Reader Mailbag: Board Games with Children

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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. In favor of a smartphone
2. Summer break activities
3. More money causes stress
4. Robert Kiyosaki
5. Financial stress or paranoia?
6. Parent helping child
7. Credible consumer credit agency
8. Simple?
9. Career change advice
10. Pay subsidized or unsubsidized first?

One of my favorite things to do with my kids on a rainy afternoon is to play a board game with them.

We play very simple games with our youngest child – things like Candy Land and Hi-Ho Cherry-O! – and while those are pleasant experiences, it’s clear that their biggest value is teaching things like taking turns and basic pattern matching.

With my two older kids, though, we play much deeper games. I’ve played chess and checkers with them, of course, but they’re also playing things like Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride (both of which are great games for adults that kids can also manage to play, too).

Family Game Night – or, in this case, Family Game Afternoon – is a hit with all of us. If you can pick up a good game at a thrift shop, it’s also a very frugal way to have a lot of fun with your family.

Q1: In favor of a smartphone
You seem to be very negative about the cost of smartphones. I think they’re well worth it. I am a 26 year old Kiwi living in Munich, Germany, which has a great public transport system of trains, underground, buses and trams. It actually makes little sense to have a car in Munich as the public transport is so quick and reliable, while at the same time parking is a nightmare to find and costly to use. I have three jobs which leaves me little time at home. We have an internet connection at home, but not a landline (smaller monthly bill). I do use my Smart Phone for business purposes, however I would like to share my reasons below for why I use a Smart Phone also on a personl level. As an extra note, I would like to mention that I have had my current Smart Phone for 3 years now (paid in full) and am only contemplating a new phone now as I seem to be having a few problems with my battery and OS.

+ It’s great on public transport. For someone that does not have a car, but does have the convenience of very good public transport, I spend a large portion of my day travelling by train, underground, tram and bus. A smart phone comes in handy as I am able to check the news and my emails/social media. This allows me to stay informed of whats going on in the world (making me look and feel more well rounded) and saves me time by utilising otherwise wasted time keeping up to date with family and friends which then does not cut into my work time or my private time.
+ Can be used as an e-reader. I can use my phone to read books, just as I would use a Kindle. This means I am carrying less items with me (great for your back) and producing less waste.
+ Interactive Map. Sometimes I get lost. This shows me exactly where I am and in which direction I should continue. LIFESAVER!
+ Shared Calendar. I share my calendar with my fiancé. This way we both know what is going on and evenings don’t get double booked. From a financial point of view, reminders of bill payments can be added to ensure joint responsibility/awareness. Reminders can be set for specific activities that need to be done.
+ Apps. Seriously genius for those on the go and to keep track. My fiancé uses his to track his Iron Man training, which he can then compare with others through his Smart Phone. This helps him train smarter and assists in motivation. Public Transportation Apps also help me to get places more efficiently with less waiting time.
+ Keeping in touch. Whatsapp, Viber, Skype etc. can be used on your smartphone. These applications are free to use (or at very minimal cost) and require the use of an internet connection and a smartphone. With these applications I keep in regular contact with my family and friends across the globe. The cost of the phone and internet connection is far less expensive than if I needed to keep in contact by calling from a landline or by post, it is also instantanious.
+ Photos. The quality is great on Smart Phones. I find it encumbersome to take our camera with us. We went to a wedding on the weekend and I didn’t even bother taking it out of my bag as I could just use my phone. Video qulaity is also quite high.

- Reggie

I agree with you that there are a lot of uses for a smart phone. Still, nothing you mention is life-breaking and all of those things can be taken care of with other items.

It’s the expense that’s the issue here. The smart phone itself is either costing you a premium upon purchase or you’re getting an old one that’s sluggish to use. The real expense, though, is the data plan. It’s another monthly bill that a lot of people don’t need.

If you’re actually using all of these features and many of them are used to help out with your actual professional life, then your company should be paying for the phone.

The only case I can see for paying for your own smart phone is if you’re self-employed and actually need these features to maintain your income. Otherwise, it’s an entertainment expense and you should be cutting your other entertainment spending accordingly.

Q2: Summer break activities
Our kids and I are off from school for the summer. Our parenting philosophy is to wear them out with activity all day long so that they sleep well and feel good, but that means coming up with activities. Got any cheap ideas?

