Reader Mailbag #94

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.

I’m 24 years old. If you combine all my accounts..checking, savings, investments, etc, I have about $20,000 to my name. $25,000 is about what I make in a year. I have absolutely no debt, not even a car payment. I want to buy a house at some point, but due to some other things that need to fall into place, this will be at least a year off. Other than that, no (expected) large expenses.

Before the rates fell, most of my savings was in CDs. Now that 5% CDs are a thing of the past, I’ve been investing a lot of my savings in Vanguard mutual funds. Here’s the question: right now, literally half my money is in mutual funds. They’re some of the lowest-risk funds they had, but still, is that…insane? How much scratch should I put in a regular ol’ savings account and how much should I invest? I just hate my money sitting there not making interest.
– JGF

It seems that your primary goal for this saving is for a home purchase that is more than a year off at the bare minimum. If that’s the case, I see no problem having some of your money in mutual funds.

If I were you, I would probably treat about three months’ worth of that money as an emergency fund and keep it in cash in a savings account somewhere where I could easily reach it. After that, I would view the rest as savings toward that house goal.

Given that the goal is nebulous and at least a year off – and it sounds like much more than that – I’d probably have some significant portion of it in some investment that had more risk than cash, because cash isn’t earning much right now. What you’re doing right now sounds completely reasonable.

Of course, when your plans begin to become clear, I’d get that money into cash pretty quickly so that you have a strong sense of where you’re at and you’re not at risk due to a big unexpected event (like another 9/11) which could devastate your savings and plans.

Recently, I’ve decided to start a video blog about personal finance, but I don’t know what I would need to start. Any ideas?
– Jim

The most basic tool would be a simple webcam that you could attach to the top of your computer monitor. I would start with a very inexpensive model, like the Microsoft LiveCam, or a solid Logitech web cam that you find at an after-Christmas sale. This shouldn’t set you back more than $25 or so.

Use that to figure out if you really have what it takes to do such videos. It’s really not easy, to tell the truth – it takes a ton of practice and careful development to make videos people want to see.

If you find that it’s working for you and want to make videos on the go, look at a Flip UltraHD or something similar. That’s what I have for such uses.

My brother has finally turned his life around after several years “in the wilderness.” I really want to help him out, but my brother won’t accept any form of charity. Do you have any suggestions on what I can do?
– Callie

Sit your brother down. Tell him straight to his face that you’re really proud of him. Give him a big hug. Then tell him that you know he does not want any charitable help, but that you truly do want to help him out as he turns his life around. Offer up a few suggestions of how you could help. Make it very clear that this is a pure gift and that you want nothing in return – you’re doing it because you’re so happy to have him back after his “wilderness years.”

If he turns this down, so be it. My guess is that he’ll probably think it over some and has at least some chance of accepting it. Even if he does not, though, remember that you have already given him a huge boost simply by telling him how proud you are of him and how glad you are to have him in your life. That can mean a lot to a person.

Don’t force a gift on him. He may have a lot to prove to himself yet, let alone to anyone else. Let him do it, but be there for him if he needs it. Some life crises are very hard to recover from.

It is not racist to observe that a particular community has a particular ethnic makeup. Nor is it racist to observe that that community has certain cultural characteristics that you’re looking for. Where you’re edging toward racism is in asserting that the one is the cause of the other.

For example, if people of Scandinavian descent are inherently less inclined to crime and violence, that implies that people of certain other ethnicities are inherently more inclined to crime and violence. Which ethnicities are those? Actually, don’t answer that.
– Johanna

Saying that one ethnic group has a positive trait is not an implication that another ethnic group has a negative trait. If you have twenty ethnic groups and one of them has a propensity towards low incidences of violent crime, that doesn’t mean another group has a much higher propensity towards violent crime. If you remove that low propensity group, the average crime rate goes up a little, but that has nothing to do with any specific ethnic group at all. It just means a positive has been eliminated.

Some ethnic groups do have a propensity towards lower crime rates. If a particular culture puts a strong value on courtesy to others, law and order, and so on, the people in that culture are going to be ingrained all throughout their lives to be more anti-crime than people in another culture who receive different cultural messages. Another culture may have different messages that they value that promote different things as a primary focus – perhaps they promote entrepreneurship, stewardship of resources, artistic endeavors, tight community bonds, or pursuit of pleasure as central cultural ideas. An ethnic group that promotes stewardship of resources won’t necessarily promote resistance to crime as strongly as another group – does that make one group better than another? I don’t think so. In fact, I think there’s a lot of value in people from each of those ethnicities spending time together and bouncing ideas off of each other. And that’s why diversity is awesome.

Obviously, there will still be individuals who commit crime on an individual basis – we’re looking at an aggregate of a large number of people. There are many factors at work when it comes to social behaviors – socioeconomic conditions, to name just one. However, ethnicity and culture are another factor, too.

Racism comes from the idea that one set of ethnic elements is so inherently superior to the other that people from one ethnic group are inherently superior to people from another ethnic group. Simply stating that one ethnic group has a propensity towards low crime doesn’t make any sort of judgment call against any other ethnic group and doesn’t imply any sort of general superiority.

I prefer to live in an area with a low crime rate. If there is an ethnic group with a low propensity towards crime, I’ll bet that you’ll find a higher proportion of that ethnic group in the area with low crime. I prefer to live in the Midwest – preferably in Iowa – so my children can have access to their grandparents and there’s a diversity in the seasonal weather, which I really enjoy. There are some ethnic groups that have higher proportions in the Midwest and others that have lower proportions. If there are ethnic groups that have a tendency towards lower crime and a tendency to inhabit the upper Midwest, I’m likely to wind up living near them.

Perhaps you prefer to live in an area with a strong artistic community. I’d love to visit it to see some of the art festivals and the street art going on there. Maybe you’d like to come to where I live, sit on the front porch, and strike up ten conversations in an hour with people walking by, and perhaps get up and stroll down the street to someone else’s house without worrying about dead-bolting your door.

They’re both cool. And I think they’re both needed in a healthy, vibrant world.

Ethnic demographics can say a lot about a community without being racist in the least. It’ll just tell you what kind of interesting stuff you might find there and what kinds of social norms you might expect. Racism only comes into the picture when you start using such definitions as a way of stating that one group is superior to another group.

I prefer to live in a small community in northern Iowa with a low crime rate. Those two factors likely mean I’ll be living in a community with a lot of people of Scandanavian heritage – just look at the demographics of small towns in northern Iowa with a low crime rate. Will I find vibrant artistic communities, intense religious and spiritual diversity, or passionate political debates? I very well might, but probably not nearly as much as I would if I lived elsewhere (say, the south Bronx). That’s a tradeoff that I choose, for better or worse. You might choose differently, and that’s cool by me.

The sad part about talking about real issues like this – issues that affect all of our lives – is that some people will always find something that makes them believe that it’s all racist, and they accuse people of being racist. False attacks of racism are just as pernicious as real racism – they both seek to bring good, well-meaning people down.

When is a good age to teach children the idea of helping those children that are less fortunate? I was thinking of taking my four year old daughter with me to buy toys for “Toys for Tots” or “Angel Tree Ministries”, but then I thought she might question why.
– Cindy

Shouldn’t you want her to question why? Just let her know that there are a lot of people out there who are less fortunate than her and that you can spend some of your good fortune to make their day a bit better.

We gave our son a Money Savvy Pig for his fourth birthday. It includes a slot for money that is intended to be donated and now, at the two month mark, the slot has about seven or eight dollars in it. He’s intending to save it until next Christmas, then give all of the money at once to Jump for Joel.

We’ve talked quite often about how there are children in the world who don’t have money for toys and, in fact, often don’t have money for food or water. I don’t know how much he understands of it, but it’s something that we’re already talking about.

