Reader Mailbag #8

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.
How to set up multiple savings accounts from within ING Direct
A book you should read before talking to your family about money
Personal finance explained on five business cards

And now for some great reader questions!

You say that Lost is the only [television] show you watch. Do you not have cable? Is your TV digital-ready?
- Jeff

This question more or less follows up on this article about financial reasons to turn off your television, where I mentioned that we watch very little television at all.

My family has one television in the home, in the family room in the basement. Most days, it never turns on – the majority of the days when it is on, it’s used for playing games on the Wii or, about once a week, watching a DVD. The only time we turn it on other than that is in the evening when we’re doing mindless tasks like folding laundry, when there’s a major news event (and we cycle through the news networks), or when Lost is on. That’s it.

When the children are awake and in the house, the television basically never turns on unless it’s by request to watch one of several DVDs that our son has received as gifts over the last year or so. With the weather being nice, he hasn’t requested watching one in weeks.

We’ve seriously contemplated having the cable taken out because of how little we use it, but we have the cable in a package deal with internet and telephony and our bill would only go down $10 if we removed it.

How do you keep track of your to-do list?
- Martin

I’ve been using Next Action for a long time to manage my to-dos – before that, I used Remember the Milk (which I stopped using after some data loss a long time ago).

Recently, though, I switched to using a Mac and I’ve been slowly converting things to iGTD. I really like the interface and I’ve settled into it for day-to-day stuff related to The Simple Dollar, but I have so much stuff still in Next Action that the full transition is taking a while.

If I were to start all over again from scratch, if I were on a PC I’d use Remember the Milk. On a Mac, I’d use iGTD.

I am looking to purchase a few suits for a new position that I have at work. I am hoping to find something of quality that will last a while. Any recommendations on purchasing suits, dress shirts,etc? Do I go for what I can afford now- or try to save a little more and purchase something more expensive for the long run? How do you get past name brand=high quality? Any help would be appreciated.
- Alex K

Go for quality and durability. I don’t have any specific brand recommendations – my suggestion is to find the best-dressed person in the office and ask them where they go for clothes. Go there and get yourself a quality wardrobe that will last.

This will be a significant upfront investment, but having quality clothes that make you gently stand out in a positive light – and that will last you a long time – will pay big dividends over the long haul in an office environment.

Is homemade beer cost-effective to make?
- John

It depends entirely on what kind of beer you drink. If you’re a “six of Miller High Life” kind of guy, it’s cheaper to just buy the stuff by the case at your local liquor store. In other words, if you drink primarily mainstream American pilsners and other pale beers – Miller, Budweiser, Busch, Old Milwaukee, Natural Light, PBR, etc. – brewing your own isn’t very cost effective.

On the other hand, if you are a person who enjoys an occasional beer but is partial to craft beers, microbreweries, and higher-end stuff, home brewing can save you money and be a lot of fun. As I type this, in fact, I have a batch of nut brown ale aging in the bottles, a batch of oatmeal stout in the glass carboy fermenting, and I’m going to brew up another batch next Monday when my sister-in-law comes to visit – that’ll be an attempt at a wheat ale with some coriander in it.

In each of those cases, homebrewing is significantly cheaper than buying six packs of the beer in stores and I get much more enjoyment out of the homebrewed beers as well. Of course, one extra “cost” of this hobby is that I tend to share my batches heavily with friends and family – giving away a bottle here and a six-pack there cuts into the profit margins, but doing that also helps build friendships, too.

I also noticed that you don’t seem to get 8 hours or sleep a night. Do you ever find yourself suffering for it, or are you one of the lucky ones who can get by on less?
- Laura G

My sleep actually varies. Right now, I will go through strings of about five hours of sleep a night for a few nights, then have a “catch up” night where I sleep eight or nine hours. After two or three days of five hour nights, I really start feeling the effects – I get very sleepy during the day and usually end up taking a brief nap in the afternoon. If that happens, I make sure to go to bed early that night.

When I was in college, I tried a lot of radical sleep schedules. I did one where I only slept in short naps every four hours around the clock (it actually worked for a while until societal needs forced me off the schedule). For about two semesters, I was largely nocturnal, taking two evening classes and three early morning classes and sleeping from about 10 AM to about 5 PM every day (yes, and starting the day off with supper). If you work at it and don’t have societal constraints, you’ll often find that alternative sleep schedules make you really productive.

The best way I’ve heard for subtly adjusting your sleep patterns is to alter it slowly. Start going to sleep about thirty minutes earlier and set your alarm to get up thirty minutes earlier, then see how productive you are during those morning thirty minutes. Then, if you actually want to reduce your sleep, start going to sleep a bit later until you find a point that works for you. If you find yourself getting drowsy a lot, pull back – being awake more hours doesn’t help if you’re sleepy during those hours.

You have a two year old child and a younger girl. Do you know of any good children’s books that teach frugal values?
- Milton

josephMy son has a pile of books that teach all kinds of lessons, from colors and numbers to the value of friendship. Only one sticks out at me as showing frugal values, though, and that’s Joseph Had a Little Overcoat. It’s a story about a farmer named Joseph who buys himself a nice overcoat, but when it wears out, Joseph doesn’t toss it out. He finds other uses for it – a jacket, a vest, a scarf, a necktie, a handkerchief, and finally a button. Eventually, the button falls apart, too, but Joseph is still left with something – a really great story (the book itself).

I think overall it’s just a bit over the head of my son at this point (he’s two and a half), but the idea of the book is fantastic from a frugality standpoint.

What do you think about couples cohabitating before marriage? Morally and financially? Do you think it is a good idea?
- Andrew

I have no objection to it morally or financially, and for many couples I think it can be a good idea. Marriage is intended to be a lifelong commitment, so to rush into it without knowing what day-to-day home life with your partner will be like seems to me to be risking an awful lot. You’re far better off finding out that there are deep incompatibilities before your wedding day than afterwards. Note that I’m talking about sharing a domicile here – living as roommates. I’m not talking about sexual contact, which is an entirely different can of worms that hinges heavily on a person’s individual beliefs – and an issue that I’m not going to touch on here with a ten foot pole.

What about gold investments? How much should I have in gold?
- Mac

For 99% of the investors in the world, gold’s not a necessity. It’s merely just another way to diversify, just as bonds and real estate are, and throughout history, most of the time gold has underperformed everything.

