Reader Mailbag: Dad’s Health Update

What’s inside? Many readers have written to me asking for me to summarize the questions in the mailbag right at the top so that they know what’s inside. So, I’m going to try this out for this mailbag and see how it goes. Here are summaries of the included questions in five words or less.

1. Ethics of item return strategy
2. Budgeting after debt freedom
3. Lesser pay for more sanity
4. SmartyPig changes
5. Debt counseling and rate changes
6. Getting started on debt repayment
7. Budgeting software needs
8. Life is too difficult
9. 529s and income taxes
10. How to protest BP

Also, many of you have written to me (or Tweeted at me or sent me a note on Facebook) asking about my father’s health. He’s doing fine. He was released from the hospital over the weekend, but he has to have daily treatments at the hospital for a while and will likely have to have some physical therapy on his hand, which is going to drive him crazy because he’s a “hands-on” kind of guy. I think, for the fourth time in his life (at least), he dodged a pretty big medical bullet.

A friend of mine uses a particular strategy to get big discounts on video games. He waits until one of the new releases goes on a big sale at a particular store – like, say, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is on sale for $29.99 at one store but is still $49.99 at the rest – then he buys the discounted new release, takes it to another store with a large selection, and asks at customer service if he can trade this title in for another title. Many stores, seeing the item is completely unopened and that the customer is simply asking to swap it, will simply allow him to do this. He then gets his choice of any of the new releases on sale at this store.

Is this ethical? I’m kind of stuck on this one. If it were a used item, I would find it wrong, but I’m not sure he’s doing anything wrong here.
– Kevin

Buying a game on sale is fine, as is exchanging a sealed game for another one. The issue comes in with the taking of an item from one store to another simply to trade it in.

In essence, this is strongly abusing the return policy of the second store. They have a strong return policy that’s intended to provide greater value to their customers, which is a great thing for customers. The problem comes in when people who aren’t regular customers exploit it. It costs the store because they have to deal with that returned game – even if they “break even” on the cost of the game they brought in and the game they gave out, they’re still in the hole because of the employee time spent dealing with the transactions.

That’s a cost that adds up, and that’s a cost that will eventually be returned to the customers either in terms of higher prices or in terms of worse service.

Your friend is basically exploiting a store’s great return policy. The people that wind up paying for that exploit are the other customers of the store. Make up your own mind whether that’s cool or not.

I am getting ready to switch over to an online checking account with a 3.5 % interest. It will be easy enough to make the 12 debit card transactions a month, just using it for gas for our 2 cars. The linked savings earns 2.5 %, but I wanted to use the checking primarily for my savings account. I track my funds for emergency, vacation, next car, etc. in a notebook, but all of those savings items would go into the high yielding account.

I plan to keep my local bank for the ATM and depositing a few checks I may need to cash in a month, as well as paying the usual bills and doing our usual budget.

I guess my dilema is that we are finally debt free and need to come up with a new budget. 2 major issues:

1. We are contributing 7% of hubby’s income to retirement, and the company matches with 3.5% of their stock. They had is in a fixed rate yielding 1%, which I just switched us out of. Now our choices for the 7% are diversified, not in company stock so we have a broader portfolio. If we put all 7% in their stock, they would give us 7%. I am just not comfortable having all our eggs in one basket. He is 50 this year, and we’ve only had this for a year. With the market instabilities, I’d feel better having any additional savings we do in the 3.5% bank account…. so I guess we need a plan for socking some extra away for retirement.

2. We have lived on a tight budget for 28 years, and since we are finally debt free, I’d like to have a little freedom to go out to dinner or buy something for the house, so we need to come up with a revised budget that lets us enjoy life, but isn’t wasteful. I have a good handle on our fixed monthly expenses, and insurance and taxes, and have started to save for our next car. We have an emergency fund. It’s just the surprise expenses, like birthday parties, broken microwaves and things that come up I don’t know how to plan for. Do I just inch up what’s going into savings, until I get to a good balance, or just leave it in checking, until we have a good amount of excess to transfer? I always keep a $400 cushion in the checking to avoid any risk of overdraft if something comes in earlier than planned.

So these are the issues I wanted to resolve before I switch to the new account, so I don’t accidentally miss getting my interest or submarine my savings by taking too much out with those 12 debit transactions. I just need a plan. (weekly savings now: $60 next car, $50 taxes, $50 insurance for cars and house). Any suggestions?
– Cheryl

With the first concern, the real question I would ask is how long you have to hold the company’s stock after it is issued by that match. If you have to hold it for years or until retirement, then you’re better off diversifying immediately. If you can trade it off immediately, then consider the 7% match, because you can then just trade it in on a diversified investment immediately.

As for the second part of your question, you should have a savings account strictly for such expenses. Transfer some amount into that account each month (or even each week) from your checking account and then when such an “unexpected” but known expense comes up, just take money out of that account (if you need to) to cover it. See if your bank will allow you to have a second savings account, or sign up for an online savings account.

You seem to be spending less than you earn right now, which is good. As long as you keep a reasonable gap between what you spend and what you earn, you should enjoy yourself. Don’t make yourself feel guilty about doing things you enjoy as long as you keep living within your means.

I’m 24 years old and have a steady job working for a bank. For my age, I’m told it’s a great job. 401K plan with great matching percentage, full health care, pre-tax savings accounts and health spending accounts, and they are reimbursing me for 50% of my tuition for me to finish a degree. I’m doing financially well with this job and just finished paying off all my debts, except student loans. I have a small emergency fund, but only about a month’s worth so far. The problem is the job is torture and I am absolutely miserable. With the economy, working for a bank is stressful and I am being yelled at on a daily basis by everyone; customers and management alike. I’d love to quit and work in the animal industry, at a dog daycare or as a dog trainer, but after a thorough search I realize that move would drop me into Financial Doom. The scant positions available are part time and minimum wage with zero benefits, 401k, or anything like what I have now. Even cutting back immensely my budget would be in the red each month and I know I’d be back in debt before I know it. Everyone says I’d be sure to grow in that industry and would be back to making what I am now in 5 or so years, but there’s no way to truly tell and I’m worried I’ll end up penniless and homeless all for trying to follow my dreams. I’m growing more and more miserable at my current job and not sure what to do. Do I take a lesser paying job to make myself happy or try to deal with it until the economy improves and perhaps something will appear?
– Erica

If you’re single and you’re the only person that relies on you, why not go for it?

