Reader Mailbag #75

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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.

Last week, my grandfather gave me an envelope of really old silver and gold certificates. The face value of these certificates is in the thousands of dollars all told.

However, I recognize that these certificates are likely worth more than their face value as collectibles. What exactly should I do with them to maximize their value?
- Thomas

The first thing I’d do is figure out what I have. I’d research silver and gold certificates online and try to get a ballpark of their value.

The next thing I would do is take them to a coin dealer and get them appraised. Obviously, the dealer will make you an offer that’s less than what they expect to be able to get out of them – that’s expected, since dealers are in the business of making a profit in just this situation.

If the offer is close to your own estimate, I’d take it. Why? You have to figure that making up the difference will require a pretty large time investment, and that time has value.

Good luck. My family (my father and grandfather) were/are currency collectors and I enjoy it myself on a secondary level – it would be fun to see such a collection.

Trent, do you at least check the comments left on your facebook statuses? I realize that they are linked with your twitter, but I like the interaction that the facebook comments allows. However, if I know that you don’t read them, I’ll just reply on twitter instead.
- leslie

I read comments and messages on Facebook, Twitter, FriendFeed, and other places, too. I tend to not get as involved in conversations on Facebook simply because I don’t visit as often. I probably go there daily or every other day and read through recent conversations, while I tend to read Twitter and FriendFeed more often.

Why? I usually find Facebook to be too noisy. With the other services, it’s pretty easy for me to filter out stuff I don’t want to read. With Facebook, it’s a lot harder – I tend to have to dig around a lot to see interesting things.

I think Facebook and Twitter have different purposes. Facebook is great for keeping in touch with a smaller circle of people you have long, established relationships with. Twitter is better for communicating with a much larger group of people – and meeting new people. Although I value both, I tend to enjoy the latter more.

paperbackswap.com is not the only option, I have had lots of luck with half.com buying books for as cheap as 77 CENTS and than paying the $3.99 shipping fee. This means for $4.76 I can get a book, delievered to my door without having to worry about mailing or listing a book of my own to sell. Although I have sold books on their website, mainly textbooks, for a resonable price.
- Anna

I included this comment because it was an interesting part of a long discussion on various methods of acquiring books for low prices online.

One option that Anna is overlooking is that it’s easy to buy PaperBackSwap.com credits from other users. In the site’s Book Bazaar, you can often find credits for sale for $2.80 a pop. A single credit equals a book mailed to you for no additional cost.

I know about this because when I first started getting into PaperBackSwap, I bought a big pile of credits in just this way to order a bunch of books I wanted. Once I wound up “swapping,” I no longer needed to buy the credits and now I actually have a pretty healthy surplus (meaning I can largely order what I want without mailing books).

Let’s say that I invest in a 529 for my child and they later choose not to go to college at all. What exactly happens to that money?
- Shane

One option is to transfer the balance of that 529 to a sibling or another immediate relative by changing the beneficiary on the account. That means that someone else can use the college savings.

Another option is simply using it as a mutual fund. If you’re not using the account for educational purposes, it can be used just like a taxable investing account, but with a 10% penalty on any gains. However, in most states, those gains are actually offset by the tax breaks you get by putting money into the account.

A third option is to simply wait. If the person decides to go to school later, that money is ready and waiting. If they become disabled, the money can be withdrawn without penalty. If the person passes away, that money goes into their estate, again without that extra penalty.

In virtually every case, there’s some option that will work well.

Do you still do some canning at home? If so, can you do a photo tutorial post on how you go about it or describe your canning process in more detail?
- candylover

We don’t do much canning at all at home. Instead, we tend to freeze vegetables and use them in the winter after freezing.

Why freeze? For one, it’s much, much simpler. Just put your vegetables in a airtight reusable container, label it well, and pop it in the freezer. If you use it in six months or so, it’ll be fine. For another, if you already have a freezer, keeping it full actually saves money – it causes the freezer to run less often and reduces the speed of spoiling if you lose power.

Having said that, we are considering canning a small amount of salsa this year for gifts. Salsa is relatively easy to can because it’s acidic – you only need to do a hot water bath instead of using pressure.

