Reader Mailbag #9

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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.

As usual, we’ll start things off with a few links to older articles that directly answer questions I’ve heard recently.
The best personal finance book I’ve ever read
How materialism develops in the young
What The Gap can teach about sound personal finance management
What you should do if you think I’m wrong

And now for some great reader questions!

Is Nutrisystem a cost-effective way to loose weight?
- Janie

what is your favourite vegetarian frugal recipe, for us vege people?
- Kelli

NutriSystem is basically paying someone to cook for you, except that the meals they prepare are capped very tightly in terms of fat, calories, etc. However, for the quantity you get, it’s pretty expensive – more than $10 for three tiny meals prepared in a factory. In other words, when you buy NutriSystem, you’re buying convenience, not food.

If you’re actually committed to losing weight, you can do all of this yourself for much cheaper if you’re willing to devote a weekend to it. Just prepare a bunch of healthy meals in advance and then go through them throughout the month. It’s NutriSystem without the high daily cost.

Here’s an example that illustrates what I’m talking about and also answers Kelli’s question. I LOVE bean and rice burritos. What I’ll often do is boil up multiple pounds of beans and a bunch of rice, then make 32 burritos at a shot. Lay out the tortilla, put beans on it, put rice on it, put a bit of cheese on it (that’s out for lactose-avoiding types), put a bit of lettuce on it, put a bit of salsa on it, wrap it up, and then wrap the burrito in Saran Wrap. I fill up a box of these and put them in the deep freeze. Any time I need lunch and there’s no leftovers, I eat a couple of these bad boys – two minutes in the microwave and they’re ready to go. They’re healthy, higher in quality than NutriSystem, have the same convenience level, and cost about 10% as much.

What’s your handicap? And if you don’t have one, what do you usually score?
- Chris

I have a handicap of 29 – for those unaware, that means that a trained chimp could beat me on a golf course.

My weakness is my driving – the problem I have is that I’m rather tall and when I was learning to golf, my driver was simply too short, so I learned how to drive very awkwardly and I’ve not been able to correct it as of yet. So pretty much every hole either starts off with me using a middle iron or me hitting an atrociously bad drive with my driver. Get me within 100 yards of the hole, though, and I’m much, much better – chip shots are by far the best aspect of my golf game.

If I’m so bad, why do I play? It’s fun. I truly love golfing with friends and family on warm summer afternoons – being out on the course with a club in hand is a lot of fun for me.

What is the best way to pay down my mortgage? My bank offers many options, and I’m not sure which is the best…make a payment every two weeks all year or divide my mortgage pmt by 12 and pay 1/12 against the principle or just make an extra payment each year? Is one way more effective than the others?
- Cheryl

The best method for eliminating a mortgage is to get one with the lowest interest rate possible. That might mean higher payments if you get one with a shorter term, but it’s better in the long run.

Once your mortgage is settled, the best payment plan is the one that gets you the most principal reduction over the course of a given year, but any fees you have to pay weigh against that. For example, some banks charge extra fees for alternative payment schedules that might put you in better balance shape at the end of the year, but the fees eat that up and more.

Go to your bank and ask them what payment plan reduces your principle the most over the year without incurring any extra fees. If all else is equal, choose the one that has the lowest total payments for the year, because that’s the one that’ll have you giving less interest to the bank (and thus keeping that money in your pocket).

If you didn’t have a wife and children, who would you leave your assets to? I am hesitant to leave my assets, life insurance, etc. to my family because of their lack of fiscal responsibility. That has created a quandry about where I will leave the money. Right now I am considering college funds for the children of close friends.
- Jeremy

I would either leave my assets to children I care about or to a charity, one or the other. I think it depends on your personal beliefs and also how many children your close friends have – and who you define as a close friend.

I think if your circle of close friends is clearly delineated and you wouldn’t be leaving anyone obvious out, I’d split your assets among those children evenly. If you’re going through a thought process where you think if you include this one, then you have to include that one, then either cut it very tightly or give the whole thing to charity, because even though you’re giving the money with the best of intentions, it might not be seen that way when you’re dead and gone and people are feeling hurt and resentful because they didn’t understand.

If you’re in deep doubt, just give to a charity.

I see now how you earn money from blogging and I understand that I shouldn’t click on ads. I’d still like to help out. How else can I support The Simple Dollar?
- Ted

There are several things you can do that would really help The Simple Dollar. Here are six.

Buy a downloadable and share it with your friends. Over the last several months, I’ve created four downloadable electronic books that are basically just collections of the best posts from The Simple Dollar – you can download them in PDF format for $2 each and freely email them to your friends, print them out, or do whatever else you want with them. Find out more about each of them: 31 Days to Fix Your Finances, The One Hour Project, Twenty Big Ideas, and Building a Better Blog.