My suggestion is simple. For the time being, don’t worry about the retirement and the other benefits so much. Quit, get the job that you want to be doing, and live a different lifestyle. Live without all of the stuff you’ve becomed accustomed to. Live in the cheapest housing you can find, possibly with a roommate or two. Get a second hourly job to supplement it, one where you’re not going to be berated by people. Ditch most of your stuff and live instead of accumulating. Make your own meals. Throw your heart and passion into what you want to do.

If you find that it didn’t work out a few years down the road, go back to your old career path and pick it up.

No pile of money is worth anything if it’s making you miserable and dragging you away from what you should be doing in life. That road leads to a wall of material stuff between your heart and your soul.

I think I first read about Smarty Pig from one of your blog writings. Could you please comment either through your blog or to me individually regarding your thoughts on their changing to BBVA compass as it’s bank? I’d like to know your thoughts, and I suspect that other readers TSD would as well.
– Shelley

I think it was the best solution for SmartyPig given where they were stuck. Over the last few years, they were one of the few success stories in the banking world and they (unsurprisingly) outgrew the smaller West Bank. West Bank wanted to remain a small regional bank and as the proportion of their bank that was SmartyPig kept growing, they eventually wanted out of the picture. I think there’s been growing pains for a while, as SmartyPig has been jammed into a shirt far too small for them.

Of course, this happened at a time where the national banking picture (remember 2008, the bank failures, the bailout, etc.) is pretty awful. Most of the really large banks simply aren’t very interested in taking on different projects right now, even if there appears to be growth potential. So SmartyPig found the best available partner.

It’s basically like having a growing child that just hit a growth spurt. You realize that the child’s pants aren’t fitting them any more. You head down to the store, only to find that there are only a few kinds of pants currently available there but there might be more in a few weeks. SmartyPig chose to buy the best pants available to them.

From a customer perspective, I think the eyeballs just need to be on what the SmartyPig service provides. Honestly, the bank behind them doesn’t make that much of a difference. What matters is what SmartyPig does. Are the account terms changing in ways you don’t like? If nothing changes from that end, then keep using SmartyPig (I am). If it does change, then walk.

I am getting serious about debt repayment. I looked closely at the statement for one of my credit cards (I admit, I don’t usually look at them because I just get online, make a payment, and log off.) and I noticed my interest rate was raised a year ago to 24%!!!! I called the company (Bank of America) and asked for an interest rate reduction. They said I didn’t qualify, but they suggested that I call a non-profit debt management organization for assistance. What are your thoughts on doing this?

The other option was to work with them “internally” – the account would be closed, and I would make some kind of repayment arrangements with them at a lower rate. If I went this route, would it negatively affect my credit?

I really want to get out of debt. I am motivated and exploring all options. I never really considered going to a non-profit debt management organization for help, and I never really see this discussed on any of the money blogs I read. Is it better to just go it alone?
– Kay

Non-profit debt management companies usually do exactly what they claim. They help you figure out your debt situation and come up with a plan for repaying it. The problem is that you have to pay them for the service (nonprofit doesn’t mean free).

The real reason most personal finance bloggers (including myself) don’t recommend them is that most of the services they provide are things that pretty much any competent person can do for themselves for free. Trust me, you can set up your own debt repayment plan.

Companies like BoA usually suggest such services because they don’t want to bother with this type of service themselves and they assume that if you can’t handle a credit card then you can’t handle getting control over your own finances. Usually, the issue isn’t knowing how to do it, the issue is learning control over your own impulses, and a nonprofit debt management organization can’t do that, either.

The key step there is up to you either way you go.

I have some friends who are in a difficult situation and they asked me for advice, so I’m wondering your opinion.

The husband and wife are 45 years old. They’ve accumulated $20,000 in credit card debt (avg. interest 17%), have only $18,000 saved for retirement in a 401k for both of them, and live paycheck to paycheck with no emergency fund.

The husband brings in $45,000 before taxes and the wife works part time for $5-10k per year. Including monthly bills and the minimums for their credit cards they are breaking even each month.

My question is, where would you start first to develop a plan for this couple to address those issues (debt, retirment, emergency fund). They would obviously benefit from the wife getting another job and cracking down on spending, but where do they go from there? Any help would be much appreciated.
– Jamie

The best solution, of course, involves more income. Would the wife in this situation consider working more hours? I don’t see any children mentioned, so I’d assume this is possible.

Regardless of the debt, if they’re at age 45 with only $18K saved for retirement, they need to seriously bump up their game. The 401(k) needs to be getting every possible drop of matching money from their employer and they should both have a Roth IRA that’s at least partially funded.

This couple has a history of living beyond their means. If they don’t make the active choice of living well below their income for a while, they’re going to wind up at retirement age with a huge pile of debt and nothing to show for it, and that’s not a fun place to be.

My wife and I have had a budget since we got married. We put together an Excel doc which takes our income (employment for both and self-employment for both) and splits it up according to the percentages we’ve setup. It’s complicated because of taxes being taken out of one (employment) but not the other (self-employment). And don’t forget tithe which we take out before taxes! :) This makes for a very variable income to say the least so it’s not like we can budget the same dollar amounts every month.

From there we have tabs within the Excel doc for each category of spending.

Our question for you is this, is there software available which will:
1) take income from multiple sources (read: pre-tax and post-tax monies);
2) allow us to split it up according our our percentages from within the program;
3) create our own categories of spending;
4) run reports on those categories (ie. food spending from month to month, year to year etc)
5) and lastly, is either free or under $100.

We’ve recently found youneedabudget.com ($60) but it doesn’t allow for #1 and #2 (to our knowledge). We’d have to continue breaking the money apart with Excel and then transfer those into YNAB.
– Jason

The obvious solution here is Quicken. I don’t know of another piece of software that simply does all of this stuff. As you mentioned, YNAB is fairly close as well, but Quicken simply does all of this stuff.

The challenge with Quicken, of course, is that it has a bit of a learning curve, though it does pay rewards if you’re diligent with it. If you go that route, be willing to spend the time to actually learn the software instead of just trying to jam stuff in and complaining that it doesn’t immediately do what you want it to do. Be patient and learn.

Honestly, I still use Excel for most things. It’s just the tool that works best for me.

My life is too difficult and I’m getting exhausted. Starting to wonder if the effort is worth the end results. Can you help set me straight?
– Mel

Usually, people making statements like Mel are either depressed (which means they need to seek a doctor) or they are living a life full of elements that bring them unhappiness that, if removed, would remove that sense of unhappiness.