Gold has a lot of hype right now because it’s had a very nice run over the past few years, but it’s mostly driven by three things: a dropping dollar, an increase in the real cost of oil, and a herd of new investors driven by speculation and fear. All three of those effects are temporary and over the next decade or so, gold will correct itself to historical norms – which means that gold’s definitely not a good place for a novice investor to put his or her money right now.

If you have a huge portfolio, a small amount of gold is fine simply for diversification, but for most investors, there are far better things to do with your money. Buy some well-diversified international stocks instead.

Is it possible to make bread (or pizza) dough in advance and then refrigerate or freeze to bake later? In the case of pizza, can I prep the whole thing, freeze it, then bake later?
- breena

Homemade pizza and bread dough are incredibly frugal ways to save some money at home. You can make them for pennies and get a lot of enjoyment out of them.

You can freeze both bread and pizza dough in advance, but when you unthaw it, you need to let the yeast get going and rise again, so you’ll have to put it in a relatively warm place for an hour or two after it’s unthawed.

Another great way to freeze pizza dough, though, is to make a bunch of crusts up in advance, roll them out, and then bake them on a pizza stone for about eight minutes with no toppings, just long enough for the dough to just barely start forming a crust. Then you can freeze these wrapped in Saran Wrap quite easily and when you want to make a pizza, pull it out, put the toppings on, and then throw it straight in the oven.

Would you ever discourage your kids from marrying someone who does not make as good an income as they do or what they are accostomed to?
- Michelle

No, absolutely not. Once you’ve got enough income to eat and keep a roof over your head, extra money doesn’t mean nearly as much as a healthy relationship with someone you truly love.

The only way I’d ever advise my child not to get married is if I felt that the person they were considering marrying was not going to love them with their whole heart. If that potential partner showed signs of meanness, cruelty, or untrustworthiness, I’d certainly talk to my child seriously about it. Not having enough income? Not really much of a worry at all.

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

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  1. Frugal Dad says:

    Thanks for the heads up on the children’s book. My kids enjoyed the Financial Peace, Jr. series by Dave Ramsey, and we recently discovered a great DVD called Money Mammals (think Baby Einstein, but about money). I’m definitely picking up the book you recommended.

    I used to work a graveyard shift and found out that I could so much done while other people slept. Eventually, it takes a toll on you because you just feel out of sync with the rest of the world (and your circadian clock). My wife and I were newlyweds at the time and I don’t recommend it for young couples, unless you are both on the same schedule.

  2. ADD says:

    “You can freeze both bread and pizza dough in advance, but when you unthaw it, you need to let the yeast get going and rise again, so you’ll have to put it in a relatively warm place for an hour or two after it’s unthawed.”

    I would think thawed pizza dough would be better to use than unthawed, AKA “frozen.” :-)

  3. Mister E says:

    I have always found myself to be MUCH more productive if I can keep a somewhat nocturnal schedule. Six hours of sleep is about right for me, usually starting at 4 or 5 am and going until 10 or 11. I can start strong and as my day (night, actually) progresses I get sharper and perform better with my peak coming in the early morning hours. I can also work a longer day this way, I just find I don’t get as tired.

    That’s not possible in my current 9-5 situation where I find myself starting strong but losing steam very quickly after lunch even if I get the same amount of sleep or more.

  4. Matt in Indy says:

    Regarding new clothes for a new job: I’m in the same boat, and I’ve quickly discovered that an important consideration I didn’t think about is to purchase clothes that travel well. I’m traveling extensively in my new position, and purchasing a few items of wrinkle-free, breathable (or moisture-wicking) materials is essential.

    Sites like magellans.com, tilley.com, and travelsmith.com sell clothes that travel well, can be sink-washed if necessary, and pack light. I can now pack for any length of time using only a carry-on bag. This is critical, especially when considering the state of air travel today. I never have to worry about the airlines losing my luggage or not having a change of clothes if I miss my connection.

  5. Tony says:

    Have you picked up Fire Emblem: Radian Dawn for the Wii?

    You mentioned you like Advance Wars for the DS and games that you get a lot of gameplay out of, so this one might be right up your alley if you do. The gameplay is very similar to Advance Wars.

  6. Belle says:

    Statistically speaking, couples who cohabit prior to marriage are relatively unlikely to marry. Further, if they do marry, they are more likely to be dissatisfied with their marriage and more likely to divorce than people who move in together only after they have married. This is supposedly due to attitudes toward the seriousness of marriage (people who are willing to cohabit supposedly take marriage less seriously in the first place), but I still think it is an interesting and informative statistic. :)

  7. L says:

    I have baked your homemade bread recipe many times and loved it so much that I made a couple loaves and froze one. I wrapped it tightly and let it rise plenty of time before baking but the bread was very dense and hard as a rock. I’d like to try it again with pizza dough but I’m afraid the same thing will happen.

  8. Andy says:

    I am really enjoying these mailbags. I use GTD and Google Notebook because I use a google homepage with my email, reader, calendar, etc. I checked though and Remember The Milk has a widget for the google homepage, so maybe I’ll give it a shot.

  9. Andy says:

    I strongly disagree with your advice on cohabitation. Research shows that couples who cohabitate before marriage are more likely to get divorced later on. Cohabitation may teach couples that the relationship is impermanent. Also, a lot of people enter cohabitation, share resources, and then split up — leaving a messy legal and financial situation. And, a lot of times women enter cohabitation expecting that marriage will soon follow, but when that unexpected baby arrives, the guy leaves.

  10. Dee says:

    Question!
    You said you recently switched to a Mac. How did you plan for that purchase and go about purchasing it frugally? As far as I know, Macs are semi-expensive (compared to PCs) and there isn’t much room for discounts on them. Also, did you purchase new software for it and how did you go about doing that? (I have a MacBook)

  11. Trent says:

    “I am really enjoying these mailbags.” I enjoy writing them, too. It lets me write little sidebars that I want to touch on, but just don’t have enough meat for a full post.

  12. Geoff says:

    For mens suits take a look at Jos A Banks [www.josbank.com], they have a wide range of suits at differing price points and always seem to be running “sales” which reduce the cost!

    Additionally, they carry a wide range of ties, shirts etc. Always found them good value.

    Anther alternative is Brooks Brothers.

    Final point, have the suit tailored to met your size … don’t simply take one of the rack and then home … it will look horrible.

