Reader Mailbag: Bulk Questions on Faith

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. Catching up after graduate school
2. Interesting games at Gencon
3. Making smoothies from almost anything
4. Bank cashier mistake
5. Frugality, children, and difficult places
6. Bonding again with sister
7. Pets and family issues
8. Ultra-quick dinners
9. Pay yourself first
10. Too much debt?

For some reason, I’ve been asked a ton of questions about religion recently. I think I’ll answer all of these questions at once.

First, I don’t really care too much what you believe as long as what you believe is pushing you to become a better person in some recognizable way. When you do things that interfere with how others live their lives, you’re not being a better person.

Second, I think the best way to evangelize is to try to live the best possible life you can. Be giving. Be forgiving. Never forget that you are not God (or the entity you worship) and thus it’s not up to you to be the judge of others. Let God be that judge. When I’m judged at the end of my life, I’d rather have erred on the side of forgiveness and inclusion and love than on the side of exclusion and hatred. What about the holy laws? It’s up to me to figure out what they mean in my own life. It’s not up to me to decide what they mean in the lives of others. That’s between that other person and their maker.

In my experience, if you live a good life, people will build respect for you. When they have that respect, they will sometimes come to you when they’re struggling spiritually. Even one conversation in that situation will have more impact than countless hours spent shouting from the rooftops.

Third, faith that’s growing is always a struggle. If you believe in your faith absolutely and without question, you’re no longer growing in your faith. You’re just being completely submissive to what others tell you, and that’s not a healthy place to be. If you have faith, challenge it. Either your faith will come out stronger on the other side or you’ll find yourself rethinking and refining what you believe. Either outcome is better than not challenging things at all.

Q1: Catching up after graduate school
My partner and I are about a year away from the transition from nearly broke grad students to (hopefully) DINKs. We are going to be in our mid/late 20s at that point, and want to do our best to “catch up” financially to where we would have been if we had entered the workforce at 22. Any suggestions on how to go about it? Right now our best guess is to live on one income, whichever is smaller, and use the other for taxes, student loans and savings. If it makes a difference, we’re urban dwellers with a single vehicle and no interest in buying a home for several years.

- Lily

The best way to catch up is to live as lean as possible and have the biggest gap you can between what you spend and what you earn.

If you’re looking for a simple rule to follow, living on the lowest income in your household is certainly a great way to do it. Of course, if you can save even more than that (living on less than that one income), you’ll do even better.

My suggestion would be to head for debt freedom as directly as you can (after putting money away for retirement and a reasonable emergency fund). Good luck!

Q2: Interesting games at Gencon
It was nice to meet you at Gencon! We didn’t have long to talk, so I wanted to ask you what your favorite games that you tried out at Gencon were.

- Andy

My favorite game that I tried there was Seasons, though it was sold out long before I got to demo it. This game will fit my game group to a tee.

Aside from that, I think my favorite new game was Balance of Power, which is kind of like a shorter version of Risk without the luck element of the dice. There ends up being a lot of negotiation among players at the table.

For pure nostalgia’s sake, I very much enjoyed playing Android: Netrunner, which is essentially a re-release of the classic Netrunner game from the mid-1990s, which I played a lot back then. The game is still a great one, but for it to really click, you need an opponent who is also willing to build decks.

I had the most fun playing older games, though. I wound up playing pick-up games with random people all throughout the convention, which was really the most fun for me.

Q3: Making smoothies from almost anything
Some recent guests made a smoothie out of chopped lettuce. The other ingredients were avocado, yogurt, almond milk, and honey. It was an amazingly good smoothie and the first one I had had with a green leafy vegetable. It’s inspired me to make more smoothies with kale, collard greens, or Swiss chard. I don’t have a recipe but I make sure to include a fruit or some other sweetener.

- Linda

I love making smoothies! All you have to do is toss some ingredients in a blender with some milk, puree it until it’s liquid, and enjoy it.

The amazing part is that you can get a lot of vegetables in a smoothie without making the smoothie taste like raw vegetables (although that can be good, too). We tend to use a lot of cucumber and spinach along with some strong-tasting fruits, which often results in a green smoothie that tastes like fruit.

My favorite? Two parts spinach, one part strawberry, one part banana, three or four parts almond milk.

Q4: Bank cashier mistake
A few weeks ago, I withdrew $500 from my checking account. The cashier was supposed to give me three $100 bills and ten $20 bills. Instead, the cashier actually gave me four $100 bills.

I’m really not sure how that happened, but now I’m not sure what to do with the extra $100.
- Edgar

The honest thing is to return it to the bank. If I were in your shoes, I’d just take it in there and return it to a teller.

There are a lot of arguments that people might make against doing this, but most of those arguments make the assumption that others are dishonest as an excuse to allow yourself to be dishonest.

That’s never a good idea. You should never base your own behavior on what you see others doing. Do the right thing and walk away.

Q5: Frugality, children, and difficult places
I work for a company that combines a family restaurant and retail store. As such, I see a lot of families and all stripes of parenting – good, bad and ugly – as parents try to deal with their kids’ demands for candy and toys. I can’t really object, considering this is how I earn my paycheck, but my own observations are that it can be bad for any effort to be frugal to come to my store. I know from your posts that your own family generally deals with it by avoiding such places all together but I was wondering if you had any advise or thoughts for parents in such a situation. It would seem to me that tactics for dealing with children in retail settings is one of the more vital and difficult skills for parents to learn and to teach as well.