First of all, what are the “end results” you’re seeking? The end results that are most worth seeking are ones that lead to genuine happiness – usually, they’re personal accomplishments. Very rarely is money alone something that is an “end result” that brings happiness – it often comes about as a result of chasing something that is more of a personal accomplishment that others happen to find value in.

Second, what do you spend your time doing that you hate? Is it your specific career path? If it is, try finding another job. Is it your personal life? If it is, seek out new friendships and different avenues for spending your personal time. Is it your health or personal appearance? Finding new people to associate with helps, as does taking control over your diet and your exercise (which also helps with the feelings of negativity).

Whatever it is that you don’t like in your life, change it. If you feel like you simply can’t change it, then you’re much more likely to be suffering from some form of depression and you should seek medical assistance (and you should start exercising more and eating lots of straight-up vegetables and fruits, too).

I recently opened a 529 college plan (not prepaid) for my grand-daughter. We live in Florida. My question is regarding income taxes. Am I able to deduct the monies I put into the 529 yearly, on my yearly income tax, as I do itemize each year. Thanks for your time.
– June

There is no immediate federal income tax benefit for 529 contributions (though, obviously, there are big benefits when the money in the account is used for educational purposes and the growth within the account is tax deferred). You happen to be living in Florida where there is no state income tax, either.

Many states offer a state income tax benefit for 529 contributors – Iowa is one of those states. Up to a certain cap, contributions to a 529 in those states can be deducted from your state income tax.

You’ve said many times that the best way to protest things you don’t like is with your dollar. Right now, I’m protesting BP by not using BP gas stations, but what else can I do beyond that to affect BP’s business?
– Olivia

Here’s the thing, though. Even if you boycott BP, you’re going to be giving your money to some sort of environmental or human rights violator wherever you buy gas. Plus, you’re not even hurting BP’s bottom line by driving on past a BP gas station because BP is no longer in the direct gasoline sales business – they sold all of their stations to local businesspeople with a stipulation that they had to use the BP name for a certain number of years. The only people you’re hurting are people in the local community.

So how can you vent your rage at BP and the rest of the oil companies? Don’t buy gas. Drive less. When you buy another vehicle, buy one that uses the least possible amount of fossil fuels. Buy an electric car, even.

Go even further and write a handwritten letter to your congressperson and the two senators from your state expressing your outrage at the environmental destruction and ask for legislation not merely to punish BP, but to wean us from fossil fuel use altogether. It’s an environmental issue, a national security issue, and an economic concern all rolled up into one tight package.

On the surface, it seems like the elimination of fossil fuel use would be something that people of all political stripes would be behind. It’s clearly an environmental issue. It’s clearly a national security issue. It’s clearly a trade issue. But why can’t Democrats and Republicans get together on it?

Oil company lobbyists. They’re the real enemy.

Got any questions? Email them to me or leave them in the comments and I’ll attempt to answer them in a future mailbag. However, I do receive hundreds of questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.

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  1. Thanks so much for mentioning that BP gas stations are no longer owned by BP. A lot of small business owners are really hurting because of people boycotting them.

    Also,another thing you can do is ween yourself off of other oil products….plastics, soaps (find ones like Seventh Generation that are petroleum free), educate yourself on what oil is used for and direct a life change from that.

  2. kim says:

    I think I would recommend more of a gradual approach for the 24 year old who hates her job. Get a part time/weekend job doing what you love to try it out. It may not be as fun as you think. Then, if you still want to quit, down size your life style to your expected take home pay from your new job (bank the rest in an emergency fund). Do this for at least four months. That may mean moving to a smaller place (or in with your parents) and sharply cutting back on “the fun stuff”. If you’re still OK with the new lifestyle, then make the job switch. Good jobs are too rare these days to walk away from one blindly.

  3. DivaJean says:

    I don’t get why people feel the immediate need to switch careers in this economy when the job they hold pays the bills and then some.

    The 24 year old, Erica, who has a great job in banking and would rather groom pets— why not take on a part time job helping on Saturdays or start up your own grooming/pet washing on the side? You would the overall satisfaction of doing what you like, but still have the safeguard of a regular job. Who knows? Doing the grooming and pet care on the side may ultimately grow to a point where it could provide for your financial needs and THEN quitting the bank job would make sense.

    Then there is Mel- who is exhausted and wondering about how to keep going on. A career change is considered in Trent’s answer. Say what? If someone has that little get up and go (like I did about a year and a half ago), there is no energy to do the work needed to make changes like that. Yes, I have a history of depression and I know of which I speak- but sometimes, you just need to start getting out in the world more and finding more reasons to get out of bed than work. Volunteer an hour or two for a church or community project- soon other connections get made and lots of reasons for getting out of bed are found. I mention volunteering because the work is often well defined as to the exspectation and not so open as to be overwhelming when one is depressed. Regardless, I do agree with Trent about seeing someone for evaluation of depression. Treatment can take time however, and I hope that Mel considers finding other areas to find happiness and meaning in the interim.

  4. DiscoApu says:

    Good answer for the last question. BP has nothing to do with the store fronts. It has mostly to do with Oil futures contracts, which none of use can impact.

    If BP were to go bankrupt that actually would be a disaster. In bankruptcy they would have massive protection against law suits. The stock would go to zero, and 80% of British pensions rely on the BP dividend. But it would still function as an entity and the exec would still have their nice salaries.

    The biggest positive that could come out of this would be if it forced the alt renewable energy plan to go forward.

  5. Erin says:

    @Erica – overall I agree with Trent’s advice, but I also agree with the others that say maybe you can start by doing this part-time on weekends to see if you really like it. If you do decide to quit altogether, I strongly suggest you find out about health insurance coverage first. Even though you are young and presumably healthy one accident or illness can cause financial problems for years if you don’t have health insurance. Make sure you research what the costs would be via COBRA, the new Obama health plans, and on the open market so you are prepared for that cost.

  6. Money Smarts says:

    I’m all for working towards finding new alternative energy sources that we can use in the future, but for the meantime, unfortunately oil is here to stay. We do need to work towards finding new ways of making offshore drilling safer so that accidents like this don’t happen again and possibly open up some on-shore drilling locations that can be more safely managed (ANWAR?) Unfortunately none of the alternative energy sources are currently viable enough to be a replacement.

    In any event I’m glad you made the point about BP gas stations being locally owned. Boycotting them is just hurting small business people in the local community – not the giant corporation.