Because of the increasing volatility of most careers, I’ve been encouraging my son to think seriously about taking up a trade after high school, like becoming an electrician or a plumber. He’d be able to go to trade school and get quickly into the workforce with a set of skills that will always be in demand and he’d also have a lot of potential of becoming his own boss down the road.

A lot of my family has been telling me – in front of my son, even – how horrible this advice is. What do you think?
– Elliott

I actually think it’s very good advice, particularly if your son is not a student from the top 5% or so of the academic heap.

I know many people in such trades who are doing quite well for themselves. My wife’s first cousin is a very successful electrician, for one, and I have a cousin who has built a very good business from his carpentry skills. Both of them make quite a lot of money each year and have never faced a student loan bill or a skill set that’s out of date in their lives.

Don’t let the prevailing wisdom that your child has to go to college guide you. Yes, it can be a great experience. Yes, a lot of people cherish their college memories. Yes, many careers basically require a B.A. or a B.S.

Those things don’t mean that it’s a path for everyone, though. It doesn’t have to be a path for your son. The trades are a perfectly viable path for anyone.

Is there a good rule of thumb for how big your emergency fund should be? What do you use?
– Sal

My general rule of thumb for emergency funds is pretty simple. I usually tell people to have three months’ worth of living expenses on hand in cash, plus an additional month for each dependent they have. So, if you’re married, you should have four months of living expenses for the household. If you have two kids, shoot for six months.

In truth, though, human psychology plays a big role in how big your emergency fund should be. If you’re a person who finds yourself worrying a lot about bad scenarios, you should have more than that, because it will help you sleep better at night.

Don’t get caught up in the idea that money sitting in a savings account or in CDs is somehow a bad investment. It’s not. It’s a very stable investment that earns a steady but small return, which is exactly what you need for money you might need to completely rely on. Other investments might earn more, but they also have the risk of losing a lot – and the time when you might most need your emergency fund is when the economy is down, and that’s often when many investments are down as well.

Linking and referring between personal finance blogs seems to be very common. Obviously, when you link from your site to another, there is an implicit endorsement of the other blog and its contents. Recently a very successful PF blogger I read suggesting owning a gun as a “cheap home security option”. That advice really horrified me for a number of reasons and I will now not return to read again.

Totally leaving aside any sort of gun control debate – just imagine it was any sort of issue about which you felt strongly – how do you make the decision that you are willing to link to another blog? Do you feel it necessary to check up on the blog to make sure you’re still endorsing content in which you believe? Have you ever had to make a call when you would not link to another blog any more?

I’m interested to see you take on this.
– Marcella

For starters, I only link to blogs that are currently in my Google Reader – in other words, the blogs I’m currently reading. There’s usually about 60 blogs in there, with probably five rotating in and five rotating out in a given week. I tend to discover new blogs through links from the blogs I currently read and respect.

What makes me stop reading a blog? I stop reading if the blog stops making me think over a long period of time. So, for example, the blog you mention above probably wouldn’t leave my reader any time soon, even though I don’t agree with the statement. Such a statement would make me step back and think a little, and that’s what a good blog should do.

I also stop reading if the amount of posting of the blog drastically goes up – from a post a day to ten posts a day or something – or if the topic in general drastically changes. I stop reading if a blogger is obviously becoming a paid spokesperson for something that’s not their own work (I relish the success of bloggers who write about their book they just invested time in or their new video series or something like that). I stop reading if I see blatant hate speech or obvious disrespect for others or blatant trolling for traffic or something like that.

I don’t care about grammatical errors or other such things. Blogs are places for thought-provoking first drafts and sincere thoughts from the heart, and so I’m not looking for published polish. I don’t care about occasional errors, either, for the same reason. If you want finished perfection, go read The New Yorker (which I do also read, but I get something very different out of it than I do out of blogs).

What about linking? I usually only link to an article that makes me particularly think. I don’t really worry that much about a “track record” because everyone has a few good ideas inside of them. If I’m made to think or reconsider what I’m doing, it’s probably linkworthy.

I don’t believe my link to a blog is an implicit endorsement of the entire archives of another blog. I’m willing to bet that I would find something I disagreed with strongly in the archive of any blog out there. I just link out because I found something interesting and want to share it.

Recently I ordered a book on how to make money at home with Google. The cost was only $1.99. so I thought I had nothing to lose. Suffice it to say, I never received a book and almost immediately had money taken from my Visa card until i finally had to cancel my card. I think this was a shameful attempt to take advantage of those of us needing work. Are there any ways to make money on the internet that are not scams like this, or should I just forget it and remain poor?
– Kathy

Here’s a very simple rule of thumb for buying online: never give your credit card info or any other personal info to to any company that you’ve never heard of before. Just don’t do it, period. It’s not worth the risk.

As for whether it’s possible to make money online, there are lots of ways to do it, but there are no easy ways to do it. The ways that require little time investment are ways that don’t earn you a great deal per hour, like Mechanical Turk. The ways that can earn you a lot per hour take a ton of start-up time, like creating your own blog, before you earn much at all.

If anyone is promising to show you an easy way to make a lot of money online quickly, they’re selling you something that I would stay far, far away from.

Trent, I have been a reader for over 2 years. I liked when you posted frugal tips and not your opinions about the number of children one should have and about why Nordics make better neighbors. I will no longer be reading your blog and will not be referring people to it anymore.
– maria

I hope you find a blog that suits what you’re looking for. Money Saving Mom might be right up your alley, as she posts plenty of “deal” lists and other such things. I sincerely hope that any reader who stops finding value in The Simple Dollar finds another site that meets whatever needs they have in life.

Maria’s complaints come solely from the reader mailbag, which I started because people wanted a forum in which other things besides strictly money issues were discussed and people could ask me things of any nature. Often, these questions are spawned from an exchange in the comments of a post or from a simple reference to some other aspect of life. It has proved time and time again to be one of the most popular parts of The Simple Dollar.

My judge of whether The Simple Dollar works is whether or not I’d enjoy it as a reader, and if I just posted nothing but frugal tips, I’d probably unsubscribe. I stick with the blogs that I read on personal finance – and many other topics – because the people who write them are real, interesting people who I’ve come to disagree with, be entertained by, and respect over a long period of time. That’s what I keep in my feed reader, and that’s what I want to keep The Simple Dollar being. Part of the cost of that is that I sometimes lose readers and I certainly hear a lot of insults, both from people with genuine concerns and from trolls. That’s a cost that I’ve learned to live with.

If that type of stance means I lose all my readers, I’m fine with that. I’d rather speak from the heart to an empty room than read a list to thousands.

Got any questions of your own? Ask them in the comments and I’ll get to them in a future mailbag.

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  1. Emily says:

    It is NEVER to early to teach your child to be giving. We have 4 young children and this year we decided to do even more by way of giving. We adopted 2 children to buy gifts for. I also ALWAYS encourage them to put money in the Salvation Army buckets or the Veterans or whoever is standing outside the grocery store. We also sponsor a child in Thailand – because our kids saw it on TV and it really touched their hearts.

    When you get your children in the mindset that it’s better to give than recieve – it becomes a way of life for them. For instance, just this Christmas my daughter came home and said one of her friends wasn’t going to have much for Christmas because they had car trouble, etc. She asked if she could please use her allowance to buy her friend a gift and hide it in her locker. My heart was truly blessed. If all the world was giving – think how much better a place it would be.

  2. Johanna says:

    “False attacks of racism are just as pernicious as real racism”

    Cow cookies. Before you said that, did you think for more than five seconds about what life is like for a person who *is* subject to “real racism”?

  3. marta says:

    “If that type of stance means I lose all my readers, I’m fine with that. I’d rather speak from the heart to an empty room than read a list to thousands.”

    :: facepalm :: If you lost all your readers, you’d lose all your revenue. Bye-bye writing career. Come on, do you really expect us to believe you don’t care at all about what we think of your articles?