My husband and I are considering getting a vacuum sealer so we can freeze more of the bulk groceries that we buy. In your experience, is it worthwhile to buy a vacuum sealer and the special bags for them, or is it better to stick with the ziploc bags we’ve been using? I’m wondering what other people have experienced with the vacuum sealed bags and whether they actually prevent freezer burn more than a ziploc freezer bag.
- candylover

Vacuum sealers allow frozen items to last for longer in your freezer than other sealing options – that’s really their only advantage. On the other hand, the cost of sealing is fairly expensive.

I think a vacuum sealer comes in handy if you do things where you freeze a year’s worth of food (or more) all at once. For example, if you tend to grow an enormous abundance of a particular vegetable, a vacuum sealer can help you preserve it for a full year, much better than what you’d get out of a Ziploc. Similarly, if you’re a hunter, a vacuum sealer can help you preserve the meat over the long haul.

So, start by looking at your uses. Are you going to be preserving food for a year or more? Or are you just saving summer foods for the following winter?

I have a question for you. I’m just graduated and I’m going to be starting my first job soon, yay! My question has to do with savings. I know there’s a multitude of things to save for, down payment on a house, vacations, appliances, down payment for a car, emergency fund, and the list goes on! I have one savings account, so I’ll be looking at my total savings. How would you recommend keeping track of the different categories?
- ed

I use ING Direct as my primary bank and it has a handy feature – you can set up as many savings accounts as you like.

So, one option might be to simply open up an account there and set up automatic transfers for all of these savings accounts – with each account assigned to a particular goal.

Another option would be to simply track each “segment” in a spreadsheet and simply assign the monthly interest to whichever savings “segment” most needed replenishing (like your emergency fund or a goal you’re really pushing for).

I noticed on Twitter that you listed all of the podcasts you listen to – and it’s a huge list! How do you keep up with all of those podcasts?
- El

When I’m writing, I listen to podcasts almost all day long. I don’t give them my full attention – instead, they serve as background noise for the most part.

But something neat happens – quite often, an idea will slip its way into my head. I’ll have an idea pop out of seemingly nowhere, so I’ll jot it down and get back to work. Quite often, the podcasts are the source of those ideas.

I’ll also sometimes pause to close my eyes, relax a bit, and just listen to the podcasts throughout the day.

What I usually do is just list all of the unlistened podcasts in one playlist, order them by length (from shortest to longest), and start listening at the start of the day. At the end of the day, I stop at the end of one of the long podcasts. The next day, I start all over again. What this does is that it enables me to listen to all of the shorter daily ones every day – like the Writer’s Almanac – and puts off some of the long-winded weekly ones – like This Week in Tech.

My husband and I are shopping for 2 used cars. (We had only 1 car which is being totaled and the insurance is going to give us the retail value of that car).

We have enough cash to put down for 1 car. Do you suggest taking 2 car loans and down paying 50% for each? or Pay cash for 1 car, and only downpay 20% for the other?

Which will be cheaper? As I also read that loan rate also depends on the amount of downpayment.
- Vana

It’s impossible to say which way will be cheaper because it depends entirely on the offers individual dealers and banks give you.

Your best bet is to simply do the footwork and get the best car deals you possibly can. Identify your needs – not your wants – and focus on maximizing your deal on each car. This requires research and legwork – you’ll have to investigate the data and you’ll also have to go to multiple dealers to find the best value.

You should also look at other options. Do you need two cars? What about just in the short term? Could one of you bicycle to work, or carpool, or walk? Going to one car for a while saves on insurance and gives you a window to save until you can afford that second car.

Last week, I spent five days at a professional conference. It was a great experience and I met a lot of people, but now I only have contact information for about five of them. There are a lot of people I’d like to follow up with, but I don’t know how to contact them!

How do you keep track of meeting a lot of people at a conference?
- Larry

In my eyes, a conference’s success can be judged by the number of people you touch base with after the conference.

One thing I do is I try to get a business card from anyone I find interesting. I’ll even ask for it (and, of course, I’ll trade my own for it). If they don’t have one, I’ll pull out my notepad and get their email address and name.