  7. Krista says:

    I’m in the same boat as Erica, except I’m 33 and have appx. one year’s expenses saved. I hate my job, work 60+ hours a week, took a 20% pay cut, etc, etc. I desperately want to quit, but I fear the unknown. The question becomes how miserable do you have to be before you quit without that safety net? When you work so much, you don’t have time (or energy) to get a second job. So when do you finally bite the bullet and concentrate on following your passion full time? I just think that staying when you are truly miserable can damage your health, sanity, relationships, etc. So where to draw the line? Those part time jobs aren’t easy to come by to try things out!

  8. Nick says:

    Great job on the summary at the top. Thats a nice touch.

    Thank you for mentioning that BP gas stations are independently owned and operated. There was a story on NPR today about this very subject. I wasn’t aware of this. While you are still technically supporting BP by purchasing gas at a BP station, your hurting the owner more, who may very well be a member of your local community.

  9. Josh S says:

    The summary at the top is nice addition, and I hope it stays! It makes it much easier to hop down to the stories that look interesting to me :D

  10. Courtney says:

    In response to Jason, I’m not sure why a) it matters whether the money is pre-tax or post-tax, or b) why they need to split it up using percentages. We do all our budgeting in excel, and we had pre- and post-tax income for several years as I had various fellowships during and after grad school. The monthly set-aside for taxes was just a line-item in our budget based off of our estimated tax worksheet for that year. And it doesn’t matter that our mortgage is 16% or our electric bill is 1.2% of our take-home pay. They’re just dollar amounts in our budget as well.

    I think Jason needs to start using dollars instead of percents, set up a zero-budget where each dollar is basically accounted for, and include things like estimated taxes and savings as monthly expenses. It sounds like he’s making his budget more complicated than it needs to be.

  11. Gal @ Equally Happy says:

    @Jason
    Mint is the tool I use for what you’re describing. They recently added some nice budgeting functionality too. Speaking of which, you might want to update your review of Mint Trent. The new functionality could be a topic for a great post and I’d be interested in seeing your opinion on it.

    @Mel
    I went through a year of depression following some personal issues. My suggestion would be to find help. Even if you can’t afford a professional therapist, find a friend or family member you can talk to. It helps.

    @Olivia
    Great answer Trent. Everyone should try to minimize their use of oil. A few more suggestions beyond the ones people have already made:

    1. Buy local organic food.
    2. Bike and walk to places.
    3. Avoid buying things in plastic packages
    4. Drink tap water or filtered water and avoid plastic water bottles.
    5. Shut off your lights when you’re not using them.

    All of these things will not just save you money but they will also reduce your usage of fossil fuels. As an added bonus, many of these will also make you healthier.

  12. Jon says:

    Don’t forget you are buying oil when you buy something made out of plastic. People don’t realize how much can be made out of oil. Also, when you heat your home or water, or cook with gas, you are supporting the same industry. As for alternatives to fossil fuels, it’s not going to happen without government subsidies. It makes no economic sense to switch to something that requires more space and produces less energy. Fossil fuels are here to stay for a very long time.

  13. kimberly says:

    I really like the summary/link at the top – I would really like to see that stick around. Sometimes the mailbag just seems overwhelming and I set it aside to save for later and then never return to the tab – I wouldn’t have thought so, but this small change does have a big impact for me as far as readability.

  14. 8sml says:

    “So how can you vent your rage at BP and the rest of the oil companies? Don’t buy gas. Drive less. When you buy another vehicle, buy one that uses the least possible amount of fossil fuels. Buy an electric car, even.”

    It never ceases to amaze me how using your feet or a bicycle seems to be the last way that occurs to people for getting around. Not all trips can be done that way, but many, many can, and the health benefits are wonderful.

  15. EmilyP says:

    I’m surprised you didn’t suggest to Erica that she stick with her job, which offers tuition reimbursements, long enough to finish her degree. I guess that might depend on whether she still is interested in her degree topic or suffering through that as well. A degree would be a great personal goal/accomplishment and potentially be useful to her in the future, as well as setting a time-limit for her career change; having a fixed date in mind for a big project like launching a home business can make the process run more smoothly.

  16. alilz says:

    Trent you should have included — use less plastic! Not just drive less.

    That’s a big key since so many things are made from plastic. There is a GREAT Blog called Fake Plastic Fish and the blogger is a woman who is trying to live as plastic free as possible. She acknowledges that what she does isn’t doable for everyone but there are some great resources and also ideas on how to reduce plastic use.

    PLUS a lot of the ideas for reducing plastic use also go hand in hand with frugal living!

    Some things I’ve started doing:

    Reusable shopping bags – granted most of mine are made from nylon, but I’m working on amassing a collection of canvas and cloth bags. I got a bunch from garage sales and also second hand stores. I use these everywhere not just at the grocery store.

    Don’t use shopping bags – if I’m just getting one or two items and I can take them to my car in my hands (or stick them in my purse since I’m a woman) I decline a plastic bag. I mean do you really need a plastic bag for 1 pair of pants or a book?

    Reusable produce bags or don’t use produce bags – I’m going to be buying some cloth produce bags (see Fake Plastic Fish or Etsy for places to buy them). But for things like potatoes, winter squash, citrus, bananas, garlic, onions, melons, corn, etc I don’t even use a produce bag.

    Switch from body wash to bar soap. I actually buy a locally produced all natural bar soap that comes in a recyclable cardboard wrapper (made from recylced materials). It costs, but I know the person that makes the soap.

    Use cloth kitchen towels and sponges made from natural materials instead of synthetic sponges and paper towels.

    Use reusable glass storage containers instead of plastic storage containers or ziploc bags. Granted mine have silicone snap on lids, but I got a good set at costco for $30 over a year ago and now it’s pretty much all I use. They aren’t oven safe but they go anywhere else and they don’t wrap, stain, or trap odors. You can find them singly at places like Marshalls or TJ Maxx. I’m about to invest in some all glass refrigerator containers.

    Buy in bulk – and use reusable bags! This is especailly economical for buying dried herbs and spices – you can reuse the glass bottles but instead of spending $4 you can usually fill one up for less than $1 sometimes less than fifty cents.

    Hang up your clothes to dry — even if you are like me and don’t have space for a clothes line. I have over the door hangers and hang things there and even on my ceiling fan. Right now with this heat things dry quickly.

    Use stainless steel water bottles instead of reusable plastic bottles.

    If you eat out try to go some place that uses a minimum of disposable stuff. For example there’s a regional sandwich and salad place that uses metal baskets, real silver wear, plastic reusable cups (it’s plastic but better than throw away ones), real bowls for salad and soups. So I try to go there. It costs a little more but the waste is way less.

    check the ingredients of your lotions and shampoos and detergents. A lot of those lotions, artificial scents and other things are made from petroleum based products. Instead of Vaseline (petroleum based) use shea butter (all natural product)

    Buy things with as little plastic packaging as possible.