Buy my book when it comes out. I hope that it’ll be out on bookshelves by the end of the year. It’s going to have a good price point (read: relatively inexpensive right off the bat) and be filled with a lot of the type of stuff that people like from The Simple Dollar.

Send articles to friends. If you read an article here you like, send it to a friend. There’s a link at the bottom of each article that says “Email this.” If you know someone who would like a particular article, click on that link and send it to them. That helps me by helping me reach more readers.

Participate on social bookmarking sites. Another big way I reach new readers is through social bookmarking sites like stumbleupon, del.icio.us, and digg. If you see a post you like, click on one of those links at the bottom of the article and bookmark me on that social site – it helps new readers find my best articles.

Participate by commenting. If you have a thought about a post, leave a comment. That makes the conversation more interesting for everyone involved, including me.

Let me know of any writing opportunities that come along. I’m always looking for strong opportunities for my writing. Right now, for instance, I’m attempting to jump-start a newspaper column. If you know of any great opportunities like these, please let me know.

These ideas aren’t just true for The Simple Dollar – they’re true for any blog. Most of the blogs you see are written by independent folks who are trying to make it on their own – for example, I’m a one man band out here in Iowa doing this without the support of a big media company. That gives me freedom to say whatever’s on my mind without running it through a corporate filter – but it also means that it’s risky to be doing this. Bloggers rely on the support of their great readers – The Simple Dollar wouldn’t keep on truckin’ without you guys.

What is your opinion of consignment and other forms of re-sale like CraigsList and EBay? I understand that during your financial meltdown, you resorted to selling items on Ebay. Are they a useful money saving tool or do they breed materialism and the urge to buy unnecessary things?
- Allison

I think it cuts both ways, depending on how you use it. For the most part, buyers on eBay and Craigslist are buying stuff they don’t really need, but that’s part of freedom – people get to choose how to spend their money. The only time I use either one is when I’m trying to buy something specific – merely browsing either one is a quick way to find yourself spending money that you shouldn’t be spending.

On the other hand, it’s a great arena for sellers. It allowed me, sitting out here in the middle of nowhere, to make a solid return on some of my DVD boxed sets that I sold. Without eBay, I would have had to sell them at a used media store and probably would have made very little back on them – because I was able to connect directly with a buyer, I made significantly more.

In other words, I think eBay/Craigslist are fine except if you’re just browsing through it looking for something to buy. It’s just like grocery shopping – you should only go there if you have something you need and you should focus only on getting what’s on your list. Everything else is just a distraction.

You’ve said that you support Obama. I’m curious as to your stance on socialized medicine. Oops, I mean “Universal Health Care”. How does that line up with your views of the government keeping out of the lives of individuals?
- Jon

I support universal health care only for people who can’t get it themselves – children and the disabled. I’m fine with there being a government-run health insurance solution that collects appropriate fees to pay for itself and allows everybody to opt in at a reasonable price, but it should be an “opt in” or “opt out,” not a requirement. Since Obama’s plan offers the option to opt out, I feel much more comfortable with his plan than Clinton’s plan.

For people that might want to turn this into an Obama versus Clinton versus McCain debate, please don’t. As I’ve stated before, I support Barack Obama because his stances on the issues most important to me (government transparency, protection of civil liberties, a much less interventionist foreign policy) are far closer to my own than Clinton or McCain. To me, it’s cut and dried and based on issues. Truthfully, I could care less about Reverend Wright or sniper fire in Bosnia or McCain’s wife’s corporate jet – if you’re talking about that stuff, you’re ignoring what actually matters.

I feel pretty strongly about children, though. I think it’s wrong to not provide free health care and a quality education to a child just because he or she was born in a disadvantaged situation. The tools of success should be available to all – let the difference be what they choose to do with those tools, not mere access to them.

It’s easy to say it’s not your problem, but it becomes your problem when a child is denied access to those tools of success like good education and good food and good healthcare and then turns to antisocial behavior out of desperation – that has significant costs, too, in the form of increased police budgets, increased welfare budgets, and so on.

Education is an investment, just like economic stimulus is an investment. The only difference is which of those two can be most easily sold to the average voter – and children don’t get to vote.