Later, I’ll try to jot down anything interesting I can recall about them. What do we have in common? What’s interesting about them?

Then, after the conference, I move through all of these connections I’ve made. I look up the people, find out more about them, then get in touch with them about our overlapping areas of interest.

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

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41 thoughts on “Reader Mailbag #75

  1. I (just recently) realized that podcasts were perfect to listen to at work, but I hadn’t branched out very far (Rick Steves, Escape from Cubicle Nation,and a few at Get Rich Slowly).

    Thanks for posting your podcast list–it’s a great resource (and it’s totally making my Monday!)

  2. @Vana – Be sure you push to get that insurance check. Our company took about 35 days getting us ours. We had the funds to buy another car anyway…but still, I wanted my money. Your situation may be a little more dire and you might need that money to purchase the next car. So jump through their hoops in a timely manner and make sure they get your check to you. Good luck!

  3. “If the offer is close to your own estimate, I’d take it. Why? You have to figure that making up the difference will require a pretty large time investment, and that time has value.”

    What? No mention that if Thomas is single, he probably spends all his time playing World of Warcraft, so his time has no value?

    Kidding aside, I disagree with this advice. Since the face value of the certificates is in the thousands of dollars, and the real value is probably even higher, you’re probably looking at a difference of at least a few hundred dollars between what you can get for them from a coin dealer and what you can get by selling them directly. That’d be worth a significant time investment to me, anyway (but I’m single too).

    The thing is, your pool of potential buyers is pretty small, and limited to serious currency collectors. So you need to figure out a way to get the word out to them directly. If there’s a numismatic club in your area, I’d start by contacting them – even if none of their members are interested in buying from you, they might offer some advice about what your next step should be.

  4. Trent- Thanks for the re-link to your post on setting up multiple accounts with INGdirect. I didn’t know you could and I have been looking for a solution to this problem for a while with my online banking.

    I have enjoyed the time machine and please keep it up.

  5. Trent, your answer to the question about checking the comments left on your facebook statuses. Is that you read them, but: “I tend to not get as involved in conversations on Facebook simply because I don’t visit as often.”

    This is almost the same answer that you give when we as readers wonder if you are reading the comments. You want the discussion to flow for itself without you interfering.

    But I am wondering if the real answer for why we never get in contact with you is that you in reality do not have time for all of us readers?

    I am reading this blog and commenting because I want to have that human touch to the discussion. I want to have a discussion with people. I do not want to feel that I am force-fed news from some some corporate giant. If I want that I can just go out an buy any newspaper or magazine or watch TV. When you watch TV there is no comment or reply button.

    Now we also have the following facts:
    -You are just 1 person with 24 hours a day. (You might have moderators that we do not know of).
    -You are on Facebook, Twitter, FriendFeed.
    -You are pumping out an enormous amount of posts (63 posts in July alone).
    -Each of these posts generate from 0 to over 100 comments with the average being around 30-50.
    -You are writing books in addition to this blog.
    -You have over 60,000 subscribers on RSS and countless more browsing by and on twitter.
    -You get loads of email that we as readers know nothing about.
    -You have a life and a family to take care of away from the computer.

    So is it not time to scale back, get more involved in the comments and with each reader instead of turning into one of those sites just pumps out information?

    (If you spent 1 second thinking about each reader each week it would take you 16 hours or 13% of the hours you where awake.)

  6. I forgot about the podcasts too in my previos comment.

    The questions in the previous post are not meant as criticism, but as food for reflection or maybe future mailbags.

  7. John is considering what the yearly loss rate (cost to fix & drive) on a “used” car has to be before you decide it’s “used up”.

    Is it greater than some fixed cost? (3k) or simply when the cost to fix the vehicle exceeds the vehicles value?

    I think perhaps that replacing a vehicle is positive financially when the cost of fixing the vehicle exceeds the replacement cost, which (for me) is somewhere in the 3-5k/yr range.

    —-
    Which leads me to wonder what is the cost to owning a car? Edmunds.com gives the TCO for 5 years and the replacement cars I am considering are around 4k/yr for 5 years.