    Although, judging from your answers to those questions on racism and such… maybe you don’t really care and aren’t willing to learn. Starting by TRULY examining your own privileges, for example.

    This is going downhill fast and it’s a pity — some of your earlier stuff was pretty interesting.

  4. I don’t agree with the investing advice for house down payment money. I think if the investing time horizon is less than 5 years it shouldn’t be in any kind of equity investments or medium/long term bonds. I would suggest high interest savings account and/or CDs only.

    And if the time horizon is longer than 5 years – that doesn’t mean it should be 100% equities – maybe some kind of combination.

    I would only go 100% equities with money that will be invested for at least 10-15 years.

    And what kind of funds does the guy have? Are they equity/balanced/bonds?

  5. Matt says:

    RE: Giving your CC# online.

    Check to see if your credit card’s website offers “virtual”, “temporary” (or some other adjective) numbers. My Citi card offers a service where I can generate a one-time use number that is good for 1 charge only. Whenever I want to buy something from a site I’m not familiar with, I’ll generate one of these numbers, rather than give them my actual one. That way, if it turns out to be a scam, they’ll be shut out after the first transaction and I won’t have lost my real number.

  6. spaces says:

    @ Elliot, I have similar thoughts. A trade is one thing I want my daughter to have entry-level competency at when she’s an older teenager. (The other things are a second language, a musical instrument and a sport.) A trade would not necessarily be in lieu of college. Knowing plumbing would give her the security and mobility that comes with being able to do skilled labor. And if she never used the skill professionally, she would still enjoy an advantage around the home, around autos, etc.

    One of the best things my father ever did for me was teaching me some basic carpentry.

  7. Joanna says:

    @ Johanna: I think the point here is that those who are quick to accuse others of racism do not aid in the elimination of racism. Such accusations, in fact, serve only to shut down the open, honest discussion of such human feelings and to create further division, which is why they are “just as pernicious”. Tamping down any “politically incorrect” ideas that may exist in your own mind does not eliminate them from your being. Only by allowing these thoughts and opinions to bubble to the surface (in a non-threatening manner, obviously) and openly, honestly discussing them can hearts and minds be open enough to truly change. IMHO, *that* is what this country needs, and I believe it’s what Mr. Obama meant when he referred to the need for a “conversation about race”. I for one applaud Trent for being honest about his feelings, right or wrong. I would love to see a comment from someone who disagrees with him that was truly thoughtful.

  8. Johanna says:

    @Joanna: I appreciate your point of view, but I don’t think it’s the same as what Trent said. The full sentence was “False attacks of racism are just as pernicious as real racism – they both seek to bring good, well-meaning people down.” The implication is that “false” accusations of racism are just as bad *for the people being accused* as real racism is for the people it affects. To which I again say: Cow cookies.

  9. christine says:

    @ Johanna I totally agree with you, but I would argue that low incidences of crime in Iowa and in Scandinavia have NOTHING TO DO WITH RACE. It’s an entirely false causal connexion, as Hume would sat. In other words, things that happen to correspond aren’t necessarily cause and effect.

    It’s community factors that shape crime rates. In the Midwest and Scandinavia, there is incredibly low diversity and somewhat low poverty. People are dependent on neighbors (sometimes for survival), but also don’t have to ever be in close contact with any neighbors. That’s a recipe for superficial low crime.

    I’ve lived in rural areas for 70% of my life and know that drug/alcohol use and sexual assault are through the roof in such towns, and I also know that I’d never raise kids in such a homogeneous, socially-unaccepting environment. But that’s my choice, and not for everyone.

    I resent Trent for implying that there is ANY connection between race and crime (though perhaps he’s stating himself uncharacteristically poorly).

  10. Joanna says:

    Well, I suppose we can each read into it what we like. I read that the false accusations are just as bad for the victims of racism. And I agree with this statement, because they serve to increase racism rather than decrease it.

  11. Takilla says:

    Interesting discussion. I normally find myself of like mind with Trent. Not sure here … but I think so.

    I suppose there is something to say about different cultures having different values. EG: does the average Nigerian have the same sense of respect for others as the average Iowan? I would say probably not (I’m basing this on the crime rate … I could be wrong). But when it comes to why … I agree with those that said it has only to do with economics and such. If Nigeria had the wealth the US has, the crime rate would drop like crazy. A person of Scandinavian descent born and raised in such an environment would have a similar outlook to the average Nigerian. The average Nigerian born and raised in Iowa likewise would have values similar to the average Iowan.

    For those that are having a hard time getting around the whole “if you say something good about one culture/ethnic group you must be saying something bad about another! Therefore, racist.” Try this test:

    1. Does the person think they are simply stating a fact?

    2. Do they think this fact has nothing to do with the person’s/group’s ethnicity?

    If the answer is yes to both … the statement can’t be racist by definition.

  12. *sara* says:

    @ Jim
    Another encouragement might be to check out Gary Vaynerchucks Wine Library Tv vblogs. Watch some of his more recent shows, where he is vibrant, energetic and highly entertaining. Then watch some of his earliest blogs, where he stiffly sits and lists through his explanations (boring!). The cool thing is to see how practice and persistence over a few *years* helped him refine his delivery to become the huge and fantastic program it is today. It give me hope to see that just because its not perfect at the beginning doesn’t mean there’s not a chance to grow and change radically.

    Point being, even if your vblogs might kinda stink at the beginning, don’t quit! Keep going and see how practice refines you.

  13. nicole says:

    Man, you’re feeling feisty today. Still totally reminding me of Scott Kurtz (the before version). Is attacking readers really the best strategy for long-term viability?

    I do thank you for linking to Get Rich Slowly though. JD has a page on his (not personal finance) blog about how to gracefully respond to people who disagree with you and to keep a good web community discussion going. I know you’ve made different choices in how to handle people who question or disagree with you, but it might be worth reading through and thinking about.

  14. Ward says:

    I strongly believe that young people should take a trade before they go to university, unless they are really passionate about a particular field. Most students don’t really know what they want to do with thier lives, and often just take a general degree, which is pretty much unmarketable, or go for lawyer or doctor, and then find they hate the career.

    Another point to consider is if you take a trade first, and you still want to go to university, you will have a way to make enough during the summer to cover your costs for the following year. Try doing that with a minimum wage job, which is what a lot of university students end up with (been there, done that). Rather than being buried under a load of debt, the person that took a trade first, will be debt free, or mostly so, and have the bonus of having a trade to fall back on if they can’t find a job in their field (been there, done that too.) After 10 years of university, getting a Master’s degree in Geology, the bottom fell out of the job market. I then went and took a horseshoeing course and have been using it since to earn a side income.

    A lot of parents think that the best way to a high paying, satisfying job is through university. This is not true. There are a lot of very well paid, very happy tradesmen. As an added bonus, in most trades you can work for yourself, and have a lot more control over your life.

  15. Johanna says:

    @Takilla: “If the answer is yes to both … the statement can’t be racist by definition.”

    What is your definition of racism? From what you write, it sounds like you’re defining it based solely on the person’s intentions and state of mind. I don’t think that’s necessarily the most useful definition. As I define racism, there is definitely such a thing as unintentional racism, because it is possible to say or do something that unfairly helps one race or harms another, even if that’s not what you intended.

    Consider an analogy to homicide. If you kill somebody by accident, that person ends up just as dead as if you’d killed her in cold blood. That doesn’t mean you’re an evil person like a cold-blooded killer, but it does mean that maybe you should consider what you might have done that contributed to the accident and try not to do it again.

    When someone who uses “racist” to mean “whether you meant it that way or not, what you said/did was harmful” is talking to someone who hears “racist” to mean “evil person!”, the conversation gets heated pretty fast.

  16. Kay says:

    I think part of the problem here is confusing / mixing together the concepts of race and culture. They are obviously not the same thing and should not be referred to interchangably. I think almost everything Trent says he means to refer to culture instead of race. Even then, one should be very careful when making blanket statements about any culture or race, because while the average amount of a characteristic may very well vary across different cultures, the range is usually very large – there will be some violent people in every culture, for example, no matter how pacifist the individual culture.

