Reader Mailbag: Big Brother, Little Brother

What’s inside? Here are the questions answered in today’s reader mailbag, boiled down to five word summaries. Click on the number to jump straight down to the question.
1. Relocation decision
2. Filing internet documents
3. Roth IRA novice
4. Universal life thoughts
5. Exchanging money
6. Graduation gifts
7. Cooking a whole chicken
8. Blogs and giveaways
9. Reversing charge-offs
10. Mortgage now or later?

It is absolutely amazing to watch my five year old son and his one year old little brother interact with each other. They’ve been playing a game that they’ve made up with a green ball and a pink ball for half an hour – seriously – and they’re both still laughing. They entertain each other so much.

Q1: Relocation decision
I have a college degree in journalism, I worked in the field successfully for 10 years. However, I was faced with constant cuts in benefits, low pay (highest I ever got was $27,000 as a weekly newspaper editor), low morale, positions eliminated and being told to take on the extra work, but yet not allowed overtime or comp time, etc. etc. Oh, and at my last job, the ceiling was literally falling down on us. The last straw was last month the owner of the company told me to ignore certain “controversial” news stories and write more “positive” stories. I was told to ignore elected officials’ violations of the law. This was in direct violation of my professional code of ethics, and like I said, it was the last straw. I resigned.

I am now at home with my 7-month-old son. It has been an adjustment, I have worked all my life. My husband is an EMT and makes decent money (around $26,000 a year base salary) and gets lots of overtime whenever he wants, especially now I’m at home for childcare. He really likes his job. I am bringing in money as a SEO content writer. Writing comes easily to me, and I can make the same money I made as a journalist in half the time. Neither one of our jobs offered good health benefits so we always bought our own insurance, so we’re ok on that.

We do have quite a bit of consumer debt, one car loan, and some smaller medical debts from our son’s birth. I have worked so hard this year paying the smaller debt off. I’m paying the minimum on the credit cards and hopefully will be able to focus solely on the credit car debt by the end of the year. We live in western Kentucky which thankfully has a low cost of living.

I have a job opportunity in June back in our hometown. We have lived four hours away from our families for 10 years, we miss them so much. And they miss us, and now the grandbaby (first grandchild on both sides of the family!). The job opportunity is a reporter position at a newspaper — $27,000/year with decent benefits. However, they were upfront about pay freezes and furloughs (4 unpaid days every quarter). The company that owns the paper is hurting, as are most print newspapers.

If I take that job, we will have to move in with my in-laws until my husband finds a job. They have an apartment in the basement, and an already set-up nursery. I love my in-laws, and I project we’d probably be with them for about six months until my husband gets a job and we can find a place to rent of our own.

But I am torn. I’m stating to like being a work-at-home mom! I worry that SEO writing may not always be a good option though. I used to do merchandising, court research and mystery shopping for side income, and I could always get back into that. I feel there are lots of ways I can bring in money but also be here for my son. My husband and I have our routine down with childcare and balancing our schedules. We rent a little house that’s perfect for what we need. Working from home I am so much less stressed. I’ve started writing a book! The house is cleaner! We plan and cook our meals more! We have inexpensive family outings once a week now!

So our two options are: A. Stay where we are, four hours away from family, and I work on diversifying my work-at-home options while writing SEO content articles. Keep working on our 3-year plan to get out of debt and have a second child. Or B. Move back home, and I take the reporter job, which is a more guarenteed income — maybe. My husband is unemployed for a while and we live with family. Our debt repayment plan will probably have to take a backseat for a while till we get re-established. But at least we have the support of our family and my son will grow up around his aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. What do you think?
- Sarah

If you are surviving financially in your current situation, your biggest consideration should be to create the best life for you and your family. The decision to move back home depends heavily on your relationship with your family.

It sounds like moving back there would give you income equivalence with what you have now (you’d have a job that paid roughly what your husband’s job pays now), so there’s not a big difference there.

If you’re deeply concerned about the bottom dollar, are you sure there isn’t an option C, where you move back home, take the job, still do some freelance writing in your spare time, and see what happens? After all, you’ll have the support of family, which should make it easier to find some spare time for things like this.

