, and stash the emergency cash(sorry for the rhyme) into a higher paying investment. Isn’t the point of an emergency fund to hold you over until you can liquidate some of your more valuable investments? So wouldn’t a credit card be the same, using the grace period? I wouldn’t think it takes more than 30 days(the grace period) to liquidate enough of your investments to live off of. And you could argue that you’re going into your investment which you shouldn’t do, but isn’t that what your doing when you set aside cash for an emergency fund?

  47. yoth says:

    Nate,

    I think that a big concern with the “higher paying investment/credit card substitute” issue is that the rate of return on a high risk investment is extremely variable. What if you stashed your emergency fund (which will now be another investment account as you are using a credit card instead) in an investment that lost 10% during that year. Of course, it would average 10% gains if you held it long enough but you need it now, or within 30 days. In that scenario, you have reduced your available cash-equivalent funds with this strategy. Of course, you have the option of liquidating another fund instead so maybe it’s not as big of an issue. Cash advances usually require a transaction fee of 3%. The likelihood of you getting an annualized return on investment that offsets the 3% transaction fee and cash advance interest rate is pretty low. Also, changes in employment can result in a change in the credit card APR as you are a higher credit risk. That’s a lot to budget on. There’s also the psychological component. When you start drawing cash advances you’re starting down a path that is hard to stop. You have now begun thinking of your credit cards as sources of savings or income streams. Thinking of them as a money sink in that situation is hard to do. Now, that said, there’s the pareto principle. What are the odds of you having an emergency in any given year? Depending on how far out there your lifestyle is, you may NEVER run into this situation but you may be planning for it like it is very likely to take place. Maybe you would do better to focus on the likely events rather than the unlikely events and just consider the emergency fund a contingency (as such, a credit card is fine, isn’t it as you only have a very small chance of needing to use it). Only time will tell. Primarily, if you are saving money with at least some available for short-term withdrawal, you are getting at the spirit of the emergency fund even if not following the rules exactly.

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