    That said, I wish this blog wouldn’t diverge into these topics so often. I hope Trent notices the huge decrease in commenters (and possibly readers) since he has instigated these arguments in the Mailbag. The main reason I continue to read this blog is because it is almost like watching a train wreck, sometimes. I really used to like this blog, but I would prefer some new content that is not related to laundry detergent, Trent’s “amazing” recipes, and how his new mind set is so different. I would love stuff on taxes since tax season is approaching, whether pre-school is worth the money for a stay-at-home parent, how to live on/track money when you get paid very infrequently (I get paid 3 times A YEAR as a graduate student), money advice for the academic or others who do not receive a salary until in their 30s AND will never make super big bucks (like a doctor) so will have a much harder time getting ready for retirement, saving money on travel … that’s what I can think of off the top of my head.

  17. Tracy says:

    Wow…I had no idea you could be so controversial. The fact that you stand by your reasoning in the face of political correctness earns you some respect in my book, whether I agree or not. We are too quick, I think to abandon ideas for fear of offending someone in our culture. The best response to an idea one doesn’t like is to try to understand it, whether or not you ever agree with it. On that path lies the possibility of growth and tolerance.

  18. annk says:

    “The implication is that “false” accusations of racism are just as bad *for the people being accused* as real racism is for the people it affects.”

    Ummm . . . .tell that to the Duke lacrosse players whose lives were virtually ruined.

  19. “Such a statement would make me step back and think a little, and that’s what a good blog should do.”

    I liked this statement, because I find that I agree with it. Probably what keeps me coming back here… I suppose I find it interesting to read about how someone else lives life that’s way different than me. *Shrug*

    “The best response to an idea one doesn’t like is to try to understand it, whether or not you ever agree with it. On that path lies the possibility of growth and tolerance.”

    @Tracy (#17) — Love how you put this, so true! Lately I’ve been thinking I’ve become a bit harsh, jaded, black and white about some things… And I totally need to chill about it. Not doing anybody good for me to act like a child like that.

  20. Johanna says:

    @annk: You mean the Duke lacrosse players who were falsely accused of *rape*? Not the same thing as racism. Even though they both start with the same letter.

  21. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    “If you lost all your readers, you’d lose all your revenue. Bye-bye writing career. Come on, do you really expect us to believe you don’t care at all about what we think of your articles?”

    I care about being honest, period.

    I will NEVER be dishonest to win over a reader. I will NEVER write something I don’t believe in to attract people. I will NEVER put on a false front to appease commenters. I don’t lie to you or pander to you to keep you reading. I think that’s fairly obvious by now.

    If I had a choice between giving up my writing career or writing a bunch of stuff I didn’t believe in, I’d quit my writing in a second. I’d archive The Simple Dollar and start sending my resume around.

  22. Jane says:

    Trent’s comments about Iowa do not necessarily offend me, but I do think what he proposes about the supposed Scandinavian propensities is utter nonsense. There is nothing essentialist about race when it comes to behavior, and to even suggest such a thing is pretty ignorant.

  23. kristine says:

    I really wish that responses to comments took place in the comments section, if they are “off-topic” for a finance blog. This way, if I am interested in the discussion, I can read it in context. Then I am not dissappinted to tune in and see that the majority of the mailbag has nothing to do with the blog topic.

    I think the propensity to make a blog entry of comment controversies is an attempt to defend one’s self in a safer one-way venue, rather than get into actual back and forth discussions with readers in the comment section. I would prefer to see more evidence of learning and trying to truly understand alternative points of view, than the all-too-frequent defensive, declarative justifications.

    And the closing statement is noble, but given the “back-off” tone, it comes across as disingenuous and cranky.

    Can we get back to frugal living here? Can we all leave our soap-boxes at home?

  24. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    “Trent’s comments about Iowa do not necessarily offend me, but I do think what he proposes about the supposed Scandinavian propensities is utter nonsense. There is nothing essentialist about race when it comes to behavior, and to even suggest such a thing is pretty ignorant.”

    In no way did I propose anything about “Scandinavian propensities.”

    The only time I mentioned Scandinavians at all was this: “I prefer to live in a small community in northern Iowa with a low crime rate. Those two factors likely mean I’ll be living in a community with a lot of people of Scandanavian heritage – just look at the demographics of small towns in northern Iowa with a low crime rate.”

    Take a look at Neighborhood Scout – http://www.neighborhoodscout.com/ia/crime/

    Find some small towns with low crime rates in the northern part of the state.

    Then research the demographics of those towns.

    What will you find? You’ll find lots of Scandinavians – particularly Norwegians. You’ll find some Germans. You’ll find a few Irish. You’ll find a few Mexicans. That’s pretty much the demographic mix of small towns in northern Iowa.

    How is it “utter nonsense” to say such a thing?

  25. chacha1 says:

    I think the discussion about whether or not Trent is racist is a) pretty boring and b) entirely about you, the people who are writing in.

    I would like to comment on the mailbag note from Elliot and subsequent comments #6 and #14 which pointed out that a trade-school education doesn’t preclude a college degree. I wish I had more “trade” skills! I can’t maintain my own car, change out a faucet or a light fixture, or build anything, and I sure wish I could; it would make me a more useful domestic partner as well as less dependent on “outsiders” and hence, more frugal. (Fortunately, DH has mad diy skillz thanks to good high-school trade classes.)

    My master’s degree may have been a good education but it hasn’t really helped me build a career. If I had taken a different path, I could have the degree as well as the fall-back skills.

    So Elliot, shut those people down when they criticize your advice. At worst, going to trade school takes a year or so and your son can still go to college if he finds the work unfulfilling. At best, he discovers – as you say – a lifelong self-directed career.

  26. guinness416 says:

    Not to mention that scandinavians-in-scandinavia (which is such a huge frickin area as almost impossible to stereotype in and of itself) have as much in common with “scandinavians” in midwest america as I do. Not sure TH is, but I can’t believe someone upthread is trying to connect them. Two extremely different cultures!

    The comment in the mailbag about the gun thread elsewhere is a bit weird. I am definitely down with seeing that post as beyond the pale but can’t imagine anyone would see a link on this or other sites as endorsement of everything on a blog – there are ads, comments, and guest posts as well as all the main posts. It would be impossible to vet even if one were to try.

  27. Jane says:

    First you say “Some ethnic groups do have a propensity towards lower crime rates.” Then you talk about the area in Iowa in which you live is mostly Scandinavian. You also say you choose to live an in area with low crime.

    How am I not to conclude that you think the Scandinavians have an inherent propensity towards low crime?

  28. Heather says:

    One thing I feel should be addressed is mutual funds and how problematic they are. They’re expensive, most of them underperform their benchmarks, they’re not transparent, so you have no idea what you own, you cannot buy and sell at any old time without penalty and they shoot off capital gains.

    The reader in question number one would be wise to investigate exchange traded funds (ETFs) – they’re like mutual funds in that they hold baskets of stocks, but that’s about where it ends. They’re transparent, low-cost, capital gains are rare and you can trade them anytime like you would a stock.

    I’m very much on board with ETFs and feel that if more people knew about them the way they knew about mutual funds, the mutual fund industry would eventually die off. Mutual funds don’t serve investors the way they should.

  29. Johanna says:

    @Trent (#21): I don’t see where marta or anyone else suggested that you should say things that you don’t believe. Can you point to where anyone has said that?

    But not saying things that you don’t believe does not imply that you have to say everything that you do believe. And not saying everything that you do believe is something that every reasonable person does every day. It’s part of (1) being polite and (2) staying on topic.

