Updated on 05.17.11

Reader Mailbag: Cheese and Eggs

Trent Hamm

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. Combining budgets
2. Considering major life changes
3. Board games with wife
4. Nervous about adjustable rates
5. Starting business with debt load
6. Low-yield savings account
7. Self-employment and debt
8. Emergency fund use
9. Psychological trick with online shopping
10. Employer bankruptcy and 401(k)/403(b) status

Several people have asked me what food I miss most since switching diets.

Easy. Cheese and eggs. I really don’t miss the meat too much at all, but a cheese-and-egg sandwich still sounds wonderful to me.

Q1: Combining budgets
I am recently married and we are interested in combining our finances soon. I’m first in the process of selling my house. When this happens (hopefully soon…my agent expects an offer from another client this evening actually) it will free up about $900 a month for us. (The payment, insurance, taxes, utilities, etc.) We’ve maintained seperate accounts since we were married a few months ago and decided it would be a good idea to combine them when we were free of my house responsibilities.

We both have kids, and are expecting another soon. We both really got after our cc debt the last year and have decided that paying down any debt is the most important thing before we either buy or build another house or add on to our current one. But the truth is I don’t think either of us has a real great idea of what the other actually pays out each month. I don’t think we’re being deceptive but we’ve both been independent for so long that sharing this or even starting to work on a budget has kind of been shrugged off.

Is there a budget form or method you could recommend that would lay it all out on the line for us? Call it lazy or what-have-you, I feel like we’d be both more willing to set a budget and be more upfront about everything if we had something pre-made to work with. I would even settle for a book or another site that would help me explain and feel more confident in this.
– Erin

Generally, I don’t think budget forms really work aside from just creating a picture of how people spend their money. They either create too many categories or not enough categories and result in confusion or difficulty for the people involved.

If I were you guys, I’d sit down together and look at your last few months of bank statements and credit card statements so you can see where your money actually goes. Talk about these things openly, not defensively. If you can do this without trying to hide things or getting anxious or angry, you’re probably in a very good place when it comes to money.

If you’re find you’re having trouble making ends meet, I suggest “automatic budgeting,” meaning that many expenses are automatically withdrawn from your checking account. Set up an automatic transfer to your savings account each week. Set up online bill pay and have many bills paid automatically. In other words, take care of as much stuff as you can automatically so that you can feel more free to use what’s left for what you want.

Q2: Considering major life changes
I am a 28 year old girl who is at a crossroad in her life and clueless of which direction to take. 8 months ago I quit my software job of after six years, as I found myself procrastinating endlessly at work. I was also medically diagnosed with anxiety depression at the time. I quit my job and started mediation about the same time and the next 3-4 months were pretty good sans the occasional bouts of depression and feeling of ‘what am i doing with my life’.

I took up art classes, something which I always wanted to do and travelled a bit and the introvert that I am the meds made me feel more talkative and confident of myself. My doctor slowly stopped my medication and I continue taking therapy on and off. I moved back to my home town (where I had been living most of my adult life with my parents. I had moved overseas 3 years ago after I got married) last week and I felt the time was right for me start working again.

I had been considering other career options all the while during my break but I could never feel motivated enough to go and do something about it. I enjoyed painting but I would procrastinate to paint on my own at home when I stopped the classes. I enjoy writing but I would again procrastinate when it came to writing a blog post and not to mention my fear of being ridiculed. I found myself being drawn to design (graphic, well designed products, art) but I couldn’t figure out what to do about it.

I enjoy crafting and always dream of making the next best craft but I never get around to actually doing it. The rare once that I do, I do almost in secret since I worry about being laughed at. So anyway after my return last week, with a bit of influence from the people around me, I was convinced and I convinced myself too that I was not able to figure out what to do with my life for 8 months so if I sit idle now the same routine will continue so let me get back into a software job for now and slowly plan on a career change.

But as I started applying for jobs and attended interviews I realized I was not at all interested in it just as I felt 8 months ago and I am not at the top of my technical skills right now so all the rejections hurt my confidence bad. I do believe if I brushed up my skills a bit I could very well find a decent job but I don’t feel motivated to read anything technical. I put the book/monitor in front of me and I find myself distracted in 5 seconds.