Q2: Filing internet documents
You talked about the electronic filing system in the 100 things to do during a money free weekend. You wrote that in 2007 and talked about scanning all your documents. For the most part almost all my bills etc. come via the internet, at least all my regular ones do. Does that change anything about your system? If I can access all those bills via my different accounts with do I need to save them additionally as well? I also keep 7 years back worth of my financial papers but then I shred (and burn) the years previous to that each year. I thought that was as far back as was necessary to keep?

- Andy

The solution here is easy. Just save copies of the electronic statements you receive in the folders you use for your document filing. If it comes in an email form, save that email. If you retrieve them from a website, log onto that site and save the statements.

The key is to have easy access to all of these statements in one place on your computer. If you’re getting most of them electronically anyway, this process just becomes much easier.

If you’re keeping everything electronically, there’s no reason not to keep older statements. It’s just a tiny slice of hard drive space.

Andy had another question of interest, too.

Q3: Roth IRA novice
Should we work with a financial planner to establish Roth IRAs or is this something a novice can do? Honestly I have read the investment stuff in the past and learned a lot through the Motley Fool back a decade ago but honestly that sort of thing makes my eyes roll back in my head and my mind swim. My husband and I both work in education (elementary teacher and librarian) so our jobs everyday require lots of thought, decision making and learning. This aspect (index funds, company financials etc) of taking care of our finances just feels like it sends my brain into meltdown mode.

- Andy

I did my Roth IRA myself with little difficulty. I spent some time researching various investment houses, settled on using Vanguard, and then they walked me through setting things up. I then spent some time looking at the various investment options there before settling on just using a Target Retirement Fund.

The advantage of using a planner is that you don’t have to spend the time researching. The disadvantage of using a planner is that you’re hoping they don’t have their own agenda and are genuinely picking the best option for you. For example, planners will sometimes steer people towards certain investment houses and plans so that the planner can earn commissions, even though the option isn’t really the best one for you.

The piece of the puzzle that usually pushes me to encourage people to do it themselves is that you tend to learn quite a lot during the process.

Q4: Universal life thoughts
I wanted to get your opinion on Universal Life policies and whether or not the savings mechanism built-in is worth it as compared a simple Term Life policy and a separate savings account. I know Dave Ramsey’s take is that it not really worth it which for the most part I can see the argument, I just think at this point in time it might be worth it for us. My Husband as a $100K Unviersal Life policy with a monthly premium of $100. Basically $24 of the monthly amount goes to account expenses/fees and the actual premium for the coverage. The remaining $76 is put into account with a declared interest rate of 4.75%. So for us right now its basically a forced savings account. I like to think of it as our Emergency Fund since basically that is basically what it has become at this point since we have no savings. We are currently in a position where due to decrease in income (45% of my husband’s income), past poor decisiosn and spending habits, we have more going out than coming in. Our current take home is $6200 on a low month and $7700 in a good month at this point. We have a high mortgage (1st has been modified and we are working on the 2nd), a high car payment that will be paid off in 28 months, $55K in Credit Card Debt, plus the standard monthly utilities bills, gas, groceeries, etc. We are trying to get back on track and are committed to getting out of this mess. My husband has a second job which has for right now temporarily supplemented an additional loss of income from his 1st job – my husband is self-employed. We’ve cut the cable which saved us $70 a month which then immediately went to pay for the increased gas budget. But I’m glad we cut it. My question is given our situation are we better off actually having a regular savings and getting rid of the policy (he does have another $250,000 Term Life policy) and just create our own forced savings plan since for the most part the interest earned annually only partially covers the expenses on the account, or for the time being keep it and reevaulate in a few months? Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

- Ron

If you look at the components of a universal life account, what you’ll find is that you’re usually buying an overpriced term life policy packaged with some sort of savings account opportunity. Taken alone, the savings account option often looks really good, but what’s often neglected is that in order to put money into that account, you have to buy a really suboptimal policy. While I can’t quote you a life insurance rate, I would not find it surprising that your husband could get a term life policy for $16 a month rather than the $24 a month you’re paying into the universal policy.