  13. DJ says:

    Here’s a question for you: I’m moving out soon. I live in the suburbs and hope to move to an urban area. Which would you pick: a nicer studio for $1400 or a less nice one bedroom for $1200? Both offer all utilities except cable and internet and they are virtually across the street from each other. The studio building is nicer with better amenities (gym, central air, new appliances). But the place is small and while I could do it for a while, I’m sure I won’t want to live in a studio longer than a year. The one bedroom has close to double the room, but with considerably less amenities (no gym, doesn’t even have central air; I would have to purchase a window unit). I would save money but I also see myself wanting to escape to something nicer in a year. I guess the final option would be to get something even higher that I see myself living in for 2-3 years and stretching my budget.

    And finally, in response to comment #7 research shows a CORRELATION between cohabitation and divorce rates. This isn’t proof, but it signifies multiple factors that could be at play here: people who wouldn’t cohabitate also usually don’t believe in divorce even if they are unhappy, people who cohabitate generally have different attitudes about marriage in the first place, etc.

  14. L says:

    You always talk about the “little things” like washing ziplock bags, making your own laundry detergent, switching to CFLs, etc, which save much less than $10/mo. I’m curious why you don’t think an extra $10 for cable is a big deal if it’s something you never use.

    I’ll repeat what the original question asked: Is your TV digital? If not, are you getting a coupon for a converter box or buying a new one?

  15. Nick says:

    I disagree with those statistics about couples living together. To think that living with the person you intend to marry before you get married can risk your relationship after marriage is just silly. It doesn’t make any sense. I agree with Trent, living together and dealing with real life issues together is a great primer for life together. If your compatible a couple years before marriage, then a legal status and piece of paper won’t change that.

  16. Andy says:

    My guess is that the statistics from living together before marriage are affected by the peoples’ views before they live together. (And for the record, I am the Andy above the Andy that made the comment about cohabitation.) People that refuse to live together before marriage are probably more religious, and their religion may make them more likely to stay married and not get divorced. Whereas people that move in before marriage might be less religious and have less of a problem with divorce, which may be why it happens more. But it is their beliefs before moving in that affects the rates (as my guess goes). Whether the people actually move in together or not is irrelevant, but rather their views on marriage are what matter. There just might be a link between views on marriage and cohabitation before marriage.

  17. Keith Lauren says:

    I am right there with you on the cable. The apartment I just moved into comes with free basic. Before I had all the channels and then some but I’m cutting it off and sticking with the free stuff. I waste way too much time on TV as it is. The extra work or play I can get in by shutting it off is worth more to me than the actual money I will save.

  18. Trent says:

    “I’m curious why you don’t think an extra $10 for cable is a big deal if it’s something you never use.

    I’ll repeat what the original question asked: Is your TV digital? If not, are you getting a coupon for a converter box or buying a new one?”

    Where we live, if we tossed out our cable box, we might as well toss out our television, too. Over-the-air reception in rural Iowa is atrocious – we can sort of see two stations. Thus, the digital converter box really doesn’t mean much to us at all.

    In essence, that $10 a month is effectively our television use fee, and for the ability to have it during summer weather in Iowa, for instance, or when guests are around or when a major news event is occurring and so forth is worth it to us.

  19. Lady Tawodi says:

    Another children’s book I think you’d be interested in, that I read when I was younger, was “The Man Who Cooked For Himself”. I’ve seen it on amazon.com, and I can’t seem to find my copy so I may get it again. But it’s about being self-sufficient, and I used to love it as a child.

  20. The Weakonomist says:

    I don’t have cable anymore. I watch most of my shows on Hulu.

    Trent, are there plans to expand this simple dollar website? We know about the food blog and your book, but are you looking to extend the simple dollar brand further?

    Its a generic question I know, but it allows a lot of freedom in a response.

  21. Chazzman2000 says:

    I live in Eastern Iowa and dropped cable. With a digital TV and a cheap HDTV antenna, the reception is a lot better than what I would get for the main channels on cable. Plus, I get about 12-15 channels in HDTV rather than the 2-3 channels over the air.

    I also tend to get my news off of the internet and if push came to shove, I’d get rid of the TV before I’d touch getting rid of the internet.

  22. Elaine says:

    Other kids books that promote frugal living I love are Henry Hikes to Fitchburg and Henry Builds a Cabin by D.B. Johnson. Both give nods great American writers/thinkers Thoreau, Emerson and Hawthorne and are beautifully illustrated. Great for a young child and the parents.

  23. Michael says:

    It looks like NextAction uses Google Gears, which means you cannot access your lists from any computer. Don’t you find that inconvenient? I remember you used to call up RMilk grocery lists from your mobile phone.

    Also, husbands commit domestic violence much less often than live-in boyfriends. But like Andy says, it could be that irreligious people have less of a problem with that.

  24. Sarah says:

    I live with my boyfriend, and have for almost five years. I know everyone has their own story but in those five years we’ve seen most of our friends get married and then divorced. One thing they do have in common? None of them lived together. Now people might say living together before marriage is bad, but in our case it has worked. That’s my two cents.

  25. Rick says:

    I want to address Nick’s comment about living together being a great “primer” for marriage, and other comments above that basically seem to imply living together is a trial for the “real deal.” I think this is terribly unfortunate that we subscribe to the philosphy “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Marriage is supposed to be a lifelong commitment. Yes, things will get tough. Yes, there might be incompatibilities. Yes, you might have arguments and fights. But all these trials by fire make you a better and a stronger person. If you’re just in it as long as the relationship is easy, that’s not commitment at all.

    I agree with the statement that the statistics regarding cohabitation aren’t everything. Correlation does not equal causation. However, I do disagree with the premise that you need a trial period to see if living together will work out.

    Let me assure you. If your relationship is centered on God, adn you seek to honor him in all you do, including your relationships, I can assure you your relationship will work out. Again, there might be arguments, but that doesn’t mean the relationship isn’t working out. *Everyone* has arguments some time in their life. Going through these difficult times makes you a better person, and makes your love ever stronger for your spouse.

  26. yoth says:

    @ADD I would think thawed pizza dough would be better to use than unthawed, AKA “frozen.” :-)

    Unfortunately, unthaw and thaw mean the same thing. I can’t think of many words with a prefix so useless.

  27. Ro says:

    Love the mailbag, as usual!!!

  28. Dave says:

    Trent,

    Regarding your views on cable; “The bill would only go down $10 [a month]“…what the heck? I see you here, day in and day out making recommendations based on savings of 20 something dollar a YEAR…Some of these things are outright anal-retentive, and you won’t cancel cable which you barely watch to save $10 a MONTH?!