I have been trying to convince my husband and parents that software is not for me and I want to do something else. But obviously the first question everyone asks me is “but what DO you what to do” and I have no answer. I have some vague ideas of wanting to be a painter or doing a design course or starting my own craft store but no concrete plan to get there. And I am not even sure if I will enjoy doing that full time and I feel like I cant take another chance at this stage. So in the end I feel like I am back where I started 8 months ago. So my question to you is do you have any suggestions of how I can get started on getting my life back on track? I should also mention that my husband and I are pretty financially stable so money never motivated me either.
– Satya

My immediate response to this is to ask you what things you can actually do with sustained focus. What do you spend your time on (that’s not purely entertainment, like television) where you’re not bored or distracted quickly?

If you can’t think of anything, I suggest getting a very simple job, like a checkout clerk, and spend your free time finding what it is that you want to do and can actually do with some degree of success.

It doesn’t sound like the technical field you were in is the right field for you now. If you can’t focus for more than a minute on it, you’ll never really succeed in that field. Take this crossroads in your life as an opportunity to figure out what comes next.

Q3: Board games with wife
I have been making a concerted effort to spend more time with my wife lately.

I was wondering if you could recommend a boardgame that my wife and I could maybe enjoy by ourselves?
– Ron

I could give you a long list of suggestions here, but it’s often hard to tell what will “click” with people. It depends a lot on their personalities: their patience, their willingness to think about a situation, their attraction to well-produced components, and so on.

For two players who haven’t played a lot of board games, I would probably blindly suggest Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries. It’s a game with well-produced components that can be played in about an hour in which players are trying to build connections between cities. It’s very simple to learn and involves quite a bit of bluffing when you get good at it.

Another choice, one my wife and I played a lot before we had kids, is Lost Cities. It’s an easy-to-learn card game in which you’re trying to make sequences of cards and is playable in about thirty minutes. There’s some arithmetic involved, but aside from that, it’s really easy to pick up and enjoy.

I can’t guarantee you’ll love these, but they’re good starter suggestions for a couple wanting to play board games together.

Q4: Nervous about adjustable rates
I’m currently living in a house with two (non-FHA) mortgages owing approximately $400k in total. One is a HELOC at 125k and the other is a 5/1 ARM that’s not in the adjustable rate portion of the the loan. This loan readjusts the rate every year. Last year it was 3.125% and this year it’s 3%. After taxes and insurance, I pay about $2500 per month on the two loans. Now, most likely, the house could be sold for $400k (I would lose 5% or $20k on commissions unless I did FSBO). It’s also inevitable that interest rates will start climbing again and I will start owing considerably more than $2500 per month, just to live there. Even now, I generally live paycheck-to-paycheck on $70k paying either the mortgage or all the other bills.

Besides trying to find a higher paying job, what’s my recourse? Should I walk away from the home? Should I hope that housing values recover more quickly than interest rates? Should I try to sell now at a loss? Should I play the lottery?
– Tom

Can you find a place to live that’s cheaper than the interest you’re paying each month right now? If you can’t, then I’d keep paying the mortgages. If you can, then I’d sell.

You’re right – eventually, interest rates are going to rebound and then the interest rate on your mortgage will go up. When that happens, it will probably change the equation for you in terms of what the least expensive living option is.

However, if your situation now points toward your current low-interest mortgage being the best deal for you, stay put for the moment. Sell when it’s clear that rates are actually rebounding and there’s an actual cost to you. Don’t move into a more expensive situation out of fear.

Q5: Starting business with debt load
I borrowed approximately $125,000 (which is now approaching $140,000 when you count the interest) to attend a good law school in New York. I graduated last year, with good grades, and passed the bar, but the only job I found was working part-time for a professor at my old law school. My fiance found a job in Canada, and we will be moving up there this summer. In the meantime, I’ve moved back in with my parents, and am continuing to work remotely for my professor. I’m also trying to start a business – I’ve been operating it as a side business since 2007, but I’m gearing up to turn it into something full time.