    If I go to a meeting with my boss, and he’s wearing the ugliest tie I’ve ever seen, I don’t blurt out in the middle of the meeting, “That’s the ugliest tie I’ve ever seen.” It’s irrelevant, it’s rude, and saying irrelevant and rude things to my boss in the middle of a meeting is not in my best interest.

    This is your blog. You choose what to write about. You’re the one whose choosing to keep bringing up these same controversial topics over and over again in the reader mailbags. You could, perhaps, choose otherwise, and write with equal honesty about something else.

  30. Carrie says:

    On the ‘trades’ discussion, an excellent book is “Shop Class as Soul Craft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work” by Matthew B. Crawford (NYTimes Review here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/29/books/29book.html). The author, a Ph.D. in Political Philosophy, now operates a motorcycle repair shop in my beloved adopted hometown of Richmond, VA, and he writes eloquently (but not at all idealistically) about the merits of handwork. As an academic librarian who spends every minute otherwise not occupied with work doing ‘real’ things – cooking, cleaning, knitting, running – I could totally appreciate his argument that this kind of ‘real’ work feeds our soul in a way that computer work does not (much to the chagrin of everyone in my life, I don’t ‘do’ Facebook, because I can’t stand to be on the computer in any of my precious free time).

  31. Des says:

    Now, why would he do that, Johanna, when controversies like these keep people coming back to check the comments section and drive his traffic (and, therefore, revenue) up? It is in his best interest to keep being controversial as he benefits financially, even if it is off topic, irrelevant, and rude.

  32. Lindsey says:

    In response to Elliot and other posters about trades: I agree with you, but caution that a trade is not a way to avoid job market flucutation. I work in the construction industry and know a number of skilled tradesmen who have not been working for nearly or over a year. There are many opportunties, but the field is just as volatile as others.

  33. Johanna says:

    @Des: Good question. Maybe it’ll show up in next week’s mailbag. :)

  34. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    “Now, why would he do that, Johanna, when controversies like these keep people coming back to check the comments section and drive his traffic (and, therefore, revenue) up? It is in his best interest to keep being controversial as he benefits financially, even if it is off topic, irrelevant, and rude.”

    Trust me, my revenue does not come from people who visit the comments section. Those people are regular readers who don’t click on ads. In fact, they cost me money, because I have to pay for the bandwidth for people who just come to read comments and don’t click on the ads. I have millions of points of data in Google Analytics to back it up.

    If I were writing solely for revenue purposes, I’d actually turn the comments off, like many other blogs have done lately.

  35. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    “But not saying things that you don’t believe does not imply that you have to say everything that you do believe. And not saying everything that you do believe is something that every reasonable person does every day. It’s part of (1) being polite and (2) staying on topic.”

    The entire controversy was caused by me responding to a question that you asked. You’re implying here that I should have ignored you. Perhaps I should follow your advice.

    I try to answer any and all questions I’m asked in the reader mailbag. If someone asks me a question, I usually assume that they want an answer, and I think it’s a healthy part of a community to not just ostracize and delete everything that isn’t in lockstep. I allow far more freedom of speech in the comments here than most blogs, which actively crush all dissent and which causes their comments to seem like a positive chorus. To me, that’s not honest, and if I have to be dishonest to myself in order to be a “successful” writer, I’ll start working on my resume immediately.

  36. Takilla says:

    @Johanna: per Wikipedia:
    Racism is the belief that race is a primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.

    Am I basing it on intentions and state of mind? Yup. As you can see from the definition on wiki … which I think is pretty good, it’s a belief. Therefore, as far as racism goes: the ONLY thing that matters is one’s beliefs and intentions. Punching every white person you see in the face because you’re a jerk (and you just happen to walk by ONLY white people) isn’t racist. You have to be punching them in the face AND do it simply because they’re white.

    I think what many of the readers seem to misunderstand is that there is a difference between: “where I live it’s nice and there are a lot of people of Scandinavian ancestry.” He’s not saying: “where I live it’s nice BECAUSE there are a lot of people of Scandinavian ancestry AND all people of that ethnic group are nice.”

    I can see where people are getting off track here. I isn’t completely obvious … but Trent is not intending to convey that Scandinavians are superior to all other peoples or anything like that.

    There’s no fire here … only a wisp of smoke =)

  37. Kara says:

    Johanna: I disagree with you.
    “False attacks of racism are just as pernicious as real racism – they both seek to bring good, well-meaning people down.”

    Let’s examine this. I think that the first statement implied is that real racisim is bad. I don’t think that anyone can argue that point. Racisim is a cancer on society. When one is subjected to any kind of discrimination, that person is made to feel less than human.

    The second statement implied is that “false” racisim is just as bad or worse than “real” racisim. For the sake of argument, let’s include all forms of discrimination. I think that this is a valid statement. This “false” discrimination can include, but is not limited to, not talking about diversity at all, or giving people a “free pass” because one is afraid of being construed as a biggot. I think the worst is not aknowledging any diversity at all. It does everyone a disservice. The beauty of this country is that we all come from diverse cultural backgrounds, women have the same rights as men, and even that people from different parts of the country have different experiences and customs. So, yeah, I think that “false” discrimination is just as bad as “real” discrimination. Real discrimination makes one into less of a person. False discrimination makes us into less of a society.

  38. jim says:

    Going into a skilled trade like Electrician or Plumber can be a great choice. I agree with Trent though that if the kid is in around top of their class then I’d pursue college instead. Career wise you should be much better off if you can excell in school and get into a profession like engineering or something in medicine. However I would keep in mind that there are many downsides to working as an Electrician. You often work outdoors in the snow or rain, you are in real danger of dying through electricution (more dangerous than police or firemen), work can be inconsistent and very dependent on construction phases and the economy, the work is hard and most electricians end their careers with back problems, etc. Point is that while the pay might be fine, its not a nice cushy job in a office.

  39. Des says:

    @Trent

    All your ads are pay per click? None are pay per impressions? If you will confirm that (and I will take your word for it) than I will retract my statement. It was my understanding that most bloggers use their page view stats to make money via pay per impression, in addition to other advertising methods. If you do not make use of such advertisements, and instead make *all* your money from click ads, my apologies.

  40. George says:

    For JGF (the first question), a note of realism: With a $25,000 annual income, you’ll need a substantial downpayment on a home since your maximum monthly mortgage payment should be no more than $600 per month.

    You didn’t say how long it has taken you to save that $20,000, but I’d bet you started saving when you were 18. $20k plus another $5k or so is about adequate for a 20% down payment on a $100k home.

    So I’m with Trent in that, apart from a windfall, you’re probably a few years away from buying your first home unless the home prices where you live are well below the national median. However, keep your eyes and ears open, in case opportunity knocks!

  41. George says:

    On racism – Trent, you wrote “The people are mostly Norwegian and Swedish, which means lots of calm and friendly temperaments.” on September 28, 2009.

    That is a racist statement, which is what caused the fuss in the first place.

  42. Auntielle says:

    “Trust me, my revenue does not come from people who visit the comments section. Those people are regular readers who don’t click on ads. In fact, they cost me money, because I have to pay for the bandwidth for people who just come to read comments and don’t click on the ads”.

    Trent, I am a regular reader. I rarely click on the ads, simply because I’m hardly ever interested in the types of ads that are usually featured: investment accounts, VISA business cards and so on. But I purchased your first book, and I purchased each of your 4 e-books, even though I had no plan to sit down and read them, since I have no desire to start a blog, my financial situation is good and doesn’t need “fixing”, etc. But ever since I started reading TSD two years ago, I have hoped you would put a Paypal link on the main page, so I could contribute (albeit in a very small way) for the value I have received from your blog. It really isn’t the reader’s fault that we cannot “pay our own way”, if there is no Paypal link for those who desire to contribute. We shouldn’t have to click on ads we’re not interested in and maybe have our e-mail addys captured and used for spam just to be able to offer our support.

    Have you reconsidered the Paypal link?