So, if you run the math there, you could either have that universal policy in wich $76 a month goes into an account that returns 4% or, with a separate term policy, you would have $84 a month to put into an account that earns, say, 1% or 2%. It will take a decade for the universal life account to catch up to the ordinary savings account, and if you’re looking at that kind of timetable, you’re better off putting that money into a diversified stock investment (which gives you a solid likelihood of earning substantially more than 4% per year).

In other words, if you’re looking for a short term investment, like an emergency fund, you’re better off with a term policy and a savings account. If you’re looking for a long term investment, you’re better off with a brokerage account and a term policy.

The only advantage that universal policies have is the idea of “forced” savings, in that you’ll lose the policy if you don’t pay in. With a separate savings account, you don’t have that pressure to pay up, so it’s easy to slack off.

If you don’t have a history of keeping up with a regular savings plan, the “forced” aspect of the universal policy is a good option. Otherwise, it’s not a great investment.

Q5: Exchanging money
I am traveling to Europe in a couple of weeks, and I’m not sure what to do about money. I called all my credit/debit card companies, and they all charge a fee for international transactions. It depends on the card, but it’s about 3%. That 3% can add up pretty quickly. Should I exchange all my money before I go, and if so, where should I exchange it? The dollar-euro exchange rate sucks right now, so I want to make sure I’m getting the most bang for my buck.

- Michelle

Almost every exchange you do will have some sort of fee attached to it. If you find an exchange that’s fee-free, you’re probably getting an awful exchange rate. Businesses have to make a profit on the exchange. They’re providing a service and you have to pay for that service.

Although you have to check on the current rates, the best rates are generally those from ATMs. Currency exchange booths often offer a poor exchange rate and a fee on top of that. Banks typically charge a fee, but usually have a good exchange rate, particularly if it’s a large bank that operates in that country.

Unfortunately, you’re probably going to be losing 2-3% on your exchanges when traveling abroad. It’s just unavoidable.

Q6: Graduation gifts
Do you have any good ideas for (relatively inexpensive) high school graduation gifts?

- Sherry

It really depends on the graduate. I find that a well-thought-out gift that connects with that particular student can often be far less expensive and more meaningful than a generic gift.

For example, I know one particular graduate this year quite well. I’m planning on getting him a gift that’s very in tune with who he is, but it’s not an expensive gift. On the other hand, we’re almost spending as much on another graduate that we don’t know nearly as well.

If you don’t know a graduate well, do some research into that graduate. Find out what you can about them. Use their “likes” on their Facebook profile as a guide. Talk to the graduate’s parents a little bit. You’ll eventually find yourself going in a sensible direction.

If all else fails, get them a copy of Your Money or Your Life.

Q7: Cooking a whole chicken
A few days ago,I purchased a whole chicken (instead of my usual frozen chicken breasts). I recently bought a slow cooker so I slow-cooked it today and intend to make stock on Saturday (I re-read your post from a couple years ago about cooking a whole chicken).

I have 2 questions and I need answers so I can make the stock on Saturday. I do appreciate a quick response.

1) what was I supposed to do with the giblets? I took them out and put them into a bag before I cooked the bird, now it occurs to me that maybe I should cook them before I throw them into the stock pot with all the other stuff that’s already been cooked. Should I have cooked them with the bird and then pulled them out? Should I boil them before making the stock? Or is it safe to throw them in the pot raw because they will get cooked there?

2) what about the liquid left in the slow cooker? I tried to screen out all the solids (bone, pieces of meat, and onion) from the drippings and ended up just putting all of it into a container. Should I/can I use the liquid in the stock? Wouldn’t adding this to the stock increase the fat content? (I’m using fat and skin in the stock so maybe that’s a moot question).
- Kelly

With the giblets, you can certainly cook them either before or in with the stock you’re preparing. I would have no objection cooking the giblets right in the stock if the water was nearly simmering (around 200 F).

The leftover liquid, on the other hand, is gold. Don’t throw that out. That’s the truly flavorful part of the stock.

If you don’t want “lumps” in your stock, you can always strain it through a cheesecloth or through a very fine strainer. A cheesecloth will leave you with a pure liquid. A fine strainer will leave you with a liquid with some small particles in it. Personally, I don’t worry about tiny bits of vegetables when I make vegetable stock (or tiny chicken bits with chicken stock). I just fish out the big pieces and call it good.

