Reader Mailbag: Dog-Eared Books

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What’s inside? Here are the questions answered in today’s reader mailbag, boiled down to five word summaries. Click on the number to jump straight down to the question.
1. Negotiating pay raise inside company
2. Outsized dreams
3. Cash stockpile
4. Selling a lemon
5. Frugal in medical emergency
6. Improving work focus
7. Interest savings
8. Trusting in more than God
9. Work for cash
10. Essentials on Netflix streaming?

My physical book collection is slowly shrinking. I’m taking books I know I won’t read again to the used bookstore and often swapping two-for-one for other books I intend to read once and then trade away again. That’s fine with me.

However, there’s a small pile of dog-eared books that I won’t part with. These are books I’ve read many times and will most certainly read again in the future.

Not only is there a great story or great ideas inside the cover, there are also memories of reading these books when I was younger and thought differently about the world. It’s hard to replace that.

Q1: Negotiating pay raise inside company
I work for a biotech company, and although I like the job that I do I’ve recently applied for a position with another group (still within the same department) and I got an offer. This would be considered a lateral move. I know that I am on the lower end of the pay scale for the company and actually for the industry. Knowing this, is it wrong to try to negotiate a pay raise to transfer from one group to another?

- Marcus

It’s not wrong at all. In fact, it’s rarely a wrong move to discuss a raise (unless you recently discussed one).

You are essentially a new hire for that department, so it would be reasonable for you to negotiate like one.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you’ll get what you negotiate for. I’d suggest reading through this useful guide from the Washington Post on negotiating a better salary.

Q2: Outsized dreams
My nephew is a big dreamer, which is something I admire in him but something that’s also dangerous. He truly believes everything he touches will turn to gold and the only reason it doesn’t is because he didn’t give it his full attention.

He’s trying to start a pretty clever internet business and has asked me for funding. I don’t want to fund it. I think his idea is quite clever, but I don’t see how it’s ever going to have a lot of users. I’m trying to figure out how to explain this to him without stomping on his optimism and dreams.
- Janine

Your best approach is to sit down with him and walk him through the basics of what is needed to launch a successful business. Does he have a detailed business plan? Has he considered the audience for the tool he’s developing? Has he actually done an assessment of the audience size? Is there already a similar tool in place? Would it be easy for a large company to invade the space? What are the potential risks? How would he overcome the risks?

These are things that any small business owner should think about when starting a business. When you go through the rigorous process of writing a good business plan, it will often become clear that the great idea you conceived a few weeks ago isn’t really all that great when you scrutinize it.

If he’s not done this at all, Writing a Convincing Business Plan by Arthur DeThomas and Lin Grensing-Pophal is a great place to start.

Q3: Cash stockpile
In your opinion should we keep a stockpile of cash in the house or somewhere safe (not in a bank). My dad recommended to me that I should keep a good amount of cash on hand (possibly up to $1000). His reasoning for this is the unstable economy and thepossibility of banks going under temporarily or permanently. Do you think this is good advice. How much and where?

- Alan

While I think it’s a good idea to have some cash on hand in case of a natural disaster (which would take ATMs and credit card networks offline for a little while), I’d limit that to a few hundred dollars at most.

Now, as for your concern of “banks going under,” I wouldn’t save dollars for that. If the banking system were in such bad shape that banks were closing and the FDIC was unable to keep up with the insurance on savings and checking accounts, then the United States economy is failing and the dollar isn’t going to be worth the paper it’s printed on.

If you want to have stuff on hand for such a situation, you’d be far better off having usable supplies like food and water or tangible assets like gold.

Q4: Selling a lemon
I have a 2005 Ford in my driveway that’s simply a lemon. I’ve had several things go wrong with it in the past year. It’s running well at the moment, though, and I’m considering selling it.