    You surprise me more and more each day, Trent..

    Dave W

  29. Trent says:

    Dave: read my above comment.

  30. Emily says:

    About finding suits: See if your town has any upscale consignment shops. Here in St. Louis there’s a place called the Scholarshop that has high quality used clothes and uses the proceeds for college scholarships. My fiancee buys his suits there almost exclusively. He gets them tailored and ends up spending about $50 on a suit that looks like it cost $500 (and probably did originally). They often have nice clothes for me too, though I’ve noticed it is harder to find good quality used women’s suits.

  31. Aristotle says:

    Belle @ 8:50 and Andy @ 9:28:

    Can you cite or link to the research to which you allude?

    Thanks.

  32. !wanda says:

    I have an odd question. My mom is an accountant and has always done my taxes. This year, unlike previous years, she sent me a copy of them afterwards. There’s a dividend amount that I’m paying $250+ of taxes on from a bank that I wasn’t aware I had an account with. When I asked my mom about it, she was very vague. When I was a teenager, I recall my parents saying that they had put money in my name because I was in a much lower tax bracket. The bank is one my parents use, so I think it’s that money. Is there a tactful way to ask my parents to take that money back? It’s technically in my name, but I have no idea what the account number is or how much money is in it (the documents get sent to my parents’ house 3000 miles away), and the money was never meant to be mine, so it’s a little irritating to pay taxes on it. On the other hand, should I bother? My mom did a lot for me growing up, and $250 isn’t that much money.

  33. sister-in-law says:

    Hey Trent, looking forward to that wheat beer!

  34. Scott says:

    I appreciate the religious argument for marital commitment, but I have to make a counter-argument from a non-religious perspective.

    It seems to me that many of the practical reasons for life long commitment are less relevant today than they were in the past. Women (at least in the first world) are fully capable of supporting themselves and need no longer rely on a husband for support. It is also no longer a necessity to have children, as it may once have been. People are now much more able to support themselves without such familial assistance.

    Likewise, there is less social stigma to being single since social interaction is so much easier now. Historically, there was a great deal of risk associated with being single, and even more risk associated with leaving a relationship because it implied that you might be a “flight risk” in future relationships.

    For all these reasons, the risks involved with leaving a relationship are so much lower now that it makes less sense to stay in a “bad” relationship.

    I’m not saying its better to leave a relationship now, but merely that it is much easier to do so. In this light, the value of marriage and long term commitment can be judged independently of the influences that forced people to stay together. Since fewer people now stay in long term relationships, it would appear that long term commitment was more a result of the difficulties of becoming separated than it was about the benefits of staying together.

  35. Michelle says:

    Rick, i think it is rather presumptuous of you to “assure” anyone of a worked out relationship based on their committment to god. That doesnt seem very open-minded of other belief systems, which is a necessary trait of making relationships work. Living together before marriage is the equivalent of getting those first year marriage fights out of the way while you still have the freedom to leave if you choose. I think the marriage would be much more meaningful if even after the test-run you both still want to get married, rather than stay together simply because you are already married and would have a much harder time leaving. Breaking up before marriage is a much better thing than being married to the wrong person forever.

  36. jm says:

    I assure you, as long as you remain faithful to KORGAS, Destroyer of Worlds, your marriage will remain strong whether you co-habitate before it or not, and you shall bear many strong children, the souls of which sustain KORGAS throughout eternity. He Who Is The Cause of All Doom is personally invested in your marriage, since it is the source of His Unholy Sustenance, so He would want you to succeed.

    So no matter which path you choose, you shall spend eternity divinely suffering in the eternal put of his stomach anyway, as is the fate of all men.

    Wait…we’re talking about the same God, here, right?

  37. tom says:

    Regarding the question on a suit:

    http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2007/moneymag/0708/gallery.value_wear.moneymag/index.html

    I thought these were good tips for those that must wear suits.

  38. T says:

    Here’s a question for a future mailbag:

    There’s been lots of information in the news about the price of food going up. Drastic language has been batted around (“silent tsunami” and whatnot) and staple grains have been rationed at Sam’s and Costco. Are you at all worried about food security in the US?

    Thanks.

  39. leslie says:

    Question!

    I can do two things with my upcoming stimulus check from the government: 1) put it towards my credit card/loan debt or 2) take a trip to go visit my dad in wyoming this summer (i live on the east coast).

    I hate to spend it for pleasure when I really do not have much of a savings at all (basically live paycheck to paycheck) but I feel that if I don’t spend this, I won’t be able to afford a trip to visit him for a while. I wanted to go last year but could not afford it. As the trip is expensive, it would take up the entire check no matter how cheap I try to cut it.

    Would visiting him be an irresponsible use of the money while I am financially struggling?

  40. gr8whyte says:

    @ !wanda : Sorry, can’t help you with your dilemma but here’s a LOL story I received from an advisor at a brokerage firm many moons ago. He and his wife had been putting away money for their kids’ educations in the kids’ names since they were toddlers but kept it a secret from them because they weren’t sure how their kids would eventually turn out when it came time to go to college. He explained the money would be legally his kids’ when they turn 21 but it could be used for anything, not just college. If things turned out badly and a kid was just going to lie on a beach somewhere, he and his wife weren’t going to finance that so that kid would never be told the money even existed (don’t know how he was planning to handle info-swapping among kids). I’m not suggesting this applies to you but do you have party-animal siblings who never made it to college and do they read this blog?

  41. Bill Laboon says:

    There’s another great children’s book on frugality out there… Green Eggs and Ham. It’s an allegory on buying generic food. Just because you’re unable to afford the expensive name-brand white eggs, don’t automatically say that you don’t like green eggs and go into debt trying to avoid the off-color ones. =)

    Bill

  42. Louise says:

    The statistics that usually get repeated (I notice none have been cited here) on the dangers of cohabitation before marriage are either from studies sponsored by extremely biased religious organizations or are inconclusive.

  43. Sara says:

    Not all cohabitation is a “trial run.” Long before we moved in together and married, my husband and I knew we were stuck together for life. We didn’t need a piece of a paper to tell us.

    When we decided to move in together, it was about wanting to start building a life together right away. And yes, it was also about not wasting a year’s worth of rent–AKA a few years of our future together with compounding interest–just for propriety’s sake.