Since I moved back in with my parents, I’ve been able to save some money (approximately $7000). However, I am reluctant to use it to pay off my student loans for two reasons: 1) I’m afraid we will need the extra money to buy furniture, etc. when we move to Canada and 2) my position with the professor ends at the end of June, so I won’t have any predictable income coming in after that. My fiance’s postdoc job will pay approximately $40K, and he has told me that I don’t have to contribute to the rent.

So, here are my questions:
1) Should I use what I’ve saved up to start paying off my loans, or should I wait until I have more steady income?
2) Should I try to invest the $7000 (or part of it), instead of letting it sit in my checking account?
3) Do you think it’s really wise of me to try to start my own business now, with such a heavy debt load, or should I look for a job when I get to Canada? (I can’t practice law immediately up there – so I’d be looking for jobs in journalism, biology (my undergrad degree) or as a paralegal.)

– Michelle

First, I would not use that money to pay off your loans. Stick with the minimum payments. That $7,000 is your emergency fund and you know you have a big emergency (job loss) coming up.

Second, I’d at least get it in a savings account so that it’s earning a little bit of interest, but I wouldn’t put it at risk (in stocks) or lock it up (in CDs). Keep it liquid and safe.

Finally, starting a business right now depends on the business. If it has low startup costs and a clear path to profitability, sure. However, few business plans have that. If you don’t have both things with your business plan, I would get my personal finances in better shape before launching a business.

Q6: Low-yield savings account
After a relocation for a new job and a few medical issues, my savings account has all but disappeared. Expenses eat up almost all of my monthly paycheck, even though I have a good job with a good salary. My question for you is, where can I put some extra money aside every month that will give me, and pardon the pun, the biggest bang for the buck? My current savings account only kicks back .25% every month. I am hesitant to purchase CDs, because with all the ordeals I’ve been through lately, I realize that I need this money to be available to me in case of emergency. However, I understand that I may not be taking advantage of the highest-yielding savings account that I could be, and would like to look into other options.

– Kristin

There are many savings accounts out there that earn a much better rate than 0.25%. However, you’re going to struggle to find one that offers a rate above 1.5% without some strings attached (such as the rate being for a short promotional time only or the account only being available to people in certain areas or a minimal balance requirement).

What’s the difference between the two rates? Let’s say you have $1,000 to save. The 0.25% account will earn you $2.50 a year. A 1.5% account will earn you $15 a year. That’s $12.50. It’s not going to make you rich.

As long as that’s clear, I recommend doing some rate searching. The Simple Dollar has a page that lists savings account rates. If you find an account that seems appealing to you, I’d research that account a bit using Google to make sure the bank is a good one with strong customer service.

Q7: Self-employment and debt
I’m 30 years old and largely self-employed (read: irregular 1090 income), with about $4,000 in 401k from a previous retail job that I haven’t contributed to in years, and about $22,000 in consumer debt (over half of which is from an extremely stupid “business” move). I live very frugally and want nothing more than to pay off the debt as quickly as possible. Would it be a good or bad idea to pull money from the 401k to help pay off debt? I’m not contributing to it – and probably won’t – until the debt is gone and I have a few months’ worth of living expenses in savings.

– Trevor

Just because you’re not contributing to an account doesn’t mean it’s a great idea to empty out the account. I would leave that money where it is.

Furthermore, you’re already on a bad track when it comes to retirement savings. At age 30, you should be approaching somewhere between half a year and a year’s worth of living expenses in retirement savings.

I don’t know the interest rates on those pieces of consumer debt you have, but I would first get a small emergency fund into a savings account ($1,000), then I’d tackle that fund by interest rate. If everything is below 10% or so, I’d start saving for retirement even if there are big debts left.

Q8: Emergency fund use
I have a question about the emergency fund. We used to have one. We have a lot of debt and eight children and my husband got laid off at Gateway several years ago so we went from a 60,000 plus a year job to nothing for more than six months to a 20,000 a year job to my husband not being able to work more than twenty hours a week(muscular dystrophy) and making less than 8,000 a year. Thank goodness we had savings and we were approved for disability. I have thought about looking for a job but taking care of a disabled husband and eight kids while homeschooling is pretty much a full time job. We had an emergency fund but never got beyond that on our plan to get out of debt and now that we have had hospitalization and major car repairs and so on we have no emergency fund and no savings so we started not paying all our bills which just leads to penalties and fines and a bigger hole. Once you have a certain amount in your emergency fund should you be funding another one for when you use it or pay it back after you use it. Is this what your living expense thing is for?