  8. Just wanted to share my thougts on the social media. Facebook is perfect for personal life but I would absolutely not even consider using it for my blog. I feel it is important to have a seperate identity on Facebook. Twitter on the other hand is perfect for my blog because I get to communicate with readers that simply don’t feel like emailing me.

  9. I listen to many podcasts and audio books at work since my job does not require much external interaction. I find it is useful to adjust the play speed so that it is somewhere between 1.5 and 2 times the normal playback rate. Most good media players are able to do this without changing the pitch. This allows me to get through an increased amount of material with no loss of understanding. It is quite easy to adjust mentally to this speed, even if the speakers have unfamiliar accents, just give it some time. The only problem is that I now think that people on the radio are speaking ridiculously slowly.

  10. Re vacuum sealers: relucantly, I bought one this spring because I was tired of the things in my freezer getting freezer burn. I did a lot of research before buying and ended up purchasing a model that seemed to be rated the highest. After using it about 6 times, it seals, but it no longer vacuums. I’m very disappointed (and no, I don’t think I still have the receipt to return it – it was probably past the return date when it stopped working anyway).

  11. Great tip about paperbackswap–thank you!!!!

    I would have answered Ed, the recent grad, differently. There are so many things to save for that there is just no way you can hit them all. Your progress on each will be minute if you split your savings account 6 ways. Instead, he should try to identify priorities among his savings goals, and create a sort of stepladder–save a portion of the emergency fund before moving on to the car fund, for example. This way he’ll have “small victories,” as Dave Ramsey would say, to encourage him to keep going.

  12. Re freezing vs canning: freezing is much quicker and easier but it depends on your electricity staying on. If you live in an area where the power is less than reliable… and that covers more and more places nowadays… canning at least some of your stored food is a great idea. I’m also doing a lot more canning this year because I’m growing and storing more food, my freezers area already at capacity, and I don’t want to buy another freezer :) Storage options with canned food are much more flexible.

    Pressure canning will be a new adventure for me this year, but at the moment I’m working on boiling-water-canning all the fruit as it comes in. Picked plums yesterday, and the blackberries are ready.

  13. marsha- that’s so much money to spend and have it not work. ouch!!

    is there a company 800 # you can call? even if you’ve lost the receipt and instrutions, maybe you could get the number online?

    where did you buy it? i know costco is good about returns- i’ve returned things w/out packaging or receipt- they look it up w/ the membership card and always find it, and have never given me a problem.

    just the other day i brought back a brita water filter system- the 800 help line helped me figure out the problem was a missing washer, and they told me instead of waiting for them to mail me the missing piece, i should just go back to the store and return the whole thing and get a new one. i’d only had it a day, but i’d already thrown out the box it came in.

    anyway, if a store wants to keep you as a customer, and a company wants you to keep buying refills for the machine, one or both of them should work w/ you to get a vacuum sealer that works- it’s in their best interest, too.

    you’re not returning it because you’re tired of it or you just wanted it for one project and are taking advantage of a return policy- they sold you something that’s not working! i really hope you try and get them to help you.

    also, if you don’t try, the answer is already no. but if you try, then maybe the answer could be yes.

    xoxo

  14. Kevin#9 You will love pressure canning. My family absolutely loves beef and chicken canned. It’s very quick on a busy night to open a jar, add some veggies, thicken it and have over rice or noodles. In fact when my son went away to college the first meal he wanted when he came home was a open faced beef sandwich from the canned beef.

  15. My blog is pretty much about canning (uh, not meaning to spam here, promise!) and I have a couple posts up about how to simplify the process and keep start-up costs to a minimum. As with most activities, there’s tons of fun gear that most of us just don’t truly need – although I confess that just a couple summers ago I “invested” in a cherry pitter that brings me great joy. I just love that thing.

    If someone has a garden, fruit trees, a good local farm market or access to any, canning *can* be a productive and frugal hobby (I actually find it relaxing, too, although I know not everyone would feel the same!). For newbies, I recommend going in with someone on equipment for the first few tries and keeping in mind that it’s not at all difficult. Edon Waycott’s “Preserving the Taste” and Hellen Witty’s “Fancy Pantry” have small-batch recipes that will gently bring a new canner up to speed.