Q8: Blogs and giveaways
I’ve been contemplating for some time trying to monetize my blog, and try to get into doing reviews and giveaways. You probably don’t follow “mom blogs” but reviews and giveaways are All over the place there, for a variety of products – “green” things, cloth diaper related items, big ticket items like car seats and other bigger ticket items, and things in categories I don’t even know about. I admit that I am especially interested in getting new “free” things.

My readership isn’t very big, but I have slowly found new readers by participating on other blogs, and a little bit through twitter (most of that all related to participating in giveaways). A significant number of my readers view the posts/comment only on my personal facebook profile, and I don’t know how that would translate over.

Part of my struggle in going for it is that I don’t want to push away family and friends from reading my blog because of too much advertising/reviews/giveaways. I don’t want to clutter their twitter feed with all of that either. However, I don’t know that starting a new blog just for the purpose of reviews or giveaways is quite what I want to do, since I like the idea of having more than just review after review. I’ve already created an “alter-ego” on twitter, but it’s separate from my personal blog.
- Ellen

Many blogs get into a habit of giveaways because giveaways provide a “spike” to your traffic numbers. If you do a giveaway that lots of people know about, you’ll get a very short term jump in traffic. This translates not only to immediate ad revenue, but also makes it easier to sell your site for future ad revenue.

The problem, as you’ve seen, is that loading your blogs with too many giveaways will drive away the actual readers, so if you start having a lot of giveaways, you have to keep them up to maintain the traffic numbers you need. Instead, your “readers” will be people who just hop to your blog for the giveaways, never to return.

If I were you, I’d separate the two. Start a Twitter account and a Facebook fan page related just to your site, then tell your family and friends about it. If they’re interested in such things, they’ll follow the new Twitter account and the Facebook fan page. If they become disinterested, they can always un-follow the Twitter account or un-like the Facebook fan page without deleting their connection to you.

Q9: Reversing charge-offs
After several years of job insecurity and random financial mess, I am finally in a place where I am paying down my debt in a significant way. Although many of my debts were consolidated through a CCCS-approved plan, there are a few that were “left behind,” because they declined to participate.

These debts are now charged-off, I believe, and have been sold to outside collections agencies. Since I am in a better and more stable situation, would it be possible to get in touch with the original creditor to try to salvage the relationship and pay them back directly, or do I have to deal with the folks who purchased my debts?

I want to make repairs to the damage I’ve done to my once perfect credit report / score as soon as possible, and move on with my life without having the specter of poor credit follow me for another seven years, but it seems like it’s going to be impossible.
- Kevin

You can certainly try, but most of the time, the original company will simply just refer you to the collection agency. Their hands have been washed of the situation and they no longer own the debt, so they don’t have much reason to get involved. They may be willing to clean your report a bit if you get things fixed, but that’s never a guarantee.

Your best bet is to negotiate with whoever holds your debt now. You want a settlement that will clean your credit report as much as possible. Be up front about this and keep on them if they don’t quickly fix your report after you’ve paid up.

It’s likely that you’ll never be able to clean up everything, but you should be able to clean up some of it.

Q10: Mortgage now or later?
I am days away from being 28 years-old and am currently in the market for a multi-unit home. This will be my first home purchase and I have around 50K prepared for any up front costs (down payment, settlement costs). These savings are in addition to an emergency fund, as well as other misc. investment and retirement savings. The homes I am considering are in the 175-225K price range, and I am just starting to evaluate my financing options (30 vs 15 vs ARM). Specifically, I question whether or not any specific option is better for someone who only plans on residing in the home for 5-7 years, and then renting out both units, or possibly selling the home. It would seem best for me to seek low to medium up front costs even if that brings a somewhat higher APR. Any thoughts or insight would be warmly welcomed!

- Amy

I would choose a 15 year mortgage over a 30 year mortgage, given a choice between the two. A 15 year mortgage is almost always coupled with a lower interest rate, and between the lower rate and the longer term, you’ll find yourself spending far less in interest than with a 30 year mortgage.

As for the ARM, I would avoid it. ARMs are prevalent because people who sign up for them are under the belief, just like you are, that their future is smoothly charted and they’ll be selling the house in five years just like they planned.