  43. Sara says:

    I work at a power plant, and although I have a college degree, I work with many people who never went to college but have stable jobs and get paid quite well. Another possibility Elliott’s son may want to consider is joining the military, which pays well and can prepare him for a good civilian career. Elliott’s family probably thinks his advice is terrible because they truly believe that a college degree is the only path to success. To be honest, I used to think so, too, but now I realize that there are other paths to a successful career that don’t require going tens of thousands of dollars into debt for a college degree.

  44. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    “Have you reconsidered the Paypal link?”

    I’m not in this for the money. I run the minimum number of ads I need to pay the bills and keep food on the table. The last thing I’m going to do is ask the people who visit this site – people who need financial help – to give me money.

    If you really want to donate to me, take the money you would have donated and write a check to your local food pantry. That way, more people who need help (and are actually trying to help themselves) can receive it. Pay it forward, man.

  45. Bill says:

    “Trust me, my revenue does not come from people who visit the comments section. Those people are regular readers who don’t click on ads. In fact, they cost me money, because I have to pay for the bandwidth for people who just come to read comments and don’t click on the ads.”

    It looks like your hosting your blog on Dream Host which offers unlimited bandwidth. If you do actually do pay for metered bandwidth you should change hosts immediately.

  46. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    “It looks like your hosting your blog on Dream Host which offers unlimited bandwidth. If you do actually do pay for metered bandwidth you should change hosts immediately.”

    I do not pay for metered bandwidth, but the traffic to The Simple Dollar is such that I have to pay for a pretty expensive plan for them. Shared hosting does not cut it with the kind of traffic I get. Considering that a lot of the page views, image downloads, etc. comes from readers that do not earn me any revenue, I could likely downgrade my plan if I just disallowed comments and the like. That would save me money directly.

  47. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    “All your ads are pay per click? None are pay per impressions? If you will confirm that (and I will take your word for it) than I will retract my statement. It was my understanding that most bloggers use their page view stats to make money via pay per impression, in addition to other advertising methods. If you do not make use of such advertisements, and instead make *all* your money from click ads, my apologies.”

    My ad deals generally require me to guarantee a certain amount of clickthrough, regardless of how I’m actually paid. If I don’t get that rate, I don’t get paid (or I receive some other penalty). So, yes, my ads are pretty much CPA aside from some of the Google ads, which earn me very little at all.

  48. Sarah says:

    @Kay: I am completely on board with your second paragraph. Fewer and fewer posts on frugality and personal finance means fewer visits from me.

    I’ve been reading this blog for several months now, and have begun to notice that Trent seldom/never gives on any point; his responses to any critique are uniformly defensive. Those who have been readers for longer, please let me know if I’m wrong here. Never conceding that others might have a good point that differs from yours makes Trent come across as arrogant and stubborn, no matter what the topic.

  49. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    “I’ve been reading this blog for several months now, and have begun to notice that Trent seldom/never gives on any point; his responses to any critique are uniformly defensive. Those who have been readers for longer, please let me know if I’m wrong here. Never conceding that others might have a good point that differs from yours makes Trent come across as arrogant and stubborn, no matter what the topic.”

    And that’s the catch-22 of participating in comments and allowing dissent.

    If someone disagrees with me and I don’t agree with their critiques, should I (a) say nothing or (b) get involved with the conversation or (c) delete their comment?

    I’m curious as to how you think I should handle such discussion. Put yourself in my shoes for a second. You put an hour or two into researching and writing a post. Someone comes on and leaves a scathing comment about it, one you find completely baseless. What do you do? Respond to it? Delete it? Ignore it?

    If I respond and defend my perspective, I’m arrogant and unwilling to listen to critiques. If I ignore it, I’m not listening to the readership. If I delete it, then I’m a dictator out to quash free speech.

    The solution most bloggers eventually come to is to just delete almost all dissenting comments, because it’s the least painful of the three. Quite a few popular bloggers have told me over and over again to start doing that, because not doing it hurts my “image.” I don’t like that path, because I actually deeply value those dissenting voices and I want to have that debate, because I think everyone learns from it.

    Because I value the voice of dissenters so highly as a check on myself and my own biases, I’m labeled as arrogant. I guess I’d rather be labeled “arrogant” than to be a person who quashes dissent and discourages people from making up their own mind.

  50. Kevin M says:

    @Kay – what type of post would you like to see on taxes?

  51. marta says:

    Okay, Trent, you are being disingenuous here.

    Not every disagreeing comment is completely baseless. Many are perfectly valid, pertinent and backed up by supporting information, to use your own words.

    The problem is that you seem to react quite badly to THOSE comments as well. Which only adds to the perception that you never seem to concede or give on any point. When you pretend to do, it’s in a “we are both right, but my way is still best” way, which several people have already called you out on.

    And you keep defending yourself against criticisms that hadn’t even been made, and ignoring the actual issues. You replied to a comment of mine defending yourself against the idea that you should be lying to keep your readership. I didn’t even say anything remotely close to that.

    It gives the impression that it is virtually impossible to have a reasonable argument with you.

  52. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    “Not every disagreeing comment is completely baseless. Many are perfectly valid, pertinent and backed up by supporting information, to use your own words.”

    I don’t respond to the vast majority of negative comments for that reason – most of them are spot on. I leave them there for people to read and get value from.

    When I do step in is when I see things that are based on assumptions that are false – like your comment, for example. You say: “It gives the impression that it is virtually impossible to have a reasonable argument with you.”

    If that’s true, why do the vast majority of negative commenters get the last word? 99% of the time, those that disagree with me are right or at least have a strong, valid opinion, and they get the last word. You’re basically saying I shouldn’t say anything in that 1% of the time in which I still feel that I’m right. I actually think that is an unhealthy state of affairs, not a back-and-forth discussion.

  53. marta says:

    I give up. You can have the last word. Your blog, etc.

  54. Des says:

    Letting someone have the “last word” in an argument is not the definition of being reasonable. If you are having an argument with someone and you determine that they are, in fact, correct (as you say is the case 99% of the time) the mature thing to do is say so. Something to the effect of “Ok, I see your point. That is valid. I was wrong.”

    Do you feel like simply walking away from the conversation is the mature way to handle being wrong?

  55. Sarah says:

    “I don’t respond to the vast majority of negative comments for that reason – most of them are spot on. I leave them there for people to read and get value from.”

    Ah. I get the system now. So if we spot a negative comment that you never respond to or mention, we should assume that you actually agree with that negative comment. That is convenient for you; you don’t have to admit that you might be wrong about something, and readers do the work of digging through your comments to find out where you went wrong.

    The problem with this system is that, by your own admission, you never engage in “healthy” discussions with those who disagree with you who actually have a good point; you simply let them “have the last word” and call it good. You DO, however, engage with those whose opinions you DON’T value, and who you think are plain wrong. I think that the former would make for a more interesting and edifying “back-and-forth discussion” than the latter.

  56. Sonya says:

    i just wanted to add how much i love reader mailbag posts! i look forward to them and specifically seek out your blog on Mondays, although i read throughput the week as well, anyway just wanted to add that comment among all the naysayers! =)

  57. Johanna says:

    Something else to consider: When you don’t explicitly acknowledge that you’ve changed your mind on something (whether in response to the comments or because of something else), then the next time you post about that issue, and you state a different opinion than you had before, it looks like you’re just contradicting yourself.

    For example, when you first wrote about the provision in the credit card reform bill that would require people under 21 to either get a co-signer or provide proof of income, you were against it. Then a month later, you were for it. But never (that I noticed) did you mention that you’d changed your mind or explain why you had done so.

    As a fellow stubborn person, I know how hard it is to un-dig your heels and acknowledge when you’re wrong and someone else is right. “That’s a good point – I hadn’t thought of it that way before” usually works.