  16. For the young reader wondering how to keep track of all of her savings, I really recommend separate accounts. If it’s just in a spreadsheet, it’s too easy to lose track, or “borrow” from yourself without paying back. Since the multiple accounts are free, why not make it easy?

    It’s great that she’s getting started on the right foot. Even better would be to start out as frugal as possible. The first few years done right make a big difference.

    We have lots of accounts with automatic contributions, including: Down Payment, Snowball School Debt Reducer, Luxury and Travel, Emergency Fund, Wolfie’s 529.

    Also, a little trick we use that has made us feel pretty accomplished is to use the Snowball account to store every extra dollar saved.(Skipped a meal out? Put $30 in the Snowball. Returned impulse buy or got an unexpected discount? Put the money into the Snowball. Lower utilities bills? Same thing.) We saved an extra $500 the first month, and then split it between paying off school loans and saving for the down payment.

  17. Also, at Tordr, I’m not sure how to feel about your point there. On the one hand, you just made me feel a lot better about not hearing back on the 3-4 occasions that I’ve tried contacting Trent (I’d never done the math on how busy he is). On the other hand, I’m thrilled that he’s done so well for himself, and I can’t imagine encouraging him to keep it small so that I can chat with him.

    I do feel like the comments here could provide a sense of community. I don’t twitter and Facebook gives me a rash (hate the 400 applications), so I’m not sure if that could do the same.

  18. Vana, we recently had a car totaled out by an insurance company. Sadly, it was the car of the two that I wanted to keep. I really was working on convincing the spouse to go along with my plan of selling the newer car, being a one-car family and driving the now-wrecked car until it fell apart.

    Naturally, the insurance company tried to lowball me. I was able to get the payout up by about 25%. It was pretty easy in my case: They invited me to submit comparables, but before going down that route I asked to see their report. They obliged.

    Of the 20 the “comparables” they used to value my car, they deemed 19 of them to be higher value. My car was a one-owner Toyota with 110k miles on it and a lengthy history of good maintenance. So it’s pretty unlikely in the first place that mine was the crappiest car of its type for 100 miles. Many of the comparables were not as objectively as good as mine — some had no AC, some had higher miles.

    Just based on the deficiencies in their own calculation, I was able to get the value most of the way up to a more reasonable figure. By no means did I take advantage of the insurance co.!

    I also got it up a bit more because they omitted a couple of non-standard features my car had.

    Good luck to you, and anyone else who has to “sell” a car under such conditions. It stinks!

  19. About vacuum sealing for freezing: You can actually get pretty good results by sucking all the air out of a ziploc freezer bag with a plain old plastic straw. I’m not kidding. It sounds really low-tech, but I tried it last winter, and freezer burn was certainly less noticeable.

  20. I mostly don’t stick around on Facebook because I usually get sucked into playing a game with someone and before I know it an hour’s gone. Thus, I usually only visit Facebook once a day or so.

    “But I am wondering if the real answer for why we never get in contact with you is that you in reality do not have time for all of us readers?”

    I have almost a *million* readers a month. The vast majority of them do not comment and send me emails. I feel it’s my obligation to spend the majority of my time servicing that majority, and that means researching articles and putting out such content. I have just as much obligation to a person who wants a sense of community here as I do to a person desperately Googling to find answers to their money crisis – you’re BOTH important to me.

    So how do I timeslice and still retain sanity? It’s not easy. It’s a balancing act. My biggest technique is letting reader comments fuel later articles, so that it remains a conversation. That’s part of why I have a “mailbag” post. It also gives me time to reflect and come up with a detailed and well-thought-out answer, which comments usually do not since they’re far more off the cuff.