- Amy

There are lots of suggestions out there. Here’s a list of 100 of them.

My big suggestion is mileage club. Mileage club is an activity that’s been a huge hit with our family each of the past few summers.

It’s pretty simple. Each person gets a “punch card” (which is basically an index card) with the numbers 1 to 20 and their name on it. For each quarter mile that they walk or run, they get a punch on that card. Completed cards can be traded for different rewards.

If you set some interesting goals for them that really hit upon their other interests, they will get really into it. It’s also a good way for you to motivate yourself to exercise.

Q3: More money causes stress
First off I should say that I am debt free and have been for over five years now. I rent an apartment by choice, save 35% of my pay and have what I would consider a good paying job. I’ve found more and more that money doesn’t drive me and while I think I could switch jobs to something higher paying it just doesn’t motivate me. And that’s where the realization comes in.

I received a small bonus a couple of weeks ago and caught myself saying “What the heck am I going to do with this money?” When I stepped back I realized that every time I’ve received an unexpected windfall it winds up being a small source of stress.

I’m at a point in my life where I’m buying very few “luxury” items. With every purchase I make a concerted effort to understand what’s behind my desire and to determine if the purchase will be worthwhile long term. Therefore each windfall isn’t seen as an “Oh, I get to buy X” experience.

I’ve also got enough savings to last me 8 months unemployment and stocks that could be cashed in on top of that. Retirement is being saved for at a steady clip and honestly I don’t see the point of retirement in the first place.

So each time I find myself with unexpected cash in hand it stresses me out as I try to figure out how best to use it. Ridiculous, right?

I understand my reaction is absolutely limiting my earnings and ability to grow my wealth. I was wondering if you’d ever noticed such a reaction in your journey through financial maturity and if so how you were able to get through it.
- Jim

I actually find more money to be relaxing at this point because I view it as an even bigger buffer against financial disaster. My goal is to reach a point where I don’t even have to work any more so that the buffer is big enough to last for the rest of my life.

If it’s causing you stress, try to think about it in a different way. What are your really big goals in life? Do you want retire at 45? What is it that you want?

Whenever you’re money ahead, that extra money is another piece in the puzzle of achieving that goal.

Q4: Robert Kiyosaki
What do you think of Robert Kiyosaki? My friend gave me a copy of his book Rich Dad Poor Dad and I was wondering what your thoughts were.

- Jeff

Kiyosaki mixes some really good advice with some questionable things.

He’s completely right when it comes to the idea that you should be investing your extra money into things that will earn a nice return for you.

What I found strange about the book is that he advocates living lean to do this, but then on the next page he basically makes fun of frugality and lauds people driving expensive cars. This never made any sense to me.

He’s also hyper-aggressive with regards to his investment advice. Many of his ideas only really work when you’re capitalizing on a housing bubble or some other investment bubble. If things aren’t zipping along with tremendous growth, it won’t really work.

Q5: Financial stress or paranoia?
I am a fairly long time reader of your blog and greatly enjoy finding new ways to be frugal and save money. My husband and I were pretty foolish with our money as single adults and newlyweds (credit cards and student loans) but we are now completely debt free except for our mortgage.

My husband is a Sgt in the Marine Corp and we have six children. He joined the Marine Corp as a 24 year old married man with a baby on the way and we have expanded our family every roughly ever 18 months since then (I realize this sounds like a lot of kids but we both come from families of six or more children so we knew we wanted a large family also).

My husband works hard and has been promoted on or ahead of schedule for his specific job. Because military pay is convoluted and confusing, suffice it to say that we receive not quite $4,800 a month. We have a $10,000 emergency fund and just under $30,000 in Roth IRAs to which we contribute $300 per month. We also put away a little in a TSP but we don’t need the tax benefits and I am ashamed to admit that I don’t really keep track of it since it only holds a couple thousand dollars at most. We tithe our income at 10% which is the one absolutely non-negotiable item in our budget (for both of us). I KNOW that the benefits of tithing have ALWAYS far out weighed the monetary costs throughout the years that we have faithfully paid it. We are currently getting ready to sell our home since my husband has orders for this summer. We bought our house because of an assignment to recruit in an area without base housing where the rent for a home large enough for our family far exceeded our housing allowance.