    Use less hot water, use less energy – turn off lights, unplug things, turn up the theromostat.

    Buy used. Swap and trade with people.

    Write to companies that make food products made in plastic containers to either use less plastic or switch back to glass.

    If enough people ask for that it will happen. There’s been a huge backlash against High Fructose Corn Syrup and now brands like Ocean Spray and Hunts are putting on the front – No HFCS. Because of customer demand.

    Buy fewer frozen products. Buy less processed food -those are frugal choices as well.

    Talk to local business you frequent and ask if they can use less plastic.

    Not everyone can do everything, but if people start with small things it would help.

    Of course the plastic industry will try and argue that plastics are better – like in CA where they are trying to get away from using plastic grocery bags. One of the spokespersons for the company that makes the plastic bags tried to claim cloth bags are unhygienic because they are used more than once.

    They can be washed! And everyone should wash produce anyway. Plus there’s no telling how many people have handled a box of cereal or bottle of juice before you touched it.

  17. kristine says:

    Erica,

    If you decide to take this leap, and, god forbid, you got a horrible illness, would your parents feel morally obligated to pay for your care?
    Would it bankrupt them, or not allow them to enjoy their later years?
    Do you feel comfortable risking this scenario?
    Maybe move to a state that offers low cost health insurance to those who do not make much as a part of your plan.

  18. Christine says:

    @Erica,

    I could almost have written the exact letter you wrote. I am 25, work at a bank and HATE it! I’ve been looking desperately for other jobs within the bank that might not be so bad, but no luck yet. I’m really concerned about letting my performance suffer as a result of my unhappiness. Unfortunately I just have to keep at it until something better comes along. As other commenters have said, I can’t justify leaving a perfectly good job with great benefits right now.

    Also, re:smartypig, do many others use it and like it? I used it for awhile but got fed up with the amount of email I got from them and the length of the hold they put on the money. It took about a week for the money to become available to move or withdraw. ING only takes two days. It was mainly the amount of emails that turned me off, though.

  19. margaret says:

    re Kevin — I think the exchange is unethical. Clearly the return policy of the store is only meant for returns of purchases made at that store.

    re Cheryl – 28 years on a tight budget?!?! My hat is off to you. Thank you for the inspiration, because I’m looking at many years of tight budget to get out of a financial mess, and I’ve been pretty gloomy about it. I guess I can suck it up for the years it will take. I hope your budget now has a “FUN” category!

    re Erika — if you are going home from your job in tears every night, I’d say quit. I like the advice to hold on for a couple months and get some savings if you can manage it, but that is an unacceptable work situation. What really gets me is that you say you are yelled at by both customers AND MANAGEMENT. Custumers, well, that happens. But it is horrible if management is yelling at you. I had the worst boss in the world who was extremely nasty, and once I started going home in tears every night, I only stayed another month. Does your work have a human resource department? If yes, you should see if you can talk to someone there about how unhappy you are. Perhaps your benefits include a stress leave. Perhaps something will be done about management when they find out that they are yelling at employees. Is there any chance that you could be moved to a different position or branch? If something can be done to improve the situation at work, then stick with it and save, but if not, do not put yourself through the misery. Good luck.

  20. Crystal says:

    Erica, I’d stay until I graduated for the 50% reimbursement and then I’d move on to animals.

    Shelley, I like the fact that Smarty Pig switched. I know of Compass and it doesn’t seem to be changing any Smarty Pig terms.

    For the couple of commenters that asked about Smarty Pig, they are awesome for long-term savings. If you need a little back every month, try ING, but if you can just leave it alone until you want it all (annual tax accounts for example), they are perfect!

  21. Rocky says:

    I thought that I would weigh my voice in on the BP situation. BP is in alot of headline troubles right now. The company on the other hand provides a product that is used worldwide by many different people from many different walks of life.

    As nice as it would be to go from Oil to green (renewables) it won’t be happening anytime soon. The main reason is the inefficiencies that come from the Green energies. There is not a green energy that comes with the same energy punch that oil based products have. You can put a small amount of gas into your car and go for hundreds of miles. Electrical cars cannot do that yet. And the environmental implications from all of those lead-acid batteries has to be considered as well.

    Most of the energy giants have a component to the renewables as well. They are investing in that because they see that there is a need for the kind of power.

    So I would have to agree with Trent, that the best way to move away from oil and gas is to use less of it. But it will be way easier said then done.

  22. Nick says:

    Personally, instead of a “Table of contents” I would rather see the 5-word descriptions as “Headlines.” I didn’t find the table of contents style list really help me decide what to read at all. But that’s just me.

  23. Elisabeth says:

    For number 7, I recommend you take a look at AceMoney. I think it will do everything you wanted, plus more. AceMoneyLite is the free version, which is what I use.

  24. Lisa says:

    Fantastic list, alilz (post#14).
    Trent, please keep the summary with links!

  25. SZCZEBRZESZYN says:

    Don’t buy gas?
    Ha, that’s rich! OK, my lawn mower is corded electric, my snow thrower is corded electric, and despite the 10,000 lakes I don’t own a boat. I ask for paper bags at the grocery store. Still, lots of things come to me in plastic containers or bags. Clothing, carpet, etc is nylon. And my house is heated with natural *gas*.

    And then there are the cars. Even though I live in a small town, it would be tough to get through a Minnesota winter without resorting to the internal combustion engine. Some of the stores are within reasonable bicycle distance but that’s dicey on slippery winter surfaces even if there are no cars coming at you that can’t stop.

    I will consider an electric car. After the prices come down somewhat. After they are shown to be reliable. After I know that I can recharge on the other end of a trip and get back home.

  26. Robin Crickman says:

    For the couple looking for budgeting software. My spouse is a free software development contributor and he suggests two free programs. He says that gnucash.org has a program that will do everything they want and will run under Windows. A more sophisticated program to consider is ledgersmb.org which will do all that and more. Me, I’m such a computer curmudgeon that I would still be using the MS-DOS program Reflex except it won’t run under our current Linux operating system.

  27. Sandy says:

    Love all your ideas, alilz! One to add: I’ve used the wonderful Lush solid shampoo…incredible scents, many organic ingredients, etc… I usually purchase about a year’s worth online..no plastic bottles to throw away, no liquid weight on the truck hauling to my house.