Do the visits your site gets diminish on weekends? Why do you think that happens? Do you post on weekends? And about the comments: in the beginning, when you wrote like crazy and had few readers, did it bother you when you got almost no comments?
- Lola

Traffic diminishes significantly on the weekends, but that’s true of internet traffic in general. People are at work during the week. Some people read The Simple Dollar at work for their own edification. Others are doing Google searches for their job and wind up here. Both of those groups are generally present during the week but almost disappear on weekends. Because of that, I generally write two posts every day, but only write one on Saturday, which is the slowest day of the week for traffic.

As for comments, I mostly use them as a rough thumbnail sketch to identify whether something’s successful or not. Early on, anything that drew a comment was a success. Now, I view anything with fewer than twenty as something I shouldn’t repeat and anything with more than 100 as something I should look at again for future ideas.

The biggest difference is that now there are so many comments I can’t possibly keep up with reading each one. I try to keep up with the comments on the newest post or two, but older posts attract comments all the time and I simply don’t get to read them. There’s too many. To me, that’s a very good thing – it means that to some degree The Simple Dollar is almost alive to the point of being out of my hands. The readers and commenters in some way push it along now – the average post now draws many more words in the comments than in the post.

What benefit can someone get from learning new languages (french, spanish, etc..) specially if he is not willing to travel to a foreign country or at least it is not one of his current goals?
- Reem

Learning anything for the sake of learning it is a good thing – it forces your mind to stretch and exercise in new ways. I do all sorts of things to keep my brain in shape, from reading historical biographies to teaching myself differential equations (seriously, I’ve done both in the recent past). If you’re scratching your intellectual itch, it’s a very good and healthy thing.

Besides that, the biggest benefit of learning a foreign language is to understand that culture. I myself have attempted to learn French in the past, both spoken and written, but that’s primarily driven by a desire to travel.

Naturally, though, you’re probably better off gravitating towards learning things that may in some way help you professionally. Will a foreign language help you professionally? It might in some situations – you might be able to help your organization relate to people that would otherwise not be in the loop, for example. This isn’t necessarily the definitive factor, but it can nudge you in the right direction.

If it’s a strong intellectual itch, though, scratch it. Learn something new. It’s good for you.

I was wondering how protected my investments actually are. Let’s say I buy Coca-Cola stock through Scottrade, and Scottrade goes belly-up. Does anything happen to my Coca-Cola stock? Also, let’s say I buy a mutual fund through Vanguard, and Vanguard the company itself is going out of business, how would this affect the fund offered through them?
- Tim

For individual shares, it depends on your broker. Most of them are heavily insured to protect their clients. You have to read through the fine print of your agreement with that broker – and you should always keep good records, just in case.

As for Vanguard, the Investment Company Act of 1949 protects you. When you buy a mutual fund share from Vanguard, you own an asset, out of which they’re only allowed to take out the amount expressed as your expense ratio. They can’t touch the rest – they can only manage it. It’s explained well in this post over at My Money Blog.

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

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49 thoughts on “Reader Mailbag #9

  1. Trent, you and I are “inverse golfers”. At the first annual PFbloggers Golf Tournament, we’ll have to team up. I’ll hit the drives and approaches. You can handle the rest. My chip shots are comedy gold. And putting? Yiyiyiyiyiyiyiyi…

  2. Golf is the my favorite and most hated sport at the same time. Is there anything else where you can practice hard, improve, and still be unhappy?

  3. Doesn’t the ability to “opt out” of a health-care plan diminish most of its benefits? For any sort of plan, provided by the government or by private insurers, some people are paying more than the cost of the care that they receive, and some are paying less. It’s the people who are paying more – the young and healthy people – who, given the chance, will opt out. To make up the shortfall, fees have to be increased for everyone else. But then there is a new group of people who are paying more than the cost of the care that they receive. They, too, might opt out – leading to premiums that go up, up, up.

    But maybe Obama’s plan has a way to deal with this. I hope so.

  4. Hi,

    What should you do when you don’t have the cost basis of a stock you bought a looooong time ago, and now the stock is worthless? How can you write it off?

    Thanks!

  5. I’ve heard Nutrisystem food is absolutely disgusting. If you’re trying to lose weight you might as well enjoy the food that you are eating.

  6. The subject of learning, not the process, gives the benefits. There are things better not known, but mostly there are things which distract from the best knowledge. It’s true that one acquires study and practice skills, or perhaps develops an exploratory habit when learning something new. But those things are only beneficial if one uses them to learn or do something worthwhile.

    What is worthwhile? Pragmatic skills which advance one’s career or help one learn other things are barely worthwhile and should “net” more time and money to learn the best things. The best things to learn have intrinsic worth: they preserve wisdom and truth and help others to enjoy life.

  7. Great post – I love the idea of making lots of burritos at once and keeping them in the freezer, but does lettuce really freeze that well?