    When we got married a year later, we were able to say our vows with just as much meaning but without the added stress that can come along with moving, combining “stuff,” etc.

    Again, it’s not always a question of commitment vs. trial run. In our case, we were already committed and were just paving the way for a life together based on our own values, not any outside sources’.

  44. gr8whyte says:

    @ leslie (comment #37)

    An economist (I’m not one) would ask you to price the value of each option. What’s it worth to you to pay down debt now versus seeing your dad this summer? Only you can make these valuations; no one else can. It’s a judgement call you have to make for yourself since no one out here has all the facts, understand all the different pressures you’re facing or have to live with the outcome of this choice.

    However, you state the visit’s only for pleasure (“… hate to spend it for pleasure …”) and not for anything else so if debt’s more pressing (like a past-due payment), I suggest the debt be paid down. Then look at your finances and see where expenses can be cut to enable your saving up for the future visit that you will promise to your dad in your next conversation with him.

  45. DrBdan says:

    LOL @ jm (comment #36). No one else has commented but I appreciate your sarcastic humour :)

    In regards to the stats about marriage and living together, someone already said it: correlation doesn’t equal causation. Something as complex as relationships and marriage can’t be easily summed up with a statistic. Besides, to quote a great philosopher “People can come up with statistics to prove anything. 14% of people know that.”

  46. Michael says:

    Louise, the statistics on cohabitation and increased domestic violence are easy to find, and based on the University of Wisconsin’s National Survey of Families and Households. It is a respected, thorough study, and a lot of people have written papers based on it. One person is University of Chicago’s Linda Waite:

    “One reason cohabitors are more violent is that they are, on average, younger and less well-educated. But even after controlling for education, race, age, and gender, people who live together are 1.8 times more likely to report violent arguments than married people. ”

    She said that here: http://www.gwu.edu/~ccps/Waite.html. Many other people have written about the correlation between cohabitation and problems, too.

  47. Jeremy says:

    @Leslie, I agree with the shark, and just wanted to add, things don’t have to be black and white, you can pay down your debt and see your dad. I would suggest having a goal (maybe xx% of your debt paid off) that you can plan to reach by a time you determine, maybe 6mos or a year. then put the stimulus check toward your debt and figure out how much you would have to save between now and when you go visit to pay for the trip, set aside that months portion each month then pay the rest on your debt. then while your paying off your debt, you will have a carrot to chase and when you go to see him, it not only feel rewarding but you can look back at your success and it can help you make it the rest of the way!

    @ the marriage argument: I don’t have any stats to back it up, but I would wholeheartedly believe that a good dose of pre-maritial counseling would be much more effective than pre-maritial…yeah.

  48. Jeremy says:

    P.S. Trent, did you recently loose 10,000 readers or is your feedburner stat tracker on the glitz?

  49. Fran says:

    One hard question possibly best saved for a future mailbag: what about a crossover between “Lost” and “Grey’s Anatomy?” Or better yet, “House” and “Grey’s Anatomy?” I know the latter was done on “Mad TV.” Just a thought.;)

  50. Meg says:

    @!Wanda – You should definitely have a talk with your parents about that account. If you are paying the taxes on it then it is in your name, which means it legally belongs to you (though if you are under 18, or 21 in some states, they probably have custodian control over the funds within it).

    My parents had a similar account for me that I never knew about; turns out it had legally become mine when I turned 21, but I didn’t find out about it until years after that!

    Your parents are probably just worried you’ll want access to the money if they tell you about it; I doubt it’s even crossed their minds that you care about paying taxes on it.

    They might actually intend to give you that money one day, but if you really just care about the taxes then you should casually offer to transfer/gift it back to them now that you’re older and their tax benefit of having it in your name is probably gone.

  51. Lola says:

    About the marriage issue, I can’t believe you Americans are so conservative! It’s truly amazing, and yes, certainly it has to do with the fact that you’re much more religious than people in other developed nations.
    My husband and I are not religious, so a legal marriage is just a piece of paper for us. We’ve been living together for 18 years now. We have no children, nor do we want any. Because of bureaucratic procedures, we had to get a real marriage last year. None of us wanted it. Not because we plan to separate, but because it’s an imposition against our belief system. That piece of paper hasn’t changed anything in our lives. We continue to celebrate the day we met, not the day we got married. And we considered ourselves married the day we started living together. Americans keep calling their partner “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” even after years of living together, which seems very strange for me. Come on, the only difference is a piece of paper. I think people should live together before marrying. But at the very least they should know their partner sexually before getting into a more serious relationship. It’s the 21st century, for heaven’s sake!

  52. Missy in Texas says:

    Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall is also a great children’s book. (much better than the title suggests) (caldecott medal winner also)

  53. Mel says:

    Wow, lots of great questions here!

    My wife and I made the decision to cancel our cable 4 years ago, so no, we don’t watch TV. The only things we miss are some Learning Channel, cooking shows, History Channel, etc, but many are now available online. We get to read a lot- remember what books are?

    I have been trying to use GTD software also, but sometimes miss a simple paper Franklin planner. I haven’t figured this out yet, I think I need something on paper.

    For readers looking for financial help, I am soon launching a website at http://www.claroconnect.com/
    to help find financial planners specific to your needs. Many planners can help with basic budgeting and saving advice. Hope this helps!

  54. James says:

    Here is a link to the CDC report entitled Cohabitation, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the United States.

    http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/series/sr_23/sr23_022.pdf

    From Table 21 on page 56, below are the probablilites of a disruption to a first marriage after a given time period depending on whether or not the couple cohabitated before marriage.

    Cohabited before marriage
    Did not ………………………
    1 year: 0.03(0.003)
    3 years: 0.11(0.006)
    5 years: 0.18(0.007)
    10 years: 0.31(0.009)
    15 years: 0.39(0.011)
    Did ………………………..
    1 year: 0.03(0.004)
    3 years: 0.13(0.008)
    5 years: 0.24(0.011)
    10 years: 0.40(0.013)
    15 years: 0.51(0.016)

    In all but the shortest time frame the probability of divorce or separation was higher for couples that cohabitated. From what I saw, this pattern seemed to hold in each racial subcategory studied, but was less pronounced for black women than for white or hispanic women (the study was based on a survey of 10,847 women). As many have noted, there are interpretations of this data which do not necessarily imply that prenuptual cohabitation causes instability in the following marriage. However, I think it’s fairly well established that, whatever the explanation, couples that do not cohabitate prior to marriage are more stable.