Real life doesn’t always work that way, though. Your financial situation in five years might not make selling that house a good move, in which case the adjustment will be incredibly painful. You’re far better off locking down that interest rate via a 15 year fixed rate.

Got any questions? Email them to me or leave them in the comments and I’ll attempt to answer them in a future mailbag (which, by way of full disclosure, may also get re-posted on other websites that pick up my blog). However, I do receive hundreds of questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.

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  1. Becca says:

    I’ve had good luck exchanging money through my bank (Citibank). I’m pretty sure they charged a flat fee, which was much better than a percentage given the amount I needed, and their rate was competitive.

  2. Q5: I have multiple credit cards that have zero foreign transaction fees. You might want to look for one of those to eliminate the fees. You will still have to pay a fee to exchange cash, which is important in lots of areas abroad.

  3. Mel says:

    @Q5 – I have travelled a lot (Europe and Asia/Pacific) and I currently live in Europe, but in a non-euro country. I don’t think I have ever got money changed. ATMs are everywhere, and as Trent pointed out, you will pay a fee however you do it. 3% does sound high though – I believe the last time I checked, the rate I had was 1%.

    Also, find out if there’s a difference between paying in the shop by card and withdrawing cash. Although it’s not always possible, often paying directly will result in less fees.

  4. Mel says:

    @Q5 – One more thing. If you exchange all your money before you leave, there are a few things to be aware of:

    1) You risk losing all of it. If nothing else, it is one more thing you will be worried about. Personally, I avoid taking really valuable things with me when I travel, and large amounts of cash come under that category.

    2) If things are a lot cheaper or a lot less expensive than you expect (it’s possible no matter how much you research), you end up with a completely wrong amount of money. I had some friends visit, who had pre-loaded a travel credit card with how much they thought they’d need. We were their last stop, and they still had half the money remaining.

    3) Even though most EU countries use the euro, not all do. For example, are you planning to go to UK, Czech Republic, Denmark, Sweden?

  5. George says:

    Q10: if you’re renting out part of a multi-family unit, go for the 30-yr mortgage. 15-yr doesn’t make much sense when the mortgage is a business instead of a home, as cashflow NOW is more important than building equity for a possible future sale. If you are tempted by an ARM, look for a 10/1 ARM, where your payment is fixed for 10 years… might make sense in your case as it gives you some flexibility on a future sale date.

  6. valleycat1 says:

    Q1 – Sarah – you seem to have a clear picture of what your two options are at this point, but to me it seems you paint a much more favorable picture of your current life as opposed to your life if you move. However, jobs don’t usually just fall out of the sky, so I assume you’ve been checking out options in your home town or someone let you know there’s an opening.

    I suggest that you and your husband take some more time to consider whether the family connections are important enough to you to go through the changes of moving, or if you’re going to be happier remaining a stay at home mom where you are now. Also, since you’re seriously considering the move, can’t your husband start a job search now instead of waiting until you move -at the least that would give you an idea of his job prospects & how long things would be tight.

  7. Kevin says:

    Q4, Ron:

    This letter really shook me. Ron has a monthly income of $6,200 (in a bad month!), and is struggling. The average household in the US lives on roughly half of that. Ron has 2 mortgages, a “high” car payment, and $55,000 in high-interest credit card debt, all racked up when her husband’s income was 45% higher!

    I think Ron might need to do some serious self-examination and figure out why their spending has been so out-of-control all these years. They cannot afford their house, they should sell the luxury car and buy a practical used car, they should absolutely cancel that garbage whole life policy IMMEDIATELY, and they should sit down and do an actual budget that BALANCES.

    Dave Ramsey was born to help these people. Ron should go to her library TODAY and borrow his “Total Money Makeover” book, and read it cover-to-cover.

  8. Michelle says:

    RE: Chicken

    Here’s how to cook a chicken in the crock pot.
    1. Pull chicken from freezer.
    2. Unwrap Chicken.
    3. Dump in Crockpot.
    4. Cook on High all day.
    5. Debone.
    6. Dump bones (and giblets) back in crockpot.
    7. Add water to within 2 inches of the top.
    8. Cook all night.
    9. Strain out the bones and other stuff, freeze the broth.