– Laura

Yes, your first step should always be to rebuild a small emergency fund, up to about $1,000. That amount is enough to handle many emergencies that a family might face.

However, if building that emergency fund is causing you not to pay your bills, then you need to look at a different approach. Something has to be cut from your spending or you’re going to go bankrupt. Spending more than you’re bringing in is not sustainable.

An emergency fund and a debt repayment plan are useless if you have more money going out than coming in. Something either has to be cut or there has to be more income coming in.

Q9: Psychological trick with online shopping
I just wanted to share something I’ve recently discovered. I’ve gotten hooked on Etsy; I love looking through the jewelry. Of course, my wallet wouldn’t appreciate it if I bought everything I liked. So instead of buying, I add the pieces I like to my favorites. By doing that, I know I won’t ‘lose’ the one I like and have to worry about finding it again. It also gives me a little bit of the good feeling or high you get when you buy something for yourself, except I’m not actually spending any money. Of course, I can always go back later and buy one or two of those pieces or decide I don’t want them. It’s really helped to keep me from overspending.

– Charlene

I do this exact same thing, both on Etsy and on other sites. If I see an item I want, I add it to a “wish list.”

I find it does the exact thing that Charlene describes: it takes the edge off of the immediate desire. I can also return to those “wish lists” at a later time and determine if it was a “whim of the moment” desire or something I actually have a use for.

Often, my wife will check out my “wish lists” on various sites that I frequent and use them as a source for gifts for me at holidays and such. I often forget the things I’ve put on those lists, so the gifts are almost always a pleasant surprise.

Let’s just say whenever I find myself in the kitchen section on Amazon, I usually wind up adding a thing or two to my list.

Q10: Employer bankruptcy and 401(k)/403(b) status
My former employer has filed for bankruptcy. While it’s not been determined by the court whether or not they are allowed to file nor which type of bankruptcy they are allowed to file for (Chapter 7 or Chapter 11–each with different implications for their union and nonunion employees), I wondered if this could effect the 403b account I had with them. They didn’t contribute a match to it while I was an employee, it was all my money. The fund is through Vanguard. I left it there because I didn’t know what else to do with it and I know Vanguard is a good institution. Currently, I have TIAA-CREF through my employer and TIAA-CREF made it sound like they could easily get those funds for me (I talked to them prior to this bankruptcy activity). Do you think I could lose my 403b money in Vanguard because of this bankruptcy? What are the positives/negatives in putting all my 403b money in one place?

– Suzanne

You shouldn’t lose a dime of the money in your 403(b) because of the collapse of your employer. The money in that account is yours and yours alone. The account was merely provided to you by an arrangement that your previous employer set up. Just because that employer is bankrupt doesn’t mean anything about the investment house.

If you’re concerned about the stability of the investment house – which you should have no reason to be in this situation – you can take out the money, but it’ll be taxed as regular income plus an additional 10% tax hit. Generally, that’s not worth it.

I’d just stay put with everything if I were you.

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. Johanna says:

    Q2: Lack of motivation – which comes across so strongly in your letter – is a symptom of depression. So I wonder if whatever treatment you’re receiving for your depression isn’t fully working. This isn’t a diagnosis, obviously (and I’m not a doctor), but it’s something to discuss with whatever professionals you’ve been seeing about this.

    Beyond that, if you want to really go somewhere with your art/crafts/design/writing, the best advice I can give you is to get a buddy. Find someone with similar interests, skills, and aspirations (the classes you’ve been taking would be a good place to look for a person like that) and work together. Even if you can’t create anything that’s truly collaborative, you can make a deal where you’ll get together once a week, and you’ll each have a painting (or whatever) to show the other. Then you can work together to approach people who might help get your work exhibited.

    I would not expect art to provide anything like a full-time income, though, and I’d encourage you to get your software career back on track if that’s at all possible. It’s OK, and not at all unusual, to work at a job you don’t care much about, and to get most of your fulfillment from your hobbies.