  8. Ok, I’d like to apologize for the tone of this right off the bat, but here goes anyway.

    For all you persons talking about “socalized medicine” or “universal healthcare” or whatever you want to call it…. have you ever actually been in an inner-city ER? I am an EMT in the city and it makes me sick to see patients at the hospital who are very ill and are being turned away because they don’t have the ability to pay. I have had grandmothers and fathers tell me that they don’t go to the doctor because they can’t afford it. I know others who have to cut their post heart attack medication in half because they can’t afford the whole dose. The simple fact is that the cost of healthcare has outpaced what people can actually afford. Oh yes, they do “have” to treat you: translation, they have to stabilize you. As soon as you are no longer in danger of imminent death, you are tossed out if you can’t pay. And the billing dept. will still come after you for it.

    For all those out there that say things such as “well, they should have gotten better insurance” or “that’s their problem, I don’t want my tax dollars paying for someone else” what if it’s your grandmother or father the next time I take them to the ER? The gov’t wastes money on all kinds of things everyday, maybe it’s time we get something back. And if you can still say things about how it’s a bad idea after watching people fade away because they can’t pay, then shame on you.

  9. Johanna,

    I think Sen. Obama said that he would only allow people over the age of 25 to opt-out.

    Details at: http://www.barackobama.com/issues/healthcare/

    I do agree with you and think that everyone should be covered, it is the best way to reduce cost.

    Of course, for any actual plan to come to fruition it will have to be approved by the Republicans so you can bet that there will be tons of compromises (if it ever even gets that far).

  10. I have a question for your next mailbag…
    I am considering quitting my job. After working here for two+ years, I have become a stressed-out, zoned-out, and burned-out person. I honestly feel what I need right now is little to no responsibility. I have enogh money saved up to get through a few months without income. But I’m worried about the state of our economy – is our national financial problem going to make it harder for me to get another job down the road?

  11. “I view anything with fewer than twenty as something I shouldn’t repeat”

    Does this mean that the book club is going to go away? I’ve noticed you get between 10 and 20 comments for most of those posts.

  12. Actually, you do need to worry about your investments held by brokerages. Read the following for all the details including the comments by Judy Smith.

    http://blogs.marketwatch.com/greenberg/2008/03/how-to-keep-your-investments-safe/

    In summary, insurance is only as good as the company doing the insuring and there are limits, so buyer beware. FDIC does not cover investment accounts at brokerages and the corresponding insurance SIPC is a private entity, not backed by the government – there is always counter-party risk.

    Also remember, that if your brokerage fails, even though you may eventually recover the investments, if they lost value while you didn’t have access to them, you are out of luck.

  13. You said to comment, so I will.

    Learning a foreign language to speak it proficiently can be one of the most rewarding things you can do. Once you get over the initial hump of learning a language, you end up stimulating parts of your brain that are seldom used. It’s known to help improve longevity of the mind.

    Since this is a financial blog, I should point out that it makes a lot of financial sense. Being able to speak a foreign language and knowing how to travel in a foreign country is a very valuable resource to many companies. What ever it is you do, it is always useful to your employers to know that they don’t always need to hire a translator or a tour guide when doing business abroad. It also puts your resume above all the others, since you have two useful skills instead of just one.

    It takes time to learn a new language, and it’s hard to calculate the return on investment in the process, but if you are smart and know how to use the skill effectively, you’ll see a huge return on it.

  14. I think learning a language, even if you won’t be able to use it in the near future, is still an awesome idea, provided you have the time. Not only does it expand your brain but like Trent said, it exposes you to new cultures. Plus who knows when it might come in handy. Personally, I’d like to learn new languages so that I can read foreign books in their “natural habitat”. It’s also really cool, imho, to be able to say “I know Russian, German, French, Italian, Arabic” or what have you.

  15. Sickness is a human condition. We all get sick sooner or later regardless of political party affiliation. It only makes sense to put a system in place that covers all of us, no opt-outs. Scream “socialism” if it makes you feel better; Bear Stearns had no qualms accepting public money when the going got rough and no one at Bear screamed “socialism” then. The USA is the *ONLY* western industrialized nation without a universal health care system. Frontline/T.R. Reid’s “Sick Around the World” documentary http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/sickaroundtheworld/ on how several industrialized countries pay for their health care should be required viewing. BTW, socialized medicine in some countries does not exclude insurance companies — see the movie.

  16. A good read. I had blogged about some of the sites I read recently, and “The Simple Dollar” was suggested. I am glad it was. I now subcribe daily through feedreader. I will feature this site this week!