Lately, I feel a lot of financial stress and guilt for not doing better and I wonder if it is unwarranted. I mean, we have SIX children. We don’t have any non-mortgage debt. We are not contributing 10% to our retirement but we are contributing SOMETHING (about 6.5% when you count the TSP). Our emergency fund isn’t as large as you recommend but it’s at least 3 months of our living expenses and I actually use the “Rich on Any Income” budgeting method where you put away money each month for car maintenance and Christmas and other irregular expenses. My husband tends to be a little bit more of a spend thrift than I am (although he REALLY is trying very hard and does really well compared to most people I know) so I need to budget “mad money” for him for the sake of a happy marriage.

We only spend about $800 a month on food which seems to be in line with what families with half our children spend (I realize I could spend less here but we love trying new things and it would lower our quality of life). I cut everyone’s hair in our family including my own. We do hand-me-downs (clothes, furniture, &c) and make our own Christmas presents. We own both of our vehicles. We don’t even have a TV, let alone cable. I mostly shop at thrift stores. Our one huge “splurge” category each year is travel. We spend about $3000 per year on plane tickets because I want my children to still be close to their extended family even though we move around so much and generally live far away. I could save more money but I’d REALLY have to scale back our lifestyle which isn’t exactly glamour as it is. I know the future is important but so is the present, right?
- Denise

I think you’re doing fine, particularly considering you have six kids at home.

You have no debt besides your mortgage. You’re contributing to retirement. You have a solid emergency fund. You save for irregular expenses. That paints a very solid financial picture.

Yes, you could do better – but so could everyone. There is no perfection when it comes to personal finance and perfection is the enemy of the good. Don’t try to chase perfect. Instead, stick with the positive progress you’re making right now.

Q6: Parent helping child
My father passed away very suddenly about three months ago. We’ve already taken care of helping Mom with finances and with the beginnings of transition into life alone and she’s adjusting as well as we could hope. A week or so ago, she called all of the kids and told us that she wanted to start giving each of us $1,000 a month to help us out. She has plenty of money – Dad was well insured and they had saved for retirement and own some rentals. She said that she would not take no for an answer with this because she says she has more money than she knows what to do with and wants to see us have great lives without stress.

So, now we’re getting $1,000 a month more in income, but I don’t want to get used to it or treat it as lifestyle inflation. What should we be doing with it?
- Kelly

Your parents raised you right. This entire story is a description of a great parent-child relationship from top to bottom. You’re independent, understand the consequences of outpatient financial support from parents, and there is deep mutual care on both sides. Kudos to both you and your parents here.

If I were you, I’d establish a giant long-term goal for yourself. Maybe it’s early retirement. Maybe it’s a big house in the country. Maybe it’s seed money for a small business. There are lots of possibilities here.

Once I had a goal in mind, I would use all of that money to save specifically for that goal. Put it into a savings account or into a stable investment account. If you can, make this transfer completely automatic so you don’t have to think about it.

Don’t use this money for anything else other than that goal. Deal with your life as though that money didn’t exist and wait until the balance is high enough to launch whatever goal you have in mind.

Q7: Credible consumer credit agency
My husband and I are in our mid 40s, and have been stuck in a cycle of debt for years now. We have accumulated over $100,000.00 in credit card debt. We own our home, with 15 years left to pay on our mortgage which we were able to refinance at 2.95% recently. Our cars are paid for, but getting older, and we have 23 months left to pay off our student loans that we consolidated and re-financed through Sallie Mae for 20 years when we were young parents and struggling to pay them (big mistake). We can manage our debt, but can’t seem to get out of it. We are at the point that about half of our take-home pay is spent on making our minimum payments, and often that doesn’t leave us enough money for regular expenses that come up for us and our 3 teen-aged children. Though we try to budget, we end up continuing to use our credit cards each month to make ends meet: at best treading water or digging ourselves a little deeper all the time. We used to have good interest rates on our credit cards, but most of them have been raised in the last few years to the double digits, and some are ridiculously high (the worst one is 22.90% with an $10k balance). We have a good income, and make sure to pay all of our bills on time to avoid late fees and penalties, but we are getting no where fast. I realize that this is not sustainable. I live in constant fear that we’ll have an emergency that will push us over the edge. We have about $1,500.00 in savings that I try not to touch, but sometimes have to.