  28. alilz says:

    @6 – I don’t think ANWAR or any drilling in Alaska can be managed more safely. Certainly not by BP -who had had it’s own issues.

    I didn’t even know this until I started reading more about BP but they’ve been under government investigation prior to the DeepHorizon spill and had charges brought against them because of a pipeline leak in Alaska.

    Investigations found pretty much the same thing as what happened with DeepHorizon — lack of safety equipment, lack of inspections, falsified reports, lack of discipline. I think the best thing would for BP to pay for the clean up and then go out of business.

    I felt the same way as some of the commenters — I can’t give up my car! I can’t give up A/C (I live in Florida where yesterday’s high was 100). But I’ve figured out how to make small changes.

    It’s like taking those first steps to be more frugal. You figure out where you can make changes and start working at it. It’s like the snowball effect you start making one change and then another.

    Plus if you look at a lot of the changes that you can make it turns out people live more frugal lives.

    @Sandy – I haven’t bought Lush in a long time but I need to try their solid shampoo.

  29. Paul says:

    “On the surface, it seems like the elimination of fossil fuel use would be something that people of all political stripes would be behind. It’s clearly an environmental issue. It’s clearly a national security issue. It’s clearly a trade issue. But why can’t Democrats and Republicans get together on it?”

    My answer would be that it’s something for the economic market to deal with, not the political side. The cost:utility ratio with fossil fuels is so much lower than with non-fossil fuels that no amount of political pressure is going to get people to make the change. Only price fluctuations will. When gas hits $5 a gallon, people will drive less or buy electric cars, but not before. Call me cynical or selfish, but I can take a few slicked up ducks to keep my car on the road. (I’m not happy about what it’s going to do to shrimp prices though.)

  30. JuliB says:

    Big Agra uses a lot of oil, too. So cheap and plentiful food is something we get from oil. Our whole society is structured around oil.

    I can understand people being upset, but I get very frustrated when people talk about an addiction to oil. It’s not an addiction! It’s just the way we evolved.

    I’m all for exploring alternatives primarily because I’d like for those hot beds of terrorism in the Middle East to fail. But I certainly don’t think hating on Big Oil makes any sense.

  31. Brigid says:

    @ SZCZEBRZESZYN: I use a push mower. It’s quiet and does a great job. I really don’t understand why power mowers even exist. (OK, I have a small lawn, but the people next to me have a smaller one and the landscapers use a tractor mower on it.) I shovel my walk with a snow shovel (or pay a kid to do it), and I rake leaves with a rake, not a leaf blower. We chose to live near a city that is well served by transit so we can get by with one car and leave that in the driveway as much as possible. In order to reduce your energy use, you have to question whether a motor is really making your life easier. In each of these cases, I voted no.

  32. Dean says:

    @Paul politicans could distort the market by increasing the oil tax to a level similar to other industrialised nations.

    UK car drivers are currently paying around $6.65 per US gallon

  33. Mol says:

    Trent, *love* the question summaries at the beginning. I have been wondering if there was a more organized way for these that makes it easier to find excerpts from previous mailbags.

    And while we’re at weaning the country from fossil fuels, can we wean the country from lobbyists too!

  34. Trent, I wonder if the advice about quitting a job and pursuing your dreams would be different if the person were at a different point in their life, say 10 or 20 years older. Twice now (recently) you’ve answered this question about young people but no mention about what age this advice would differ, or does age have nothing to do with it? Is it more about personal responsibility than age?

    Just curious what your thoughts would be.

  35. alilz says:

    JuliB – we aren’t slaves to the way we’ve evolved.

    Personally I don’t get the attitude of “well that’s the way it is and that’s the way it’s been and so that’s how it will always be.”

    That’s a cop out. And it’s not true.

    Change happens because people decide to do something different. Sometimes it starts with a handful of people.

    Things aren’t going to change over night and oil is a part of our lives in ways we don’t really consider. And switching to alternative power sources and still consuming the same amount isn’t much of a change.

    We have to reduce our energy consumption. We have to buy less cheaply made plastic disposable crap that’s probably made under horrid conditions anyway.

    Use less, buy less, consume less.

    To me it’s no different than what frugal blogs are teaching.

    I live on the Gulf Coast of Florida. A couple hours from where oil has washed up.

    Oil is going to wash up on the beach I grew up going to, that my dad grew up going to, where my grandmother grew up going to.

    My nephew is a toddler and there’s a chance he’ll never know it like I have.

    It’s been nearly 20 years since Exxon spill and oil is still on the beaches under the sand. It will probably never go away. And this is many times worse than that.

    There’s a chance species of fish and shellfish and birds and turtles could be come extinct or on the brink of extinction because of this.

    And this oil spill isn’t just BP’s fault or Haliburtin’s fault.

    I am partly responsible. I have bought plastic and used plastic like there’s nothing wrong with it.

    It’s taken this for me to really understand how destructive my consumer behavior is. Not just to my financial life but to the world around me.

    So I’m taking responsibility for my actions and I’m going to be reducing my energy consumption every way that I can.

    And it will probably save me money.

    I refuse to have the attitude that this is the way things are so why try to change.

    To bring it back to the topic of this blog – if Trent had that attitude – well this is how things are and they won’t change. He’d still be in debt.

  36. marta says:

    @Dean: yup.

    Here we are at USD 6.35 per gallon. Definitely makes one think twice about doing that commute by car, and so on.

    While I understand that the car culture is prevalent in the US, I can’t help think that increasing the prices would make people push for better public transportation and other alternatives. If everyone had the level of consumption the US do, we’d be out of fossil fuels already.

    Something has gotta give.

  37. deRuiter says:

    #23, From what do you think electricity is made? I’m constantly surprised at all the people who think electricity is a “clean and green” fuel. We burn coal to make electricity. Because you don’t see that part you think electric is a clean fuel? As for the electric cars, what about those toxic batteries? Oil is the most efficient, most powerful fuel available. Oil is cheap, and we have, as you can tell, an unlimited supply. In Spain, where they were pushing “clean” energy (with heavy taxpayer subsidies as wind power is not efficient compared to oil) they have lost 2+ regular energy jobs for every new “clean energy” job. The Federal government is behind this oil spill debacle, not BP. We have lots of easily accessible oil available on land in America where it is safe, clean, cheap and easy to drill. Instead the Federal government (and environmentalists, so called) force the oil companies to do this dangerous, difficult drilling in deep water where it is HARD TO DRILL. Folks, your over reaching Federal government is behind this disaster. Let the oil companies drill on land. The United States is sitting on the Bakken oil reserves, a larger amount of oil than in the entire Middle East. LET AMERICAN WORKERS DRILL ON AMERICAN SOIL FOR OIL, AND LET THEM HAVE ALL THE GOOD OIL JOBS TO FUEL OUR ECONOMY. Let the Middle East (America haters) drink their oil while we drill our own oil and keep the profits in America. And yes, by boycotting your local BP station you are cutting the financial throat of some local merchant who then can’t contribute to the local economy. It’s like the people boycotting Arizona canned tea which makes them feel good, like activists, even though Arizona tea is made in Brooklyn, NY! Better to write your letter to your congressman and tell him / her to let the oil companies drill on American soil.