  17. Hi.

    I asked 15 questions on 5th March and I got answers only for few, so far. No, some of the questions are also not answered in the “earlier written” links you post at the beginning of the Reader Mailbag, so I guess the questions are tough ! :) :)

    Don’t take me seriously, I am just pouring out. It does feel good to have one’s questions answered at Simple Dollar. The answers I received so far, I have loved them all. Keep the good work going.

    How I wish it was possible for you to answer each reader individually, though I don’t think its possible. I think sometime back you mentioned about having a secretary to reply on your behalf or some such thing…pleeeeaase don’t…. that kind of thing always makes me worried about whether I am getting the answer from the right person. Even if the answer is okay, I would wonder whether this is what The Simple Dollar founder would have himself written…

  18. Why pay any fee at all for paying ahead on the mortgage? Any plan you set up with the bank will cost you additional money and lock you in (so that if you want to get out, that too will cost you additional money).

    Most banks will allow you to fill out the “additional principle” part of your statement and send in more money. Sure, you need to verify they are actually applying it to principle, but I’ve had half a dozen lenders over the years and they’ve never given me much grief over it.

    Just use an on-line calculator to figure out what you want to pay ahead, either for time or what you can afford, and then send it in.

  19. Just had my own pre-made frozen bean burrito for lunch! I don’t like the way lettuce tastes when it’s been frozen and nuked so I don’t include it. I do like to put a healthy amount of salsa, however. And making a big batch of mashed pinto beans with some black beans is simple with a slow cooker. I just add some spices and jalapeno, turn it on high.

  20. Hi Trent, I’ve been reading your blog for a couple months now, and have found it really helpful, especially the “reader mail bag posts”.

    Here’s a question that I hope hasn’t been asked yet: I’m 21 and make enough money to stay alive, but not enough to save a significant amount. With the Economic Stimulus checks in the mail, I’m tempted to dump the whole thing into the Roth IRA my father set up for me. I haven’t had a chance to put any money into is since it was opened and the balance is low. However, I also feel some amount of responsibility to use this money to stimulate the economy. This is going to sound weird, but would it be irresponsibles of me to put this money away?

    Thank you, and keep up the good work.

  21. Hi Trent,
    I’ve been reading your site for awhile, and I’ve got to say, it’s gotten kind of hard. You’re posts are way longer, and you’ve diversified into things i don’t care about – I think you might consider a new layout with links to organize your posts like, latest blog, latest book club, latest recipe. I would totally recommend your born to buy book club to my sister, who just had a baby, but I hate scrolling through it just to find your regular posts. Also, your book club links (in the past – I haven’t checked up on them since Parachute) show everything in reverse order, so I have to go to the last page and navigate backwards, bleh! Congrats on how it’s grown, please keep in mind all your audiences! – single 23yr old w/student loans

  22. I attack my mortgage like I did my credit card debt and anything else I “owe” – like my Roth contributions. When I owed on my credit card I’d actually make 2-3 payments a month. Anytime I had a significant amount of money (say more than $100) I’d write a check to the credit card company. It was paid off fast.

    I do the same with my Roth IRA. I consider it money I owe starting Jan 1. Anytime I have something over $250 I write the check and send it in. When I’m done with my Roth contribution for the year I apply it to my mortgage – anything over $250 goes to the mortgage. You can apply this method to anything – emergency fund, car payment, specific savings goal, etc. I’ve reached all of those so I apply it to the mortgage. ATTACK!

  23. I should add to the above that this works best if your mortgage allows you no fee extra payments applied to the principle. If you don’t have one of these in your mortgage I’d recommend getting one.

  24. On the mortgage pay-down, I agree with getagrip – make the overpayment each month directly on the coupon.
    Under the 13th payment option you lose. Most “normal” monthly payments include principal, interest, property tax, and hazard insurance. Problems with a 13th payment:
    – you are charged interest by the bank, just like any other monthly payment. That extra $1000 ends up paying down $300 of the loan balance and dropping $700 in interest directly to the bank.
    – the federal government won’t let you deduct the interest associated with the 13th payment.
    – you’ll “beef up” your escrow account a bit.
    – you’ll have the ability to skip a month of house payments with the buffer. You could achieve the same thing through an emergency fund, but you’ll earn interest on the money instead of the bank.

    If you have the money, over-pay your mortgage by the same amount as the 13th payment on the first payment of the year (as additional principal). The bank will not get a free $700 and you won’t have extra money tied up in escrow. You also get to deduct all of your interest.