    WWKD? (What would KORGAS do?) :-)

  55. deRuiter says:

    Dear Alex K. If you need good quality men’s dress shirts, spend the weekend going to yard sales in the best neighborhoods (i. e. those with the most expensive houses) you can find. There are FREQUENTLY men’s dress shirts, fresh from the cleaner/laundry, still in plastic, for a dollar each, WHICH IS LESS THAN THE PEOPLE PAID TO HAVE THEM WASHED, STARCHED AND IRONED! Beautiful, natural fiber sweaters are easy to acquire this way for $2.-$5.00. You can get wonderful silk ties this way. Pick up GQ at the store, notice width of ties, AND PUT GQ BACK ON RACK, SAVE THE MONEY. Then you know what width ties to buy to be in style. Ties generally cost a dollar or two each. HOLD OUT FOR THE SILK ONES. You can ask about men’s suits at upscale resale shops or upscale yard sales. These suits are so cheap you can invest in a tailor to custom fit them for you and still spend less than nasty, cheap goods. STICK TO QUALITY MAKERS, NATURAL FIBERS. Nothing looks as tacky or wears as poorly as synthetics.

  56. leslie says:

    Jeremy & Gr8, thank you! Both responses make sense to me.

  57. mrsmonkey says:

    Regarding bread/pizza dough. I’m an experienced baker and I can tell you having done every conceivable combination of making/freezing/baking/freezing breads and doughs that bread dough is not as good to bake with once you have frozen it. maybe it’s the freezing process that shrinks and/or dries the air cells…I don’t know but I do know bread is best baked, wrapped tightly in plastic AND foil and then again in a plastic bag. It will keep almost forever as you have trapped the moisture in the loaf.

    Pizza should be made fresh. No freezing, but you can make it the day before. It will have a little more flavor, be a little more chewy, but it will be fine. I’d make it with a few teaspoons more water if I intend to use it within a couple of days.

    The problem with freezers and dough that freezers are also dehumifiers and will pull moisture from the contents. Dough is dough is a living organism that is develops proteins and gases. When you freeze, I believe you alter the structure of the proteins, and you end up with a denser dryer product.

    Please do not half bake a dough and freeze unless you intend to eat them within a day or two. Same with pizza dough or any dough for that matter. A day or two at most.

    That said, if you like to make a slurry or a sponge THAT can be frozen indefinitely as it’s an addition and the end product.

    I like to save a little dough from whatever I’m baking and use that as an easy starter by feeding it for a few days with malt syrup or honey and flour. Then I break it into small balls and freeze them on a cookie sheet. When they’ve frozen, I throw them into a plastic bag and take them out as I need.

  58. L says:

    Thanks for the clarification, Trent. I assumed cable meant paying extra for all the other channels and you could get the networks without cable. $10 is a small price to pay to have TV. I guess I’m lucky that I have 7-8 channels that come in clearly over the air and have no need for cable.

  59. Lynn says:

    THank-you very MUCH Mrsmonkey!!!

    Good info!

    And Thank-you Trent for a great website!

  60. Aristotle says:

    Michael (#46): Thanks for passing along the link. The information you reference can’t be used in an argument against cohabiting as a trial run before marriage, however. After the quote you mention, Waite writes:

    “It matters a great deal, however, whether cohabiting couples have definite plans to marry. Engaged cohabitors are no more likely to report violence than married couples but cohabitors with no plans to marry are twice as likely to report couple violence as either married or engaged couples.”

    So domestic violence is a non-starter with regard to couples trying out cohabitation who have marriage plans.

  61. James says:

    Aristotle,
    To be fair, it’s not clear that “cohabiting as a trial run before marriage” fits the definition of a couple that has “definite plans to marry.” Waite specifically seems to be talking about engaged couples here. It’s not clear whether you can also separate out couples who are on a trial run and those who have no intent to marry whatsoever. However, I think this could be due to the selection process. There is less incentive to pick carefully if you are living together as part of a trial experiment where you can leave easily and not a permanent situation (in fact the cohabitation is part of the selection process in this case). If you apply the same level of discrimination prior to a cohabitation as you would prior to a marriage this effect might be as significant. All that being said, I think we can agree, if you are in a violent relationship do not get married! Get out now!

  62. Andy says:

    Cohabitation makes sense for people who don’t want to make a committment to their partner.

    In other words, if your partner wants to cohabitate, it means he or she isn’t committed to you, and you would be wise to keep looking for a better partner before investing time and money in the relationship.

  63. guinness416 says:

    Why on earth would the reader of a money blog want the writer’s opinion on living together before marriage? Weird. Anyway, I guess there are many reasons why people may choose not to live together before getting hitched; but I wonder if those for whom doing so would be a faux pas in a conservative family or community are less likely to report any issues or split up after getting married for the same reasons. I’m kinda with Lola #51 up above; these threads never fail to amuse me, I can’t believe we’re even discussing this as if it were controversial in 2008.

  64. Andy says:

    Guinness416,

    Living together is a financial decision. I don’t see how it being 2008 has anything to do with whether or not it is wise to enter into a complicated financial relationship with someone without a clear, written committment of what that relationship is.

    The financial committments that people make to each other at a wedding are important — “for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health” is a real committment that people who cohabitate don’t make. If one partner in a cohabitation relationship gets laid off from work, loses their health insurance, gets sick, and can’t pay rent, she or he can’t relie on her or his partner or her or his partner’s insurance plan to help out. If your parnter dies, and you aren’t married, you don’t get that pension or inheritance very easily. There are real negative financial consequences to living together without getting married.

  65. ann says:

    One more suggestion for grocery shopping. Do not shop hungry.

  66. Lola says:

    Yes, Andy, thank you for telling me that my husband of 18 years isn’t committed to him, or I to him, just because we didn’t sign a piece of paper. I agree that living together is ALSO a financial decision. But the way I see it, living together is cheaper than two people living alone separetely, so it is an advantage to live together. Thinking that people who aren’t legally married are not committed to each other and would just walk away in case of illness or unemployment looks like prejudice. Living together is a huge decision. I think it’s just as “easy” to walk away if you’re married (without children) as if you just live together. But no doubt there are “real negative consequences to living together without getting married” – tell that to the gay people! However, blaming people who live together, and not the law, for those negative consequences is a huge mistake. If we didn’t live in a society where religion influences so many laws, there would be no difference between living together and being legally married. http://www.escrevalolaescreva.blogspot.com

  67. silver says:

    The list of links on the bottom of each blog entry is slightly broken. It says that all entries have exactly 20 comments, no mater how many there actually are.