  21. This is for tordr:
    I once made a suggestion to Trent via the comments section and promptly forgot about it. It was never implemented. Later, when the same thing surfaced again, I decided to send an e-mail directly to Trent. To my surprise, he quickly made the change. When I e-mailed back to thank him, I got a nice response!
    The moral of this story is this: This is his site, not yours or mine. Trent kindly brings us along for the ride, asking nothing in return. It is not up to you to dictate how he runs his business. If you want to make up the rules, please consider starting your own blog and see how easy it is to please everyone. Suggestions are one thing: demands are another. I believe Trent is doing what he needs to do to reach his personal goals: I do not believe you have earned the right to run his show.

    Further, I consider TSD a portal into an improved world. I have been “cheerfully living on less” (to borrow from Kristin at The Frugal Girl whom I “met” via TSD), my whole life. I’ve been an Amy D. fan since her first book. She taught me enough to feel as though I’d earned my Master’s in Frugal Living. I celebrated her success and lamented her retirement.
    Since finding The Simple Dollar, I have learned so much more. I must be close to a PhD in Frugality. Using a combination of reading articles, scanning the comments, following interesting references and links, I have expanded my knowledge base exponentially.
    I heartily thank you, Trent, for The Simple Dollar.

  22. Re:Paperbackswap. I think one of the points we’re forgetting about PBS is that, if you don’t purchase the credits, it forces you to send out a book before ordering another. Otherwise, your book collection would just keep growing and growing and before you know it, your husband/wife/roommate is ready to ring your neck and hitting you over the head with your own books.

    Re:Vacuum Sealing. It’s the best! Since my husband & I don’t have children, we’d never be able to purchase meat at Costco if we couldn’t split up the portions, vacuum seal and freeze. Yes, it really works. No freezer burn. BTW, to the person whose vacuum sealer broke, we have the one that Costco sells and it’s lasted for years (at least 6) without any problems.

  23. My vacuum food saver has paid for itself in cheese. I use a bag that is larger than the remaining block of cheese and then cut it open and reseal it as needed. No more molded cheese – no more money going in the garbage.

    I’ve done the same “larger bag” idea for frozen meats and I’ve stored a bag of corn tortillas bought at costco for 4 years. They don’t mold, spoil or turn rancid. I just use what I need and reseal that bag.

    I bought the kind of machine that has cannisters or a jar setting – salad stays good for days, plus I don’t waste money on bags unless I absolutely have to use one.

  24. Re: Vana and used car purchases:

    In your situation, I would decide what I am expecting my two cars to cost, total. Then, based on the cash on-hand, I would explore my financing options of the remaining total before heading to any dealers, to get some financing numbers independent of the dealers.

    Next, at BOTH dealers, when shopping, they will ask what you are thinking, and you can say “this will be a cash purchase.” This keeps the advantage in your hand, because the dealer can expect you to walk away if he won’t come down to the number you offer on the used car. Then, after getting the salesman down and locked in to a price you are comfortable with, you can say “You know what, why don’t we check out the financing anyway.” Then, you’ve got your bank/credit union numbers to negotiate with. If the financing can’t match or isn’t worthwhile, you can use your cash on hand. Or you may get a better offer, and decide to finance it all.

  25. Trent, I have a question that I hope you can address at some point.

    We use paper plates for lunch, snacks, etc. I’ve always assumed that the cost of washing our regular plates (plus the time to do it) was probably equal to the cost of the paper plates. Also I assumed the same for paper vs. cloth napkins.

    Do you have any thoughts on this?

    Ann

  26. I love my Tilia FoodSaver and have owned it for about 10 years. We are small family (2 adults, 1 small kid) and I owned it when I was single. Our major uses are for dividing up and storing large packs of meat and cheese, resealing potato chip bags, and storing opened wine. I enjoy seasoning the meat before sealing so that it is marinating while thawing. We save money because we can buy in bulk and waste less. Keep in mind that things like wine and bags of chips don’t require the $pecial vacuum bags.

  27. Hey Trent, I’m also interested in canning salsa this year. How about sharing your recipe and techniques with us in the future?