    Be careful with the overpayment – walk it into the bank if possible and check the transaction. Wachovia applied my overpayment as two “extra” payments a few years back. I discovered the problem at tax time when my 1099 had less interest than I was expecting. I ended up loading a spreadsheet with my payment history (yea Quicken!) just to prove their “correction” was still not correct. Going on three years with Wachovia – they finally report my loan balance and interest correctly, but I somehow get an incorrect 1099 mailed to me every year.
    I believe EVERYONE should track their mortgage balance – same as a checking or savings account.
    Don’t trust anyone to handle your money correctly.

  25. Golf is the my favorite and most hated sport at the same time. Is there anything else where you can practice hard, improve, and still be unhappy?

    Chess. Bridge. Writing.

  26. I would be inclined to play more golf if it wasn’t so expensive. It needs to be $5 for 18 holes otherwise I would be using my mortgage money to play a round of golf.

  27. Thank you for answering my question, Trent. Now, if traffic diminishes on weekends, I would assume that you choose topics that seem less popular to post on weekends. Is that the case? And how often have you been wrong (thinking that a post that would attract lots of comments only gets a few, and vice versa)?
    http://www.escrevalolaescreva.blogspot.com

  28. Health care: Checkout the recent PBS program, “Healthcare around the World”.

    Nutrisystem: Done it. Weight Watchers: Done it. Jenny Craig: Done it. Health Club: Done it. Lost weight, but never kept it off. Would I do any of them again. No. Expensive. Healthy(?) Sustainable(?) The reason a person is overweight, they eat more calories than they burn. So either eat less (healthier) or exercise more. Save your money and do something fun. If you need the camaraderie, checkout TOPS.

    Burritos: Yum! Do tell us your recipe. I suspect you start with dry pinto beans. What seasonings do you use? How do you mash them up? I can never get the same texture as canned refried beans. I have a taco seasoning recipe with onion powder, garlic powder, chili powder, cumin, Better Than Bouillon Beef and water. Never buy those little taco seasoning packets again :-)

    Saran Wrap! I wouldn’t microwave anything in plastic wrap. How about just putting them in a reusable container. If the fit is tight, they ought to stay together. Microwaving, I just use 2 plates (one turned upside down), or a microwave safe glass container with glass top. Checkout Alton Brown’s book, “I’m just here for the food”, for the science of cooking food.

  29. Do you have lots of “float” in your monthly budget? As an example, I gross $2500 a month, and after saving and necessary expenses, I find that I can handle an extra $1000 expense within my monthly budget without dipping into any savings. (I have very few fixed monthly expenses.) I could definitely save more aggressively, but I like the “float” because I’m comfortable with my amount of savings and I don’t like dealing with the fact that bank transfers take 3 days and that transfers in and out of my savings account are limited to 3 a month.

  30. Hmmmm. Posted this a few hours ago and it never showed up.

    Sickness is a human condition. We all get sick sooner or later regardless of political party affiliation. It only makes sense to put a system in place that covers all of us, no opt-outs. Scream “socialism” if it makes you feel better; Bear Stearns had no qualms accepting public money when the going got rough and no one at Bear screamed “socialism” then. The USA is the *ONLY* western industrialized nation without a universal health care system. Frontline/T.R. Reid’s “Sick Around the World” documentary http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/sickaroundtheworld/ on how several industrialized countries pay for their health care should be required viewing. BTW, socialized medicine in some countries does not exclude insurance companies — see the movie.

  31. Been doing some more reading at your site. I’d be interesting in your writings regarding: given your financial concerns, why not use Linux; ebay/craiglist (ebay owns a stake)/ other experience; how to get rid of stuff, valuable (antiques and collectables) and not so valuable. I would say collectables are highly marketed (more of a sales pitch) and kind of a waste of money. But I inherited some, and no one else in the family wants them. They want mobility and experiences, not stuff. I think this is a new trend. My SO bought a Flowbee to save money and hasn’t gone to hair stylist/barber in over 10 years.

  32. You left out one of the best reasons I see for studying foreign languages, which is to help you better appreciate and understand English. My English grammar instruction was practically nonexistent in the early grades, so it was only in my high school French classes that I got a decent understanding of direct objects, reflexive pronouns, and other grammatical constructs. Studying a Romance or Germanic language will also help your English vocabulary since so many of the words share roots.

    If your job or hobbies involve writing, studying a foreign language is a great way to improve. It makes you really think about how sentences are structured, how syllables come together into words, and the different ways you can express the same idea.