    It’s that easy. I usually get 2 meals (for a family of 5) worth of chicken out of one deboned whole chicken.

  9. Jeannine says:

    Another benefit to Universal Life policies is that some insurance companies offer discounts on homeowner’s and car insurance policies if you have all three types with the same company. The money we save in discounts is worth it for us, especially since our premiums keep going up where we live.

  10. Dorothy says:

    Q7 – Do NOT add the liver to your stock. Adding the gizzard, heart and neck are fine.

    The liver will disintegrate an make the whole batch taste of liver.

  11. Sassy says:

    Re: Graduation gifts. My sister has, for years, given graduates a tool box with various supplies in it: hammer, picture hanging kit, screwdrivers (one of each kind), duct tape, pens, deck of cards, and such (it varies a bit each year depending on what has gone on sale during the year). If the graduate is going to college or getting their own apartment, this turns into their favorite gift when they can handle all those small things that come up (and in a dorm, meet a lot of other kids who didn’t bring that stuff). She usually includes some kind of small toy (with my son, it was googly eyes and those turned into something the whole floor in his dorm had fun with). When she plans ahead, she ends up not spending that much on them; if it is someone closer to her (family) a roll of quarters and/or a roll of stamps show up, etc.

  12. Kyle says:

    @Q10

    I have to say that I disagree with the advice given in this situation. If you plan on renting both units out you need to make sure that you will be cash flow positive. So I would go for the 30 year mortgage which will obviously have a lower required payment than the 15 year mortgage. However I would make payments as if you had taken the 15 year mortgage to minimize the interest you pay over the term of the loan. This gives you the flexibility of having a lower required payment if you need it in the future.

  13. Adam P says:

    Sarah Q1 –
    I wouldn’t move until your husband found a job there. He’s happy right now and you’re making good money being a stay at home mom who writes part time while he works full time with overtime now possible in a job you say he likes. This is a nice set up. While moving home to be close to your family would be great too, if it leads to you taking a perilous job (first in, first out when they do layoffs!) and him not working for a long time, marriages can get into trouble over situations like this!

    I’d making moving home a long term goal once you are either out of debt or your husband has a full time job offer in the town where your parents and inlaws are.

  14. valleycat1 says:

    When I graduated, two of my most-used gifts were a beach towel and a reading pillow. A-11′s idea of a tool box is another winner – hammer, screwdrivers, pliers, tacks etc. – just the basics, as she said. Jumper cables (whether or not they will have a car), or a great bicycle lock. One of those over-the-showerhead organizers (if they’re in a suite or apartment) or a tote for shampoo etc. if not. If they’re going on to college, a tshirt or cap from that college is an option. (I have a friend who gives college graduates an alumni tee or hoodie.)

  15. mary w says:

    Q10 I agree with George – go with the 30 year mortgage on a rental. I would avoid an ARM (mortgage rates are at record lows and have no where to go in the long run up UP.)

    At the age of 28 I wouldn’t pay any extra on a mortgage for a rental property. I suspect you will have better places to put the money.

  16. Johanna says:

    @Sassy: That’s such a great idea. Other things to include are sewing supplies (needles, thread in different colors, some spare buttons, safety pins, and scissors), a stapler, and a small flashlight or book light (for power outages or for studying while the roommates are asleep).

    There’s a lot of talk about the merits of giving “meaningful” gifts as opposed to “generic” gifts of “stuff” – but if there’s ever a time in a person’s life when they’re most in need of stuff, it’s when they’ve just graduated and are off to set up a new home (whether in a dorm, an apartment, or somewhere else). Giving money is also a good option, but the toolkit idea can work well even if you don’t have a lot of money to put toward the gift.

  17. Honey says:

    Re: Q1, maybe the LW’s husband would also like a chance to be a stay-at-home dad while their child is small. The job that she has been offered makes more than he is making now, they’d be living rent-free at the in-law’s place, and there’s no reason he couldn’t do some of the things that she did for money while he looked for a full-time job (maybe not SEO work, though). The baby would get to have a real relationship with its relatives. She should think about what’s best for all of them, not just her.