How much disclosure is needed from me on this sale? Do I need to say anything about the problems I’ve had with it?
- Ronald

No. Whenever you sell an item, there’s an underlying implicit requirement of good faith, which essentially means all pertinent information is disclosed. Selling a lemon without disclosing it violates that good faith.

On top of that, most states have “lemon laws” that protect buyers in this very situation. These vary from state to state, but they’re never good for the person who tried to pass off their lemon.

If someone buys the car from you without you disclosing it, runs into problems with it, runs a vehicle history report, and finds that you didn’t disclose a mountain of problems about the car, they’ll have an easy case against you in small claims court. You will lose out, big time.

Q5: Frugal in medical emergency
Do you have tips on how to be frugal when you are in the middle of a medical issue? I recently had a trip to the ER. While there, the doctor prescribed an anti-nausea medicine that turned out to be very expensive. I ended up only buying half the pills. which was good as I had a bad reaction to them.

As a frugal person, I should have said something to the ER doc, but I wasn’t feeling too great. I feel I need a card like the ones you carry in your car in case of an accident. Any ideas?
- Linda

Many people carry an emergency information card in their wallet or purse. On that card, you may want to mention that you’re uninsured or that you’re low-income.

As for remembering to be frugal – asking for medication samples and so on – that’s really up to you. The best thing you can do is to simply get into a mental routine of always looking for a bargain any time money would leave your wallet.

Like any other routine, it builds into normalcy with lots of practice. Just get into the habit of always looking for discounts and negotiating whenever it makes sense.

Q6: Improving work focus
I am working as an intern at a company where I want to make a really good impression. Most of the projects I’m working on, though, are really easy. Honestly, I’m pretty bored and because of that I find myself wandering. I’ve spent a lot of time this week just surfing web sites.

I know the way to succeed is to just do my projects as well as I possibly can, but I’m struggling with focus. How can I improve this?
- Matthias

My first approach would be to go talk to my supervisor and simply explain that the tasks at hand seem routine to you and that you’d like additional challenge. Most of the time, an intern’s supervisor is happy to toss something challenging at an intern to fill his or her hours.

If that doesn’t work, you might want to consider creating a project on your own that can reasonably be achieved before you leave and has a clear deliverable. You need something to sink your talents into, and if you can come up with something that also helps the company, you’ll leave with a great reputation.

If that doesn’t work, try shutting down your distractions. Turn off your cell phone while at work. Unplug your internet connection if you’re not actively using it (it’s pretty hard to get distracted by a website if you don’t have net access).

Q7: Interest savings
I have a 30000 loan, 84 months at 7%. I repay 452.78 every month. I am at month 53, total outstanding capital 12806.21.

On the next payment date, I will make the normal payment, bringing the capital to 12428.13, plus an extra payment for 3904.23, bringing it to 8523.90. Keeping normal payments I will save 10 months on the loan. I’m trying to figure out interest saved.

I went online to get the repayment table, showing outstanding capital, monthly repayment, capital repaid and interest paid for the month. Can I figure out from this how much I am saving?
- Latrell

In order to figure out how much you’re saving, you need to get both the repayment table from the loan without any extra payments as well as the repayment table with your extra payment.

Put them both into Excel (or another spreadsheet), then subtract the value in the interest column of the new repayment table from the value in the interest column of the old repayment table. You’ll need to do this for each month for the remainder of the loan.

Then, total up all of those differences. That’s how much your extra payment will have saved you.

Q8: Trusting in more than God
My brother is in a very bad debt situation. I don’t know how bad it is, but I know he’s getting a lot of letters from creditors and some certified letters. He seems not to care about it too much, though, and he keeps telling me that God will provide.

I don’t want him and his family to be struggling with debt for the rest of their lives, but I can’t seem to make it clear to him that he has to take action if he doesn’t want a life where most of his money disappears as interest. How can I get through to him?
- Marjorie

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.

As much as you’d like for your brother to be more fiscally responsible, you can’t make him do so. You can offer to help him figure out his finances, but if he doesn’t want the help, you’re just going to have to get used to accepting it.