  68. Michael says:

    Lola, you are right that religion influences people to think and act differently. That’s a good thing, since Christianity discourages unmarried cohabitation, which is correlated with increased domestic violence. I had thought most people here had enlightened attitudes toward women, so I am surprised to find somebody saying that a living arrangement associated with more domestic violence is just as good as anything else.

  69. Andy says:

    Lola, I’m not sure where you live, but in the United States, in most places, if you’ve been living with your husband for 18 years you are, in fact, legally married under common law, whether you signed a paper or not.

    I don’t think its prejudiced at all to say that marriage is more of a committment than cohabitation. You and your husband may be committed to each other, but perhaps not as committed if you had activaly legally defined your relationship.

    As per gay couples, I think that there should be some form of gay marriage available, in part because I think that co-habitation is a bad idea.

  70. guinness416 says:

    Don’t necessarily disagree with your post 64, Andy, but the question as presented in the post and much of the answers are definitely discussing financially and “morally”.

  71. guinness416 says:

    You can also get on domestic partnership registries in some states, for benefits etc at certain workplaces, not sure what else it helps with. Myself and my now-husband did so a few years ago in NYC. The clerk said we were one of the very few straight couples who’d done so.

  72. Aristotle says:

    James–point taken. I suppose I’d like to see more specific data on how long people were cohabiting, how many were engaged among those, etc.

    My predisposition is to think that cohabitation isn’t wrong (financially or morally), but I’m open to persuasion by a rational argument. That said, there are lots of UNpersuasive non sequiturs being tossed around here. Here’s a sampling:

    Andy (#62): “In other words, if your partner wants to cohabitate, it means he or she isn’t committed to you, and you would be wise to keep looking for a better partner before investing time and money in the relationship.”

    This might follow IF the partner insists on staying at the level of mere cohabitation when you want to take it to the next level and get married. But this hardly means that all cohabitation implies a lack of commitment.

    Michael (#68): “I had thought most people here had enlightened attitudes toward women, so I am surprised to find somebody saying that a living arrangement associated with more domestic violence is just as good as anything else.”

    By this logic, it follows that because there is a strong correlation between marriage and divorce (namely, only married people can divorce) and because divorce is bad, people should prefer an alternative to marriage. As many have already said, correlation does not imply causation.

  73. Michael says:

    Aristotle, you’re right that unmarried people can’t divorce. But they can break up, and they do that more often than married people do. I know about correlation and causation. What concerns me is that people think there is no correlation between cohabitation and problems, or that there is a correlation between cohabitation and less problems. Neither of those are true; the correlations are between cohabitation and more problems. And since TSD is about making smart choices for the long run and conserving ourselves, I wouldn’t want anyone here to make a potentially expensive or dangerous mistake out of ignorance.

    Also, cohabitators are much more likely to be committing on different levels (see the Survey of Households again) so Andy does make a good point. Nobody is saying all cohabitation ends in every kind of disaster, just that it does more often than marriage.

  74. Michael says:

    Also, Aristotle said:

    “It is fitting that a woman of a well-ordered life should consider that her husband’s wishes are as laws appointed for her by divine will, along with the marriage state and the fortune she shares. If she endures them with patience and gentleness, she will rule her home with ease; otherwise, not so easily. Therefore not only when her husband is in prosperity and good report must she be in agreement with him, and to render him the service he wills, but also in times of adversity. If, through sickness or fault of judgement, his good fortune fails, then must she show her quality, encouraging him ever with words of cheer and yielding him obedience in all fitting ways—only let her do nothing base or unworthy. Let her refrain from all complaint, nor charge him with the wrong, but rather attribute everything of this kind to sickness or ignorance or accidental errors. Therefore, she will serve him more assiduously than if she had been a slave bought and taken home.”

  75. Aristotle says:

    Michael: True, the correlation is cohabitation and more problems, not less or none. And I also agree that the idea is to help people make informed decisions.

    But informed decisions are exactly what these correlative statistics won’t help with. What would help people make good decisions is to identify the causes of the problems correlated with cohabitation so that people can avoid or counteract them. And if these causes amount to nothing more than common sense that applies across different living arrangements–e.g., don’t be with a partner who’s abusive, ensure you both share the same level of commitment, etc.–then the statistics on cohabitation are just a red herring. Only if cohabitation introduces special causes will the statistics be of use.

  76. James says:

    Aristotle,
    Unfortunately, that’s always going to be a problem with statistics in complicated situations like this. There are many possible confounding factors. On the plus side, while it’s likely impossible to prove causation, any model explaining how things work at least has to be able to fit the data.

    What do you think about this argument against cohabitation? As I suggested earlier, you probably use less strict criteria picking someone to cohabitate with than picking someone to marry. Consider then the options for a cohabitating couple interested in finding a suitable marriage partner or permanent commitment (I won’t consider the case of people not interested in marriage, as I don’t believe the danger of losing a permanent commitment is a concern for them, hehe). They then have two options that I can see (let me know if you see a false dichotomy somewhere…), break up and leave the cohabitation or proceed into marriage. In this scenario the cost of proceeding to marriage is much lower than it would be if the couple was living separately, as much of the work of combining lives is already done. Furthermore, the cost of a breakup is much higher because all the work of combining lives must be undone. Therefore, when cohabitating as a trial run for marriage, there are stronger incentives to get married to someone who was selected with less rigorous criteria than may have been used if a couple was not cohabitating, which could lead to shakier marriages. It should be noted that this in no way implies that all couples that cohabitated before engagement are worse couples than those that did not, merely that prior cohabitation results in a wider array of married couples from the good to the bad.

    One counterargument that someone may make, is that you can’t learn enough about someone without living with them to apply the more strict criteria to decide if you want to marry them or not. However, in my opinion, when considering marriage it’s important to have many in depth discussions regarding values, beliefs, goals etc. before making the commitment. I think it’s realistic that you could learn much about those issues, which I think are much more important than the minutiae of day to day living (as long as one of the values you both have is a willingness to compromise, haha).

  77. Shannon says:

    Lesser income by itself is not a problem; however, if it is caused by laziness, lack of education, unwillingness to acquire skills, and/or inability to manage one’s finances, I would advise my child against marrying such a person. Love is all well and good, but that in itself does not put food on the table nor pay the bills.