  2. Baley says:

    Q3: Settlers of Catan is a great board game for 2 people and also has expansions available so you can try out different versions of the same game. My husband and I love it!

  3. Liz says:

    @Q10: If you want to simplify your finances, go ahead and transfer the Vanguard 403/401 to a TIAA-CREF IRA.
    It’s called a rollover, and it really is as easy as filling out a couple of forms that TIAA-CREF will give you.
    On the other hand, if you don’t care about consolidating your retirement accounts, then leave it at Vanguard. I have both rolled over old accounts and left them where they are — I liked the investment options at the one I left open — and it’s just an extra statement each quarter.
    Either way, there should be no reason at all to worry about the stability of either of those organizations.

  4. mary m says:

    Q2: I can completely relate to you and I have to say that at 42 I still don’t want to do forever. But I have had lots of different experiences that have shaped me into what I am today and all in all I’m pretty happy with that. I take celexa for depression and don’t forsee a time I will get off of it, when I have, not good.
    What I can tell you is this waiting to decide what to do with your life is actually your life too. Start by doing very small things that make you happy. Hopefully that will snowball.
    If you are at all spiritual I recommend picking up Alan Cohen’s Daily Dose of Sanity. It’s a great daily reading book that gets my day off to a good start.

  5. Kat says:

    RE: Wish lists – I use the Amazon list to keep track of books that interest me. I don’t necessarily intend to purchase them – it is just a good place to stash them all. I can then search them at the local library at my leisure!

    Of course – besides telling family and friends what you would like to have – it is a great place to list small items not immediately needed that can make up the difference to get the free shipping.

  6. valleycat1 says:

    Q8 – Emergency fund use – yes, the general idea is that when you have to use money out of the fund, you start rebuilding it as soon as you can. Trent’s correct that meeting your financial oblications takes precedence, but even a few dollars a month set aside might give you a psychological boost.

    More to the point – Have you given serious consideration to putting the 8 kids (or at least some of them) into public school so you can get a job? Or is home schooling something your husband could do – assuming you could get a job that pays better than $8K?

  7. PF says:

    Q2: Have you been tested for adult ADD? My brother, sister, and mom all have it. Anxiety- Depression is a classic symptom. According to my sister, traditional anti-depressants don’t work all that well if ADD is your problem. Do some research on the web and good luck.

  8. Maureen says:

    Q8 – I agree with Valleycat1. I think you have to step up to the plate and become the major breadwinner here. Let your husband take over the homeschooling or put the kids in school. If you put them in regular school they may qualify for subsidized or free lunches (if they are available where you live) which may help your food budget a bit. It would also spare you the cost of buying your own curriculum.

  9. Tamara says:

    The fact that Q8 has 8 kids & is homeschooling to me implies it’s probably for religious reasons. She may want to look into the church schools, they might have financial aid/scholarships.

  10. Evita says:

    Q2 – Satya, I hope that you are still being treated for your depression. In your case, career counseling can really be helpful. Your local college or employment centers may be able to give you references.

    Or if you want to try it by yourself, there are books that can inspire you. Go to Amazon and look up “career match”, “do what you are” or “career counseling”. And good luck!

  11. Andrew says:

    Q8–Yes, a partial solution is obvious. If your husband can’t work, homeschooling is a luxury you can’t afford. You need to get a job ASAP–otherwise, you’ll have no home in which to conduct your school.

    Cutting spending isn’t an answer when you’ve already cut everything and aren’t paying your bills. You are in real danger of losing your home and your family.

  12. Nikki says:

    On #9 – I do the exact same thing. Not only do I get to enjoy “shopping” without the pain of actual cash outlay, I’ve noticed that sometimes when I add things to a wishlist or favorites, the seller will contact me with a coupon or discount after a couple days! Not a bad deal all around.

  13. Josh says:

    Q6 – I think that you will find your savings account does NOT yield 0.25% a month, but 0.25% annually. If it did earn that every month, I would sign up for that account in a heartbeat. That would be over 3% APY.

  14. JS says:

    Q2: Maybe try looking for a part-time job or even a career that requires some physical activity? I also have motivation and concentration problems stemming from depression, and beginning an exercise program really helped me clear my mind and focus. I know it doesn’t help everyone and that it’s hard to start, but it works well for some people.