  58. a.) Trent, I think you should stop addressing the Scandinavian comments. You said it, it’s out there, by trying to defend it, you are getting too far into talking about statistics and I don’t know how well you understand them. You’ll never convince the commenters, and they’ll never convince you.

    b.) To the question about learning trades: don’t always assume that they will always find a job. My uncle is a gifted electrician, and has had trouble finding work now that there isn’t as much construction going on. My other uncle is a car mechanic, and he has never had a job that provided health insurance or provided retirement benefits, etc.

    What does your son want to do? That should be the most important factor in whatever he does after high school. If he’s no good with his hands or has little to no mechanical skills, but loves math or music, college would be the way to go.

  59. Mary says:

    People are so uptight. I see nothing racist at all in what you wrote.

    BTW, I like your blog for all the diversity it offers… mainly PF, but with cooking, your kids, etc. thrown in.

    Thanks for all your work!

  60. cv says:

    Kay (post #16) is spot on. You’re talking about traits being related to ethnic groups that are linked to all sorts of other factors in a community – culture, population density, economic status, education levels, level of diversity, etc. The implication of your post (or at least not a large leap) is that communities with high crime rates are, at least sometimes, populated with people of an ethnicity inclined to crime, or that such an ethnicity might well exist. I find that really disturbing, in no small part because it makes it east to write people off as naturally criminal instead of digging deeper into what’s going on in those communities in terms of education, availability of jobs, cycles of crime and violence in families, poverty, etc.

    Trent, you choose to live in a small town without a lot of diversity so that you can live someplace safe with a sense of community that you like. I think that’s a totally reasonable decision to make. However, I really wish you’d stop bringing ethnicity into the equation. Small, relatively prosperous and homogeneous towns are generally going to have less conflict than big, diverse cities with a lot of poverty or income disparity, regardless of which ethnic groups happen to populate those towns.

    I also wonder if you’ve considered the fact that safety in a community isn’t just about crime. You’re less likely to get mugged, but *much* more likely to be hurt or killed in a car crash (or, based on yesterday’s post, stranded by the side of the road in a snow storm). But that’s really beside the point.

  61. Noah says:

    I like Mary’s comment. Johanna and Sarah have a lot of comments on how you should think and blog, respectively. I’d take your own advice and ignore them.

    Keep up the good work!

  62. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    “So if we spot a negative comment that you never respond to or mention, we should assume that you actually agree with that negative comment.”

    No, just that I think it’s a valid viewpoint. I may or may not agree with that viewpoint, so to say, “I agree with you” would be disingenuous. There are usually lots of valid viewpoints on a single issue.

    I usually only jump in when someone says something that’s a flagrant misrepresentation of what I actually wrote – for example, when people call me a racist for wanting to live in a small town with a low crime rate.

  63. Auntielle says:

    “I usually only jump in when someone says something that’s a flagrant misrepresentation of what I actually wrote – for example, when people call me a racist for wanting to live in a small town with a low crime rate”.

    Actually you wrote MUCH more than that, Trent. And you know it. In fact, you know EXACTLY the quote I’m referring to. It was *THAT* quote and others that have caused some people to feel you are racist… **NOT** simply saying you wanted to live in a small town with a low crime rate. Talk about a flagrant misrepresentation. Just, wow.

    No need to post this one either, Trent. My message is for you. As I said before… You can con SOME of the people all of the time, but…”

  64. Dangerman says:

    I’ve never understood why people think “I don’t agree with that, so I’m never going to read anything he writes again.”

    That seems so shallow and self-centered to me. No one was forcing you to read it in the first place, so it’s not like you’re a martyr because you came across something you don’t like.

    Trent, I hope you’ll keep speaking your mind. Some topics wallow in the shadows because people are afraid to say the slightest thing about them.

  65. Lenore says:

    I just finished a really good book about immigrants (including Scandinavians) in the Midwest: Willa Cather’s “My Antonia.” It’s set in late 19th century Nebraska and really made me think about life here in the Prairie State (Illinois) for my ancestors. They were mostly English, Scottish, Irish and German, and I was raised near a tiny town with no racial diversity at all. I try to overcome the racist ideas I’ve been exposed to throughout my life (who hasn’t?) and truly believe no one group of people is better than any other. Cultural norms or financial advantages may lessen crime in some communities, but all humans have the propensity for violence, greed, etc. Some people are better at keeping vices hidden…at least for awhile.

  66. deRuiter says:

    Well, in Sweden there’s a strong hint that some cultures are more violent than others. Sweden was a very low crime country with a low incidence of rape until recently. Now that there have been large waves of immigrants from the Middle East (the plague of a successful state with generous welfare), the rate of violent, gang rape against ethnic Swedish women has sky rocketed. In much of Malmo, Sweden’s second largest city, which has large colonies of these immigrants, there are “no go” zones where police and fire fighters can only go under guard, as the immigrants stone them and abuse them. While the gangs of what the PC Swedish press call “disenfranchised youths” rape ethnic Swedish women, they yell insults like “Swedish pig” and “Whore” because the Swedish women do not swathe themselves from head to towe in black rags. So please don’t tell me that all cultures are equally valid. Now the Swedish government has done this, making it a crime to mention the ethnicitiy / religion of the rapists, even by the enraged relatives of the ethnic Swedish victims. You can find a similar problem in St. Cloud, MN, where our State Department has seen fit to create the largest colony of Somali Muslims outside of Africa. The usual problems of taxis refusing to take blind people with guide dogs or a sealed bottle of wine are there, as well as rampant drug dealing by the immigrant group, gangs, violent crime, nothing like the earlier Scandinavian inhaitants of St. Cloud lived. Not all cultures prize peace, harmony and low crime. Is it those crime ridden Amish who are strapping bombs to themselves and blowing up innocents, running planes into buidlings, burying rape victims half way in the ground and stoning them to death with little stones so they die slowly, doing “honor killing” of women, preaching that all infidels must convert to their religion or be killed, committing female circumcision so that the girl will never experience sexual satisfaction? Multi culturalism isn’t just being tolerant of people who wear funny hats and slaughter goats in the front yard to celebrate the winter holidays. It means embracing ALL the customs, and I can not do that.

  67. Jeroen says:

    ah… DeRuiter at it again with his extreme reactiony statements (not to mention wrong: ask the other Scandinavian countries how peacefull the Swedish culture really has been.) Do you know how old your reaction to immigrants is? And it wasn’t about the muslims then. Ask any first generation Irish immigrant in the US, fr.ex.

  68. Beth says:

    RE: ethnicity and crime–You’re confusing correlation with causation. The two factors are related, both affected by other factors (namely, income)–but one does not cause the other. Ethnicity does not affect crime.

  69. Christine T. says:

    Trent most of your PF material seems backed up by research. Maybe you want to do the same if you’re going to address racism. Or talk to someone who is an expert. There are many fantistic blogs that discuss racism as their main topic. Just like PF, if you don’t make an effort to educate yourself then you’re just not going to be that knowledgeable (unless you experience racism first hand throughout your life, that pretty much makes you an expert on it).

  70. Todd says:

    I just don’t see why it is so difficult to acknowledge one’s racism. Most people are so defensive in saying, “I’m not racist,” meaning something like “I’m a nice person.” Well, not ever telling a racist joke and being polite to others is NOT the opposite of racism.
    As a middle-aged, middle-class white male, I acknowledge that I am participating in racism whenever I buy a house or car more easily than someone else, whenever a police officer let’s me off with only a warning (or doesn’t pull me over at all), when I come and go freely from stores without being followed around, and a million other freedoms I enjoy without even thinking about it. Wherever I travel in this country, I move around easily and am treated with respect.
    To say I’m not personally “racist” doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. As I’ve stated before, I believe that racism (and poverty) are defined as systematic violence (and yes, can be just as traumatic as “real” violence). Until I work to actively change that system–which I admit I don’t often–I wouldn’t dare say “I’m not racist.” I benefit from racism (and from the low paid labor of many people in the world). As someone who benefits from such privileges, I believe I should at least have the guts to be honest (and no little bit ashamed) about it.