  78. mrsmonkey says:

    I came back to see if anyone had any questions re: my typo filled post and see there’s all this bruhaha about living together vs marriage. I’m going to jump in for a second.

    Re; common law.
    a couple may not be protected under “common law” in their state. every state is different.

    http://www.nolo.com/article.cfm/objectId/709FAEE4-ABEA-4E17-BA34836388313A3C/catID/3C3AF4CE-DB9E-48C4-8DFCFE2E47C91747/118/304/145/FAQ/

    one last thing: the person you start a relationship with may not be the same person as time goes by. life has a way of bending us like pretzels. there are no guarantees living together before marrying or marrying or not.

  79. 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?

  80. Aristotle says:

    James– Interesting take.

    Here’s a further consideration in favor of the counterargument: People often deceive themselves about what they are really like. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Wobegon_effect for some examples.) So even if two partners have many frank discussions about finances, religious beliefs, priorities, etc., they’re probably not getting the whole story. Even if both are completely candid and forthcoming, they won’t necessarily have access to their true dispositions. The daily minutiae of living together is valuable because it overrides the influence of self-deception–each partner has the opportunity to see the other ‘as they really are’, so to speak.

    That’s what I’m thinking right now, at least. But I’m not wedded (ha) to this if you can think of a good reply.

  81. Sal says:

    Leslie (Comment #39),

    I may be speaking out of emotion but, unless you are in real dire straits, I would suggest visiting your dad.

    From your post it sounds like you have been unable to see him for 1 or possibly 2 years, and that if you miss this opportunity you will not see him for maybe another year. This is a long time away from the ones we love.

    I was in a similar situation where I could only see my parents once a year and I sometimes did not see them for 2 years. Unfortunately, my dad passed away and I really regret the times I have been unable to see him.

    The point of my post is not to guilt you into making the trip, but to mention that personal fincance is not just about money.
    As many have mentioned before, personal finance is about being able to do the things that are important to us while limiting (ideally eliminating) unnecessary expenses. Visiting your father does not fall into the latter category.

    Again, I do not know your financial situation and, if you are in such a bad situation where you cannot afford food, are approaching bankruptcy, or have any other extreme financial problem then you probably should not take the trip.

    However, if you are not facing impending financial doom I would suggest making the trip and start planning on how to improve your finances.

    There are many excellent articles on this site as well as on the net to help you. Perhaps you can start a “family” fund which you can dedicate to family trips for the following year. I hope I am not sounding condescending as it is not my intention. I just do not want you to have the same regrets as me.

    Good luck.

    Sal

  82. Josh says:

    I have a question for the next reader mailbag.

    My current salary, combined with my wife’s is under the Roth IRA limit. However, I can expect that within 6-8 years, we will be over the Roth IRA salary limit. Should I go ahead and open a Roth IRA for this period, and then just leave it alone once I’ve reached the limit? Does that mean once I’m over the limit, I can only invest in a traditional IRA? What do you do with the Roth once you’ve reached the income limit?

    Feel free to edit the question to make it read better.

  83. Cathy says:

    Alex K:

    I am in a similar position having switched to a new job with a more business casual environment then my last job. Also compounded with me losing about 15 pounds, I need almost a completely new wardrobe.

    Women’s fashion needs might be a little more diversified than men, but I saved a ton of money by going to discount stores like Nordstrom Rack, Ross, and TJ Maxx. I was able to buy a complete wardrobe of brand name, high quality clothes for up to 75% of retail. I had my slacks altered to fit me, though I could have saved some money and hemmed it myself.

    Most important thing to look for when buying new business clothes is to make sure they FIT. Go to the discount stores and buy something high quality you like, then have it taken in so that it fits you. It will be considerably less expensive then having a custom made suit.

  84. Gayle says:

    Hi Trent,

    Do you have any advice on how to go about finding a good financial advisor? Sweetie is thinking about exchanging shares in the company he works for for cash, I’m suggesting that he get some professional advice before taking this step; That there may be some ways to do this gradually and convert the cash value into another asset to avoid some of the high capital gains taxes. I think he’s right that he’s too heavily invested in this area and needs to spred things out, I just don’t feel that he’s thought through the spredding things out.

    Thanks in advance.

  85. Steven says:

    Hi Trent,

    Do you know why it takes so long for me to get your emails? I subscribe via email and I get your emails the next day – and in some cases, two days after you post them.

    It’s 11:57 am, May 1st, in Chicago and I still haven’t recieved your April 30th entry. I did go to your site and read it.

    All the best.

  86. Sharon Campbell says:

    I hate to spend it for pleasure when I really do not have much of a savings at all (basically live paycheck to paycheck) but I feel that if I don’t spend this, I won’t be able to afford a trip to visit him for a while. I wanted to go last year but could not afford it. As the trip is expensive, it would take up the entire check no matter how cheap I try to cut it.

    Would visiting him be an irresponsible use of the money while I am financially struggling?

    leslie @ 2:01 pm April 28th, 2008 (comment #39)
    ————————————————-
    Leslie, life is short. If you didn’t get to see your dad last year and won’t next year, I can’t think of a better way to spend the money. And you know that you’ll eventually be able to pay off your debt, but you don’t know if your dad will be alive when you can afford to go see him.

    I wish I could spend my money to go see mine.
    Sharon

  87. Joe says:

    Mailbag Question:

    I am an unmarried 25 year old guy in a well-paying and stable job. I currently have approximately $21,000 sitting in my ING Direct account and have no debt. I rent an apartment and save on average approximately $2,500/month.

    You have mentioned the importance of getting started early – given my situation what would you do with the $21,000 and the $2,500/month of saving? Thanks.

  88. Audrey says:

    Would you ever discourage your kids from marrying someone who does not have any tertiary education and they have a masters and are considering getting a doctoral degree?

  89. Sarah says:

    I am a Canadian single mom of two young children. I try to run a frugal household and search high and low for the best bargains. I happen to live in a town that is 10 minutes away from the American border. I have long been a cross-border shopper, as it allows me to buy many necessities (mainly food products) for at least half the price they are in Canada. I have very lively (and good-natured) discussions with my boss about the pros and cons, the local economy and how my purchase of American milk will bring about the downfall of our government, etc. etc. What is your feeling on this, and do you consider it to be an acceptable practice for frugal living?

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