Reader Mailbag: Easter Eggs

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. Kindles/Nooks and libraries
2. Is it worth it?
3. Protecting financial independence from spouse
4. Regret
5. Saving too much for retirement?
6. How to buy stocks
7. Reusing plastic water bottles
8. Fixing budget math errors
9. Backing up data
10. The appeal of fantasy

I love dyeing and hiding Easter eggs so that my children can find them. I also like cracking open hard-boiled eggs. I’m also frugal.

I can hit the trifecta here by using natural dyes for the eggs. Not only that, if you do it right, you can make incredibly bright egg dyes.

Here are some recipes for natural egg dyes. You’ll probably want to gather a few things throughout the next week to prepare.

Some of these dyes aren’t very bright at first, but if you use an old pan and boil them down a bit, you can make the dyes really bright. Also, since they’re made from purely natural things, you don’t have to worry a bit about what’s in the dye if you crack open an egg. A little bit of beet juice coloring on your hard-boiled egg isn’t going to hurt it a bit.

Q1: Kindles/Nooks and libraries
When you were speaking about Amazon I could not agree with you more. The only exception is downloading free books to my Kindle app I leave that setting because many of the blogs or newsletters I follow offer free books for limited amounts of time. I vow to never pay for a book when I have free ones so readily available or I can obtain them from my library with little or no wait. So far I have not had a title that I could not obtain for free and legally at that.

– Jennifer

If you have an e-reader, you should really check out what your local library has to offer for your device. Many libraries have extensive e-book selections that you can often download to your e-reader completely from home – that’s how my own local library works.

That alone makes up an awful lot of my reading list on my Kindle lately.

I really appreciate my e-reader. It took some getting used to and you have to work a bit to find inexpensive and free books – but that’s true of paper books as well.

Q2: Is it worth it?
I look around at my friends and I see their nice televisions and nice homes. I know they’re making about what I do, but I live in a tiny apartment with an old CRT TV and a beat-up car. I save a bunch every year for retirement but I feel like I’m just giving up now so I can have something later which just feels wrong. Please tell me it is worth it.

– June

All of the stuff they have might be nice, but it’s also underwritten with a healthy and constant dose of worry and stress. Even if they’re not in debt for the things they have, they’re likely in a financial place where, if they lost their job or fell ill or if any number of unfortunate things happened, they’d lose much of what they have. It is a real stress, one that sits under the lives of most people whether they consciously acknowledge it or not.

For me, the single best part of approaching financial freedom is that this stress goes away. It withers down until one day, you wake up and you’re really not worried about it any more. Whatever life deals you, you will have the resources to handle it. You don’t have to go to sleep at night worrying about what would happen if you lost your job. You don’t have to sweat at work with the fear of the pink slip hanging over your head like a guillotine.

They’re buying stuff. You’re buying freedom.

Q3: Protecting financial independence from spouse
I am married to a much older man. He (creates his own work) does all the work to try and pay the bills (easily $10 000. a month). We are over fifty thousand dollars in debt (not including two additional mortgages). We have 2 children (2 and 6). I take care of them and the household. There is NO WAY he will change his ways (he’s 62), I’m 38. He is extremely giving and kind and a well-intentioned man. He is just incredibly stubborn and never learns from his mistakes in life.

The CRA have been chasing our 3 ltd. companies for some time now (closing our bank accounts, only to have us open new ones at another bank until they find it there as well). Income tax filings are behind by 3-5 years (personal and businesses).

Can I somehow create my own financial independence from him so that in case something ever happens to him, my kids and I will be able to manage?
– Susan

You certainly can. You simply need to create accounts that are separate from his and solely in your name and avoid having any of the debts in your name. If you’re tied to any debts, do everything you can to get those paid off first and extract yourself from any new debts.

If you’re avoiding the CRA (Canada’s version of the IRS) for back taxes, get that resolved sooner rather than later. They will eventually catch up to you. Get it fixed as soon as you can, even if that means taking the initiative and negotiating with them directly.

Again, if your name is involved with these late taxes and bad debts, they will follow you regardless of what happens to him. You need to start directly handling anything that has your name on it and avoid getting your name on any new financial schemes your husband cooks up. At the same time, you need to be socking away money solely in your own name.

Q4: Regret
The biggest regret I have is that when I went to college I studied a field that I thought would pay well instead of a field I actually enjoyed. I went to work every day and made good money, but I basically wound up hating every second of it. I’m now forty five. I work at Hardees while I’m going to college again. I live in a two room apartment with two other people. I’m starting over doing what I want to do and I couldn’t be happier.

– Roger

It’s great that you’ve found a path that you’re happier with.

My only advice to you is to bear down hard on financial independence for the rest of your path. Coming out of college in your late forties is going to make for a difficult path to follow. Save every dime that you can and live cheaply.

You may find that easier to do since you’re on a career path that you personally value.

Q5: Saving too much for retirement?
I’m wondering if I am saving too much for retirement. I just turned 30 and my finances are as follows:
+ 40k in a Roth IRA
+ 20k in a 403(b) (my employer contributes 5%, I don’t need to match but I do contribute 1k per year)
+ 15k in brokerage
+ 33k in savings

I live in one of the highest cost of living areas of the US and make about 50k/year. Buying a home isn’t really an option in this area as even a 1 bedroom condo can go for $250k+. So I’ve been fully funding my Roth as a result. Am I saving too much for retirement?
– Shawn

I don’t view this as saving “too much” for retirement at all. I think you’re maybe just a little bit ahead of the curve when it comes to retirement savings.