  38. deRuiter says:

    Kevin, your friend’s a cheat and a thief. He’s stealing the $20. from the second store. This is the crime of theft. His action is also causing legitimate customers to pay more for items at store #2 to make up the $20. which your friend stole, because he took their profit. I would not get too closely associated with the person as he may cheat you next.

  39. Paul says:

    #30: Sure, and they could subsidize every mile you drove to distort the market the other way, making it less attractive to walk and more to drive. I would certainly like that, as would the legion of drivers out there. But that’s not fair to you, nor is taxing gasoline fair to me.

    And the price difference from the US to Europe is somewhat mitigated by the fact that you drive smaller cars less distance. From my home to the nearest city (New York) is a tenth of the length across the whole of England, and wherever you are in the UK, you only have three other national subdivisions to deal with. Apples to oranges.

  40. littlepitcher says:

    Millions of people hate their jobs. Most of them are doing the exact same type of work–handling complaints, collecting bills, getting yelled at.
    The turnover in these jobs is incredible. Chances are overwhelming that if you leave, you will eventually end up in another of the same.
    You have benefits which are superior to a plurality of the workforce. Security is excellent, since nobody wants to be yelled at.
    My suggestion, as someone who has been in high-stress occupations without having been taught any coping mechanisms at home except alcohol, is to take some sort of stress-control training–meditation, biofeedback, etc., along with courses on sales psychology, and read everything you can get on handling difficult people. Take this very seriously, because the object is to get promoted very quickly out of the front-lines and into a loan officer’s or other position, with more money and less vitriol. This will get you enough to put into savings for the nice piece of real estate you can pick up on foreclosure, to start your eventual business.

    If you quit now and try to start an undercapitalized business, there is an excellent possibility that you will end up in the 80% of new businesses which fail in two years, instead of that 20% you will deserve. BTDT, OK?

    You will be able to do what you love, but you will do it even better when you know how to handle the screaming lying owner of the Chihuahua which bites all ankles, or the owner of the Staffordshire which eats the Chihuahua.

  41. DougR says:

    Lots of great responses to the “protest BP” thread, and I like yours in particular, Trent. But the best way to hit these guys where it hurts them is to COMMUNICATE WITH THEM.

    All the other measures mentioned here are good, worthy, essential steps too, but none of it matters to BP in the immediate present. What matters is to tell them how you feel. They have metrics to measure public opinion, and your communication is the only way they really “know”, short-term, what the impact of their policies is. And that goes for any other company or entity, engaged in any other business practice that offends your principles. TELL THEM.

  42. SLCCOM says:

    Cheryl, don’t quit your job. I agree with starting a side grooming business, but you also need to start reading up on how to handle the work dynamics effectively. I recommend speakstrong.com and Crucial Conversations. Make a game of it to learn to turn around the yelling into constructive communication with the tools you’ll find at those two websites. Invest some money in the books.

    If you are the only one who is going home in tears, I also recommend that you investigate treatment for depression. However much you hate your job, you can turn around your attitude with some help and I guarantee that you won’t hate your job half as much as you’ll hate the situation when you are deep in debt with no way out.

    One poster suggested getting back into banking later if the grooming business doesn’t work out. That option may well not be available then, and the benefits you have are something many readers would think they had died and gone to heaven if they had them.

  43. Kyron Nex says:

    @Kevin and @Trent: Sure, it is clearly wrong to abuse a store’s return policy. And certainly, it is illegal and unethical to bamboozle the store (err .. yes, this situation is not “abusing the “”return”” policy”). But another observation that needs to be made is that if another legitimate business is selling a product at 29.99, how can Best Buy justify selling it at 49.99?
    I really doubt if Best Buy is at the top for companies providing great employee benefits and I really really doubt this other legitimate store uses abusive labor practices in the 3rd world to reduce the prices of their game CDs.
    Best Buy is ripping off customers by selling products at almost 200% markup. Just don’t go around thinking Best Buy is an innocent victim here. The question is: Is it okay to rip them off too?
    I wouldn’t.
    What Kevin’s friend is doing is something like arbitraging. He is contributing to the equalizing of prices of the same item in 2 different stores/markets. I am sure it is illegal at some level … or if not illegal, certainly not ethical. But hey! if pricing structure is not based on fundamentals, these kinds of opportunities do arise for middlemen to exploit.
    As far as Bestbuy is concerned, I am sure the profit on 1 impulsive buyer @ 49.99 >= profit from 2 or even 3 or 4 careful buyers at 29.99. They’ll keep it going till they find the impulsive suckers.
    Id rather simply confront Best Buy that so-and-so store sells this product for 29.99. Atleast, it’ll make them conscious that it’s customers know that BestBuy can’t be trusted to offer the lowest prices.

  44. @deRuiter: It doesn’t seem that the Bakken Oil Reserves is the silver bullet you suggest. According to the USGS, it has the potential to produce 4.3 billion barrels of (“technically recoverable”) oil while according to the Department of Energy, the United States consumes 7.14 billion barrels of oil in 2007. That is enough oil to supply the US demand for less than 6 months.

    I’ll post links to the data in another comment so as to not get this comment stuck in moderation cue.

  45. Tony B says:

    I’ll disagree with the non-profit debt relief places.

    I used one about eight months back when one of my credit cards upped my interest rate from 9.9 to 15.6+variable. They refused to deal with me and in fact, forcibly closed my card after I called them.

    Two other of my cards refused to drop more than 2% of interest (15% to only 13.5%).

    So I went to MMI and the two cards that only did 2% did a complete switch and my interest rate with them is now actually 2.0%. And the card that refused to deal with me had to and the rate dropped back down to the original rate I had.