  18. Tracy says:

    @Q1 I second that they should wait until the husband has a firm job offer before moving back. Not only does the new position not allow the overtime that increases the family income when necessary, I wouldn’t put a lot of faith in uprooting your life to take a job that you already KNOW is in perilous shape … right now there’s mandatory furloughs and a pay freeze. In a year or two years, will there be a newspaper remaining at all?

  19. Wendy says:

    Q1 – I think you should think about the job offer separately from moving. It doesn’t sound like the job you really want to be doing. It sounds like you’re interested in moving closer to both your families without taking a serious income hit. What would it take for this job to be worth it to you? What if you worked less hours for the same pay? What if you had flex time? What if they delayed the start date for your husband to job hunt? Etc.

    This job fell into your lap but it doesn’t mean you need to take it.

    Can you do your current job from the hometown? Can you both job hunt there for jobs that you do really want while still living where you are? Network! It sounds like you’d have good options with your history and your families to help find out what opportunities are around.

  20. Lesley says:

    Regarding blog giveaways: Facebook just changed their policy, making it more complicated to do “contest” on their site–make sure you know the rules and keep up to date with them.

    Personally, I prefer when the blogs I follow just keep the giveaways in the same place. I hate having to register elsewhere and I don’t like the idea of Facebook gathering marketing info on me. The trick is to keep the giveaways short and keep up the rest of your content. Try to find blogs that do this well (younghouselove springs to mind) and model your giveaways after theirs.

  21. Suzanne says:

    Q5 – I got the advice from a few people (including Rick Steves’ books) before we went to Europe last year to forget about picking up currency before going over there or getting traveler’s cheques and just make one or two large withdrawals from the ATM for the cash you need when you get there. Something to be careful of is withdrawing too much because that is a waste too if you can’t spend it all before you leave the country. Coins are never exchanged, so try to get rid of them at the very least!

    In my experience the airports took American money, so save some USD if you want to get food or last-minute souvenirs there.

  22. Kevin says:

    I detest blog giveaways. I feel robbed of a day of ACTUAL content, instead skipping over some lame giveaway I’m not eligible for anyway (not in the US).

    When a blog starts using too many giveaways, it loses a lot of credibility for me. They end up gushing/shilling for some random product, just so the blog author can get some free stuff. It’s always evident that the company sent the blogger two or more items, with the understanding that the blogger gets to keep one, and “giveaway” the other. So when a blogger starts using a lot of giveaways, it says to me that they’re just trying to get lots of free stuff from companies.

    Once they value getting free junk more than creating meaningful content, then that’s my signal (as a reader) that it’s time to move on.

  23. Meg says:

    Great insight about the blog giveaways. I often wonder if I should start giveaways myself, but reading what you posted and what other people feel, I may limit them or not participate at all.
    Thank you!

  24. Kerry D. says:

    Me too about the blog giveaways… an occasional giveaway, especially if its consistent with the blog theme is fine, but when I see very many of them I am annoyed.

  25. kristine says:

    Graduation Gifts: an excellent low cost gift is a stuffed animal closely resembling the family pet, that the student will miss while at school.
    Or- a blank journal and colored pencils.

  26. kristine says:

    Q1- if the woman is relishing more time with her child, then a full time job, with side work at home (even preferred work), is contrary to what she has said is bringing her happiness.

    Her job would be tenuous, and hubby’s new job is a hope, not a plan. They cold be stuck in that basement for a very long time if she loses her job (print is shrinking still), and hubby does not find something. If they are on track- that’s great. Stay with the safer bet, as you want another child soon. Combine infant, and toddler, and financial stress, and living with in-laws (no matter how nice) and you get serious marital troubles.

  27. ChrisD says:

    Re Credit cards, I’ve found that though credit cards charge you commission, they give you a better rate to start with, so getting cash vs using your card is quite comparable. However, I think credit cards charge higher interest rates starting immediately for cash compared to stuff so debit cards are probably a better bet for cash.
    I would get a few Euros now so you can get into town and to the hotel from the airport, buy as much as possible on the card and get cash out as you need it. Some countries e.g. Germany are not huge fans of cards and not all cafes and restaurants take them (my hostel in Berlin would have passed the 2% charge on to me, a hotel wouldn’t do this). Taking out cash usually costs something like ’2% with $3 minimum’ e.g. you can take 150EUR twice for the same price as 300EUR once, so you don’t need to have more than this minimum amount on you at a time.
    Do tell your bank you are abroad and in which countries so they don’t assume you have been ‘identity thefted’ and cancel your card!