Just make it clear to him that if he ever desires a change in his financial life, you’ll help him figure out how to turn the ship around. That’s all you can really do. The rest is up to him.

Q9: Work for cash
Do you know of work I can do to get paid in cash? I already have a 40 hour a week job. Looking for something not so stressful I can earn a little extra in cash every week. Do you have any ideas? I want to take the money and put it all in savings. I am maybe looking to relocate and buy a coop or condo and I am a single person.

- Andrew

There are lots of part time jobs available to earn a bit of extra income. Regardless of the unemployment rate, there are a lot of entry-level part time jobs out there for the taking. Whenever I drive through cities near me, I see lots of open interview and help wanted signs. They’re just not for the high-paying full time jobs that many people expect.

Get one of those jobs. Many of them are very simple and you can easily get yourself into the “flow” of the work and lose all track of time. I’ve worked jobs that simply required fairly repetitive action over a period of time and you can easily just lose yourself in the work, meaning the hours slip by quickly.

Don’t use that income frivolously, though. Keep the money and apply it towards your goals. Live off your income from your other job and use this extra income for your future.

Q10: Essentials on Netflix streaming?
We just signed up for Netflix streaming and we’re just overwhelmed with the mountains of stuff on here. What have you found on streaming that’s been worth your $8 a month?

- Jenna

There are a lot of choices on there.

For me, the best value of Netflix streaming has been to watch well-loved series without commercial interruption at my own convenience. I made a list of forty of my favorite series a while back, which I’ll reprint here: 30 Rock. Archer. Arrested Development. Battlestar Galactica. Bones. Breaking Bad. Cosmos. Doctor Who. Downton Abbey. Eureka. Family Guy. Firefly. Friday Night Lights. Ken Burns: Baseball. Ken Burns: The Civil War. Ken Burns: The War. King of the Hill. Life on Mars. Lost. Mad Men. Man vs. Wild. Mythbusters. The Office (U.K.). The Office (U.S.). Parks and Recreation. Portlandia. Rescue Me. Sherlock. Sliders. Sons of Anarchy. South Park. Stargate SG-1. Star Trek. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Star Trek: Enterprise. Star Trek: The Next Generation. Star Trek: Voyager. Torchwood. The Walking Dead. The X-Files. All of these are worth watching. I can’t guarantee that they’re all still on streaming (I checked a bunch of them and they all seemed to still be available, though), but the vast majority of them are.

If you can’t find something to watch on a lazy evening with this list, I probably can’t help you too much.

If you’re looking for films, there are a lot of sites that offer great lists for streaming. Just Google “best films netflix streaming” and you’ll find many great lists.

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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7 thoughts on “Reader Mailbag: Dog-Eared Books

  1. Trent totally ignored the “Work for cash” part of Q9. Andrew, you may find someone willing to pay cash for construction work, handy man type gigs and the like but you’re still responsible for taxes on the income. The employer would be legally obligated to file a 1099 and you would be liable to the IRS for taxes on the income. That being said, we all know that “getting paid under the table” (cash) happens quite often. Just remember, if you get busted, you’ll owe quite a bit of money and possible fines.

    Get a part-time job as a clerk somewhere on weekends, deliver papers, etc.

    Coupon

  2. Q2: Sounds like his optimism is strong enough that it can stand being stomped on. Just tell him no. You don’t owe him funding, and you don’t owe him a detailed explanation of why you don’t want to fund him.

  3. Q8: Have you told him the “I sent you two boats and a helicopter” joke? God helps those who help themselves.

  4. Q3: If you do keep much cash in your home, you should always know how much is supposed to be there, and check regularly to see if any is missing. If your stash does get robbed, you want to be able to tell the police how much was stolen and when.

  5. kc – For some reason it’s okay to watch shows if they are streamed via Hulu or Netflix, but it’s not okay to watch them over the air. In that case, you should be working toward goals.

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