    Plus, foreign languages help you order better at ethnic restaurants. :)

  33. Frontline has a good documentary on universal health care “Sick Around the World.”

  34. Re: paying down mortgages-what’s the catch on all those ads where you can get rid of your mortgage (and all other debt for that matter) in as little as 5 years? Is it taking a gamble by trading your secured loan for unsecured credit? Of course they sound too good to be true.

  35. Should I take a used chest freezer?

    My sister is planning on replacing one that’s seriously old (my mom estimates ’71) for a more efficient one. I would like to get a chest freezer, but don’t quite have it in the budget (at least a year out).

    Would the higher electricity cost of an inefficient freezer negate any bulk food savings?

  36. Kristin @ 10:51 am May 5th, 2008 (comment #11).
    I totally understand where you are coming from, it seems as if employers are beating us up to get more done in less time with fewer staff and it back fires with lower productivity, more use of sick time, bad attitude regarding your job and people you work with. Before you quit, is there another area with your present employer you can transfer to, can you go part-time? Think about what you will put on your next job application, reason for leaving, “burned out” will not look very promising to the next employer and the state of the economy seems to vary with the place you live and what you do for a living, look around now and see what’s out there. I know this sounds lame, but your job isn’t your life, it supports your life, maybe you should consider something outside of work to take the edge off, a class, an exercise program, a club, volunteering (which by the way can lead to a better job) because a few months of money will go a lot faster than you think, many times it takes a few months or more just to find a new job, start putting in applications now. So if you are considering taking the summer off and enjoying yourself, I would think again and if you do I would at least have a part-time job to make the money stretch. By the way you didn’t mention if you have people depending on you, spouse, children, room-mate and if you are on your own, do you have a plan B if after leaving your position you can’t find something where you will make ends meet. I wish you luck in whatever you chose to do.

  37. @ Aimee #21

    Please please please do not feel personal responsibility to “fix” the economy by spending your stimulus package on stuff. Do what is best for you – stick that money in your IRA. The bank will do a fine job of investing that money with companies who will stimulate the economy in their own way. It is not irresponsible to invest your money responsibly.

    Good Luck and Future Successes!

  38. Hi, here’s my question for the mailbag.

    I am a teenager and hope to learn about personal finance as much as possible. There are a lot of good blogs out there such as The Simple Dollar, but I’d like to get my hands on a book about personal finance just for teens. Any recommendations?

  39. Can you recommend a favorite book on marriage or relationships (not necessarily one with a money focus)?

  40. Just thought I’d mention that there is a Worldwide Boycott of eBay happening right now, for a variety of reasons. They lowered the insertion fee by 5 cents and raised the Final Value Fee 67%. They tell buyers that a 4 on the DSR’s is good, yet tell the sellers that it is bad. After May 17th (approx) sellers can no longer leave the buyers any feedback but a positive, even if the buyer NEVER pays. Buyers are already leaving negs for no reason. PayPal can hold the sellers $$$ for 21 days or longer at their discretion, the seller still has to ship the item at their own expense. PayPal can freeze your account for no reason. EBay can suspend the seller for no reason.

    In Australia right now, eBay is asking to circumvent the monopoly law, and wants the sellers to ONLY offer PayPal (which eBay owns), no direct bank deposit, no checks, no Money Orders. The United States is next. EBay says all these changes are to help prevent fraud and abuse, when they do NOTHING to stop the counterfeiting, the deception, the ‘signed’ original Picasso’s (yea right!), the 5 dollar Chinese copy/knockoff/copyright infringing item, that comes with 35.00 in shipping.

    They are trying to squash the ‘flea’ market seller and turn themselves into another Amazon and it ain’t working. Their stock is dropping, sell through is off 25% and sellers like me are too scared to sell there now, as are a lot of buyers. Please help support the eBay boycott.
    No Buying, No Selling…May 1st and Onward. For more info go to eBay Discussions, to Sellers Central and choose any thread that has Boycott in the title. The main one is SIGN THE PLEDGE FEB BOYCOTT…has over 42,000 comments since January and is one of the longest running ever, lots of good info and some humor too.

    Trent, I love your blog, it has helped me so much, I was also relying on eBay to help sell my vintage stuff, since I am disabled, what a disillusionment THAT was!

  41. Okay, here’s a question for your Monday mailbag, or (hope) a whole column. (But please don’t reference my name). We are currently digging out of deep debt (biz partner embezzled + medical issues). We have paid off and negotiated down $250K of tax debt- and have $100K to pay off, and about $40K in school loans. We’ve come a LONG way… (plus some amazingly horrendous medical bills and unemployment from the medical issues). All of that is fine – we are digging out, and God has taught us some amazing, much needed lessons.