  28. RE: vacuum sealers. There is a yahoo group devoted to this topic that might be helpful to anyone considering a purchase. It addresses money saving issues such as reusing and hacking bags, and where to get the best prices, manintenance and other uses besides food. Some other uses are emergency preparedness and clothing storage.
    Jars can also be sealed with a Food Saver. There are attachments that seal canning jars, but many have had success by inserting recycled jars with a rubbery ring inside the lid (glass baby food and pickle jars, for ex.)into a Food Saver cannister and activating the seal. Baby food jars are the perfect size for freezing home made pesto, and sealing them extends the shelf life quite a bit.

  29. Re: Meeting people at conferences: many will have attendee lists/ programs that are available with pre-registered attendees. I use mine to make notes, circle phone #’s and addresses, etc.

  30. I’ve had my vacuum sealer for about 15 years, and use it about once or twice a month to prep bulk meat purchases for freezing. (Home-made pork sausage when roasts are $.99/lb., home-ground beef when chuck roasts are on sale, cut-up chickens when fryers are on sale, breaking up the 5-lb. bags of Costco mozzarella into more usable quantities, and much more).

    It’s really great at keeping the freezer burn off. Foods keep much better than in freezer bags.

    The bags are way too expensive; the point of bulk-buying on sale is to save money and the bags defeat the purpose. I buy the rolls. The manufacturer sometimes has them on sale, or they are offered at a good price on Amazon. I haven’t tried Freecycle, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that were not a possible source for both the equipment and the rolls.

    Marsha, I would definitely follow up with the manufacturer or your store with your lemon of a sealer. The fix might be very easy. If it seals but won’t vacuum, it might be a damaged gasket, which are cheap to replace.

  31. I use a reynolds redi-vac system. These are very cheap. After reading the reviews prior to purchasing it, I was a bit concerned about the mixed results. After buying it, I think that when things don’t go right, you’re either doing it wrong or the bag is defective.

    I’ve had a lot of success, and it’s so inexpensive to buy that I don’t worry about a bad bag here or there.

  32. I used to be a coffee purist – grind beans every morning until time got in my way. Now I buy Yuban Dark Roast (in what used to be the 3 lb size until they downsized) and put a weeks worth in an antique coffee jar with a screw on cover and I seal the remaining coffee in vacuum seal bags approx. one weeks amount per bag – this keeps is fresh tasting. Also use it to seal portions of cheddar and other hard or semi-hard cheese that I buy in a block or a large package – again put the amount I will use in a week or so in a Ziploc and vacu-seal the rest in usable chunks. This way it doesn’t mold and stays fresh. The bags can be washed, dried and then reused – this way I get to use them 2 to 3 times before they get too small. I think it makes economic sense to use one; I’ve used one for 10 to 15 years. Had to replace the unit once.

  33. Re: conferences. Be sure to jot on the card IMMEDIATELY why you have it. (Sorry, Trent, but the day will come when you, too, can’t remember why you got that card!) Put the cards that require action right after the conference in a special place and use that special place every time you go to a conference. Develop a special “travel” packing and organizing method and stick to it.

    I file my cards by category since I can’t remember names due to brain damage. All cards from a given conference go into an index card file with the conference AFTER I do what is required from the cards in the special place. Other cards go into the file by category, music, merchants, places (travel instructions), friends, etc.

    Re: vacuum sealer. I often see these in thrift shops. Usually they are brand new, as they were a well-meant gift never used and donated later.

    Re: bicycling. People in many areas simply can’t bicycle with any reasonable safety. Using a bike to commute in an urban area is a recipe for disaster. A cheap used car is almost always less expensive than the emergency room visit. And if anyone is riding a bike without the best available helmet, they are idiots. A head injury kills the person you are, and you may or may not want to be the person who survives. If you survive. Bottom line: if you insist on riding a bike to commute, be sure you have great disability insurance and at least enough life insurance to get your kids through college.

    Re: buying a used car and when to give up on the old one. Don’t forget to factor in registration fees and taxes. That newer car may cost way more than what putting a new or rebuilt engine into the old car would.

    Re: listening to podcasts while writing: those great ideas that pop into your head after not really listening could become a big problem if someone goes after you for plagiarism. You can borrow ideas pretty freely as long as you give appropriate credit. If you don’t know where it came from, that is difficult. There is nothing intentional about the plagiarism in this case, but intent doesn’t really matter when it is your integrity being questioned. Since Trent’s integrity is a large part of what keeps most of us reading, that is something that could be very expensive to destroy by accident.