    Q9: I do something similar- I have a Google doc called “Wish List” where I paste a link or a description of things I want. Our families are big on lists for Christmas, so it’s really helpful to have ideas in one place.

  15. Diane says:

    Q1: Worst response ever. Yes, they need a budget form to track their expenses, especially with two people involved and each not knowing where their combined funds are going.

    I would be lost without my budget tracking form, which I created myself in basic Excel. Was it right the first time? No. Was it right the first six months? No. Is it right now after continual tweaking and use. Yes. Do I spend less and more thoughtfully because of it? Yes. Does it accelerate my savings? Yes.

  16. Jenn says:

    Q4: if you’re “generally live paycheck-to-paycheck on $70k” it sounds like you need to reevaluate your other bills. Perhaps your car payment, cable/cell/electric bills are too high. Start cutting what you can if you value staying in that house.

  17. Steve says:

    Q4: The problem is that when interest rates start going up, house prices will go down in response. You are living above your means and it’s just being hidden by the low interest rate on your ARM. Sell now. The sooner you get out of this untenable situation, the better off you will be.

  18. Gretchen says:

    Number 8 needs to put the kids in school and get a job.

    For the other poster using amazon a book wish list, I suggest goodreads. Easy to find and add books and interact/ get suggestions from others.

  19. Tom says:

    I believe Q10 was strongly implying he’d use TIAA-CREF to rollover his 401(k), and thus wouldn’t incur any taxes there.

    Lots of questions this week about emergency funds, and just skimping by on a paycheck-to-paycheck basis. It seems the advice should have been, what can you cut on your budget?

  20. Kelly says:

    Q7: “At age 30, you should be approaching somewhere between half a year and a year’s worth of living expenses in retirement savings.”

    Trent, can you talk more about this? It’s an interesting number and nice to have a benchmark like this to look at and figure out if I’m even remotely on the right track. How’d you come up with that number–and do you have any other similar benchmarks to look at throughout the years when thinking about your retirement fund?

  21. Allie says:

    I agree with Kelly at #20 – this is the first time I have seen any kind of benchmarks like that, and would love to see more on this.

  22. Johanna says:

    @Kelly, @Allie: There’s a set of retirement benchmarks that I think are originally from Money Magazine. Trent has written about them before – do a search of this site for “retirement benchmarks” and you should find it.

    The Money benchmarks start at age 35, at which point they say you should have 1.5 times your annual salary saved. Trent’s age-30 benchmark is extrapolated backwards from that.

    The problem with that set of benchmarks, though, is that it assumes a really high rate of return on your investments – something like 9% *after inflation*. It would be interesting to work out the numbers using a more realistic return.

  23. Josh says:

    @#2 Baley – Settlers of Catan is pretty predictable and generally not much of a challenge with 2 people. Technically it is not a 2 person game.

  24. karishma says:

    Q1 Try a book aimed at couples, e.g Smart couples finish rich, or debt-proof your marriage, etc. not so much to follow the specific plans they suggest, but because they all focus on the things you said you need – a framework of how to approach the conversation, the need for the two of you to be open and honest and work together as a team, as well as the first step of list out ALL your income and expenses and do the math to see where you are starting from.

    Once you’ve gotten past that step, making the decisions on independent vs. shared expenses and accounts, prioritizing categories of spending, and actually setting up budget categories and amounts becomes a lot easier – and should be done in whatever way the two of you agree is best for you personally.

  25. karishma says:

    Random thoughts:

    1) Made myself a ham, egg and cheese sandwich for lunch after reading your intro, so thanks for the idea :)

    2) What pun is Kristin in Q6 apologizing for? I don’t see one. Saying “bang for the buck” when talking about interest on money is not a pun, it’s the original and intended meaning of that phrase.

    3) I agree with #23 – Settlers of Cataan loses a lot of its strategy when played with just 2 players and gets really boring. Carcassone, on the other hand, works pretty well with two players – it’s what my husband and I mostly play when we want something more handson than Scrabble or Boggle, which are our go-to 2 player entertainment options.