That being said, I’m not viewing the brokerage savings or the regular savings as “retirement savings” here. Although you may end up using them that way, there’s also a strong chance that you end up using the money for other goals as you move along.

If I were you, I’d stick to saving 10 to 15% of my gross income for retirement each year and keep doing what you’re doing.

Q6: How to buy stocks
How does a person even buy stocks or index funds or bonds?

– John

They usually buy them from a brokerage or investment house. For example, I buy most of my index funds directly from Vanguard using their website.

If you want to buy individual stocks, you’re probably dealing with a brokerage of some kind. Again, for such things, I’d use an online brokerage like E*Trade or Scottrade.

You can also find investment advisers in most cities that can handle this for you, but it will usually cost you.

Q7: Reusing plastic water bottles
Did you know that reusing bottled water may cause you to intake harmful palstic chemicals? It is a much better idea to use stainless steel bottles.

– Fred

There’s a mixture of truth and falsehood with what you’re saying.

From what I can tell, the biggest worry with plastic bottles is exposing them to high temperatures. For example, if you run them through the dishwasher, that’s probably not a wise idea.

However, if you believe that you should never reuse a plastic water or soda bottle, you should never use them to begin with. Bottles can spend weeks or months filled with liquid before they’re purchased and consumed, giving plenty of time for the leaching to occur.

In any case, I do agree that an aluminum, steel, or glass container is probably the best option for drinking.

Q8: Fixing budget math errors
I feel dumb even telling this story, but someone else has probably done it too so I don’t feel quite as bad. My husband and I came up with what seemed like a great budget in our spreadsheet. We have categories for almost all of our required spending and some allowance for both of us to have some extra money. Somehow, we still ended up with a nice surplus at the end of the month. We thought budgeting was really easy.

Fast forward two months. Our checking account is pretty much empty even though we came in under most of our budget categories. We both got pretty mad at each other about spending extra money and had a big argument. The next day, we sat down and looked at our budget. Guess what? Somehow, we forgot to add in the “Food” category to our totals. We just left it out of our spreadsheet formula somehow. This actually left us with just a $40 surplus each month instead of the $440 one we thought we had (we budgeted $400 a month for food).

If you budget and it seems too good to be true, check your math.
– Andrea

Although it’s really easy to get a chuckle out of this story, you’re absoultely right in saying that a person really needs to check their math carefully when assembling a budget. It’s really easy to make a simple math mistake like this one.

Check your math. Then check it again. Do that before you start making serious financial decisions.

So what’s my worst financial math mix-up? Let’s just say I’ve added some receipts together pretty badly and decided that I needed to spend nothing on hobbies for several months simply because I moved one decimal place when tallying up my spending.

Q9: Backing up data
I’m sure you’re backing stuff up in one way or another. A friend of mine lost his home to fire last week, and nothing in the house was saved, so all the computers in the house were lost. He was backing up to an external hard drive, but of course that was lost also! All the family pictures, all those precious things we would all hate to lose. I could hardly believe that he (an IT guy!) would be so careless. Well, to cut to the chase, I use Carbonite, which costs me less than $60. a year, money well spent for peace of mind. I’m not trying to sell you on Carbonite, there are several websites out there who offer the same kind of service. I read about them several years ago on komando.com, where you can sign up and get two months free using Kim Komando’s special offer for Carbonite. I have had to download my info several times, never for a fire thank goodness, but for other computer problems. It gives me great peace of mind knowing that all my info is stored away from my home, especially my 13,000 family pictures! Everything is double or triple encrypted, so there is no worries that anyone can steal your info. There are a lot of people who are not familiar with this service, so here’s an idea for a column for you!

– Chris

While I wouldn’t trust an off-site backup service like that with my financial data, I do think it makes sense for things like family photographs and other things that don’t make identity theft incredibly easy.

So far, I’ve mostly backed up my family photos to memory sticks and DVDs. However, I have been looking at various offsite backup possibilities, and Carbonite is certainly one of them.

I’d just be concerned with storing specific personal data there, that’s all.

Q10: The appeal of fantasy
I don’t understand the appeal of fantasy novels. Why do you read them?

– Oliver

There are a lot of reasons. Escapism is a big one. It’s fun to simply get lost in an interesting story with interesting characters.

The biggest one for me, though, is that speculative fiction (fantasy, sci-fi, etc.) does a great job of addressing specific real-world issues by making you see those issues with different constraints by changing the rules of the society around them.

A good speculative fiction novel takes something that we’re concerned about in the world today and translates it to a place where the rules operate a little differently. They don’t have technology, or they have more advanced technology. They have different societal rules. Sometimes, there are supernatural abilities present.

How does that change in scenery change how we see something ordinary, like a loving relationship or a social issue? If there is a change, does it then change how you see that issue in your own life?

Those are the novels that really stand out to me, whether they’re speculative or literary fiction or poetry or anything else.

Got any questions? The best way to ask is to email me – trent at thesimpledollar dot com. I’ll attempt to answer them in a future mailbag (which, by way of full disclosure, may also get re-posted on other websites that pick up my blog). However, I do receive many, many questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.

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