  34. RE: Food Savers

    I have one and have used both the bags and the roll. I prefer the roll because you can make it any size you want.

    My girlfirend and I have a semi annual ‘pack the freezer day’ and I usually use it at this time. We will cook multiple recipes for our family and freeze them. Since her kids are bigger than mine, she will use the food saver on the meat and marinades while I prefer the Ziplock Freezer Bags…sucking the air out with a straw (as previously mentioned) works great and is much quicker and less of a mess for me.

    I have also made casseroles and frozen them in a Ziplock Freezer Bag as well. Just place something (usually a duplicate of the recipe) on top of the pan and suck the air out with a straw. Works great.

    I use the Food Saver for dry items – cookies, crackers, anything else I can suck the air out of without destroying the contents.

  35. Marsha #10-I too bought a vacuum sealer that stopped working. I bought a Tilia Foodsaver, I had it for a year, but had only used it about 7 or 8 times. It just stopped working, I contacted Tilia about 1/2 dozen timesby email, no response. I called Customer Service and no one ever picked up the phone and wrote three letters, no response. I reported it to the Better Business Bureau, Tilia did not respond to the BBB either. They have tons of complaints just like mine on file. I did like it when it worked, but I’d never buy anything from Tilia/Foodsaver again. I now use a Reynolds hand-held. Works just fine, perhaps not quite as well as the other machine, but since so many break and they won’t respond— One blog I read, the person had returned broken ones four times, some did not even work new out of the box. The fourth time, it actually worked, but he had no explanation of why Tilia responded to him and replaced it.

  36. After thinking about my comment (5,6) and the replies (18,22, 21 from Trent himself). I might be a bit harsh in my comment about this site and expecting a reply to every comment is a bit too much to ask of any site.

    I find The simple dollar interesting and that is why I am along for the ride (so to speak), but what I am fundamentally asking is maybe. Is there a limit to growth?

    Growing dynamically and having lofty goals is good. Getting more and more subscribers is good. Trent has some goal for 2009, but I cannot remember them at the moment, and reaching those goals would be a great accomplishment of him. But as this site grows, he is also loosing that personal touch with each and every reader.

    I would like everyone to stay small and personal, and a slow rate of posting, but the blogs I read are among the most commonly read on the net, and are spewing out 10′s of postings each day. So I am not following my own preferences, and I am happy for The simple dollar posting this much. It is many because of the many thoughtful posts here, that I would like more time to digest them before skipping to the next post.

    So back to the limit of growth. There is a limit to the amount of subscribers you can have before you loose that personal touch. Getting rich slowly is looking for an extra writer, with half the number of posts. Boingboing and slashdot have a whole crew of people working on the site and are more like an normal magazine than a blog.

    So my question then becomes: Trent, in what time frame (given the current rate of growth) will the simple dollar need more people to manage it. When will it go from a one-man show to a group of people managing the site? And what is your thoughts on this topic? How will you accomplish this transition?

    (No need to answer, just food for thoughts. You are writing a great blog and I see no reason to change anything in the short run).

  37. My comment nr. 5 and 6 was maybe not my best comment. (The replies 18,21,22). I had no right to ask Trent to scale back, it is not my blog it is his blog. I was interested in how you grow dynamically without loosing touch with your readers, but it came out sounding as criticism. I am sorry.

  38. Trent – As I recall you have a veggie garden this year. I’d be interested in hearing how it turned out and whether it led to frugel eating. This was my first year for a garden. I’ve kept track of my out of pocket expenses and lbs of produce picked. So far my cost if around $20 a lb! Most of the cost are for things that will last years so the cost will keep dropping.

  39. Ed,
    If you would prefer to not create a ton of savings accounts for numerous different goals, I suggest setting up an account with Budgettracker.com to keep tract of that for you. I do not work for them, but I have been using that program for years now, and it has been very helpful in keeping my finances in an easy to figure out format. Also, they implement suggestions that are given to them, which is awesome.

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