  28. Wanderer says:

    Q2 – Also recommend getting an inexpensive flash drive to backup your files on. They are super easy to encrypt, and in case your computer ever dies you’ve still got your important docs.

    Q6 – I recently wrote about this, and I’ve always thought a good graduation gift is a “dorm starter kit”. Include things like a laundry basket, detergent, roll of quarters, shower caddy, bath towel, toothpaste, soap, etc…You know, all the things they took for granted at home.

  29. jim says:

    Q1 Sarah: If I was you this is what I would do: Your husband should start looking for a job in your hometown now. Don’t move till he finds work. Then if I were you I’d stick to your SEO work. You hated journalism and left it with good reason. You say you can earn as much doing SEO in half the time. You’d be returning to an industry you hated and which is frankly dying out and working for an employer who is in financial trouble. There would be high risk they’d lay you off or just go bankrupt. The new job is not at all secure or stable so I don’t know why youd’ want to take such a job over your fairly successful SEO work at home that you seem to enjoy.

    Q4 Ron: That Universal policy is not a good investment. You’d be much better off paying off your credit card bills. Your husband could increase his $250k term policy to $350k for maybe $100 or so extra a year.

    Q10 Amy : The 15 year and 30 year fixed are both good choices. The 15 year rate is about 0.75% lower than the 30 year rate. That could save you around $1200-$1500 in interest per year. However the PIMI on a 15 year would be closer to $1500 while the 30 year would be like $1000.
    Can your cash flow easily handle the higher monthly payment for the 15 year? If so then its a pretty good idea to lock in that lower rate and save some interest that way. But if the 15 year is a stretch for your expenses then I’d go with the 30 year instead.

  30. SLCCOM says:

    Q4 Ron: Do NOT dump your Universal Life policy. There are problems with term life, and you have already paid the commission.

    Life is a funny thing — bad things happen that people just don’t consider or plan for. The assumption with term life is that you’ll only need it until the kids grow up. But what if the kid doesn’t “grow up?” What if the kid is born with serious birth defects? What if the kid gets into a serious auto collision and ends up with serious disabilities that preclude her/him from working? What if your spouse develops a serious disability and is unable to work? That additional life insurance once you are no longer there for them will be the difference between a nursing home or abject poverty (which is what disability income provides) and a decent life with money for what they need and some of what they want.

    If you have a term life policy, your premiums will just go up and up if you need to keep your term life insurance. And what happens if you, yourself, become uninsurable? Then your disabled family member is SOL.

    I encourage people to stop assuming that all will go as planned, and plan for the really bad things that can happen decades down the line. For $100 a month, that is long-term piece of mind.

    If you dump the universal life policy, you’ll lose the commission that you have already paid, and lose the other benefits that you have with Universal Life policies, which can include the ability to collect early if you become terminally ill.

    Most people ask, what are the odds that something bad will happen? Today? Not so high. Over decades? Outstanding! But they forget to ask, what are the consequences if it happens? If the consequences are very high, well, then maybe you’d better protect against it even if you think the odds are low.

  31. Larabara says:

    For a graduation gift, I suggest getting one of those special frames that can hold the diploma as well as the tassel. I give this for gifts whenever someone in my family or circle of friends is graduating from high school or college. I buy several in June, because some college graduates don’t get their diplomas & tassels until later in the year, and those frames are available during “graduation season.”

    Also, a book on dorm life and/or how to live on your own for the first time has been appreciated.

  32. Mary says:

    Sarah,
    Your answer in is your question. You love staying at home, your husband loves his job, you have a great little house and we are only talking 4 hours away. Stay where you are, they have a place for you to stay, drive the 4 hours for the weekend, let them come visit you. You can always change your mind if any of the above things change. IMHO

  33. matt says:

    @Jeannine why not get a term policy with your current insurance provider? Justifying a savings account with your life insurance policy is ludicrous. To borrow YOUR money you have to pay MORE interest than you’re making on that account. It makes no sense.

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