- Kelly

Whenever you go to such places, you have to be fully willing to walk out. That’s really our strategy if we ever wind up in such situations.

What do I mean by that? I make it very clear to our children if they whine or act up in the store, we will leave, no questions or debate.

The key, though, is to actually do it. Empty threats will result in your kids walking all over you. Never, ever tell children that there will be consequences but don’t follow through on those consequences.

Q6: Bonding again with sister
My younger sister and I were really close as children. We are about two years apart in age. We ended up going to the same university and were roommates for the two years we overlapped there.

After college, my sister joined the Peace Corps and our contact slowed to a crawl. She worked [in areas] where there was very little phone or internet access. I got to see her about once a year or so.

She came back last month and moved in with me, which was the plan all along. The problem is that now there’s a bit of distance that wasn’t there before. I don’t like it. Is there any way to fix things again?
- Melody

Give it time. You’ve been apart for a long while.

Have lots of conversations. Don’t dwell on the shared past you have. Instead, try to break new ground. Make an effort to understand the woman she is now, with different beliefs and different ideas and different feelings.

Do things together, but let her lead. Let her suggest what you will do together, and encourage her to pick what she would want to do and you’ll tag along. This works very well when it comes to building up a relationship.

It takes time. Be patient. It’s fun.

Q7: Pets and family issues
My wife and I have twin boys, both 8 months old. They’re great kids and we’re very happy and feel tremendously thankful and blessed.

My younger sister lives close by and is single. She’s in her 30s and I think getting frustrated with being single. She wants to be in a relationship but I think that my happiness is a bit hard for her to take at times. She also has a dog. He’s a perfectly nice dog, and she love him.

The problem is that my wife and I don’t want the dog around our babies. I just couldn’t live with myself if they were ever hurt, and while the stories of dogs attacking children may not be very commonplace, they do happen.

My sister has not really respected our wishes. She’s come to visit and brought her dog with her, where we then have to tie him up in the back yard or lock him on the front porch. Recently, I went to visit my parents who live about two hours away, brought my wife and the children. This was their first overnight stay.

We get to my parents and my sister is there with her dog. We didn’t know she was going to be there. We asked her to put the dog on the front porch and she got insulted and eventually left in a bad mood. Later in the week, there were some mean emails sent from both paries and there is now a strained relationship, which is also impacting my relationship with my parents, as I feel they kind of took her side, where they wanted us to compromise.

Any thoughts or suggestions?
- Daniel

The problem is motivation. You understand that you’re motivated by your children and not by dislike of the dog or your sister. The others think the motivation is dislike of the dogs and/or your sister. They may not understand why you’re actually concerned about your children so much in this case.

You need to show her that you’re not bothered by the dogs. Whenever you can, spend time with her and the dogs. As soon as your children age a little, let down your guard when it comes to the dogs. They do eventually need to learn how to act around dogs, as they’re likely going to meet up with them in their lives.

You need to also explain to her, very clearly, why you’re worried about it. Collect a lot of reports about dogs attacking children. Point out that most of these dogs seemed very docile until the child was attacked and that it’s something that deeply worries you.

That’s about all you can really do.

Q8: Ultra-quick dinners
I have three kids and our evenings are hectic. Most of the time, we just eat out for supper because getting home with enough time to prep a meal is really tricky, but eating out is so unhealthy. Do you know of any ultra-quick but still healthy dinners that can be prepped in ten minutes or so?

- Tammy

You need a slow cooker. It solves these problems really well.

All you do is put all of the ingredients in the slow cooker before you leave for work and turn it on low. When you get home, you’ll have a freshly cooked meal that you’re immediately ready to put on the table.

There are thousands of great slow cooker recipes out there. We use it quite a lot, particularly during the spring and fall when our children are in a lot of activities and Sarah is working full time.

Q9: Pay yourself first?
I’m very intrigue with the “Pay yourself first” concept. How do I get started?

- Sandy

“Pay yourself first” means that you automatically route money from your paycheck into various savings as soon as the paycheck is received. Then, you live on what remains of your paycheck.

You can get started by having your paycheck direct deposited into your checking account. At the same time, set up an automatic transfer that transfers some amount of money out of your checking account on the day after your payday. Many investment houses make this very easy to do.

What happens is that you go on living life as normal out of your checking account, but money is slowly being siphoned into savings, almost without you knowing it. It works quite well – I do it myself.

Q10: Too much debt?
How much debt is too much debt? I’ve seen people write into you describing their debt situation and I kind of shrug my shoulders. Sometimes, it does seem bad, but at other times it just seems like a few lifestyle changes will fix their situation.

- James

It depends a lot on the person, actually. Some people are quite willing to live a very minimal lifestyle in order to put themselves in a better situation. Other people won’t do it until they’re literally forced to do so.

Some people live in areas with a very high cost of living, while others live in areas with a very low cost of living. Some people have hidden expenses in their life, like maintenance prescription medication, while others do not.

There is no hard-and-fast rule as to what is excessive debt. It depends so much on the person’s situation and mindset.

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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