    It sucks that I had to close all of my accounts, etc. But while the cards promise to work with customers, I think they “take it seriously” like complaints, where if the person goes away, they’ll be happier…

  46. Christine says:

    @littlepitcher and SCCLOM

    That is great advice and I thank you for it. As I said earlier, while I am not the letter write, I could have written that exact letter. I have been telling myself basically exactly what you wrote-that I need to learn as much as possible and change my attitude so that I can get promoted or transferred to a different position. I will look into the web sites SCCLOM mentioned. Any other recommendations for books that may help? I am reading some books on leadership right now but I think you gave great suggestions about sales psychology, handling difficult people, etc.

  47. JustinP8 says:

    I love the small question summaries at the top! I may actually start reading these posts now, rather than just skipping over them. Thanks!

    Also, the links to the questions are brilliant for those of us reading from a feed reader! :)

  48. Debbie M says:

    I’m having some pretty odd thoughts on how to protest BP.

    Write them a letter. Better yet, buy some stock and write to them as a stock holder that you do not want to get dividends but want them to use that money for whatever you want them to use it for. (Worst case scenario–they ignore you and you get dividends.) (No I’m not a stockholder, but I’m thinking about it.)

    I wonder if you can just stop buying gas from BP stations that no longer have to use BP gas (due to having done so already for the minimum number of years required by their contract) but still are anyway.

    There are no BP stations near me, so I don’t have to make a decision about whether to buy gas there, but a friend of mine pointed out that if we want them to pay for the clean-up, does it make sense to cut off their funds? However, I’ve read that they have a large cash reserve, so maybe it doesn’t matter. But I can’t imagine any cash reserve being large enough to clean up this mess.

  49. Stephanie says:

    BP’s liability in the oil spill has been capped at $78 million dollars….it seems as though BP has gotten away with not paying to really clean up this mess. Plus there is an insurance payout that they and Transocean got for this disaster (over $100 million)…so it seems that they actually MADE money on this whether we boycott BP stations or not. We really should be mad at the government, not only at BP.

  50. Angie says:

    Totally agree with #36. to buy something at one store at a lower price, and return to a store at a higher price, is very clearly stealing. First, you know you didn’t buy the item at that store and have no business trying to return it there. Second, you are potentially causing the prices of all products at store #2 to increase to make up the difference in price. This is totally unethical. I worked at a department store, and the things people would try – same items as the Half-Price store, with the sales sticker still on the item – and people would swear they bought it at OUR store! Even after showing them the sticker! And then, of course, I recognized those individuals every time they walked in the store, and watched them a little more carefully than normal. So, unless you want that stigma – even when legitimately shopping – it would be a good idea to stay away from that sort of practice.

  51. Brittany says:

    @35 There are clean energy companies. I live in Houston, where oil is king, and we can get energy from 100% clean and renewable sources with certain companies.

  52. eaufraiche says:

    Great post, Trent! Love the list, too!

    Mel, look at “Creating your Best Life” by Caroline Adams Miller. Maybe you can figure out what needs to be tweaked in the way you’re living right now and find a path that’s more rewarding (but Trent was spot on with his response – you might need to get an outsider’s input on this). Good luck!

  53. Matthew says:

    Erica: I am an HR Manager so that may bias my advice. I would encourage you to use your companys job posting program ( I assume there is one as your company sounds like it has many benefits) and try to find a job with less customer contact. I finished a second degree paid by my Company while in a stressful job, it was the best thing I ever did. Dont underestimated the value of Company matching, I used mine to buy my house. Health benefits are great too. Do you have an attitude of gratitude for all you have? This will help you deflect stress. and by all means do the dog grooming in the other eight hours a day you have. All the best, hang in there.

  54. prufock says:

    Why would the video game store not ask for a receipt? Most places do, unless there is a store sticker on the packaging. That said, I’m not quite convinced he’s doing anything wrong.

    Store A values the game at $30.
    Store B values the game at $50.
    He gives store A $30 for the game. The store has not lost value.
    He gives store B the game for a different $50 game. The store has not lost value.
    Okay, granted, there IS the 83 cents or whatever that store B spends in employee wages for the 5 minutes it takes to make the exchange. What if he trades for a game that costs $40 or $45? Store B would actually be gaining value on the exchange.

  55. Julie G says:

    The guy is STEALING from the second store, it is return fraud. The first store may have gotten a better deal on the group of games, or a rebate on items sold, etc.

  56. AnnJo says:

    Erica, I agree with @littlepitcher that there are ways you can make your situation happier without taking huge financial risks. I’m sure you realize that if you went into a dog-care business, you would sometimes have to deal with cranky, nasty, whiny and otherwise unpleasant dogs, but you have mentally made allowances for the dogs that you haven’t yet made for the humans you interact with.

    Many people work with populations under stress (think nurses, lawyers, court personnel, police officers, etc.). Some do crumble under the stress, but many don’t. The difference may be in part basic temperament, but can also be training and mental attitude.

  57. Samantha says:

    Erica – I changed careers when I was around 30. It was brutal. I started back at the bottom of the pay scale, picked up a bunch of student loans, and it was the best thing I ever did. But, I think you should look back to Trent’s previous advice. Figure out what you want out of life. Work is important, but it’s only part of it. Do you want to be out on your own? Do you want to travel? Do you want to have kids? A house? Which path will get you there? If you can – try out the animal thing in some way – volunteer, work, even just interview people who do it – about their work AND their lifestyle around it. And, there’s nothing wrong with using the benefits of work to your advantage while you plan an escape strategy (emergency fund, finish school, learn about conflict resolution).

    Jason – I use YNAB and love it. It will let you put as many kinds of income as you want. It also helps you keep a reasonable budget since the money you make this month get squirreled away so when you budget next month you’re spending actual money – not hoped for income. If your income is irregular – you always know how much cash you have for the month when you start. I’ve been using it for years – and it’s money well spent. Rarely are there costly upgrades – no need to buy the “new” version this year. They also just put out an iPhone app – so you can track spending on the go – if that’s your thing. I don’t have any ties to them – just like the product.

  58. Dave says:

    I am a 23 year old male, no girlfriend or anything and nothing in the foreseeable future. My brother is a few years older than me and is married. They don’t have kids yet, but I know that in the next couple years they want to have kids.

    I make decent money at my job and I’d love to be able to help out financially where I can. My brother and sister-in-law are certainly doing fine financially by any definition of the word, but I think that I’d like to offer to pay for college for their child (should he/she choose to go).

    Is this an acceptable gift, or could it give the wrong impression? Without somebody else in my life I don’t have much to live for besides myself and my family, and nothing would make me happier (given my current relationship status) than to be able to support my brother and his family like that.

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