  26. Trisha says:

    I would not actually recommend Settlers of Catan as a good two person game. It’s a great game, but MUCH better suited for four players (or more with the expansions). Just my two cents on the matter.

  27. cc says:

    Q1: Dave Ramsey’s books have great worksheets in them. I have Smart Women Finish Rich- Smart Couples might also have the worksheets. It provides a pretty comprehensive framework of what most people end up spending money on, and you fill in your details and can add/delete stuff as needed. It’s the best way I’ve found to figure out where my money is really going.

    Q2: If you’re not worried about money and interested in design, have you looked at unpaid internships at graphic design agencies? The recession slaughtered the design industry and put a lot of designers out of work, but the silver lining is there are more unpaid intern positions available than you can shake a stick at. You’ll learn tons of real-world job skills, get used to the software, and probably build a bit of a network and portfolio in the meantime. Not everyone is able to take on unpaid positions, so that’s totally an advantage for you.

  28. cv says:

    @Q2, I’ve also spent time wondering what I should do with my life, and a friend recommended a book called The Pathfinder, available on Amazon. I found it incredibly helpful to actually sit down and go through his exercises.

    One thing I really liked about the book is that the author doesn’t believe that everyone has one true overriding passion that they should turn into a career. Some people’s skills, talents and temperaments are best suited to working as a member of a team in a large company, for example, or as a government administrator, or an office manager in a small business. Trent and other full-time bloggers often have personalities suited to entrepreneurship and careers based on passion, and they reflect that in their advice. That’s not a path to happiness for everyone, and The Pathfinder takes a broader view and gives you the tools to figure out what sort of work would really suit you the best.

  29. kristine says:

    Q8- I also agree- you can longer afford the luxury of not working in order to homeschool. Your taxes are already paying for public education- take advantage of that.

    While you may have philosophical reasons for home-schooling, one lesson you can teach kids is that they must take responsibility for themselves, and you can do that by taking on the responsibility of providing for your family when your husband cannot. (…helps those who help themselves…) Your older children may be old enough to work part time as well.

    If you are unwilling to increase the families income, then you have to cut expenses to where you are solvent and sustainable. Otherwise you are headed for bankruptcy and public assistance.
    Good wishes to you- you have your hands full.

  30. imelda says:

    Q2: I’m glad so many people have brought up depression/ADD, because that’s the first thing I thought of. It seems like you can’t focus/get interested in *anything*, so it might not be a matter of finding the right field – it could be an internal issue.

    Also, I want to sort-of echo #28: I don’t think there’s /1 perfect field/ for everyone. You listed a bunch of career paths that you’re sort-of interested in. Maybe there is no right or wrong choice.

  31. deRuiter says:

    “I am a 28 year old girl…” No, you are a 28 year old married WOMAN who is being enabled by parents, husband and perhaps unemployment checks to drift along, lotus eating, considering dabbling in the arts, considering a crafts store, but not interested enough already to consider any of these as full time ventures. Get a thorough check up from your doctor, maybe you need some iron pills. Then get a job, any job, and stop drifting and daydreaming. For now, get up at a reasonable hour, get to the animal shelter, and spend an hour or two a day walking the dogs on death row. They will appreciate your time and attention as opposed to sitting in a wire mesh prison all day while they wait to be put to death because there aren’t enough homes for America’s unwanted animals. You’re doing too much loafing and navel gazing, you need some vigorous physical activity. Honestly, if you were lower caste in Inda where they exist on a dollar a day you wouldn’t be loafing on the couch, you’d be out doing something constructive to keep from starving to death. America’s got too many riding in the wagon and not enough pulling it.

  32. Annie says:

    Q2 Have you ever considered a field in Nursing or Health Care. Maybe if you helped people you might feel better about yourself and not be depressed. There is something about working in a hospital which i have done for years before i left it for a sit down job with computers that makes me feel so gratful and blessed with good health. There are so many sick patients, young and old that are dying of cancer, heart disease, just about every disease out there that you can think off but you don’t have it YET! you will realize how lucky you are and will enjoy life more. It sounds to me like your depressed because you don’t like what you do for a living, you don’t understand it’s purpose. Just a thought.