  71. graytham says:

    Noah #61 wrote:

    “I like Mary’s comment. Johanna and Sarah have a lot of comments on how you should think and blog, respectively. I’d take your own advice and ignore them.

    Keep up the good work!”

    I agree, on all counts (including Mary’s original comment)!

  72. Auntielle says:

    Exactly, Todd(#71). You nailed it. Without true honesty on the topic of racism and diversity, the dialogue benefits no one, and really is pointless.

  73. Evita says:

    There is so much negativity and agressivity in the comments….. I don’t know how Trent can bear it. I know I wouldn’t.
    Maybe I should stop reading the comments even though they provide a useful counterpoint to Trent’s posts. It is just too depressing some days!!
    Kudos to Trent for keeping his head high through all this! TSD is still the best finance blog around!

  74. Joan says:

    Trent: Thank you for a very interesting post. I agree wholeheartedly with Evita. I read the comments because most of the time there is some very good information in them; however, sometimes it seems like the commenters just want you to be PC and just a rubber stamp with what sociality thinks everyone should think and feel. Kudos, Kudos, for having the courage to be true to yourself. I agree TSD is the BEST BLOG AROUND.

  75. kirstie says:

    Its very difficult to disentangle culture from environment. Another less attractive stereotype of northern Europeans, particularly those living in the far north is that they are hard drinking and suffer from depression. However, this idea is also linked to the effect of sunlight deprivation. Maybe expat Scandinavians don’t suffer the same problems. In the same way, I would imagine it is virtually impossible to conduct a study of racial characteristics and discount social effects such as generations of poverty.

    I suppose my point is culture and race should not be confused.

  76. George says:

    Trent – you do realize that per the US Census of 2000, Scandinavian-Americans only represent 11.5% of Iowa’s population? So the statement that “The people are mostly Norwegian and Swedish, which means lots of calm and friendly temperaments.” is false merely in that most residents of Iowa are not Norwegian or Swedish.

  77. kim says:

    As a person of swedish and norwegian descent, I would like to thank you for the lovely compliment. I’ve read your statement over and over and I can not fathom why someone would find it offensive. If my family history is any indication, scandinavian immigrants tended to be frugal people who worked hard and valued community ties. Tight knit populations of fiscally conservative people tend to foster safe communities. There is no mention of superiority. Get a grip people.

  78. Lexi says:

    Trent- I love your blog and read it almost daily. I admire your strength and courage to leave your comments open. It would be so easy for you to delete any negative or opposing viewpoints, and none but you and the author would know. I have nothing but the utmost respect for you because you allow your readers to speak their minds.

    I enjoy your blog immensely and am so glad that it has grown from solely PF to include a wide range of beneficial advice.

    I also agree with Auntielle, I would love to be able to donate money because of the value I receive from your blog. However, I understand and applaud your reason for not adding a paypal link.

    I love TSD! Thank you, Trent!

  79. guinness416 says:

    Can we get a deletion on deRuiter’s trash Trent? That’s the second thread (which isn’t even about scandinavians) I’ve seen which he’s jumped into from planet wingnut to spew that bile.

  80. Henry says:

    Read October 1 2009 How TSD Earns Money

  81. Griffin says:

    I find it truly bizarre that people are so offended by your comment about Scandinavians. They’re also very prone to recycling, keeping their yard clean and having high property values. Obviously none of those things have anything to do with race — they have everything to do with culture.

    I say this as someone who is multiracial and grew up in an area with a lot of neo-Nazis (and suffered greatly because of it). If commenters can’t distinguish between culture and race, then they are (IMO) too ignorant for the discussion.

  82. Jeroen says:

    @Griffin: using culture like that is a generalisation. All generalisations about cultures are (statitically) wrong. Especially in this case: are those neighbourhoods less violent because of the Scandinavians or are those of Scandinavian descent there because of the low violence. Also: what is left of Scandinavian culture after being cut off from Nordic Countries for a couple of generations? And how much influence does environment have? (FR.EX: what would happen if you transplant Trents neighbours to a Philly Project for 2 generations.) In short: nobody knows, so drawing conclusions about it isn’t the smartest thing to do. Is it racism? Not necessarily, but racism is based on the same kind of generalisations (so is sexism, BTW)

  83. Lou says:

    Too bad the trade school vs college item ran with the racism item. IF anyone reads down this far, this is a retired college prof writing.

    Having real world skills, ie knowing how to do something useful, is never wasted, but some college courses are a waste of time. A college degree is not a ticket to a prosperous life – the statistic that made people think so came from an era when most people going to college were from well-off families. These days it is the absence of a college degree that bars many from jobs they could perform very well.

    That said, the value of a college course comes from 2 real benefits: 1) A systematic (and therefore timesaving) introduction to what others have thought and written about what makes a life worth living, and 2) an introduction into the various ways of framing a problem (how one asks a question has a strong impact on the possibilities one can see for its answer – or, as Maslow said “If your only tool is a hammer, you tend to see all problems as nails.”)

  84. Mo-Town says:

    I agree with Lou. It’s very easy to spend four or five years in college and leave with a degree that does nothing for you in terms of finding a good career. Many people end up in office jobs doing work they could have performed just as well with nothing more than a HS diploma. For these people, the college degree is just a high-priced credential that employers look for when hiring.

    It seems to me that over the last 20 or 30 years, America has developed an increasingly snooty attidtude toward the trades and the military, and I think that’s a shame. I have several friends who are electricians and cabinet makers, and they have six figure incomes. The median family income in my neck of the woods is $40k, so they’re doing very well. In fact, on a good year, they make more than I do as an attorney.

    Barring some huge leap in technology, we will always need plubmers, electricians and auto mechanics. With Americans becoming less “handy,” the need for these tradespeople’s services increases, as does the amount they can charge for their services. A skilled, hard working tradesperson can do very well for him/herself.

    As an added bonus, tradespeople tend to have very nice homes because when a tradesperson wants to remodel, the only cost he/she has to pay is the material cost. Even if the tradesperson doesn’t have a specific skill like tiling or carpentry, he/she surely has a friend with the skill.

    If a child has the natural talen to enter one of the trades and wants to do so, I would never discourage him/her from doing so.

  85. guinness416 says:

    The kid really needs to have an interest in the trades though, same as if he were to enter an academic program. I went to a mostly vocational college with a trade school attached to it and work in the construction industry (on the white collar side). Trust me, students can spend their whole time while pursuing an english degree drinking and sleeping late, but they can absolutely do the same in trade school too. Apprenticeships are harder to “fail” out of but I’ve seen that happen too. A trade is a very decent career option (not to mention a great life skill) if not always the goldmine it’s portrayed as, but you can’t force your child to really want to be a carpenter any more than a librarian.

  86. Cindy says:

    Wow! Happy Holiday wishes to all of you too…

    I really didn’t enjoy all of the nastiness associated with this post. I usually find useful information in the comments section – like additional comments to accentuate the information in the post. Although I admit the post that started it all was not what I come here for either…

    Can anyone put down their hatchets long enough to comment on Mecanical Turk? I just took a look at it for the first time and it (1) didn’t look like I could even make anywhere close to $10 per hour and (2) would there be the possibility of getting scammed by the organizations offering the work? I don’t really understand how it works. I would appreciate comments from other people who have tried it (I know Trent did discuss it in an earlier blog).

    Thanks and happy holidays.

  87. Takilla says:

    From what I’ve seen and read (so take it with a grain of salt) you can make $10 an hour there and on other HIT (Human Intelligence Tasks) sites one of two ways:

    1. Have a specific skill you can do quickly that required training (EG summarizing medical or legal documents).

    2. Find a decent paying task that you can do really fast. You get paid for what you do … so if you’re not fast, you’ll be making like $2 an hour (EG, finding contact numbers on websites).

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