I’ve tried calling our credit card companies to have our interest rates lowered, but am told that our debt-to-income ratio is too high an they can’t lower our rates. I have heard that there are consumer credit agencies that could help us get lower interest rates so that more of our payments would actually go toward paying down our debt, and we could possibly lower our minimum monthly payments so that we create a sustainable budget and stop using our credit cards each month. I am afraid of scams and dishonest agencies. I am not interested in a settlement or bankruptcy, as I feel we are morally obligated to pay back all the money we’ve borrowed. Do you have any suggestions?
- Charlotte

I’d start with the list of approved credit counseling services provided by the Department of Justice.

You should be aware that credit counseling services aren’t a magic wand that fixes everything. They may or may not be able to get the credit card companies to lower your interest rates for you.

Before going this route, I’d try playing hardball with the credit card companies on the phone. Simply tell them that you’re in danger of missing payments because of the crushing interest rate. If the first person won’t help, talk to a supervisor. They can change your rate.

Q8: Simple?
Are you familiar with Simple? What do you think?

- Aubrey

My feeling with Simple is similar to my feeling with Mint. This is what online banking should be like.

However, is it worth it to switch accounts and share my personal information with yet another service? They have to be providing some sort of genuine value for me to feel okay sharing my SSN and other such data with them.

As cool as they are, they’re not yet providing anything that’s actually saving me money or doing anything I couldn’t do with a pocket notebook. For me, that’s not enough to share my data with yet another company.

Q9: Career change advice
I just had a phone interview for a job that I see as a step up from my current one in both title (it’s a PR and marketing manager role) and responsibilities. It’s for a non-profit that offers services in which I truly believe. The job itself would be challenging and would take me out of my comfort zone, but I know the woman who would be my boss after having worked as an intern for her at her previous job years ago. I have a lot of respect for her and see her as a mentor. She actually came to me to apply for the position.

So, what’s the problem? Well, the pay. Yes, it’s a non-profit, but I was stunned at the pay scale the HR person revealed to me on the phone (mid to high thirties). Even at the highest end, it would be considerably less than what I’m making now, which is in the mid-forties (not a lot, but livable). I feel like I’ve come so far to even make my current salary, that taking a step back would be difficult both financially and mentally.

However, my current job is not going anywhere. I feel like I’ve hit a wall, skills-wise. The only good thing is the pay and the ability for me to work from home. But management has made it very clear that I have no career path, and if I were laid off tomorrow, I would probably have difficulty finding a job in the same field (editorial) that pays as well in my own city.

I’ve already been asked to come in next week for a face-to-face interview. I feel like my chances are good (I don’t mean to sound cocky), and while I could probably get them to go up on the pay a bit, it still wouldn’t come near what I’m making now, which I would gladly take. I don’t want to waste their time, but I have a nagging feeling I should consider the job because it has more of a future than the one I have now and it would be worth taking a few steps back for the experience and the job title.

(A little financial background: My husband (age 41) and I (age 33) currently make about $85,000 a year. We have about $95,000 in student loan debt, which we are aggressively trying to pay down. That is our only debt. We are also trying to save aggressively for retirement and for a down payment on a house. Taking a pay cut would certainly affect these goals.)

What are your thoughts? I appreciate any advice you can give!
- Camille

If you feel it’s a good career move and the drop in income isn’t going to do anything devastating to your personal finance situation, I’d make the switch.

Your situation is a poster child for why it makes sense to always spend less than you earn. Opportunities like this come up in life quite often and if you’re spending so much that you’re pushed up against the wall all the time, you can’t make these kinds of moves. You’re stuck.

Spending less gives you freedom. That’s something that all the spending in the world can’t give you.

Q10: Pay subsidized or unsubsidized first?
I have several student loans all within a stone’s throw of 7% interest. I know I should pay debts off in the order of interest rate, but should I prioritize subsidized or unsubsidized student loans first?

- Ben

The only difference between subsidized and unsubsidized loans is whether or not they accumulate interest when you’re in school or not. If you’re out of school for more than six months and are currently employed, there’s no real difference between them.

Still, I’d pay off the unsubsidized ones first. The reason is that you might be in a situation where you return to school in the future (you never know…) and, with a subsidized loan, the interest will pause while you’re in school. With an unsubsidized loan, the interest won’t stop.

That’s enough of a reason to pay off the unsubsidized loans first, in my opinion.

Got any questions? The best way to ask is to email me – trent at thesimpledollar dot com. 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 many, many questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.

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