    But… we are about to inherit >(lets just call it a low 8 figures?) $25 million dollars. It starts in about 12 months to 3 years with, 50% up front, and the balance of 50% about 5 years after that).

    How do we prepare for this? What would you do? I know we need to keep plugging away at the debt – since we don’t know when we’ll get this money. We haven’t told anyone the amount, and I only told my mentor (Bible study teacher) that we would inherit enough that I can cut back or quit work and we can buy a house. I know we pay taxes first, then tithe, then finish paying off our debts.

    I actually have an advanced finance & marketing degree (shhhh), but I’ve not really used the finance skills in my career.

    Do I build an analysis spreadsheet and try to invest wisely to cover the (for my life span 50-70 ) years of cash flow / return we need?

    DO I give up and buy an annuity and just lock the first traunch away so that DH can’t spend it when the urge hits him? (He would do something like invest in a NASCAR team sponsorship or something).

    I’ve started a”list” of goals we have, charities we’ve agreed upon for our planned giving, and possibly non-profits to focus on donating our time to….

    I’ve seen a site about folks that have sudden wealth, and watched the lottery winners fall…(there’s documentaries on that). I think I’d be okay, but I believe DH is going to have all of his problems exasperated by this.

    Your thoughts? What would you do? What am I failing to think about?

  42. Nikki W @ 12:29 am May 8th, 2008 (comment #44)

    Regarding the wind fall amount of money you will receive. Call a Financial Planner, one that won’t try to sell you things.
    Or
    Pay off your debt, put the rest in savings/investments until you can agree on how the rest is spent.
    What would the person who was able to make such a large sum of money think.
    Congrat’s on your money, sorry for your loss.

  43. For your great website. I have learned a lot about time management, how much time I spend watching TV, on the internet, etc and finally getting it, we all have 24 hours a day. Cut back on TV, the internet, stop going out for lunch, stop buying from the vending machine eat something from home. I have started taking a canvas bag to work to on little things, light sewing, mending, buttons, etc. I have also gotten a locker at work where I keep cards/stamps and list of birthdays and anniversaries, paper plates and plastic ware, light snacks (crackers etc), puzzle books and magazines, microwave soups, cocoa, single serving drink mixes to add to my free water, extra umbrella, needle and thread, eye glass kit, medicine, hard candy, etc. I have started a running list of things I need around the house, lamp shade and the measurements, throw rug with paint card, potato peeler, extra key for front door, cold medicine, ice melt for next year, etc. I am doing more with my free time at work, lunch/breaks, making appointments, calling in prescriptions, checking the ad’s and matching up coupons, meal plans. Keeping a calendar to schedule things, oil change, yearly furnace/air checkups, when to change the filter in the furnace, chimney cleaned. A meatless meal once a week, started a pantry, stopped using microwave popcorn (a bag of popcorn is so cheap), almost completely cut out soda, stopped the movie channels, stopped the long distance on our home phone (it’s included in our cell package), found the cell company gives our employees a discount (saved 15% a month). Not driving once a week which means staying home all day to do things around the house together we live in the country too. Plan my errands in advance to spend the least amount of time and gas. Going to the library to get movies and books, we are lucky I can go online and search a group of libraries and have what I want waiting for me at the desk when it becomes available. Using the online google calander so everyone knows whats going on. I know this is long and you may not want to post it, but I do finally get it, TSD isn’t just about saving money. Although time is money I hear.

  44. Since you mentioned Nutrisystem, and somebody else mentioned other weight-loss programs…

    There’s a website called SparkPeople — http://www.sparkpeople.com. It’s absolutely free, you get to set goals for yourself, track the food you eat, your weight and the exercise you do, and they have groups you can join if you like the community aspect of some weight-loss programs. For the price, it’s a really great resource.

    Of course, you have to be self-motivated and diligent at recording what you eat since you’re not paying for it– so there’s no “I pay for this, I better use it” to motivate you. But you’d better be that way anyhow if you want a healthier lifestyle! :)

  45. Hey Trent; For my wife and I being on NutriSystem is a huge convenience, but also helps us/forces us to save money! I wrote about it here http://heyzeus.org/being-on-nutrisystem-and-how-we-save-400-per-month/

    It really has been a blessing in disguise, to lose weight and save money. You’re right it is costly but when compared to normally eating out it can save you money. I’m gonna try what you suggested though in cooking for a month.

  46. Now that you are working on your book, how does copy writting work on your blog, you are able to take segments from your blog to incorporate into your book, but what stops someone else from doing the same. So I guess my question is “can you copy write a blog, blog information or individual ideas you give in your blog”?
    Thanks

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