  33. Courtney20 says:

    Settlers of Catan the board game is definitely not a two person game. But there is a card game version of Settlers for two people. I’d also recommend Jambo, Through the Ages, and Race for the Galaxy. Jambo is only a two person game, but the other two can be played with multiple players as well.

  34. Johanna says:

    @deRuiter: Not that you can ever be bothered to let facts get in the way of your nasty little political screeds, but: Satya talks about moving between two different countries. How do you know that either of those countries is the US? She doesn’t say.

  35. AnnJo says:

    Q4, Steve at #17 is exactly right – when interest rates go up, the price you’ll be able to get on your house is likely to go down. With few exceptions, there are not many areas where the housing market is expected to turn around anytime soon.

    In many areas, you could rent a home similar to the one you own for half of what you’re paying on your mortgages. Better yet, rent something more modest, pay off your debt, build a good reserve of savings and enjoy the freedom that comes from NOT living paycheck to paycheck.

  36. Maggie says:

    Q3 – There is always Scrabble but the game my husband and I love to play (also my son) is Yahtze. especially triple Yahtze. We usually play a double game as one (2 sets of Triple are on the same sheet). It takes about an hour or so, gives you time to talk and we always laugh a lot.
    It involves throwing dice and who doesn’t love dice games.

  37. Maggie says:

    Q1 – Suze Orman has a budget form on her website and lots of information about budgeting. Worth a look. SuzeOrman.com
    I love the website.

  38. Mary says:

    #7 PF that is exactly what I was thinking. ADD is real and sounds like it could be part of your issue. Also get a full physical, blood work and all and you may need a different counselor, the one you have may not be working for you.
    #31 deRuiter is right but way to harsh you need to do something, get out with people, have something or someplace to go everyday. A part time job, volunteer, take a class but do something.
    Depression is a terrible thing and those who have never had the experience don’t have a clue.

  39. Mary says:

    #4. Sell your house, interest rates are going up, period. Get out while you can or you might lose it all. Find a cheap place to live and get your life in order.
    BTW the Lottery is a voluntary tax, you are giving your money to the government and they get enough already.

  40. Mary says:

    Q8, I am assuming the major part of your debt is medical, contact the hospital and make arrangements, they may also have a program for low income/disabled people where they will discharge some of the debt. You have 8 children, are the older children able to help out so you can find a part time job to get out of the house. My concern is if you don’t get out you will feel trapped leading to possible depression and compound your problems. Check all your options, was your husband in the military, there maybe some health care benefits you are not aware of. Contact your creditors and let them know the situation, maybe they can cut the interest rates, lower your payments, some money is better then no money. Contact your state government, you may be eligible for some home care for your husband, food stamps, a medical card. Most of all tell your friends and family, you never know who may have something you need that they are getting rid of, clothes for the children for example, maybe someone will have an over abundance from a garden, work you can do from home, like mending clothing, baking cakes for events, do you have a skill that you can turn into cash.

  41. jim says:

    Q4 Tom : I’d try to sell the house now. You can barely afford that home now and the interest is at 3% level. Interest will go up and then what? Don’t wait till your interest is 4-5% or more and you are pushed into default. Selling may not be very easy but I’d try. You could try to do a FSBO or try to arrange a short sale with your lender(s). Also discuss options with a Realtor to see what they think.

    Q8 Laura : $8k wages and/or a disability check are not going to support 10 people. Have you sought aid from government and/or charity organizations? With 10 people you’re well below poverty line and should qualify for food stamps at least I’d assume. There may be other programs to help you get you family back on track financially. If your husband needs care then maybe he can stay with a relative while you work?

  42. Brittany says:

    Settlers of Catan is totally a 2 (to 4) player game (both officially/”technically” and in practice). I’ve played an absurd amount of 2-player Catan. Typically, the people who tell me there is too much luck and no strategy in 2-player (or overall) Catan are people who aren’t very good at Catan/strategy games in general. The Cities and Knights expansion doubles the level of complexity and strategy and also plays really well as a 2-player. Really, the only major game dynamic that changes is the inter-player trading, and this heavily depends on your dynamic with your opponent (it tends to get really collaborative or really cutthroat, without much balance).

    That said, my gentleman friend and I are on a major Carcassonne kick. It plays terrifically as a 2-player game.

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